While in the check-out line at a local grocery store Friday, I couldn’t help but notice the middle-age woman in front of me as she went over her food purchases just before the clerk totaled things up.
“Let me just check to make sure before you add it all up, OK?” she said to the clerk. Then she reviewed her purchases quickly: “OK, now… steaks, burgers, chicken breasts, hot dogs… hmmm… WHAT AM I FORGETTING?”
I knew it wasn’t the time or place, but it seemed to me that she was forgetting the real purpose behind the Memorial Day picnic she was preparing for. How I wanted to somehow remind her of those who had sacrificed and paid the ultimate price of admission to her families celebration.
Instead, I bit my tongue and said nothing.
“OHMYGOD!” she exclaimed. Obviously she had thought of something else she needed. “The Ice Cream! I can’t believe I forgot the ice cream!” she exclaimed as if this were the most important part of her party. She pleaded with the clerk to let her get the ice cream which was in the aisle directly behind us. The clerk acquiesced. Then she turned to me and pleaded, “I’m sorry sir, this will just take a moment, I know exactly where it is.” This was obviously the most important thing in her life, so I smiled and said, “No problem.” As she rushed back to the get ice-cream, I shared a look with the clerk who just smiled at me as if she understood what was really bothering me.
In a moment, the lady returned with 4 cartons of “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough” ice cream. I thought how sad that for such a solemn holiday, this was her priority. Still, I bit my tongue.
As she instructed the clerk to total her purchase she turned and thanked me for being patient. It was then, I noticed her shaking. Then she offered an explanation in a quivering voice:
“You see, this was my son Jonathan’s favorite ice cream in the world. So whenever we get the family together, we always have this for desert in honor of him but especially on memorial day.” Then as she reached into her wallet for her debit card to pay for her purchases, I heard her say under her breath, “…that damn war!”
She managed to complete her purchase without losing it, but I nearly did. As she left, she turned and apologized yet again, and the best I could muster was to say, “Thank you.” It might have sounded like an odd response to others, but she gave me a look that said, “On behalf of my son, you’re welcome.”
By the time I had paid for my purchase, she had disappeared in the parking lot. I had wanted to tell her how much I appreciated her son’s service and shared her loss. But all that needed to be said was “Thank you…” and I had done that, albeit somewhat awkwardly.
So to all of you other veterans out there, and to the families of those men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice,
Gerry Ashley (USAF) Vietnam Era