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I was in a Veteran’s Day Parade …

… and I liked it.

Becky was slowly coming around to accepting me as a colleague.  With seven years on me, she was the more mature one.  She was married, she had a child, she went to church regularly.

She went to Tupperware and candle parties!

I was the kid who just kept getting lucky and making those sales.  I was the girl who wore leggings and legwarmers and high top sneakers into the office, while she dressed in “appropriate office attire.”

I was very aware that she didn’t quite get me, that she kinda-sorta looked down her nose at me.  We were more-or-less tentative friends, sharing a few lunches and even going on a few sales appointments together.  She always took the commission.  I was the new kid and I kept my mouth shut.

So one day, she’s there at my desk, big friendly grin, asking me to lunch.  Asking me to lunch on her dime.  A first! Wow! Maybe she’d come around and really liked me now.

A short time later we’re sitting in a steakhouse, burgers and salads served, when she pops the question.

“I need your help this weekend. Me and a group of ladies are going to be in the Veteran’s Parade and we need someone to drive the car.”

I was floored.  Yes, Becky was ex-army. I knew that, but thought she’d left those days long behind. I mean isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?  Isn’t all that stuff rather corny? Uncool?

But I was the new kid, and I wanted Becky to like me.

So that’s how I found myself  driving a stretch limo (Becky had somehow copped it from a local funeral home) at a snail’s pace down main street one chilly Veteran’s Day while seven lady vets tittered and chattered in the seats behind me.  Out on the street in front of me, Becky and another woman proudly carried a banner (Women Veterans: Service, Honor, Courage), intermittent flurries of snow landing in their hair and atop the shoulders of their uniforms, waving to the clusters of people who’d gathered here and there along the parade’s route.

It was truly surreal. Me? In a Veteran’s Parade? Driving women in uniform, women with flags pinned to their lapels, women with — I kid you not — army, air force, navy and marine earrings?

And the people along the path?  They were waving flags, applauding, cheering, calling out “thank you” over and over again.

The silliness of it all.

And then, as I slowly rounded a corner, there he was:  tough-posed in his tight leather pants and vest, wallet chain, long dark hair streaming down his back.  Thumb tucked into belt, taking in the panorama through aviator sunglasses. Mr. Cool. Mr. ultra-hip.  Hispanic and sexy and beautiful.  You would think this would be the last place he’d be, wouldn’t you?

As the car eased up to where he was standing, Jeanette and Claudia leaned through the window, blowing kisses, waving back at the crowd.  I watched the Latino Adonis’s gaze move to our car. Slowly — because he was so sexy chichi and it’s the only way he’d ever move — he raised his arm, a slight smile at the corners of his mouth. And then …

… he gave these Veteran ladies a thumbs up!

What did I do? I started to cry; that’s what I did.

Because I finally was getting why this day was so important.  Because I was humbled that I — the all American white bread girl — had been taught, with one simple gesture, by this atypical in your face — I’m an American too so Fuck YOU — red, white and blue boy, that our Veterans rock.

But these were tough, no-nonsense gals I had in the car with me; I didn’t want to disappoint them or have them maybe tsk tsk me.  Or worse? Who knew what they might do? This was a Bitchin’ Band of GI Janes, after all.

So I wrangled a tissue from my purse, surreptitiously dabbed under my sun glasses and kept on driving.

As we got closer to downtown, the curbs began filling up, crowds of people waving flags, holding up signs (You served so we could be FREE and God Bless America and Thank you for your service and God Bless our Veterans), clapping, whistling, cheering.

Of course I was choked up, of course I was overwhelmed, of course my heart was changed, of course I grew up a little bit.

But I didn’t cry.

Until …

Around a bend again …

Three children holding up a sign.

Three round-faced smiling children, their arms stretched high, holding up that poster-board sign with the magic marker lettering slightly smeared from random snowflakes.  Sign bending in the wind as their mitten-covered hands clasped tightly to its edges.  Their mother behind them, one hand resting on the little girl’s shoulder, the other waving.

We’ll Never Forget Our Father and All Who Died to Keep Us Safe

That’s what the sign said.  Big Flag colored-in underneath, red magic marker running down from the last red stripe, dropping off the edge like a blood-red teardrop.

And that is when I lost all composure.  I sobbed.  I sniffled.  “This is so beautiful. I am so honored. Thank you, thank you,” I babbled in between hitched breaths.

Surely I was going to get it from the ladies now.  They would tell me to shape up or ship out. To stop acting like a daft willy-nilly.  To pull myself up by my bootstraps.

They were going to call Becky back to the car, and then they’d all have a laugh on me.  Later, whenever they got together for tea or bunco or whatever lady Veterans do, they would reminisce about half-witted Angela and her inability to control her emotions.  The kind of female who’d never make it in the military.

But they didn’t.  Of course they didn’t.

They handed me tissues, patted my back, comforted me.  “It’s okay, Angela.  Just be happy you’re here with us today. We’re happy you’re here with us. You know that, don’t you?”

Ms. Dannie (she was 70 plus years old and that’s what everybody called her) handed me her talcum-scented handkerchief with crocheted-lace edging.  Later, when I tried to give it back, she told me to keep it.  To keep it and always remember.

Claudia took a small box from her handbag and handed it to me.  “Here.  I was going to give these to Becky later today, but I can order another pair, so I want you to have these.  Go ahead, take them.  Open it.”  Sniffling,  I told her that I was driving and couldn’t take my hands off the steering wheel.  So she opened it for me.  “See? Now you have your own pair of Army earrings.”

I thought they were beautiful:  heart shaped enamel drop earrings with a black, gold and white star in the center, which I later learned was the army insignia.  Wow.

“I’m going to gracefully accept them,” I told her, “because I’m so grateful to be here with all of you today.  I’m so glad I came.  Thank you.”

“Sniffle, snort, sniffle.”

After the parade, Becky and the ladies dragged me to a VFW.  Yes, I was in an actual VFW.  And it was fun. There were men and women in uniform, veterans  of all ages, families of veterans, friends of veterans.  And they were partying, let me tell you! Tables had been arranged strategically and were covered with red and white checked tablecloths.  Baskets of red, white and blue flowers adorned every table.   Along a far wall, three tables were overloaded with all kinds of homemade dishes: potato salad, macaroni salad, cold cuts, fried chicken, coleslaw, cheeses, pickles, cupcakes, cookies.

Music played, a few danced, some sang.  A veteran — wrinkled and gray-haired with one leg — did magic tricks.

It was honest and it was America. Just unpretentiously real and good and sweet.

And I did put my new earrings on.   You bet I did.

Thank you to my Lady Veterans and all Veterans.  Thank you from the bottom of my not-so-egocentric-anymore heart.

With love, Angela

6 Responses to “I was in a Veteran’s Day Parade …”

  1. yayray Says:

    That was beautiful and tenderly written. I am so lucky to know an individual as wonderful as you. You did a beautiful service to all veterans with such a heartfelt posting. Thank you!

  2. throbbert Says:

    A very sweet tale of American patriotism. It’s a shame it seems to be UNCOOL these days.

  3. throbbert Says:

    You have to wonder when 140% voter turnout in some states…

  4. Angela Says:

    Throbbert: Did you comment on the wrong entry?

  5. science nerd Says:

    Lovely story from the best woman I know. She gets it.

  6. Joel311 Says:

    Wow

    Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful memory

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