Monday, May 27, 2013

Never Forgotten

He joined the Army in the fall of 1967. 

It was a dangerous time to be male, aged 19-21, unmarried, and not enrolled in college.  Families dreaded the daily delivery of correspondence, knowing it was a matter of time before the summons would come with the news that their sons had to report for duty. There was little they could do to keep them safe from the draft.   

Very few of them hurried to get married just to gain a reprieve; others were not interested or could not afford college. Living in Texas, it was ridiculous to consider making a run for Canada.

He had no immediate plans for the future, but he was nineteen and very few boys that age know what they want to do with their lives. The Army promised him a career, he said, and if he waited to be drafted he would not be given a choice.  He didn’t want to go Air Force or Marines.

He came home at Christmas before leaving for Vietnam.  He promised us all he would be back in one year; he would be fine.

He died four months later.  It was early May. My mother returned my dress, a pink organza gown with an empire waist and puffy sleeves, and bought me a black dress instead.  I don’t even remember the boy who was to be my date for the senior prom. 

We waited almost three weeks for the return of his body, and his mom buried him in the family plot and not the national cemetery. 
Many more young men died over the next few years. Their names are inscribed on plaques all throughout the city and their names are read on Memorial Day. We thank them for their service.  We thank them for their sacrifice. Most of their parents are gone, so others bring the flowers and others tell their stories. 

But I was there forty-five years ago. 

He had just turned twenty. He was funny, smart, and cute.  Everyone liked him and he liked everyone.  The morning he died, he awakened to gunfire.  The soldiers on guard duty had fallen asleep and the enemy was storming their campsite. He grabbed his rifle and came out of his tent shooting, but he was fatally wounded, taking gunfire to the stomach and more to his face. He died in a fellow soldier’s arms while waiting to be evacuated by helicopter.

Thanking soldiers for their sacrifice will never seem enough. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Afraid of the Dark

I’ve always had an overactive and vivid imagination, and am easily affected by all I see, hear, and read.  I pretend bravery in the daylight but am defenseless at night when shadows grow eyes and claws, and the Cucuí (the boogie man) waits for just the right moment to pounce on the unsuspecting.

As a child I begged for a night light but was told my fears stemmed from my naughty nature – the guilt from all my sins accumulated throughout the day and manifested itself in my dreams.  I was told to pray for forgiveness and maybe God would keep me safe throughout the night.  I should also consider changing my ways.

Even then I knew that my fears were not because I was mean to my younger sister or from all the sass I was storing to unload one day on my elders.  My nightmares came from the world around me – in what I witnessed in my family and in the nightly news.

I realized early that children are not immune from torture or death. I saw that many married couples lived together but not exactly “happily ever after,” and very few adults can be trusted.

My fears and nightmares were not because I lived a sinful life, read a disturbing book, or watched a horror movie. 

My nightmares are based on reality and all the night lights on earth cannot keep them at bay. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Breaking Up with Baby

He cried that first day for five solid hours, from the moment his Mommy left the house until he tired himself out fifteen minutes before she returned.  I never told her because she was having a difficult time separating herself from him. I didn’t want to upset her more. 

He didn’t exactly cry – he screeched and wailed.  The neighbors probably thought I was torturing the little three-month-old, but I spoke to him in a soft reassuring voice and held him the whole time.  He missed his Mommy so much and felt abandoned; I was not going to reinforce that by laying him down in his crib and letting him cry it out.

I told him then that he needed to trust me.  I would feed him.  I would change his diaper.  I would love him so much that one day he would love me back.  We would have our own private language and jokes, we would become best friends, we would miss each other on weekends.

The rest of the week went a little better.  He cried only half the time, but then we came to a weekend and the following Monday we were back to square one. He and Mommy had been together and here I was again – the mean, old Grandma. I came thisclose to quitting, but if I did, Mommy either had to postpone her dream of college or Baby J had to go to a daycare. 

I was exhausted.  My arms hurt.  My back hurt.  My nerves were frayed. I constantly needed a nap. This grandbaby was different from the others I helped raise, so placing him in a daycare would have been disastrous.  

 I made my son and daughter-in-law a promise – to give them free babysitting at their home for one whole year and I try to keep my promises. 

Trust develops in baby steps. He tested me and I persisted. He continued to wail, and I continued to hold him and love him. He was fed. His diaper was changed. I loved him when he wasn’t very lovable.

The crying finally abated and one morning he met me at the front door with a smile, anxious for our day of fun to begin.

Today he is a happy child.  He is cute and funny and well-grounded. He is curious but trusts only his family – Mommy, Daddy, brothers, and Grandma.  He is independent but also understands the word “no.”  

Our year is coming to an end.  Mommy is already planning next year and so am I. He likes to learn and needs to be around other kids his age. The life I placed on hold is waiting for me and I need to get back to it.

Babies grow exponentially in their first year, so I have seen him go from a helpless little one to a confident toddler. We have been in each other’s business for the past nine months, so we became best friends. We have our own private language and jokes. We have shared thousands of hugs and kisses, laughs and games, secrets and special moments. 

His memory of our year together will fade with time, but both our lives changed for the better because of it.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cheeto Dreams

The bag of Cheetos in the pantry sings its siren song.
There is no way to sneak a handful without it leaving guilty orange stains on your fingers, under your nails, and stuck to the inside valleys of your teeth.  You suck the evidence from your fingers, but first, since no one is looking, you pry the sticky mess from between your back molars and the inside of your cheek.
You know they are not good for you, but if powdered milk, powdered eggs, and powdered potatoes are allowed to exist, why not a corn puff covered in powdered cheddar cheese? Why not count it as part of your daily calcium intake?
You’ve tried the puffs, the balls, the X’s and the O’s.  They come in white cheddar, baked, natural, and flaming hot, but since they were first created in San Antonio in 1948, and you are proud of your heritage - you are a purist!
Only Crunchy Cheetos for you!
You follow a sacred ritual.  You inspect them, looking for those rare Cheetos that look like famous people (so you can sell them on eBay and get rich and famous), then you eat all the big ones first and save the small, broken bits for last.  
If you are in danger of being discovered, you skip the ritual and upend the bag, gobbling all the evidence in big mouthfuls before some goody-two-shoes (in a size four dress) comes along and saves you from yourself and your overactive imagination.
You hide the empty bag at the bottom of the trash can.  You scrub your hands and check your teeth; you make promises to yourself not to do that again.  No one will ever know your guilty secret, but wait!
Was that a bag of Oreos hiding behind the steel cut oatmeal?
Quick.  No one is looking. You need something sweet to offset all that sodium but be careful. There is no way to sneak an Oreo without it leaving its calling card on your teeth and announcing what you have done.