good samaritan #8

“Evening Magazine,” Western Washington’s entertainment show highlighting events, people and places, featured artist Michael Reagan. The lumps in our throats, my daughter’s and mine, did not dissipate until the piece on him was done. For 35 years Reagan made his living as an artist, but when he was asked to do his first fallen vet portrait, life changed. Explaining what he was about to do, he told his wife he now knew his purpose. And so Reagan committed his talent as an artist, to keeping the memory alive for the loved ones of those stricken in battle.

This evening’s edition of “Evening Magazine” showed the artist sketching a portrait of Darryl Kole, from a photograph sent by his mom, Kim. An only child, Darryl enlisted after graduating from high school. He immediately re-enlisted for a second tour in Iraq, when his first tour of service was over. He subsequently lost his life to an IED, “improvised explosive device” or roadside bomb. A handsome, young man, full of laughter and life, as depicted in a photo showing him held high on the shoulders of his army buddies. My heart ached for Darryl’s mom.

It took 5 hours to complete the portrait. When the Kole family arrived at Michael Reagan’s home to take possession of their son’s likeness, mom and artist hugged, but not like strangers. Tears flowed. My daughter and I even choked up. Reagan’s gift, for he charges nothing for his work, is an immeasurable act of love. “Returning” these deceased servicemen to their loved ones, is all the recompense he wants. In the process, Reagan has been served as well, for he has been able to work his way back from his years of wartime service in Vietnam. In fact, he feels a twinge of guilt in finding therapeutic relief from what he does. I’m sure the families of the fallen, would allow Reagan his well-deserved “kickback.”

The website, www.fallenheroesproject.org, puts those wishing to “bring a loved one home,” in touch with the artist. It also allows those touched by Michael Reagan’s humanitarian service, to make donations toward his singular effort. Besides donating his labor, Reagan also makes a gift of the materials. I’m certain he’s  also included the silent tears he’s shed, as a bonus.

for an artist who gives away his talent… and his heart, huge hugs…hugmamma.

giving thanks to our vets

It’s a good thing we’re annually reminded to pay homage to those who serve our country. It’s like Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. If we were left to our own preoccupied lives, we would probably procrastinate, or forget completely. Of course we don’t mean to disrespect soldiers, moms or dads, it’s just that life happens, or so we say.

I’m a mom; I like all the accolades that come my way on one pre-designated day. I’m sure I’m not the only one. And hey, I can take the day off if I like. But that never happens, unless I’m sick in bed. Otherwise, I’m FIXING the bed, feeding and walking pets, preparing a meal or two, with the accompanying prep work and cleanup. Then there’s the never-ending-picking-up-after.

Nonetheless, I get to be remembered for all that I do, on ONE particular day. I think that makes the remaining 364 days bearable, almost. After 40 years of marriage, I have to give it some thought. The secret is, I’ve learned to “cut corners,” lots of them. But I digress.

So while the 22 million veterans in our country would love to be thought of more often than once a year, I’m certain they’re happy to take a “collective bow” on Veteran’s Day. Several stories came to my attention, which told of individuals, or communities, who found ways to thank vets. They reminded me of the time I flew to visit my daughter.

On the flight were several soldiers. One in particular caught my attention. He was without a leg, and he was traveling with his wife. They looked to be my daughter’s age, early 20’s. Not knowing their story, I could only imagine what lay ahead of them. I don’t think they were ever far from my thoughts, throughout the entire flight. 

How do you thank these stoic men and women? They never look directly into your eyes, keeping to themselves as they are surely in the habit of doing, unless with their comrades in arms. More than humble, soldiers seem to be “invisible,” unless performing their duty. If they speak, their words are barely audible. They rarely seem to smile. Their minds appear to be elsewhere. But where? Are they imagining themselves at home with loved ones, or in a remote area of Afghanistan, bullets flying all around them? How do you pierce that impenetrable veneer to offer thanks? I tried.

As the couple ambled along in front of me, enroute to baggage claim, I rummaged through my wallet. Pulling out $60, I ran ahead to catch up with the young soldier and his wife. Stopping, they turned toward me, their faces, question marks. Smiling, I expressed my gratitude for his service, while my hand reached out offering the money, inviting them to have a meal at my expense. Without hesitation, he, and his wife, in their soft-spoken, Southern drawls, refused my gift. I think he mumbled something like, “It’s my job, ma’am.” The memory of that moment, even now, fills my eyes with tears. Although the young soldier looked vulnerable in his wheelchair,  his resolute manner spoke volumes about his pride in his uniform, and in his duty to his country, my country, our country. They thanked me, and quietly moved along, to pick up the pieces of their lives.

I received an email telling of a similar circumstance, where a passenger was on a flight with a group of soldiers. As the flight attendant walked through coach class taking meal orders, the man overheard one soldier ask another if he was buying the sandwich offered. Both decided, while they were hungry, they couldn’t afford the expense. Looking around at the others in the group, the passenger noticed none of the other soldiers were buying meals. The man went in search of the flight attendant, offering her $50 for the soldiers’ meals. She thanked him profusely. Other travelers who noticed what the man had done, offered him cash as their contribution. When the flight landed he gave the $75 he’d received, to the soldiers, to buy more sandwiches as they awaited their connection.

On the evening news was a story of vets helping vets in Milwaukee. “Guitars for Vets” teaches guitar lessons for free. Upon completion of 6 lessons, a student receives a donated guitar, or can purchase one at a discounted price. Eight hundred guitars have been distributed thus far. Begun by a vet, turned teacher, the program has literally been the “sound of healing,” for its participants. “A new band of brothers,” these former soldiers are finding therapeutic help in their interactions with one another.

On the local news, the incredulous story was told of a soldier who returned from service in Afghanistan, to find that his home had burned to the ground, his relatives having died in the fire. Amazing support from his community brought forth volunteers who rebuilt the home, with $40,000 donated in materials and labor.

Also on the news, two young boys were shown speaking to their military father via “Skype.” They were totally surprised when he appeared behind them, in the classroom. Crawling all over their dad, as he crouched down to embrace them in a bear hug, it was apparent that the youngsters had made as enormous a sacrifice as their soldier dad.

Vets, and their families, teach us to sacrifice, gracefully, in service to others. And so I’d like to take this opportunity to honor my own relatives, a brother who served in the Korean War, and another who fought in Vietnam, a nephew who served several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who now teaches at West Point, and another nephew who serves in the navy on the aircraft carrier, The USS Abraham Lincoln.

for all who serve unselfishly, and their loved ones, huge hugs…hugmamma.

children, “clean slates”

A favorite saying has been that “Children are clean slates, upon which adults leave their chalk-mark.” Although babies are most likely born with individual personalities, it’s also very likely that adults influence their development to a great degree. Our passions and prejudices are passed along directly, or through osmosis. We are human, so it’s impossible to guarantee perfection when raising children. Nonetheless, we should make a concerted effort to guard against leaving a legacy of negativism to future generations. Easier said than done.

Change is inevitable; life isn’t stagnant. But while we can’t stop change, we can  control its direction. Viewing life through a baby’s eyes, it would seem only natural that he or she would want a pleasant environment in which to grow and  flourish. It’s not far-fetched to think that adults would agree.

Unfortunately, life has had a head start, our world seems already “set in stone.” War is waging all around us. Battles are being fought on every front: rich vs. poor, liberals vs. conservatives, Wall Street vs. Main Street, blacks vs. whites, Muslims vs. Christians, U.S. citizens vs. illegal immigrants; big businesses vs. small businesses. On the front line fighting are the stockholders, politicians, consumers, lobbyists, NAACP, Ku Klux Klan, “skinheads,” religious fanatics, families, farmers, pharmaceuticals, health insurance companies.

The fallout from our self-inflicted war is its negative impact upon our society, particularly our children. Many fear they will be saddled with our trillion-dollar national debt; I fear they’re already saddled with a psyche of distrust and dislike for anyone and anything, alien to the world in which they’ve been raised.

Children are “killing” children, as in the case of Tyler Clementi’s suicide brought about because his college roommate and a friend posted pictures on YouTube, revealing that Clementi was gay. Obviously the instigators grew up with a certain mind-set, and felt certain their revelation would be well received by millions having the same mind-set. That way of thinking, “us against them,” has been generations in the making, passed along without thought of the consequences to the most vulnerable among us, our children.

When we become adults I wish we could remember how it was growing up as children. Rose, a black girl at the orphanage where my mom worked, was forever picked on because she was mentally slow, stuttered, and built like an Amazon. With nowhere to go when she graduated from high school, my mom brought Rose into our home for a couple of years, to share what little we had. Another orphan, Fuji, was teased because he was slightly built and had effeminate tendencies. And I can remember telling “white lies” in elementary school to cover up being poor, wanting desperately to be accepted by others. How did we children know that being black, disabled, gay and poor were qualities that set us apart, like lepers, like outcasts? Why did our perpetrators know they could victimize us, and not be punished by the adults? It’s no wonder we grow up doing what was done to us, or by us, as children. Can the cycle ever be broken? I hope so.

I’m still trying to “wrap my brain around” the Human Rights Campaign. While I can’t identify with gays in their perception of life, I know in my gut that they are human beings deserving of the same respect that I demand for myself. Knowing several gay men, I’m aware of their incredible talent for business, and commitment to doing their utmost in their positions, most of them in management. Perhaps because they feel they have to prove their worth above and beyond their straight peers, gays are sensitive to their surroundings and those who cohabit them. Granted, there are those who are jerks, just like there are straights who are jerks. I avoid both, not because they’re gay or straight, but because their personalities don’t coalesce with mine. Period.

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not an easy undertaking, not because it CAN’T be done, but because of society’s pervasive mind-set. Get rid of the mind-set, and I don’t see a problem. As children, weren’t we told to “get along with others?” I don’t remember being told only to play with “straight” boys and girls.

One of my best childhood guy friends, Michael, was very fashion conscious, seemed like one of the girls during sleepovers, eagerly joined in learning new dance steps, and was as heartbroken as me when my boyfriend and I broke up. My brothers referred to Michael as a “mahu,” (Hawaiian for “gay”), but that didn’t deter me from having him as a close friend. My mom thought he was a great friend, my girlfriends liked him, and my other guy friends, sports jocks, liked him as well. In fact Michael wasn’t gay for he had a serious crush on a mutual friend, who felt badly that she couldn’t return his feelings.

I couldn’t imagine the world without the gay men I know, and about whom I care. They’re like me in all the ways that matter. They love, they feel, they bleed. Why wouldn’t I let them defend me by serving our country? Their sexual preference seems to be the only obstacle to military duty. Delete that, and it seems a “no-brainer.” But eliminating historical prejudices, especially ones based upon subjective interpretations of the Bible, seems an impossibility. My one voice can’t “move mountains,” but as Gandhi said “Everything you do in life will be insignificant, but it’s important you do it anyway, because no onelse will.”

For me, those discussed in Eve Conant’s Newsweek article “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,”  are the faces of the Human Rights Campaign, gays who want to serve and, perhaps, die for our country.

Joseph Rocha had always wanted to be in the military. He enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday, trained to become a handler working with explosive-sniffing dogs, and found himself part of a small, specialized unit in Bahrain. Banned by law from discussing his sexual orientation, he had a hard time explaining to his peers why he didn’t party with them, or even join their bawdy conversations. He became an outcast. Fellow sailors ridiculed him for being gay. At one point they locked him in a dog kennel. Another time they forced him to eat dog food. In 2007 he was discharged after signing a document admitting his homosexuality. But if “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed–as many expect will happen in the coming year–Rocha says he wants to serve again. “You never lose that sense of duty and service and love for country,” says the second-generation Mexican-American from Sacramento, Calif., who will graduate from the University of San Diego this spring. “It’s a unique and beautiful thing most of us feel we were robbed of and would take the first chance to have it back.” …

Lissa Young, 48,…A West Point grad from a military family–her father was a fighter pilot–Young had an exceptional 16-year military career before she was outed in 2002. At that time, she was a Chinook pilot and West Point instructor who had just been selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel. …

To fly commercial planes, Young needed new training, but her financial security–including her retirement benefits–disappeared the day she was discharged. She was in her 40s with $50,000 to her name and no job experience outside the military. … she was hired by Raytheon as a salesperson for air traffic-control systems in the Middle East. But she felt awkward in the corporate world. …She…made her way to Harvard.

Now Young is on the verge of getting her doctorate in education, still hoping to teach at West Point as a civilian if she can’t rejoin the military. As a cadet at West Point, she was the first female to serve as a deputy brigade commander, and she returned later becoming a full-fledged instructor. ‘I’m a product of West Point,’ she says ‘They molded me, I took an oath to dedicate my life to leading soldiers.’ …being in the Army and serving isn’t what I do, it’s who I am.’ She would love to fly again, and if allowed back in, wants to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. …

Bleu Copas, 34, joined the Army after the attacks of September 11. ‘I thought it was the honorable thing to do,’ says the native of Johnson City, Tenn. But after almost four years in the service, the then-sergeant–and fluent Arabic speaker–was anonymously outed. …He accepted an honorable discharge. ‘My commander told me he didn’t want to do this, that I was one of his best leaders,’ …Despite what happened, he says he wants to return ‘for the same reason I signed up in the first place: to serve my country.’

The Army invested a lot of time and money in Copas before it dumped him. He spent 18 months in intensive Arabic training in Monterey, Calif., and had top-secret clearance for handling sensitive documents. These days he works a desk job at the Department of Veterans Affairs back home, helping soldiers transition to civilian life. He doesn’t feel comfortable in a suit and tie, and he’s forgetting his Arabic. ‘It’s very rusty now; I don’t have a lot of use for it in northeast Tennessee.’ He says he’s not bitter, but it’s clear he’d like a change. ‘I’ve been told I’m too forgiving; maybe that plays a role. But if there are new opportunities, I just want to take them.’

After 9/11 ousted gay vets felt hopeful they would be recalled to service. ‘These were high-performing people who knew the nation was in need and couldn’t imagine the military wouldn’t want them,’ says Bridget Wilson, a San Diego lawyer who has represented gay and lesbian soldiers for decades. Yet pilots, linguists, and trained gunners watched from the sidelines as the military loosened restrictions on high-school dropouts and former drug users to boost recruitment for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. ‘It really made us crazy when they waived convicted felons into service,’ Wilson recalls.” 

If my daughter were to go to war, I’d want her fighting alongside soldiers who are the best in their fields. But I don’t anticipate having to worry about my child going to combat, so I’ll leave it to the parents of children who might one day decide to enlist. Would it be better that they be caught in a hailstorm of fire with trained soldiers, gays and “straights?” Or all “straights,” some having been drug addicts or felons before joining? I’m not saying they can’t change, but what’s their proven track record? 

just my opinion…hugmamma.

acknowledging trivia

We tend not to notice the “small stuff” we accumulate as part of our daily routine. Sometimes it’s good to pause and take note, for these things must be worthwhile if they’ve become part of our lives. So here’s what makes me “tick.” 

  • Biofreze was recommended to me by my chiropractor for use when I’m too lazy to pull out an ice pack for my aching muscles, which is always. Its label reads “Penetrating, long-lasting pain relief from: Arthritis, Sore Muscles & Joints, Back Pain.” From time to time, I have all of the above, often at the same time. I use it in spray form; my daughter uses a roll-on. This product is a lot easier to use than rubbing on BenGay or Tiger Balm. There’s no residual smell and I don’t need to wash it off my hands so I won’t inadvertently rub some in my eyes. I would imagine it’s obtainable on the internet.
  • Here’s an update on my “dry mouth.” I guess you could say I healed myself when I stopped using antihistamines. Doctors beware!  Here I come!…Interested in being my first patient?
  • Run, don’t walk to your local Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have one, then petition for one! Their merchandise is the closest thing to homemade that I’ve ever tasted. And my taste buds are really finicky, ask my husband, my daughter, my in-laws. My mantra is “If it doesn’t taste great, it’s not worth the calories!” It’s become my husband’s and daughter’s philosophy as well.
  • About my stack of Wall Street Journals, there must be at least 25 shoved into a cupboard waiting to be perused. Yes, I have difficulty tossing them out without so much as a “look-see.” Then there’s the stack of 6 or so in front of me on the computer desk. I looked at them, and saw some interesting articles, which I have yet to fully read. Now you know why I don’t subscribe to anything.
  • Probably won’t read this book for some time, but its title intrigued me “Hero of the Pacific – The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone” by James Brady. Has anyone ever heard of this man? My husband hasn’t, and he’s a walking encyclopedia about World War II. Well, I wanted to read this bio with “…revealing stories of Basilone’s youth in the Rockwellian any-town of Raritan, New Jersey, in the 1920s and 1930s; his first cross-country railroad trip with fellow soldiers in 1935; and his decisions to leave the Army and, later, join the Marines.” Basilone would go on to be a “…Marine gunnery sergeant known to his buddies as ‘Manila John’ ” who “first displayed the courage, tenacity, and devotion to duty that would define the remainder of his brief life and the manner of his death two years later on…Iwo Jima” Sounds like a story about men for men, but it’s also about a small town guy just doing his best with what life served up. Mightn’t this be any man, or woman’s, biography?
  • Had unexpected company for dinner this evening. A nephew and his girlfriend “Facebooked” me asking if we wanted to meet for dinner since they’d be in our “neck of the woods.” We invited them to dine with us. So I set aside blogging for a few hours, and my husband eased out of his recliner where he was watching “Patton” on TV. We drove to Trader Joe’s for a few groceries, came home and threw together a nice meal. It was a pleasant change to spend time with young folk. They’re in their 30’s, so they were old enough to “get” our humor, like my husband teasing that he’d trade me in for 2 – 30 year olds, a running joke since we were in our 40’s. They seemed to enjoy the side dish of sautéed, seasoned Portobello mushrooms, for  they ate them, without squishing up their faces in disdain. And they didn’t rush off when friends texted asking what time they’d meet up at a local tavern. I think they enjoyed our company too. Our house always rings with laughter, even when my husband and I are the only ones here.
  • Was just cuddling one of my Maine Coone-mixed breed cats, Juneau. He’s so desperate for attention that he tends to body slam anybody or anything nearby. Picking him up is like lifting a Costco size bag of potatoes. Watching him as he burrowed down into my chest, eyes closed as I stroked his head, these lines came to mind: “Three kittens, no mittens, no home, no mom. Three kittens found mittens, found home, found mom, found love.” How can I not love my pets, who give so much and expect so little in return.
  • As you can see, I’ve returned to blogging and my husband is snoring in front of the TV with the “movie looking at him.”  Our nephew informed us that that’s what his dad, my husband’s brother,  said happens when he falls asleep watching TV. I guess like brother…like brother.

will say a prayer for you at Mass…hugmamma.

no more pain, only friends

Saw one of my favorite people, for what had been one of my least favorite appointments,… seeing the dentist. Dr. Quickstad and his staff have allayed whatever fears my teeth and I had about hands poking around inside my mouth. To say they are considerate is an understatement. Never have I been queried more about my well-being during a dental visit. But they are so efficient and capable, that they needn’t worry. 

My first experience having my teeth looked at was the summer before entering 6th grade. Our family was too poor to afford such luxuries as repairing what we already had. We could only take care of our daily needs; the future would have to wait until we hit the lottery (nonexistent in those days). I’m not certain whether it was a nagging toothache or the desire to look better when I smiled. I had skipped 5th grade, going from 4th into 6th. I wanted to “measure up” to older students who would be my peers. But knowing myself as I do, my mom probably dragged me, “kicking and screaming” to the dentist because of the hammering ache from a tooth.

As it turned out I didn’t know pain until I sat in the chair of a middle-aged, Chinese dentist wearing wire-rimmed eyeglasses. The framed certificate hanging on the wall across from where I sat, probably indicated where he’d trained. All I remember is hearing someone say that he’d been an army dentist. He went on to demonstrate on me, how he’d worked on strong, military guys. I should’ve enlisted after the treatment I received.

The dentist was kindly, but formal and stiff. From his demeanor I understood that he didn’t stand for nonsense. Not that I would cause any; I didn’t want him to get carried away with his drill or needles.  I don’t remember there being an assistant, but there might have been. I can only remember watching the dentist’s every move, with eyes like a hawk’s.

Over the course of many months, the dentist worked a miracle. Badly decayed teeth were removed or filled with silver. The improvement gave me the self-confidence to open my mouth without hesitation, smiling, laughing, grinning, speaking. But I must admit the path to my new look was sheer agony.

Novocaine was administered with a needle that looked like it was meant for a horse. And there was no numbing the area beforehand. As the dentist stuck the huge needle into my gums, administering the sedative, I pressed my head as far back into the headrest as it would go; it would’ve gone further if it could have. I was only anesthetized for extractions, fillings were done “cold turkey.” The drilling felt like a jack hammer inside my head. When it hit a nerve, it took all my self-control not to want to kick somebody, anybody. But as a Catholic school student, I was expected to suffer in silence, and I did. 

I came to like and admire the middle-aged, Chinese dentist, wearing wire-rimmed glasses. He discounted my fee because of our financial situation. My mom always paid what she could each time, $5 in cash. I felt proud when I handed over the money; for a moment I didn’t feel so poor.

My first dental experience ended happily, but it didn’t negate my fear of dentists. So throughout the years, I’ve not attended to my teeth as I should have. Somehow that chore always fell to the bottom of my list of things to do. But I did make certain that my daughter’s teeth were always looked after. I didn’t want her suffering, physically, mentally and emotionally, as I had. Her teeth are gorgeous, thanks to braces.

At 61 I’ve found Dr. Quickstad who, with his staff, has made dental appointments more like…visits with friends. They’re ensuring that through the remaining decades of my life, I continue to bite, chew, swallow, and smile, grin and laugh with all my pretty teeth showing.

no more pain, only friends…hugmamma.

no mystery, off the court…or on

Well, just as I suspected. I’m sure you did as well. “NO PEANUTS!” ordered my doctor, when I saw him a few hours ago. At least not until my “thick” tongue and abnormal throat symptoms disappear. Prescribing Benadryl should the symptoms return, I laughed knowing he’d give me some good old-fashioned remedy, just as he did for the rash on my right eyelid. For that, he told me to apply a dab of non-prescription 1% hydrocortisone ointment. I like my doc, he’s just a regular guy, nothing “fancy schmanzy” about him.     

After typing the final period on my previous post, I noticed my throat slowly starting to constrict once again. Time for playing doctor was over. I needed an expert’s opinion. Fortunately there was a cancellation, if I could hurry myself over to his office in 20 minutes. I said “You bet! I’ll speed.” To which the receptionist laughingly replied “No! Don’t do that.” I laughed back “No, no. Just kidding. I won’t.” And off I went, driving like a bat outta…

The male nurse ushered me into the examining room with a look of surprise. “Weren’t you just here?” I told him I had been there a couple of days ago for my eye, but now it was my throat. “Old age,” I declared chuckling, “I’m falling apart.” We both laughed in commiseration.

Once we were seated in the room, the nurse began telling me about his ailments, a problem ankle and a hip needing replacement. Now mind you, this young man, and I say young because he must’ve been some 15 years younger than me, got my total attention. Listening to his tale, I felt like I had a superficial cut in need of a band-aid. He was injured during his service in the army. When I asked what had happened, he told me I would laugh as others had done. I said I wouldn’t, and I didn’t, because an injury is no laughing matter, however it occurs. In fact, I told him my husband would totally sympathize with him because he’d been in a similar accident. But unlike my husband who waited a couple of years before the injury was really bad and in need of surgery, the nurse’s leg was immediately placed in a cast. He wasn’t ambulatory for some time.

Basketball is not child’s play when you’re up against a guy weighing 209 pounds, or when you’re “pushing” 40 and going up against a college kid. Moms and wives know these things. Why won’t men ever listen to us?

enough said…hugmamma