Gary W. Hilburger


It was back then,
A little after Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob,
names from another era that seem, and I pause now,
maybe they were fun back then,
maybe we’re just too hard with our past,
like I was with you,
and now want to see things differently.
Even Clarabelle, who was always silent,
at least said, “Good bye, kids” before the end of the last show
and then became Captain Kangaroo for another generation.
He, with the Conductor’s Hat,
the mustache of a Grandfather I never knew,
wore the big blue coat
with pockets deep enough
to hide the Thanksgiving Pilgrims,
and children in pajamas beside,
from fallout, North Korea,
and the embittered rage of lunatics.
We are the ones who wear the Conductor’s hat.
We are the ones who have measured again
the depth of the pockets in the big blue coat.

It was for him, and for you Dad, not all in vain.

Howdy and Bob rode the morning bus, grinning from lunchboxes,
propped up on the ragged blue seats,
with other faces under the lid, squinting and unsuspecting,
from the thermos with a fragile glass liner,
next to the egg-salad sandwich
now on soggy slices of not so wondrous Wonder Bread,
a now pompous and indignant bruised apple,
and a slightly cracked, yet complacent pair of Oreos,
which, by the 1950’s,
had fought with the Aussies and Fig Newtons on Iwo Jima.

The other Oreos lucked out, working with the Hershey Bar
and things called stockings,
to woo French women on the Champs Elysees.
Uncle Ed met Aunt Rosa in England and Uncle Al met Aunt Maria in Italy,
and, at least as far as I have been told,
a Yank never stooped to conquer.

My Oreos, they were for lunch.

You met Mom stateside,
while caring for Grandma Lillian,
not far from the old German neighborhood,
and had your hand in the development
of the new curved windshields for the flying boxcars.

You danced at the Dellwood Ballroom.
You told me she was lovely. You were dapper.
I saw the picture on your dresser.
They had 50-caliber machine guns
up on the roofs at Curtiss-Wright
when you went to work on Monday,
the day after Pearl Harbor.

I held the lunchbox lid tightly,
covering the flank for Howdy and Bob,
because, no matter how hard I tried,
the latch just didn’t work.

The parts were somewhere between Paris and Luxemburg
and I had to hold our position.
The Second-graders were gaining on us
and their bus was just around the bend.

I didn’t have extra rations, so I was told the outraged apple,
in no uncertain terms, that was either me or him,
to “shape up or ship out”.
The same went for the rest on the way
to first grade at Saint Benedict’s.

The Oreos had been in tight spots before,
and this was no different.

They were ready.

Bur it was more toward the time
of the Strange Visitor from another planet
who did his costume change in a glass phone booth,
and Lois never figured it out
(but at least they played Stravinsky).
We lost Glenn Miller in the war
and this new stuff, rock and roll,
was here to stay.

Times change.

We at least had Rip Torn and the Chocolate Soldier,
the Zane Grey Theater and David Niven,
and Bernstein and Rubenstein and Horowitz
Mary Martin and Peter Pan and Pirate Ships.

And then there was you Dad.

You were there,
to read to me each night.
You were there,
with the father’s voice
of truth and strength,
of kindness and courage,
of when things were wrong
and when they were right.
You knew about law
and knew how to fight,
when you sat
and read stories
at night from a book
by the side of my bed.

You were there
to show me my path
through the sacred streets of Jerusalem,
to walk with those
who experienced what it meant
to have faith and hope
in the unseen touch of His garment,
in the mere utterance of His words
of compassion and love,
and to know also,
that He stood with strength
against the Pharisees and money-changers,
those who defiled the sacred temple of his Father’s house,
never turning the other cheek,
when you were there,
and you sat,
and you read stories, at night,
from a book
by the side of my bed.