"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in."

-- Robert Frost

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

The group of small children sit spellbound around the table, completely engrossed in the adventure being laid before them by the man that is their father.

He spins a tale of a soldier, attempting to snatch snippets of sleep in a monsoonal rain as drenched rats gnaw holes at the sleeping bag's toe, desperate for refuge deep within it's warmth.  The soldier kicks them away and shifts position, hoping the trenched moat surrounding the army issue tent, is deep enough to hold the night's down pour.

Later our hero is fleeing through the tropical underbrush, machete in hand as the zips of gun fire whiz past his head.  He hears each shot clearly, tearing through leaves and splintering trunks of the trees in the unfamiliar terrain.  As he leaps over vegetation fallen in decay, hacking at the jungle with his knife's sharp blade, he yells in desperation into the speaker of a hand held radio, "ALPHA, TANGO, CHARLIE!!"

... And the children sit in wide eyed silence ...

As the lone soldier's eyes desperately sweep the desolate interior of the ramshackle farmhouse, he looks pleadingly for anywhere to hide and await the rescue helicopters he's certain will come.  His ears strain for the sounds of foreign voices beyond the meager walls, beating brush and overturning the farm's abandoned yard in search of their easy prey.  He calculates the distanced in sound and it's equivalence to his inevitable capture.  His only hope, a closet before him and the slightest glimmer of a hiding place.

Catlike, he moves and silently slips into the waiting closet darkness.  He shifts to the small enclosure's darkest regions and flattens himself against the back wall, never daring the slightest breath.  He braces his footing solidly on the ground, readying for the oncoming assault and in so doing, his left mud-splattered boot scrapes an object emitting a low metallic thud.

Time freezes.  Could it be?  He allows himself to slide to a crouch and in the darkness feels the boxy container.  Allowing his eyes to adjust to the low lighting, he sees them.  The tell tale numbers of measurement, .. 30, 40, 50, ... 120, 130, 140 ... nothing more or less than a true bathroom scale!

The guttural utterances of foreign soldiers resonates within the outer room now.  But our hiding friendly breathes just a little slower at the dawning of salvation at his feet.

Chairs clatter, glass breaks and a scrape at the closet's door calls for quick decision.  And in an adrenaline filled moment, amid shouts, a flood of light from the flung open passage, guns clicked to fire .... our hero, ... our soldier ...

Jumps on the newfound bathroom scale to get a weigh.

For a moment, there's confusion in the anxious children's eyes.  And then laughter all around as the story's ending clarifies it's double meaning.

"Naw, Dad," insist cries all around, "Tell us what Vietnam was really like?!!"

But reflectively serious once again,  he ushers them off to bed with a shake of his head and a tight hug filled with hidden meaning.

The children are all grown with children of their own now and no longer naive enough to believe in fairy tales.  It's never been clear, the fact from the fiction, but there's clearly a chunk of life lived in a distant land.  And there are silhouettes. Of two eighteen year old children married in the wake of a military draft.  Of a hasty honeymooned departure.  Of a new father's congratulations on a baby born half a world away.  Of fears in the night and dreams recalling loved one's prayers. No glamour, no fantasy, just life's hard reality.

"Wow, Mom" says the next generation, "Grandaddy looks so young."

"He was, sweethearts.  He was.  Not much older than you.  They were babies sent to do a man's work." and the children rush off to the yard to play.  Their feet running fleetingly over the winter's frozen ground.

Ground that was bought.

Bought with a price.

By tales lacking storybook endings.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, to all who make us free.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful. A wonderful tribute to a truly great man.