It seems appropriate, yet heartbreaking, that I sit down to write this post on today of all days. Memorial Day. It's a day of tribute to those comrades who lost their lives before us. Those who led the way for Veterans like me. Thank you. Thank you to them, to their families and to all those who supported them.
That's what I'm here to write about today. The people who touch our lives. The ones you don't hear about. The others who sit silently in the background and don't get the recognition they so rightly deserve. Yet they are there for us each and every day of our lives. You know them. You know who they are. They are the person behind the counter at the gas station who sells you that cup of morning coffee. He or she smiles at you each day. What would you do without that familiar face? They are the neighbor who mows your grass when they know you are away. They are the kids you pay to clean your house because you're too tired to do so. These people aren't just neighbors, service people, strangers you see everyday. They become friends; family you come to know and trust and love.
I have been blessed in my life to have met and added many such people to my extended family. In Missouri, outside of Fort Leonard Wood, I lived in the little town of Buckhorn. Back then the population was 714. That included my roommate, Polly and I. Polly and I were both E4's and struggling to live off post without the benefit of what is now called BAS. Next door to us lived a single mother with three children. On the other side of the neighbors were two other single soldiers. Further down was a married couple with two toddlers. To say we were all dirt poor was an understatement. We became family. Every Sunday we would pool our resources and get together for "Sunday Dinner". Those of us who didn't cook (me) were resigned to clean-up and dish duty after the meal was over. Over those dinners we talked, laughed, cried, shared; everything a family does. To this day, I am still in touch with the family that lived immediately next to us. I have watched the children grow up, marry, and have children of their own. Now come the grandchildren. When did I get so old? I was 20 years old when I arrived at Fort Leonard Wood. Today I am 53. We still laugh and share our pain. This family, the mother, I watched her struggle to raise her family as best she could. She couldn't afford a telephone of her own. Polly and I drilled a hole in the wall between my bedroom and their kitchen wall. We then ran a telephone line into their kitchen so they would have a phone at all times. That's what you do for family. You share and you take care. Were they military? No. The oldest daughter did marry a man who enlisted and went on to serve this Country. Today I salute not only him, but this family who was there for me back when I was a young soldier. Poor, needy, homesick. They became my family. As poor as they were, they were there for me. I salute them. I remember them and honor them today.
In 1988 I was selected for Recruiting Duty. Those of you who were recruiters back in the old days know how difficult it used to be. Remember "mission boxes"? They were a horror. There was mandatory "red time" and 14 and 16 hour days. No, I'm not bullshitting you. That's how it used to be. Everything was mandatory this and mandatory that. I once was told I couldn't vote in a State Election because it wasn't written into my "planning guide". I shit you not. One threat to call to the IG and I was out the door and on my way to the polls. Yeah, I was a bitch even back then.
Recruiting wasn't all that bad. It was the BS we had to deal with that was the hard part. Working with the kids was a real joy. I admit that here and now. However, without the support of my Peoria family I never would've survived my tour of duty and that is the honest truth.
I moved into a little house on Ronald Road in Peoria and little did I know that was the best decision I ever made. The neighborhood was quiet, the street tree-lined and well kept. Very middle America. I grew up in Chicago and love the Midwest so this was to my liking. This was a family oriented neighborhood and I was happy with my little house.
I met my next door neighbors right away. Tim, the gregarious and always smiling husband. His daughters, Carrie and Katie. Julie came a little later. She was more reserved but warmed up to me with time. It didn't take long before we were all good friends, running back and forth between the two houses like there was no door between them. Carrie and Katie took care of my dogs during those long days that I worked. They loved them as much as I did. When I needed my house cleaned, I'd toss the kids a few bucks and they'd clean the house as best they could. I was happy with whatever they did.
Julie fed me most every night. I would come dragging in from work late at night and she'd have saved me a plate from dinner. She was always, always there for me. On Sundays, during football season we'd get together at their house and lay out a huge spread of junk food and eat for three solid hours while we cheered on our beloved Bears. We kept Julie's Jim McMahon doll on the table like an icon. I'll never forget the play when he was injured by Reggie White. Julie blamed me for that, ya know. I was pissed at McMahon for the previous play and I'd picked up the doll and thrown it across the room. Julie picked up Jimmy and yelled at me. I apologized profusely. The next play ... well, we've all seen that film over and over. We know what Reggie White did to Jim McMahon. That was the end of his career in my opinion. I hope Julie has finally forgiven me for that.
The night of the Annual Recruiting Conference Ball was a big deal. I pulled out my Dress Blues and don't you know it, the frigging hem was falling down on my skirt. Never fear. Julie to the rescue. She was right there for me with a needle and thread, on her hands and knees, fixing that skirt for me at the very last minute. She wasn't going to let me go out with pins in my skirt like I wanted to do. Not Julie.
When there was a family event, I was always included. That went without saying. It didn't matter if they were good times or bad. Happy or sad. I was included like family. When my own mother got sick, Julie was there for me. There were weekends during my mothers illness that I just needed to go away to rest, to cry, to vent. Julie and her family were there for me, waiting in Peoria with open arms. When Mom passed, they made the three hour drive up to Chicago for the Memorial Service. I hadn't expected them to come, but Julie wanted to be there for me. Julie to the rescue. After the service, we had a small family gathering at my brothers house. It was very intimate and only close family was invited. Of course, Julie and her family were included. My father had met them on many occasions and knew how much they meant to me. They are family.
On Sunday mornings, hungover, awakened by screaming Blue Jays, Tim and I used to sit in the back yard, his or mine, and we'd shoot bb's at those damn Blue Jays. We hated them. We only got away with it until Julie woke up and caught us. She'd come outside and yell at us to "Quit! You two!" She was always worried the neighbors would call the police on us.
Family is in the heart. We in the military add many people to our hearts. We move so much, so often; at least we did in my day, that it's difficult to plant roots. Those who touch us, those who make a difference in our lives are to be remembered. They are to be memorialized. It's not just our spouses and our blood families or the service members who paved the way who support us. It's the families or the service people or any number of friends who touch your life along the way who should also be remembered today. They are the people who sit quietly in the background and never think to ask for recognition. They are more than deserving of it. Don't you agree?
Yesterday morning, May 27, 2012, at 4:55 a.m., my friend, my sister, Julie, lost her life to cancer. This post is dedicated to Julie, her family and those who have touched my heart since I was 17 years old and joined the Army. To everyone who ever fed me when I was hungry, wiped away my tears when I was crying, listened when I needed to talk, hugged me when I needed it, gave me friendship and comfort, touched me when I needed a gentle and guiding light, gave me a couch to sleep when I was weary, loved me when I needed to be loved, took care of my pets while I worked long hours; this is for you. You know who you are and I love you all.
Memorial Day, 2012. Until the next time....