We found them in a plastic grocery bag when we were helping my grandfather clean the cottage one day. A whole stack of black and white photos, eight by tens, some marked “secret.”
“What are these, Dadah?”
“Oh, those…just put those over there, just
some old pictures.” He wandered off into the kitchen for some cheese puffs.
My siblings and I sorted through the photos, and we got quite an education about Dadah’s involvement in World War II. He had been a Lt. Commander of the 99th Construction Battalion that participated in the D-Day landings. He was at Lyme Bay and Slapton Sands. His particular task regarding D-Day was to direct the landing barges that delivered supplies to the forces on Omaha Beach. When my brother and Dadah saw Saving Private Ryan in the theater, the only thing Dadah said was, “That’s exactly how it was. Exactly.” He saw that movie twice.
He refused to discuss it. I asked if he would come into my class of sophomores to share his experience. My students were reading Night by Elie Wiesel, and I thought it would be valuable for them to round out the memoir by meeting a living, breathing vet who had been involved in another capacity. He simply said no.
He loved bulldogs, and not unrelated, cheese puffs. One of my fondest memories of Dadah is an afternoon when Jud and I encountered him on my parents’ deck with my mother’s bulldog, Murphy. My mother had passed away by this time, and Dadah had moved into the cottage behind my parents’ house. He was in his eighties, after all. He kept an eye on Murphy; we kept an eye on Dadah. Murphy had a delicate digestive system, so it was important that he not have table scraps; he had to have a special prescription dog food that made my father swear every time he had to go buy a bag. When we saw Dadah holding the gallon-sized Ziploc filled with cheese puffs and cookies, and then the orange dust on Murphy’s nose, I scolded Dadah. “You can’t feed him cheese doodles! He’ll get sick!”
Dadah just smiled and dismissed me. “He’s fine.” Then his stubby tan fingers reached into the bag and popped a puff into his own mouth.
“Dadah, I see the fake cheese on his nose….wait, what else is in there?”
He ate another snack from the bag, but it wasn’t a cheese puff. “Are you… are you eating dog biscuits, Dadah?”
“We’re sharing.” He grinned and just kept chewing.
He never knew his own parents because they divorced soon after his birth, and his paternal grandparents raised him. This is a good thing; his parents weren’t exactly role models. Harry Batchelder, my great grandfather, played college football but never graduated. He was labeled a “famous Yale tackle” by a reporter in an article about his arrest for “allowing gambling for cigars and money in his poolroom and cigar store” (“Football Pair’s Troubles”, The New York Times, Sept. 15, 1904). Also in 1904, my great grandmother Mary was arrested for embezzling $2,600 from her employer, Berg Brothers. Dadah was then born into a rough hand of cards in 1908. Life happened, the war happened, and he and Garmie married in December ’44. A self-made man, he worked on government construction and engineering projects for most of his life in places like Cairo and the Dominican Republic. They had three children: my mom, Susan; another daughter, Jan, who died during infancy; and a son, my Uncle Duff. Until we found those WWII photos and learned more family history, I had assumed that any additional hardship Dadah encountered was much later in life when he lost both Garmie and my mom. Losing both his wife and daughter to cancer was not easy on him, and he found himself enjoying his vodka cranberries at the local VFW Post and Gates.
The man had character, and he was one. At my wedding, looking dapper in his bulldog tie, he danced with me to “I Will Survive”. I laughed the entire song along with Dadah while he randomly shouted out to the beat, “Woof, woof, da bang, bang, bang!” in all of his 5’ 2” glory (he’d shrunken a tad since the Big Band days). Dadah inspired me, confused me, surprised me, and encouraged me. No one loves to get personal, handwritten snail mail more than I do, and when at college, I was thrilled to receive a random card from him now and then complete with a check and a pessimistic French saying: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. He loved that I was fluent in French. He also knew I was working twenty hours a week on top of a full class load, and I always appreciated the thought and the money. Upon my college graduation, Dadah encouraged me to take an editorial assistant job at the United Nations – even though the pay was barely enough to cover my commute and student loans. He taught me what the big picture is, and I will always be thankful for his interest in my studies and wellbeing. We were the only two in the whole family with blue eyes, and I felt a bond with him even when I was a young child. Were it not for Dadah’s quick reaction, his then-overprotective bulldog Tucker would have ripped my face off as I sat playing on their sofa next to my grandmother. I recall this vividly: Dadah grabbed Tuck’s collar just in time as the dog leaped toward me with jaws open, and it was then that we knew Tuck had to be kept away from children. My grandfather looked out for me, and I knew it.
Dadah passed away in his sleep at ninety-three on September 7, 2001. We prepared for his funeral, we put in for days off from work, we mourned, and we knew he had lived a full life. His funeral was on September 12. It was more than a coincidence to me that he hadn’t lived to see the darkness of the day before. Dadah had simply endured enough.