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The Empty Green Bag
by Beth Fiedler
Not For Sale
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The Empty Green Bag by Beth Ann Fiedler 3/64. ©2008 All rights reserved.

I simply did not know. How could I? I was very young and enjoyed the distance that youth provides in relation to reality. As a result, my mind could only grasp it in pre-adolescent terms. Those terms were practical because they evolved around how this recent acquisition could be of use to me. After all, it was just a bag to hold those things I deemed important like pencils, erasers and an occasional crayon. But in retrospect, I think that I knew that this particular green bag was special. It just took a little longer for me to really understand why.

After returning from Vietnam a few years before, my brother decided to get rid of the symbols of his experience. He tossed at least one large award that my mother secretly retrieved but persisted in relegating numerous pins and patches to the scrap heap. For some reason and under circumstances that remain fuzzy, I managed to retrieve some of those items. I also managed to conveniently find this large green bag that could hold my newly required artifacts in the same scrap heap. I had struck gold!

I hungrily engaged in my mini rescue mission and carefully placed the items into the green bag. Since it was over a square foot in diameter and had a built-in tie string closure, it was the perfect cover for my newly acquired treasures. I recall specifically that one silver metal pin had a gothic looking blue lion on it that was standing on its’ hind quarters. I thought it was pretty. Though there was plenty of room in the bag, the inch or so long, rectangular and colored pins were left behind in the treasure trove that was the back yard garbage can. I simply was not as excited by them as I was about the others and their actual military designations were beyond my realm of understanding. As so many children like to do, I gathered and subsequently placed the items in a wooden box that contained some of my own treasures to be examined many times later.

Upon examination of that wooden box several years ago, I returned the items to my brother. He received them with gratitude but this time, I knew that they would not find their way back into the garbage can. I kept the green bag since it was filled with little verbal mementos of my youth. In fact, the faded ink that revealed the underlined and bold letters historically commemorates probably the first time that I used the word, “INDEED”. It also has some comical phrases like, “Is it Christmas yet?” There are also some names of fellow grade school classmates who signed the bag like Tom S. Later, Tom enjoyed licking his thumb and then placing the moist digit on my glasses every time our paths crossed in the halls of D.D. Eisenhower High School.

Perhaps motivated by childhood self-interest or something more like the desire not to forget as time continues to fade, I now feel compelled to document some of the other things that appear on that green bag. Bert, my grade school nickname appears several times. I think it was Roger D. who started that name. It may have been another person whose face I can remember but whose name I do not recall. At this thought, I make a mental note to take a trip to my storage bins in order to locate the one that contains my class pictures.

My nickname is mingled amongst a few other names like Bill V. and Barb C. I recall Billy had a long established mustache in eighth grade and was grateful that there was someone else who had one bigger than mine. (HA HA Thank God for electrolysis!) Kiiri J. and Denise H something also signed it. Denise’s unrecognized last name remains another reason to make the trip to the storage bins. With this additional thought, I am becoming increasingly determined to find a permanent place to call home. I really do miss my stuff being accessible.

I also drew a fruit and vegetable scene on that case. I really don’t know why I thought an apple with a worm wiggling through it, carrot, entire celery stalk and bunch of grapes with two flies hovering about the general picture constituted appropriate doodling, but it is what it is. Right below it I wrote, “ THIS IS NOT A TEST, THIS IS A PENCIL CASE, I THINK!” Like I said, some part of me already knew that it was much more. I make a mental note that Tom signed his name under the “test” warning.

A large smiley face accompanies the saying from popular bumper sticker prose of the time, “Smile, people will wonder what you are up to!” Barb and Bill signed their names to the top right of that. Other things like the gracious phrase, “CHEESE BALLS. Give me some CHEESE now” have managed to make its way on this bag that also served as a purse and a lunch sack among other things through the years. As this time capsule of my youth was accumulating on the green bag, I had completely disassociated the bag from my mini rescue mission of the military insignias of my brothers U.S. Army Infantry Unit designated as Big Red One. In fact, they were significantly related.

Decades later as an adult, I was watching something on television that involved some U.S. military activity. I would have completely missed it if I had blinked. But there it was. The scene showed a man placing a metal identifier or “dog tag” between the toes of a member of his unit who had been mortally wounded in battle. The man then reached into a pocket and unfolded a large green bag with a drawstring. The duplicate tag was placed into the bag and then carefully folded up and placed back into the pocket. It was very clear that the bag contained several other tags. As he was covering up the remains, it really hit me hard. I was overwhelmed with emotion and started to cry. Yes, I confess that I was blubbering like a little baby during my action war movie. What can I say?

The green bag that had carried my silly treasures had a far greater purpose. It was destined to honor the memory of the men who could not come home. I started to cry again but eventually my tears subsided. I was strangely comforted by the fact that this particular green bag had come home empty. Then, I opted to focus on this particular green bag that had shared in the life of one little girl. And how that little girl had grown up determined to remember those who had fallen in battle and those who continue to come home.

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