Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Honoring Veterans -- a Family Story

This is the official poster for Veterans Day 2009 created by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You can hear TAPS playing . . . almost.

The VA Web site offers a poster gallery year by year back to 1978.

I wish I had a time machine to go back and tape my Uncle Rollo telling one of his WWII stories. Perfect for MP3. I would love to hear them all again. Uncle Rollo could be on YouTube. Imagine him tapping his pipe on his Annapolis ring (Class of '25) emptying the ashes before he filled it again and lit it with a long, wooden match.

His devoted pug, Friar Tuck, would curl up on his lap as he relived the Normandy invasion and his ship full of soldiers readying themselves for the battle on shore. Uncle Rollo's version wasn't quite as bloody as Tom Hanks's movie. All Uncle Rollo needed to do was captain his ship into position in a certain place at a certain time along with the rest of the fleet.

After the War, Uncle Rollo retired as a Rear Admiral. That rank gave him two stars on the bumper of his Thunderbird. When my sisters and I drove with him to the commissary at Quonset Point to pick up the week's groceries, the sentries would snap to attention as we drove through the gate.

I'm still not sure what to make of a life with that kind of order. At home, we lived in emotional chaos, with my mother spending her time organizing our sock drawer to perfection while the rest of the house looked like a hurricane zone. By the time my parents divorced, nothing was "normal" for us.

When Ted & Jan remarried a decade later, we were still a mess. Is it relationships that make us crazy or the particular people we choose for partners? Straight or gay doesn't matter. The hearts rumble just the same. You'd think kindness would be a given, considering the alternative.

At Christmas, Uncle Rollo would unwrap the tin of Grainger's pipe tobacco we gave him as if it were a treasure. The shape of the tin gave away the surprise, but he always managed to look amazed that he received such a wonderful gift.

And every night as we headed up to bed, we'd swing through the living room and kiss him on the head as he sat in his wing chair reading the New Yorker or the New York Times.

I still get the New Yorker in hard copy. The Times I read online. Some things charm the chaos like the skin off a snake.