Daughter Caitlin, 9, had come along. Christal was talking about her 30-day project when Caitlin piped up.
"Christal," she said. "My mommy says your daddy was in a war, too."
"Yes, a long time ago, my daddy was in a war called Vietnam," Christal told her. "Miss Christal," said Caitlin. "Were you scared of your daddy like I am scared of mine? My daddy yells a lot and I go into my room and hide."
"Caitlin," said Christal. "Sometimes when someone comes back from war, they can't help themselves. Like a baby who cries."
Christal had always thought her father was distant and detached because he didn't love her. She always thought it was her fault.
"Yeah, because they've seen bad things," Caitlin said.
Christal had spoken with other grown children of Vietnam veterans. But this was the first time she saw herself in a child.
Christal contained herself in front of Caitlin. But when she and her mom drove away after lunch, Christal burst into tears.
It was a week before her book launch. Christal had a calendar chock-full of media interviews. She was confident that veteran communities would welcome her book. She was less sure about her father.
It took him two days to finish reading.
The phone rang, finally, on a Tuesday afternoon.
"It's a good book, Christal," Delmer told her.
"Do you like it?" she asked.
"Yes, I do."
No other review was going to matter.
In his footsteps
Along a living room wall in Christal's home in Atlanta stands a case containing a new Alvarez guitar. Delmer bought it for her three years ago, the first time they spent Christmas together after the 30-day project.
She'd told him she wanted to learn how to play. She knows that without his music, her father might be dead.
It kept him going after he couldn't work anymore. It was like an extra limb. Sometimes he played for eight hours a day. He loves Ricky Skaggs, Ralph Stanley. War songs. Even wrote one himself.
"Having the guitar here makes me feel like a part of my father is here," she says.
He sketched out chords for her on pieces of white paper, but Christal has been so busy finishing her book, she hasn't had time to learn. Soon, she says, she will.
The guitar is not the only talisman in her home tying Christal to her father. Inside a small silver urn is a piece of a sandbag. The color is still a vivid sky blue. Next to it is a piece of asphalt.
She found them in Vietnam.
After the series of talks with her father, Christal felt compelled to go to Vietnam, to Chu Lai, down Route 1, to the place the Americans called LZ (landing zone) Bayonet, to the fire base known as Fat City.
Soldier's Heart, an organization that supports veterans and their families suffering from psychological wounds, made the trip possible.