November 11

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.

#             #             #

Published by: DeanHove

Married, children, grands and great-grands. I have 3 sisters, all living in different states from each other and me. A couple of college degrees. Jobs all involved writing. I've counted them all up, the jobs I've held since I first bussed tables at 15: there were three in my teen years. Since then, I have held 8 full-time jobs, plus one long-term part-time job teaching college writing classes post-retirement. Haved lived in 8 states--I know, it does seem excessive. The relationship between jobs held and states lived in pretty much explains itself. If my cv seems vague/sketchy, it's because my blog is very much a creation of my critical faculties and my imagination--such as they are. If my writing seems "old-fashioned," it's because I learned . . . well, I'm in my 70s, a fact that pretty much explains everything. Except, perhaps, my progressive views. I'm with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who wrote: "I will not grow conservative with age." I also believe you shouldn't grow stupid with age. I think I live in the past mostly in my dreams, where I'm always late for class or with a work assignment. Which is odd, because I am punctual to a fault and cannot even imagine how people can procrastinate. Those two things aside, I have few virtues.

1 Comment

One thought on “November 11”

  1. I spent many hours in that library. I used to ride my bike. If I had to walk now. I probably wouldn’t make it. I do understan the feelings you were experincing in this story. I am conflicted about the military, but I do respect the service mens service and sacrifices, whether they face a battlefield or are serving stateside during peacetime.

    Like

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