Observing Memorial Day
Love & Sacrifice
For Our Soldiers: Then and Now
The flag danced in the brisk breeze to the accompaniment of hardware tattooing against the metal pole. I still get the same feeling every time I come. The only difference is; I'm a grown man, not five years old asking my mother when my father was coming home. She'd no answer for me; just the sad dullness in her eyes, before tears began to fall. She'd look at me, squeezing my hand and whisper, "Johnny, Daddy's with God now. He's a soldier in Heaven." I'd look into her eyes, knowing in my heart that she wished God would send Daddy back to us, too.
Every year I come here. I used to think it was to remember my father, and all the heroes that fought for our freedom. Now, I feel it's more a sense of duty and of pride. I watch families come and go; standing by the memorial bearing their loved one's name. Some cry; some say prayers. Me? I just watch, and wonder what might have been.
It's always cold whenever I do come. The weatherman's always wrong. "We are expecting warm weather today. Around 78 to 82 degrees. Perfect Memorial Day weather. Not a cloud in the sky..." Although the sun is shining brightly, the wind is blowing, and you can feel the chill in the air. I can feel it in my bones...the wind. It's like someone opened the door on a cold winter's night, after you just got out of the bed from beneath your warm blanket, trying to make it to the bathroom real quick before the cold air realizes that you are no longer bundled up, and just before you make it back to your bed, the cold air grips you, and says, "I gotcha!". It takes you about twenty minutes to get warm again, and another twenty to fall back into a comfortable sleep, and before you realize it, your mom is waking you up, telling you it's time for school. Yeah, it's cold today.
"Are you ready, John?" That's my fiance, Charlotte. Seven years and going strong.
"Not yet, Baby." I wanted to squeeze her hand. She's the best thing that has happened to my life.
"Alright. Don't forget; we have Danielle's barbecue to go to?"
Ugh! Danielle! I love my fiance. But her sister Danielle is a pill!
"Oh, c'mon, John. Danni's not that bad. Well...maybe a little," Charlotte laughs, after seeing my expression.
"You know your sister makes a pit-bull look like a kitten!"
"John! She's not that bad!"
I just look at Charlotte with a, "C'mon now...let's be real look" on my face.
"Okay...you're right! But still...she means well-most of the time. She just has a hard way of showing it."
"Any harder, she'd be stone!"
"John!" Charlotte slaps my shoulder.
I have to laugh. "I'm sorry. I'll be nice. But I swear...if she starts in on me, I'm not responsible for what I might do," I warn her.
"Alright. Alright." She gives me a small kiss. I can feel electricity run through my body. "I'll be over by the benches," she smiles before kissing me again, then walks away.
"I won't be much longer," I say after her.
Charlotte. There are three things I would die for: my mother, my country, and Charlotte. Unfortunately, the second one was put to the test.
The hardware from the flag hitting the metal pole, takes my attention. The clicking surfaces memories that I wish to stay buried, but arise without notice or fair warning. It just got colder, and I can feel a chill deep within my bones--not from the wind. More people have arrived. They stand by the names of their loves ones and take pictures. I remember my mother doing that once. She doesn't come anymore. She says that she no longer needs to come. She has her pictures, her memories, and own memorial at home. Coming here reminds her too much of what she lost, and the fact that she had to share my father. Once I was able to come on my own, she stopped sharing and held her own private memorial.
It almost killed her when I joined the service. She blamed herself. My mother felt that if she hadn't brought me so many times to this memorial, then perhaps I wouldn't have had such a need to follow in my father's footsteps. I told her she was wrong. Yet, a part of it was true. I wanted a part of my father. And, the only way I knew how to get it, was to walk in the same path he walked on; to know what it felt like to fight for your country and, to even perhaps die. It wasn't to hurt my mother; but to honor the man I never really knew, but idolized every waking moment.
"But what if you die, Johnny?" My mother cried.
"That's a part of war, Mom."
"I don't want to share you with this country! I already shared your father! I don't want to share my son, too!" She cried for weeks.
Only a week to go. Not a scratch. Not even a hangnail. Home was in the horizon. It was a daily inspection. Done thousands of times. Only this time would be different. I lost four men that day. Four months later, I'm home. Never the same. Blessed to be alive; but sorry at the same time.
"You ready, Sweetheart?" Charlotte doesn't mind. She loves me no matter what.
"Yeah. I guess so."
"I'll pull the car around," she smiles at me, just like she used to before I left. There's no difference in her eyes.
"Hello, son. Thanks for serving our country," an older man in uniform salutes me.
"Thank you sir!" I nod my head. I would salute; but I gave two arms and a leg for my country.
©2008 Ruthe McDonald. All Rights Reserved.
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