Andary’s Grill & Deli is roughly at the halfway point of today’s walk, about 1 ½ miles from home. I had started out for the library to return a couple of books and to ransack the shelves in search of more. Having forgotten that (a) the library doesn’t open until noon on Fridays and (b) it’s November 11, Veterans Day, and the library will be closed all day.
I have stopped at Andary’s for a late breakfast. I’m nearly finished, ready to pick up the check that lies face-down on the table, when my waitress appears to ask:
“Are you a veteran?”
A simple enough question, but my conscience wants to split hairs and say, “Yes, but. . . .” I was in a cold war, not a hot war, and I only fired a weapon on test ranges. I know why she’s asking. Andary’s is offering free lunches and half-off dinners today, November 11, Veterans Day. I would rather not be included. It feels like cheating to say “Yes”. On the other hand, my cavils about “service” are not a fit topic of discussion in a bustling restaurant, and even a friendly, sympathetic waitress has no time to listen to my reservations about answering her straightforward question.
So I say, “Yes.”
“Thank you for your service,” she says, with great sincerity, and sweeps the bill up and into her pocket.
“Thank you,” I return. Because it’s just too damned complicated to explain.
The exchange makes me sad, though I can’t exactly say why. As fraudulent as I feel about claiming veteran status, I am still touched. I slump down in my booth and stare at the plastic bottle of Log Cabin Syrup as though it were a magic lamp. But no answers are forthcoming and I feel like crying.
Maybe it’s because of the cloaking device of old age. At 74, I have grown used to being invisible. Even when wait staff call me “sir” and “honey” and “sweetie,” they don’t address me as an individual but only me as the iconic old man. The waitress’s “thank you for your service” might easily be seen in a similar light, but it doesn’t feel that way to me for some reason. It feels personal, deeply personal. Only my non-thinking emotional center knows how to respond, but I suppress it. If I were alone, I would weep. And though I don’t know why, I know it’s not without reason or cause.
Everybody deserves to be touched. Everyone is allowed to weep. No one is immune from life’s vagaries.
* * *
Each year on this day a friend sends me an email in remembrance of my father’s service in World War II and the Korean War, and in honor of the sacrifice he made of his own life on Pork Chop Hill in 1953. My friend is aware that we, the family of M/Sgt. Howard C. Hovey, also made a sacrifice—though, if we’d had a choice in the matter, we would have opted for life, and a less stressful, slightly more prosperous one at that. Our mother, years later, would decline an offer of marriage because she thought that a new father would upset her four children and disrupt their lives, yet again.
I never made a sacrifice like either of those made by my parents. But maybe now I can, with justification, accept a “thank you for your service” on behalf of both.
# # #