Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Holiday (04/05/12)
TITLE: A Familiar Path
By PamFord Davis
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Sliced between Memorial Day and July 4 th, citizens observed Flag Day. Each Fourth of July, I relished biting into chilled watermelon and competing with my older sister and brother in seed spitting challenges. Daddy roasted hot-dogs and Mother completed lunch with side dishes of corn on the cob swimming in butter, German potato salad and baked beans fresh from the oven. Like tears, condensation ran down the side of iced pitchers of pink lemonade. At dusk, we sat in dew-covered grass viewing firework displays over the river. Veteran’s Day fell in autumn and I sensed it was a very serious day to my father who had served in the Navy during World War I.
I did not seriously contemplate freedom implications of patriotic holidays. It was not until my teen years that I personally experienced heartfelt appreciation for servicemen and women. My big brother Billy lied about his age, enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and proudly served on a battle ship in the Pacific. Each time I cleaned the glass on his framed portrait hanging above the mantel, I daydreamed of port cities. We kept watch for the mailman and stifled tears because we rarely retrieved letters from the spider-webbed mailbox. Evenings we circled around our Zenith radio and listened to President Roosevelt in hopes of hearing any word of encouragement.
Edges of Mother’s apron string began to fray around the edges. I left the shelter of our shingled bungalow to become James’ bride. Soon after our ceremony, complete with cherry blossoms and Oh, Promise Me, he got an Uncle Sam Wants You embossed envelope. His suit jacket, with rice still in crevices of pockets hung crumpled in our closet. He hoisted a duffel bag over his shoulder and my spirits fell as he boarded a train. I was an Army bride with empty arms and tear filled eyes. He embarked on an adventurous tour of duty as I set sail upon turbulent seas of matrimony. Trials and tribulations take no holidays.
I flipped a page on the calendar and made a mental note to make an appointment to see the family doctor. My queasy stomach might just be a stomach virus or too much stress. Doc ruled out both possibilities. The rabbit died. I was pregnant. The father of my child was a clouded memory as I diligently saved meager amounts from allotment checks, sacrificing silk stockings for baby booties. I wrote long letters to James nightly sharing every detail of my pregnancy. With church bells ringing in the distance, I gave birth to James Jr. on Christmas morning. My father sent a telegram to his son-in-law announcing the good news. When the C.O. hand delivered it, James let out a Wahoo that echoed to Kalamazoo. The father and son never met eye-to-eye. In early spring a measles epidemic took the life of little Jr. I tearfully laid flowers in front of a small granite marker, knowing I would systematically return to place fresh arrangements during upcoming holidays.
The war ended; cities hosted ticker tape parades but my husband returned home with little fanfare. He not only lost years with family; he lost his will to live. In invisible trenches, we battled intrusive enemies of mental and physical pain. Metal shrapnel had lodged in an inoperable area of his brain, with torpedoes of relentless pain hitting dead center. Wringing my hands, I watched as severe bouts of depression drove him to suicide. Lest I forget the impact the departed left on my life, with melancholy I tread a familiar path to leaning grave markers each patriotic holiday. I do not celebrate.
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