Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Family Reunion (06/05/08)
TITLE: Surprise Connections
By Carol Sprock
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* * * * * *
Awake before the alarm, Captain Mark Riechts greeted the dawn with a sigh of wistful nostalgia. Pulling on his dress khakis, he fingered the sharp creases carefully ironed into place by his wife Linda and glanced to the bed where she shifted back into sleep as if it were an ordinary day, this, his last day in the Navy. Although he had played down the event, he could not deny that his retirement from the reserves closed not just a chapter of his life but acted as the dénouement of a major plot line, one threatening to be empty of any satisfying resolution.
Uncharacteristically, part of him felt a celebration, or perhaps a wake, was in order, instead of the ten-minute conventional transfer of his squad to another before standing down. Still, he knew it would be an emotion-ladened farewell conducted with that peculiar military control marked by stoic faces haunted with ghosts of watery smiles, by brusque shoulder claps, and by handshakes held a bit longer, gripped more tightly. Of course, Linda would be there, and his daughter Marie--if she could find an appropriate outfit, she said. Neither, however, could truly understand the significance of leaving the Navy brotherhood. Drinking his coffee, he gazed blankly through the second-story kitchen window down into his neighbor’s backyard, failing to notice the patches of lime-green peeking through the deep, rusty-green trees to his left.
* * * * * *
The younger son and wife paced the Cincinnati airport, no standby seats available on their intended connection from San Diego, California to Battle Creek, Michigan. They discussed whether he might force his pilot status into an emergency seating (leaving his wife behind). Heads bobbing as if watching a tennis match, they checked their watches, the departure board, the alternate flights to Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Their faces were taut, voices husky, despairing.
* * * * * *
In her robe, fresh from a shower, Marie knocked heartily on the van’s window until her brother’s tousled head appeared with a muttered “Yeah.” She grinned and danced back to the house. Her mother Linda raced thirty miles away from where Mark was drilling, frantically praying everything would work out, including this foolhardy drive of faith founded on the slim chance her son and daughter-in-law had made the last possible connection. The timing would be close, too close, she feared.
* * * * * *
At a government-green metal desk, Mark wearily signed the last set of paperwork. Staring at a VA health notice tacked above his head onto the mustard wall, he wondered whether his sons were thinking of him today. They probably considered this a mere business formality, and they would be right. This day was no rite of passage, certainly not like those days he had sworn his two sons as officers into the Navy.
Besides, their Navy seemed so different from his, and he questioned whether they even felt that unique bond with their compatriots. Zach seemed ardent about serving, yet distant, perhaps because Mark had shoved him toward a Navy program that would pay for graduate studies in psychology. And Henry, well, he too was a pilot but a fighter pilot, completely unlike Mark’s anti-submarine flying. Fighter pilots were so fiercely independent.
The officer of the day interrupted his musings; his time had come. Marching into the arena with his unit, Mark halted before his commanding officer. While they exchanged their ritual of words, his eyes wandered to the visitors’ area, and froze as he stared in shock. A quiet cough tore him back to his commander’s green eyes, which smirked broadly at Mark’s discomfiture.
After the “at ease” order, Mark’s sons rose, automatically stiffening their lanky bodies in a strong, proud stance. Seated behind them, their wives, his wife, his daughter beamed, applauding without self-consciousness in rhythm with the entire rank and file. In mirror motion, making him wonder how long they had practiced, Lieutenants Zach and Henry Riechts smartly, joyously saluted their father and superior officer. Mark snapped one in return, his tears freely, unreservedly falling, for those salutes enveloped him in the embrace only one Navy comrade can give to another.
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