Sunday 30 May 2021

The Old Army Blanket

I'm not sure why Memorial Day hit me with such force this year. Perhaps it's because I've taken the time to really think about why we have it. Somewhere over the years I've lost that it was meant to honor the men and women who gave their lives so I could enjoy all of the freedoms I mostly take for granted. It wasn't that way when I was a kid. My father was in World War II. He wanted to serve his country more than anything, but he had a bad heart due to Rheumatic Fever and also suffered a football injury to his left eye that impacted his peripheral vision. The war was practically over when the draft board finally accepted his papers. Since he couldn't go directly into battle, he became a military policeman who rode the trains back and forth across the country looking for the draft dodgers and deserters who had failed to do their duty as an American citizen. Then he received specialized training as a medic and spent some time on the Del Monte Pineapple Plantation in the Philippine Islands treating soldiers so they could come home. The sad part was that most of them suffered from venereal diseases rather than being wounded.

He always respected the flag and what our country stood for and taught his children to do the same. I'll never forget the flag my mother was given at his funeral or the gun salute that still causes me to shiver with each blast. I was thirteen and old enough to remember how dismal and frightening life had suddenly become. Never again in this life would I hear his melodious deep, base voice or climb onto his lap for a hug or a kiss. Since the cemetery was only a quarter of a mile away from our home, I rode there on my bike, or walked, many times over the years to spend time with him. And Memorial Day was always spent visiting cemeteries and placing fresh cut lilacs, tulips and peonies on the graves of our loved ones. The flowers were mostly put in glass canning jars with rocks at the bottom to keep them from toppling over. We were too poor to go to the story for plastic ones.

Many years have come and gone since then. I've moved a number of times, mostly farther away from where I grew up, and have only been back to the old Milo cemetery a time or two. Time went by so fast, all the older generation passed beyond the veil of mortality and I let what Memorial Day had once meant to me get lost in the more fashionable things the people around me were doing. It became a time for extra yard work, going somewhere for pleasure or, if I happened to live close enough to family, a time for barbecuing, playing and talking. Little to no time was ever spent recalling things from the past that should still matter as much as they once did. 

I suppose that's why this poem I once wrote about the Army blankets I grew up using as a child came back to me this morning. I had forgotten them like so many other things. I'm sharing it with you because the past should never be forgotten. It should live on, through us, in the hearts of the generations who will come after.

Scratchy, wool, army blanket,
What is your story?
Did you shelter soldiers 
fighting for other’s freedom?


Did you warm civilian bodies 

against the fear and the cold?

Did you wrap the remains of those who

had given all for the truths they held dear?


Did you shield a small, helpless infant 

against the wind and rain?

Or did you lie quietly on a self 

until the war was at an end?


I wish I knew your story 

though it might bring grief and pain.

But since I don’t, I’ll tell you 

how you were used in my childhood home. 


None of us wanted to touch you

since your surface was so very rough,

but you hung in the doorway on Christmas morn

so we couldn’t see our Santa stuff.


You traveled for picnics in the yard, 

the orchard or the mountain heights.

Draped over chairs you made new worlds, and

were ever near when the night became chill.


Your holes were ones of careless acts

since mostly children put them there.

You see, we didn't understand where you

came from or your incredible worth. 

It would be nice to thank you 

for all the service you have given, but

you’ve been gone for so many years
I have almost forgotten your existence.

Still, it's hard not to recall the smell of wet wool,
the dusty green color so unlike any other, 
and the stories of people thanking God
for even having you around to bring them warmth. 

Those things, and many others, 
have made me a more compassionate person.
I almost wish I had one now so I could share it
with the generations who have never even seen one.

I conclude this post with something I read yesterday. It touched my heart and gave me even more reason to reflect on what I am willing to sacrifice for freedom.

The Missing Man Table
When you see the table of the ones who have not returned, this is what it means. Please take a moment to respect those it represents.
•The Cloth is White- symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to serve.
•The Single Red Rose- reminds us of the lives of these Americans, and their loved ones and friends who keep the faith, while seeking answers.
•The Yellow Ribbon- symbolizes our continued determination to account for them.
•A Slice of Lemon- reminds us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.
•A Pinch of Salt- symbolizes the tears of our missing and their families who long for answers after decades of uncertainty.
•The Lighted Candle- reflects our hope for their return- Alive or Dead
•The Bible- represents the strength gained through faith in our country, Founded as One Nation Under God, to sustain those lost from our midst.
The Glass is Inverted- to symbolize their inability to share a toast.
•The Chair is Empty- They Are Missing.
🇺🇸Memorial Day 2021🇺🇸

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Not Always What We Expect

I was really quite shocked when I looked at this site the other day and realized that it had been almost two months since I posted anything. Now it's not that I haven't been busy since I found out my arteries were clear. I think I've been going through a sort of withdrawal because I always figured my heart was in incredibly bad shape. In fact my older sister, who had gotten down to 15 percent heart function for a still undisclosed reason, was telling all of my siblings that I was close to death's door because I hadn't been doing enough to reverse a lifelong condition. She was even visibly upset when I told her my good news because it meant that incessant exercising and watching everything that went into her mouth wasn't necessarily the secret to a long and primarily healthy life. 

I was able to leave for vacation two weeks after my angiogram - with an appointment to see a vein specialist two days after I got back. The doctors still had no clear idea what was causing all the swelling in my legs and feet or the reason for my continued inability to do much without getting winded. They figured my lungs, my inverted varicose veins or my still overly-high blood might be the culprit. So I flew into St Louis feeling no better than I had for years but found great comfort being with the sister I felt closest to.

We had a great time laughing over our inability to get balls in the right pockets during games of pool, watching our favorite music videos and just being together. We spent time with friends during our side trip to Branson and were even able to hug and kiss many of them because all of the mask mandates had been lifted. We spent close to an hour in the basement of the motel where we were staying because the siren when off letting us known a tornado was about to set down. Those were fun and stimulating times. But I also had a horrid flareup with my allergies and spent several days with some kind of bug that caused explosive diarrhea without any warning. Those conditions, along with the allergy medication I was taking to keep my eyes from swelling shut and my nasal passage mostly open, made me unusually sleepy. I had to fight to keep my eyes open when we weren't doing something active or loud.

I came back far less rested than I usually did, only to discover that the veins in my legs weren't bad enough to be causing any of the symptoms I still had. The doctor put me on a diuretic and gave me a prescription to get my some support stocking - which I have yet to do. So after all the months of hoping for an answer, I felt like I was back where I started still feeling overly tired without any diagnosed reason. I was beginning to think that the doctor who blamed all my conditions on getting older might be right. 

Since then, I guess I've been in a state of depression. I mowed my lawn three times, pulled every weed I could find and even got my garden planted. But something seemed to be missing until today. I think it's a sense of true gratitude for what I still have. I've been concentrating on things I may never understand rather than on all the daily blessings I'm receiving. That was brought forcefully back when I read a short story someone posted on Facebook. I can still do everything that needs to be done, even though it may take longer and require bending over rather than squatting. And the things that can't be changed won't really matter that much once I leave mortality behind. I need to be building for eternity with my Savior, my eternal Father in Heaven and the people I love, rather than putting so much energy and effort into things that can never be recovered because I have moved past the years when my body was able to adjust to my demands. 

I share it with you because I would imagine that a lot of people feel as I do. The Golden Years aren't  what we expected them to be, but in many ways they aren't all bad. We have time to do things that have been neglected in the past and feel more secure in who we really are because we are no longer quite so concerned about what others think of us. As I see it, that's a huge relief since we longer have the energy to chase down all the creams, diets and exercises that are supposed to be our answer to the fountain of youth - a real myth that has only made certain people very wealthy.  

That's all for now. I hope you enjoy the story. It brought me out of my doldrums and made me feel a little pretentious because I haven't been participating in my life story the way I could have these past few months. There is a season for everything, and no one is going to make it out of this life without a great many tests. After all, that's part of the reason we're here.

Here's what Scott Mann wrote. I've included the photo he used.

This is Sharon, my mother-in-law.
She taught me it’s important work to see someone for who they are and not what you expect.
When I first met my mother-in-law I had a hard time understanding her thick south Virginia accent.
And she seemed a little bossy in that southern passive aggressive polite way.
But I knew she was important to the love of my life, so I accepted her grudgingly as some of us do when family is forced on us.
After 5 years I still didn’t really know her.
When my wife got leukemia at 30.
When our world was shattered and changed forever, Sharon very quietly and very firmly stepped into the role she was born for.
She moved, with her dependent Vietnam vet husband, into our house and became Michele’s caretaker too.
Over the last two years she bought most of the groceries, cooked almost every meal, did most of the laundry and cleaning, drove both dependents to almost every one of the 300+ doctor appointments, sorted tens of thousands of pills, and made sure they were all taken on time at every hour every day.
And she did this when she herself was diagnosed with cancer 6 months ago.
When she was getting a mastectomy.
When she is going through chemo.
She hums when she works.
She talks to herself when there’s no one to listen, and she goes about every day with humility and grace.
I took this photo before I left work this morning.
She didn’t know I was there.
This, friends, is what greatness looks like in a quiet moment. Waiting on oatmeal to cook for her daughter for the 300th time since she got sick.
Not everyone gets to have a real-world superhero in their lives.
And for this I am filled with gratitude every day.