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 Como gasto papeles recordándote/ How I use up paper remembering you.                  Silvio Rodríguez

40 years ago tonight, on November 9, 1971, my father, Carl Hagen left the house, took off in the car and never came home again. Searchers found him the next day in a ditch on the back roads of Lake of the Woods County. He may have drowned; he may have had a stroke or a heart attack.  My family and I will never know. What we do know is that he is gone. 

My father was 59 when he died. I was 21 and living in Mexico City. The news arrived on a sunny afternoon via a terse telegram from the county sheriff that said: CALL HOME.  

When I did, my sister-in-law gave me the news—my mother unable to speak.  

In the huge, vibrant metropolis that was Mexico City, my father’s death was jarring and surreal, a cold undercurrent that has run through me ever since. It reminds me how fast one’s personal world can spin out of control while trees continue to grow and restaurants still serve lunch at the appointed time.    

Today on the 40th anniversary, I feel deep sadness and longing for the father I only began to get to know. His experiences in World War II damaged him profoundly. Today, he would have been diagnosed with PTSD and offered help to recover from the flashbacks that woke him in the middle of the night. Back then, he medicated himself with liquor and only rarely disclosed the causes of the nightmares that would not let go of him.  

Veterans Day is Friday, November 11. It is always a somber day for me, not only for the friends I lost because of Vietnam—killed in battle, dead by their own hand afterwards, destroyed by drugs—but also and principally because of my father, who served proudly but paid a huge price.  

There are also sweet details: his infinitely creative cursing, his great sense of humor and his inability to kill any of his friends—our farm animals—including the beef cattle that provided us with grass-fed meat. My mother would despair and serve him macaroni and cheese until he enlisted his brother, Uncle Norman, to come over and do the deed.   

We will always miss you, Daddy.  

You live on in my brothers and me, in your beautiful grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in the words we reach for to try to evoke you.  

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Liza #

    Carla – sad & sweet – what a story to tell.
    I was 18 when my Dad died and I remember going outside the next day and being shocked that nothing looked different – nothing had stopped or changed or collapsed. I also have felt recently the loss of many stories never to be known, many questions never asked. And the many ways in which I am him. Thanks for the reminder.

    November 15, 2011
  2. Or maybe, like so many others, he would not be offered help with his PTSD.

    Surreal. Like when we got the phone call that grandpa had died. I was 17. It was right after Thanksgiving. How was the world going on without him? It did not stop. How were we going to go on–our family. Could the world be real without grandpa?

    In the 31 years, since, we have gone on using what he taught us. Real lessons. A little nostalgia. True love.

    November 9, 2011

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