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.
2 days ago