Friday, May 26, 2006

Memorial Day Memories

Several years ago, hubbie and I decided to go to a state park on Memorial Day. Initially, I was not thrilled at the plan – knowing full well that there would be so many people camping on that weekend. Secretly, I hoped that the campground would be full, but my initial disappointment in finding that we did have a camping spot would turn out to be a blessing for me.

During the second day, hubbie and I decided that we wanted to do different things. Hubbie wanted to go hiking, and after the first day of hiking, I wanted to sort of laze around. It was warm, sticky and I just did not want to hike anymore.

So we sort of split up during the morning. After watching hubbie walk towards an unconquered hiking path, I decided to walk on a more level pathway and perhaps wade in a stream. So I began meandering along a path, got a little lost, changed directions twice, and then happened upon a fairly isolated playground. There were two picnic tables, one functional, one not. And there were two children playing by themselves.

The little girl was about ten or eleven years old, and her little brother was six or so, and she was every bit the big sister. I think I startled them, as the girl just stared at me. But as kids do, they started playing again. I love watching children play – I can watch them for hours. I sort of wonder what the kids are thinking, get lost in their games, and an hour later, I wonder where the time went.

But with these children, they looked a little different. Dirtier. I grew up in a home where money was tight, but after looking at these two children, they looked poor. Their clothes were worn, very worn. And then I started wondering about their parents. Where were their parents? I just could not tell. And these children were skinny, almost too skinny. When I started talking with them, they were guarded. The little boy did not say anything, rather strange for what are normally chatty young boys. My experience with six-year-olds is that you cannot shut them up – most talk about everything under the sun, and they ask a million questions. Not him.

The girl's name, it turns out, is Samantha. She goes by Sam, she tells me. I ask where their parents are, and they say that they are at a nearby campground. I had noticed an old textbook on the one picnic table, as if the girl would do some homework between playing. I have some food in my backpack, and although I am hungry, I offer them everything I have. Not that the food was really that great – camp food. Dry cereal bars, an apple and some bottled water.

I insist that I meet their parents, thinking these two children may be run-aways. Initially, they did not want me to meet them, but I said that I would take them to the park ranger if they did not produce their parents. And a short walk later, I walked up to a tent, and I could tell that they had been there for some time. Perhaps that's why they appeared dirty. I know when I camp for a weekend, I have an extra two inches of dirt on me, so maybe this is why they are dirty.

I meet their mother, and to make a long story much shorter, I learn that this family lives in the park. The mother does not say that exactly, but that's what she was doing. Here is what I did learn from my conversation with this woman: her husband was separated from the military and I got the feeling that it was not retirement, but something that he did not want. Perhaps he was injured, who knows. I do know he was part of Desert Shield. I remember her saying this, because most people I have met talk about Desert Storm, not Desert Shield. This phrase just stuck in my mind. Anyway, apparently things got a little rough. But here it was, Memorial Weekend, and a former war veteran is in a state park living. She did not say all of this, but I surmised this based on what I saw.

Her children were thin, she was thin. Not a healthy thin, but thin nonetheless. I asked her if she would do me a favor – if I brought some money back, would she accept it.

"That is not necessary" was her answer. Her family was doing fine. After talking with her, I told her that I was thankful for her husband's service to our nation, and I could tell she was so proud of him. I did return later, "by accident" and managed to give her all of the money I had. It was not much, but she did accept it.

I don't understand how we have war veterans "camping" in parks because they can't afford housing. I just don't understand this. Anyway, every Memorial Day, I wonder about this family. I never met the father, but I wonder where he was. I wonder where they are now, if they are safe, if their outlook changed. You see, they seemed defeated, like there was not any hope. And without hope, I wonder how we survive.


Video X said...

oh my. that's a very thinky story. i am just thinking about how guarded the kids they were maybe embarrassed. how you happened to happen upon them. how their mother reacted in her head...i know when i worked for habitat for humanity, the people who were going to be the recipients of the house we were building had to work with us as well. they were not at all talkative. they didnt want to talk. it was like they felt..."defeated" that's the perfect word.

kathi said...

I don't know what to say.

I am thankful for your heart.

Rob said...

As a veteran myself, that's a truly heartbreaking story, Leesa. I hope they got some help and are back on their feet. The thought occurred to me that perhaps the man was separated from the service due to some sort of "problem" (misconduct or other breach of military decorum), in which case he might not have had any veterans' benefits. Still, NO ONE deserves to be relegated to living in a campsite in a State Park, especially not with a wife and children. I will pray that they are OK.

THANK YOU for your kind heart, gentle spirit, and generous nature! I know I say some pretty audacious things here in the blogosphere, but I truly respect you for being the good person that you are.

Lots of love being sent your way for "paying it forward" with that young family...

jackt said...

Wow. Very sad to see that happen to the family of someone who has served our country.

moebugge said...

I have a friend whom i have had for the last thirty odd years and even though we do not live in the same city let alone the same country during those years we have stayed in contact. I spoke with him today and we were going through the normal conversation and i dropped a dime and told him i had been at a site which allowed one to bubble george bush and say things that one is thinking when he opens his mouth and speaks word less than wisdom.
i had GB saying " I am not the other george i only tell lies. I can not say that i did not know that saddam hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction." he( gb) was dressed in a fighters pilots jump suit standing on a fighter carriers deck.
we went toe to toe on that one before he realized that he was pushing it to the degree that i was not going to back down.
there were no weapons of mass destrustion and we went there to protect the oil. how come we are paying more for gas now than before we went there? hello?
who is profiteering from this fiasco?
who is dying? Iraqis and Americans who do not have a stocks in halliburton nor fathers in the senate or house. I regret to say war is not the way to peace , nor is fucking the way to virginity.

SuperMom said...

you are a treat leesa. the word is missional. it means to just be living a life that allows for others to be a welcome part, and for you to be able to become a part of theirs. that's what you did that day hun. thanks for letting me be a part of yours thru this blog. you make my heart full of.......... oh well, you get the idea. :)

.............hubby of supermom

meow said...

hey nice blog

Edtime Stories said...

Leesa this is sadly not an isolated incident and your kindness and caring are appreciated. Many of the homeless I use to work with were vets. One had not recieved his benefits for 10 years. We got him all his back pay one time and set him up in a house. It was like he won the lottery.

Memorial Day should be remembered for what it is not the Indy 500 or the CocaCola 600 or the unofficial start of summer. My dad, a 20 year vet was buried on Memorial Day when I was a child. It is an important thing to remember. Thank you for making us think about what we really should be this weekend.

nosthegametoo said...

Life is never easy for military families, no matter what the country.

I would think that governments would take care of the people who fight to protect society better.

Mike said...

What a very nice and thoughtful thing you did.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dropping in to wish you a happy long weekend.


Edge said...

Despite what people say, the government has traditionally treated veterans poorly. Just after WWI this started happening. Go check it out.


KnowOne said...

very touching story....apparently you weren't really lost you were right where you were supposed to be at that given time.....I pray they are doing well or at least better....

~ Amanda X&O said...

Nice story...

"N" Search of Ecstasy said...

My fondest Memorial Day memories are from my childhood. I always spent the summers with my grandparents and I can still remember being there for both Memorial Day and the 4th of July. Thanks, this post really brought back some good memories.

Have a Great and Safe Memorial Weekend!


Giovanna said...

Seriously, thanks for sharing that story Leesa.

Monica said...

Leesa- you are a good person.

Cherrie said...

Leesa, that is a quite appropriate observation for Memorial Day weekend. We owe so much to these people, but as a society we treat them, frankly, like shit. It's embarrassing to me.

I'm not a supporter of the draft, but our all-volunteer army means that service people are drawn primarily from the ranks of the rural and the relatively uneducated, people who don't have good alternatives in our economy. I know there are exceptions, but I think they are rare.

So when they get out, their bodies and minds all fucked up by the senselessness and violence of war, they are forced to compete in the workplace with those who didn't go, and who are that much farther ahead in gaining employable skills.

No wonder some land up in crappy trailer parks, trying to eke out a living on the dole.

The Disabled American Veterans are collecting this weekend. Go find one and put some money in their bucket. It would be a start.

mal said...

that is a gut wrencher. 2 of my sibs served and I am thankful they came back mentally and physically whole. We can not turn our backs on those that did not.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

This is such a well written post, Leesa. I really was moved reading it.


Heather said...

What a wonderful thing to do. It's a sad world we live in sometimes. Hopefully someday things will be different.

Leesa said...

VX: "defeated" is an awful word, and I think many people who are not economically successful feel this way.

kathi: thanks, sweetie, but I think anyone would be touched from what I saw.

rob: yeah, I thought the same thing. Perhaps he was separated by force, not by choice. Still, heartbreaking.

jackt: thanks.

moebugge: powerful words. I heard a veteran share the same sentiments on PBS Monday.

hubby of supermom: thanks for your kind words.

meow: thanks.

ed: nicely said. I really believe that many homeless are that way because they are veterans who were not properly treated for mental illnesses after armed conflict.

nos: one would think this, but sadly, it does not seem to be the case all of the time.

mike: my contributions were really small. That family has paid me hundreds of times over again.

~dr deb: thanks!

jef: I have heard of this happening after the War of 1812 actually, for the non-officers.

no1special: wonderful thought. Me not really being lost.

amanda: thanks!

n search: you are quite welcome.

g: you are quite welcome.

monica: I am moving towards being good. The journey is more important than the destination. And I am making up for other deficiencies.

cherrie: nice thoughts. I read that the military is actually getting more educated because of their jobs (sophisticated weapons systems, etc.)

mallory: yeah, I remember reading about your older brother. Touching story on your part.

~dr deb: thanks, sweetie.

heather: yeah, I hope things get better for veterans.

Goddess said...

Being in the military for the last 9 years, it has been my experience that the members of our ranks are not uneducated, underprivilaged people. Sure, we have those. But most that I have encountered have come from middle class homes. Maybe their families did not have a zillion bucks, but they were never lacking for anything either. Some joined for the GI Bill, to pay for college. Some joined to learn a trade or skill. Some claim that they were lied to my their recruiters, (but I have a problem with that.... you are joining the Army. What do you think the Army does? Builds campfires and sing camp songs?) but most that I know, joined because they WANTED TO. They WANTED to serve their country. They WANTED to be a part of this organization.
I know "civilains" who tell me how sorry they are that I am in the military, how sorry they are that I was away from family at Christmas or Thanksgiving. How they are "so sorry" I had to leave my 1 1/2 year old daughter to go to Korea for 12 months. And while I appreciate their thoughts and concern, I think to myself, "do not be sorry for me. I choose this life. I choose the life that takes me away from my family at times so that you can always be with your family. While you are 26 years old, just starting out life after college, entering the workforce, I am already at middle management level. While you have thousands of dollars in student loans, I have my education paid for. While you have never left the state, I have been to 7 different countries. While you have stayed with the same group of friends since high school, or college, I have met hundreds of the best people in the world."
Yes, we sacrifice. And that should be remembered. Our veterens should be honored, and treated with reverence. They have done things and seen things that other people can not even fathom.
For that man and his family to live in at a campground is disgraceful. It is horrific for anyone, but for a man that put his life in the hands of those who control the government, it is disgraceful.
Thank you for caring, Leesa. The thought means more than you could ever imagine.