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Contributor: Robert VanDerslice

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Daddy, Can You Fix It?
March 10, 2009

It’s funny how sometimes I forget about the goodness, because I get so caught up in the myriad of problems and burdens of ‘just getting through it’. In those times, honestly, I become focused occasionally on the heavy load, or the dim horizon, or the day that doesn’t seem to want to end.

And then I met a “Peanut”.

In this case, Peanut and her spirit, her strength, her knowing, her faith…. was the teacher for several of us as we sat in the lobby with her, and we listened, we believed, and we learned. Odd isn’t it, that I would tell of being taught by ‘Peanut’…that it would be worth writing it down. Let me add to the oddity.

We were all in the lobby of CCA Leavenworth Detention Center in Leavenworth KS, a prison housing about 1200 inmates from every walk of human life….citizens, non citizens, violent and non violent criminals, men and women for 1200 different reasons, found themselves locked away from life. We were waiting in the lobby for our own reasons, some waiting for authorization or clearance to visit with their family member or friend behind bullet proof glass…some of us waiting for escort to go various places in the prison. We were a mix of backgrounds, of interests, of ethnicity.

But we found a commonality in that sprawling lobby. We found it, as we came to know ‘Peanut’, an eleven year old girl with a pony tail and a bright full smile and eyes that glistened with pride and hope and surety of belonging. We found it as she talked, sometimes against her mamas wishes and looks of “ shhhhh, don’t bother these people”….but she would smile…and shake her pony tail to make it fall behind her neck again, then turn back to talk to us some more about her purpose, her hope, her faith in something so grand and wonderful and beautiful and filling and meaningful to her.

She talked about her Daddy, and as she talked, she would glance down once in a while at the picture she held in her hands, a picture of her and her Daddy, standing in front of their small home in Des Moines Iowa. In the picture, she was smiling, just like now as she talked, and holding up a bird with a splint on its wing. “ This is Floppy”, she said with a beam. “ My Daddy made the splint so the wing would heal and Floppy could fly away”.

“And did Floppy fly away after his wing healed”?, someone asked.

“Sure he did. My Daddy fixed it”, she answered. “ And we changed his name to Flappy, because he didn’t just flop anymore. That was last summer”.

It was strange, but inspiring, to listen to this 11 year old, to hear the matter of fact and familiar sureness in her voice, as if to say….”Duh…Daddy fixed it, of course it could fly”.

Her mama tapped Peanuts knee and quietly reminded her, “ talk nice, these people don’t know Daddy”, then smiled at us. “ She is proud of her Daddy. He is her fixer. Always has been”, and she pulled a tissue from her pocket to blow her nose.

“Are you here to see him”?, I asked. “ Oh no, we are here to see his friend, to wish him a Merry Christmas”, Peanuts mom said, smiling. “He couldn’t come. He’s still in rehab in Iowa. He asked me if I would do this for him, so here we are”, she said in a voice that emanated compassion and understanding and giving. “ They were in Iraq together. It’s the least we could do”.

Time didn’t matter anymore. I knew that this was a story I wanted to hear. Waiting for an escort to get to the phone room became so unimportant and obscure, and so we sat, with other people coming and going through the lobby to their scheduled appointments. Eventually it was just the three of us, left alone to talk quietly, to visit the memories and days of their yesterdays together, Peanut and her Mom so graciously allowing me to come with them through their memories. And there were so many moments they needed to visit together, so many “remember when’s” they each stumbled over, smiling and reminiscing, me occasionally adding a “wow. That is a wonderful memory”, or a near meaningless confirmation to Peanut of “ you have a great Daddy”, meaningless because she already knew it, and she was telling me how great he was. Peanut didn’t need me to affirm that for her.

She told of the wagon that broke, and was made brand new again, because she asked her Daddy, “Daddy, can you fix it”? She told of the special bunk beds her Daddy made from apicture in a catalog, because she asked, “Daddy, can you fix this for me”? And she told of the special doll that was ruined when she left it outside to be rained on. “He fixed it better than brand new”, she said beaming.

I looked at her mom, and her Mom just winked. I knew from the wink that her ruined doll was replaced by a new one in secret, but Peanut didn’t know. To her, “Daddy fixed it”, and that was enough. And then the reason for us chatting, and walking together through their private journey into yesterday, became more clear to me as we chatted..

“You said her Daddy is in rehab. Is he alright”? I asked Peanuts mom.

She shook her head yes, and spoke quietly…matter of factly. “He was in Baghdad on his second tour and was hurt in an explosion. Lost a leg and his hip. He was hurt pretty bad. But he made it home last month and right now he is in the Hospital in Des Moines for rehab. But the doctors are saying he might be able to come home for Christmas, at least for Christmas day”, and she wiped at her eyes with her tissue. “ That’s what we are praying for, right Peanut”? she asked the girl beside her, the two of them holding hands. “ He’ll be home Mommy. You’ll see”, Peanut answered, a quiet and knowing reassurance to her Mom. “ Daddy said he would be home”…..and I saw again the absolute certainty in that promise her Daddy made, shining in Peanuts eyes.

"Can I go to the bathroom Mama”?, she asked. And with a nod from her mama, she was gone.

“This has been an especially difficult time for her the past few months since her Daddy got hurt”, her mama said. She felt like it was her fault her Daddy got hurt in Iraq, and she has struggled with it for a long time”.

Puzzled, I asked her, “ How could she think that”?

“Well”, her mama began, searching for words. “ All her life she has asked her Daddy, “Daddy can you fix this”. Then after 9-11, she saw that great big flag that was torn and dirty and had holes in it from the explosion, and when she saw it, she asked him, “Daddy, why doesn't someone fix it?” She was only four, and she didn’t know what she was asking. All she knew is that it was broken and needed fixing, and that her Daddy could do it, if she just asked. A few months later, he joined the Army and deployed to Iraq in August 2002. She felt like if she hadn’t asked him to fix the flag, he wouldn’t have gone in the service and got hurt”.

And then she cried openly, “ I have worked so hard to tell her it wasn’t her fault, but she still struggles with it. I am so very thankful to have him home again”…..and she grew silent for a bit.. Finally she spoke again. “ We got a lot of letters from him, and every time he wrote, he added a P.S. that said, “ Peanut, I’ll be home soon. I am busy fixing the flag”.

I grabbed for air when she said this, my throat tightening, and a great burden and sense of unworthiness came over me. I watched as Peanut came back in the lobby. Watched as she sat next to her mama. Watched as they both held hands and smiled at each other, and I knew I did not belong in that moment they were sharing.

As I prepared to leave them, I told Peanuts mom. In my short trips to various places in my job, I find folks that have a story that is inspiring, a message of hope or courage or blessing, and I would like to write about your story if its ok. If you don’t mind, could I get yours and your husband's name for a story?

She looked at me, and without pausing, answered. I don’t mind you telling it, but he wouldn’t want our names used. Peanut chimed in, still smiling, “His name is Daddy, and this is my mama”. There was nothing more needed . . . it would be Peanut, her mom, and Daddy.

I got up, stood in front of Peanut and told her, ” You have a great Daddy, Peanut. And he loves you very much. You’re a special girl.”

“Thank you” was all she said, and I left them in the lobby alone, to their private conversation, their private thoughts, and their promise keeping journey to a prison in Kansas, to wish Daddy’s soldier buddy a “Merry Christmas”.

It was the least I could do, for a little girls Daddy who gave so much . . . and for the little girl named Peanut, who believed in promises given and believed her Daddy what he told her in his letters to home, “I am busy fixing the flag for you”.

By Robert VanDerslice
Copyright 2009

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