Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Homeplace

Last week I was talking with an old friend, who bemoaned, “Mom is selling our old house and moving into a retirement community. That makes me sad, and a little angry.”

“Do you mean you’re sad because your mom will be further away?”

“No. Not that. It’s like she is stomping on all my childhood memories. I was raised in that house. It has always been my HOMEPLACE.

Robert Frost defined “home” as “the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in”. There is profound truth in that. But homeplace takes it to an area of nostalgia, warmth, and memories. Your homeplace is where your family gathered every evening over dinner and discussed and solved the troubles of your world. It’s where Dad told you how to handle that school bully, and where Mom reminded you to take your cap off at the table. It is where you prayed, “God is great. God is good…” and “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

Your homeplace is where your dad met that scared boy that knocked on the door to take you to a movie, and did a thorough assessment before he let you go out with him. And it’s where you wrote in your diary and cried yourself to sleep when he didn’t call you.  That is the place where you dressed for graduation, and where you spent hours practicing lipstick application in the mirror. It’s the location of magical Christmas mornings, and of Easter baskets and dying eggs with Mom.  Baking cakes and cookies, and licking the beaters.

Your homeplace is the storage place for all your childhood memories. It’s where you played with your first puppy. For my friend “That back yard is where all our pets are buried. Oh Ginger, do you remember when my brother’s hamster died, and we had that elaborate funeral for him? The little rock headstone he made is still there.”

Oh yes. I do remember. We had our own pet cemetery in our side yard. Her house was just across the street from ours, and that is where I learned to dance, and where I got my first awkward kiss.  The street in between is where we rode our bikes, skated, and drew hopscotch patterns with chalk rocks.

But, as Thomas Wolfe observed, “You can never go home again,” because your homeplace is about the people you shared your life with. My friend could buy the house from her mother, but without family and old friends, it’s just a house, albeit a house full of memories.

I believe your homeplace is where, when you go there, you find that part of you never left.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Specificity

Several things have happened in the last couple of months that led me to think about this.  A good friend was sent home from the hospital on Hospice care, which means he had little time left to live.  That was the precipitating event that started me thinking about this topic of specificity.

Have you ever lost a loved one, and well-meaning people say, “Let me know if you need anything,” or “I’m here if you need me,” or something of that ilk? Maybe you’ve even said something like that  to someone. You probably really meant it, too. When people who are grieving hear that, they are too overwhelmed with emotion at the time to respond with anything more than, “Thank you.” And they really mean that too. But what do they need? They usually don’t know. And even if they DO know, they might not know exactly what you mean by “ANYTHING”. 

When I was a new widow, I was in the position of hearing “Let me know if you need anything,” many times just before and during Keith’s funeral. I’m sure those people really, really meant it, too. But what did I need? I didn’t know. In retrospect, I needed someone to come clean my house, which had been neglected for months during Keith’s illness. I needed someone to bring me some firewood for the fireplace, since I had used most of what I had. For that matter, I needed someone to clean the ashes out of the fireplace. I had food in the freezer, but didn’t have the energy to thaw it and cook it. It would have been nice if someone had come over and done a couple of loads of laundry. I needed someone to go get milk and bread and coffee – all of which was gone/depleted.  But I couldn’t think of any of that at the time.

It didn’t occur to me until after Keith’s death that I literally(and I mean LITERALLY, not figuratively for you grammar nerds) hadn’t had a break in over 2 months, and was physically and emotionally exhausted. During the last month, I needed someone to say, “I’ll come over and sit with him for several hours and let you sleep, or shop, or sit outside and read, or visit a friend.” I just didn’t know who or how to ask for that kind of help. Everyone was just, “Let me know if you need anything.” I didn’t think of that at the time. And probably wouldn’t have asked if I HAD thought of it. But if anyone had offered, I gladly would have jumped right on it!

Pardon me for spending so much space on ME and MY thoughts, but I’m the only one whose thoughts I can really know for sure, and it is directly related to the topic.

So anyway, I wanted to let my dying friend know that I cared about him, and that there were specific things I could do for him during his last days.  So I wrote him a note, telling him that I knew he was sad and disappointed that the treatment he hoped for hadn’t happened. I told him that I was available any time of the day or night,  and that I could read to him, talk to him, listen to him, pray with him, or just sit with him in silence and hold his hand. I could prepare meals for him, watch TV with him, wash dishes or clean house for him. I could write notes to his pals and mail them for him. I reminded him that I’m a nurse too, and I could also use those skills to help with medications, back rubs, phoning doctors, and changing bed linens.  I’m just a phone call away.

So think about this: Instead of offering to do “anything” for someone, think about specific things to offer. Or if it is a close friend, just show up with food, an emery board and hand lotion, and a willingness to see for yourself if there are dishes in the sink or clothes in the hamper. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Prince Charming is NOT A REAL PERSON

It’s a mystery to me how people can still fall for the same old scams that have been around for decades now. Every time I get an email from a Nigerian prince, wanting me to shelter millions of dollars for him, in exchange for a percentage, I am amazed that I still get these offers! But I know I get them because this scam is still working on somebody somewhere.

The newer scams are more insidious. They apparently appeal either to the less educated, mostly lonely older people whose children don’t visit often enough, or to na├»ve young people with minimum wage jobs desperate for a way to pay for their children to play football or be a cheerleader. Not that anyone with a caring heart  can’t be swindled, but somehow almost everyone else recognizes the inherent “cost” to the victim of these hoaxes.

I’ve known several people in the last year who have been swindled by auto leasing. Making an exorbitant car rental payment every month, that is double or more what a car payment on a good used car would be, should be criminal. I have a neighbor who is pushing 78 years old, and should have retired years ago, but who says she can’t afford to live if she does, is making a $450/month lease payment on a 2016 Honda Accord that she drives a mile and a half to work every day.

“Ethel!” I say, “You could get a CAB or an UBER to work cheaper than THAT!” (Or really, on nice days, walk It’s not that far.)

“Well, I have to have a way to get to the grocery store on Saturdays too.” Is her reasoning.

A couple of weeks ago, I learned of a disabled veteran who is on V.A. Disability, which is not even enough to pay rent and utilities. She has no food, but that we could furnish. When talking with her about budgeting, etc., we discovered that she is leasing a car for – GET THIS - $500/month! We have access to several older used cars we could give her, but her car lease is ironclad. She can’t legally get out of it. She signed a contract. Kinda like trying to get an early out of an apartment lease.

That’s just two examples. There are several more that I know of. If I know of them, there must be hundreds if not thousands of car leasing victims out there I don’t know of.

Another racket is reverse mortgages. I wasn’t sure about that, so I called one company that offers these, so I could get more information and find out how that works. That was 6 months ago, and they are STILL calling and emailing me every couple of weeks to see if  I’ve decided to do a reverse mortgage yet. In my last conversation with them, I said, “I would be a total MORON to do a reverse mortgage! You people are con men, and what you’re running over there is a total sham! You should be ashamed of yourselves. I’ll bet many people actually fall for your hustle. UNBELIEVABLE!” and hung up on them. But they are relentless in their continued onslaught.

Here’s how it works: People who own a house, or who have equity built up, and who need money now, or who can’t afford their house payment any more (because of retirement, job loss, etc.) can give their house to the bank. Well, it’s more like loaning your mortgage to the bank. The bank gives you a little lump sum “down payment”  for your house, and you can also set up payments he bank makes to you every month. They call it a “reverse mortgage” because the bank is making small mortgage payments to you, instead of you making payments to them. Remember that when YOU make a mortgage payment, most of it is interest payment. When the bank pays you, there is no interest payment, so while you aren’t making a house payment, the bank is paying only a few hundred dollars a month to YOU.

But like all scams, there’s a “catch”. The bank owns your house. Kinda. They let you live there until you move out, move into a nursing home, or die. Then the jig’s up. Your family has one month to clean out the house and sell it to pay back the money the bank gave you. If they fail to sell the house in the month, the bank owns it free and clear. Your family is out whatever equity you had in the house, and is out any profit that might have been gleaned from the sale of it.

Maybe the most cunning and heartbreaking scam of all is a phenomenon that is happening on Social Media – in particular facebook. It seems to be an extension of some of the fraud we used to see on dating sites.This is how it works: You get a friend request from (in my case usually) a middle aged male veteran. (I hear the jerks who perpetrate this hustle first study your home page, to see what kind of person you are likely to be sympathetic to, or attracted to, or vulnerable to.) Men are not immune to this scam. A man might get a friend request from a slapout gorgeous woman. My female friend got a scam friend request from a very handsome man in his late 60s, retired business owner, and living in Paris. He messaged her that he was blown away by her beautiful profile picture, and would LOVE to get to know her. She is single, and almost fell for it.

These scammers play to whatever emotion they think will pull you in. They are EXPERTS at it. If you answer their messages, or befriend them, you have swallowed the bait, and they easily reel you in. One woman I know befriended a  man who messaged her, emailed her, loved her, and flattered her for over a month before saying that his mother was ill and was stranded in Mexico. She needed money to get back home. Would she send $3000 to his mother? He would so appreciate it, and he would pay her back as soon as his stock dividend check was deposited the end of the month. The woman was so moved by the man’s love for his mother, and so upset that the sweet old lady was stranded in Mexico, sick, and with nobody to help her, that she sent $5000! She told her newfound friend that he didn’t have to pay her back. She was just happy she could help.

Of course, that “friendship” was over as soon as the money left her bank. BAM!!

Understand, I’m not against making new friends. But let me warn you: If you get a friend request from someone with whom you have no mutual friends, be smart. DELETE it and mark it as spam. If you get a friend request from someone with whom you have only one or two friends in common, ask your already friend about him/her before you accept the friend request willy nilly. Ask yourself about motive. Why is this person, who doesn’t know you from Adam’s house cat, and who doesn’t know anyone else you know, except maybe that one person you don’t really know, but with whom you play Criminal Minds, or with whom you are in a common interest group, so is therefore your “friend”,  wanting to be your facebook friend? It can’t be honorable motives.

That’s enough for now. Use your common sense. Don’t be a MARK (victim).


Guard your heart and your money. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Charlie

Sometimes something… a smell, or a picture, or a song… floods your soul with memories. 

A couple of years ago, an old friend from high school found me and reconnected. 

In my senior year of high school, I was chosen to be in the Alabama All-state Orchestra. What an honor! Because I was in the Birmingham Symphony Youth Orchestra, I was a candidate. I was THRILLED! I was first chair in my high school orchestra, and kinda full of myself.  In the Youth Orchestra I was second chair, but I knew I was better than that. Well, in the Allstate Orchestra, I was still second chair – to first chair Fleetwood McAllister.  Seriously. That was his name. His dad taught music at the University of Alabama, so I figured it was political.

The first viola was Charlie. His dad also taught at the University, and he was totally ADORABLE!

  It’s not a great picture, but good enough for you to get the idea.

Anyway, Charlie was my first mature crush. My first real “puppy love”.  Besides being an accomplished musician, he was handsome, smart, kind, funny, fun, and a gentleman. Opened doors, called my mother "Mrs. Galloway", and held my chair at restaurants. He held my hand, back when handholding was intimate. Although he lived in Tuscaloosa, before I20/59, he drove all the way to Birmingham to take me out to eat, to movies, and to Vulcan, back in the day before an elevator, where we climbed to the top, looked out over the Magic City, and where he kissed me – gently and timidly. Our first kiss. At the gift shop that day, he bought me a necklace, that I wore for many years.

I came from a firmly middle class family. My dad was a scientist and my mother a teacher. Charlie was way out of my league. But I was a teenager, and oblivious to those limitations.  I did the normal things any teenage girl did back in the day. I wrote in my diary. I wrote our initials in crossmarks inside hearts. I wrote my first name with his last name. I hugged my pillow at night, and I dreamed. That’s what girls did back then.

I graduated high school and went to college. He gradually stopped coming to Birmingham so often, and I filled my days with bridge games in the Student Union building and parties ... on yes, and some studying. We eventually lost touch.

Several years later, I happened to buy a piano from his brother, who had set up a used piano store in Birmingham. I asked about Charlie. He said, “He joined the Navy.” And that was that. End of that story.

Until 50 years later. Charlie found me. He had married. They had a couple of children, and now he is a proud grandpa. He sent pictures of his adorable grandbabies, and I was joyous with him. He crafted baby cribs, because now he no longer played the viola. He was an accomplished craftsman in woodworking. (His sister, by the way, married Fleetwood McAllister. Really.) And for 3 years we relived old times, and got re-acquainted and got to (virtually) know each other’s families. We talked on the phone. He was still the Charlie I had known all those years ago. He was gentle, kind, intelligent, talented, and loving. He bragged on his kids, and I bragged on mine. I would know his kids anywhere, just from his descriptions, and from the pictures he shared, as he would have known mine. Both of us had smart, beautiful, talented children, and we shared bragging and stories through emails and pictures. As if we were two old folks in a nursing home.

Then there was a snag… in his words:

“Just a note from a high school drop out about a life moment.

In 1964 a viola player at Alabama AlState Symphony met a cellist from Birmingham.  He was smitten.  She was a Sr in high school and he a Jr.  He really liked this young lady.   A whole lot.  Well she wouldn't want to date a high school kid next year.  As he was a terrible student and might well not graduate next year.  What's a guy to do.

 He found that if you got a GED that the U off A had to accept you like a HS grad.  So, he took the GED, applied, and got accepted.  No money, but had a job.

Well they drifted apart, both married and had two children.  They meet again on line fifty years later.  The cellist had lost her husband to brain cancer.  Now the violist has it.  His second surgery is scheduled for Thursday noon.  His faith is deep.  His spirit’s good.

Thanks to all for prayers and encouragement.”

Charlie passed away last year, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Rest in Peace, my old friend and SALUTE.  I hope we meet again someday in the hereafter. I want to kiss you one more time.  Gently and warmly.



Monday, December 5, 2016

COFFEE CUP CHALLENGE

My favorite time of the year is the time between Thanksgiving and the New Year.  During that month and a half, most of us gather with family for laughter, shared meals, memories, gift-giving, celebrations, and setting goals to improve ourselves for next year.  Some of us visit friends, family, or places that have previously been sources of joy or memories. A few of us will find someone who thinks s/he has little to be thankful for, and make a difference to that one person, if only for a few hours. 

In October, I had occasion to visit the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) Post 4, located on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 2nd Street North.  For those of you unfamiliar with Birmingham, that is probably the center of the poorest, most underprivileged, homeless, hungry population in Birmingham. At first, I was reticent to even visit this organization. It isn’t in a section of Birmingham I drive through, but AROUND.  But I had agreed to share my time and my “talent”, so to DAV Post 4 I went.

I won’t bore you with the details of my visit, but at the end of the hour, I had discovered something: First, I’m a life member of the DAV, but I discovered that I am a member of none other than Post 4! You guessed it -  I’ve never been to a meeting. The Commander was thrilled when this discovery was made, and insisted that I start attending, the 4th Thursday of every month.

“Next month, Thanksgiving falls on the 4th Thursday,” I pointed out, hoping for a reprieve for at least a month. “Do you have an alternate meeting day?” He looked at me with a furrowed brow.

“No. We will meet Thanksgiving Day,” he smiled. “We will be serving Thanksgiving dinner, so bring your family!”

I was a little confused. “Then you will meet at noonish?”

“No,” he smiled. “We will be here at 8am to start cooking, and will start serving around noon, and will serve until everyone has eaten. We will pause at 6pm, our usual time, for a short meeting, and continue serving and eating until everyone is through.”

“Well, what if people come in off the streets?”  I was thinking there are at least a couple hundred homeless people within a few block area. His reply was so kind, and so unselfish:

“It’s EVERYONE’S Thanksgiving,” he said. “We will serve our members and their families, as well as the 400 or so homeless people we usually serve. We will also have blankets and goodie bags for anyone that wants or needs them. That will take most of the day and evening. We will pause at 6pm for our meeting. I hope to see you and your family here for a delicious meal and some camaraderie.”

I’ve digressed here.  It’s just that I was totally blown away by this little organization’s unabashed and unselfish gifts of time, talent, and money… just as Jesus said.

This is the time of year that we celebrate our blessings, but also the time we start to look forward to a new year, a new beginning of sorts. (Some of us are also planning for our upcoming income tax issues.) Most of the people I work and play with are some of the most generous people I’ve ever known. And I mean this in every sense of the word! 

There are those that give hours upon hours of time in service to missions too numerous to mention: The American Legion, the V.A. Hospital, cleaning stoves and refrigerators at a huge warehouse in Norwood, Avondale Samaritan Place, their churches. There are those that give freely of their talents, and it is those who keep the “doors “ of the various organizations open, and who facilitate roof patches, stove repair,  grounds upkeep, and plumbing issues, to name a very few of their talent gifts.

There are those who give very generous monetary gifts that provide food  for the hungry and shelter for the homeless, and support Children and Youth services, and keep the power and water on down at the VFW, and so much more!

So, in this time of Thanksgiving, I ask you to think about your many blessings, pray about them, and see what of those you can share. Can you spend an hour on Wednesday serving soup to the homeless in Avondale Park? Can you vacuum the VFW once a month? Can you deliver a bicycle to some little one who needs a smile for Christmas? There are myriad ways to give of your time and talents.

And while you’re thinking, think on this: Can you skip one Starbucks every week for someone for whom $5 is a meal? Or for an organization that will match your gift? That would be $250/year. When you go out to eat, can you eat chicken instead of steak? Or go to McDonalds for their delicious grilled chicken salad instead of Chuy’s?  In a year, that’s a savings of another $300 or so.  (I could skip Mario’s pizza and eat Publix pizza, for example.)

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Well I’m issuing a “Coffee Cup Challenge”. It works like this: Look at your weekly habits. Find something you can do weekly to save the cost of a Starbuck’s coffee (about $5), and drop that in your offering plate every week… or put it in the “cat can” at your VSO meeting, or donate it to Wreaths Across America, or to the Overlook project  for the Support Committee for the Alabama National Cemetery, or any way you want to do it, add that $250 to your Christmas gift to your favorite charity.


If everyone I know took on my Coffee Cup Challenge, 2017 would be an UNBELIEVABLY wonderful year for so many who don’t have as many blessings as you have.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

AT&T: The Definition of Customer “Service”

If you’ve ever dealt with AT&T, you may have had an experience similar to mine. The definition of “service” here is the one that means “mating”, as in “the stallion serviced the mare”. Just letting you know before you read this.

Let me give you some background: Last September I received a disconnect notice from Uverse. When I called, they said my debit card had expired, so my (automatic) payment request had been returned from my bank. OK. Fair enough. How much was my bill? $139. WOW! My monthly charge is $60. Why so high? Well, I was told, there is the $60 account fee, plus $50 equipment charge, plus a late fee, plus a reconnect fee, plus a $5 convenience  fee for now paying my bill by phone. So I gave them the new expiration date, and paid the outrageous bill.

Thinking this would be the end of that, I settled into complacency, knowing there would be no more problem until 2021, when my debit card expires again.

Today I get a message from AT&T that my internet service has been disconnected again, and I owe $132. WTF? So I call, go through the infinitely long recorded menu, which informs me I just made a $132 payment on November 20, and finally reach a customer “service” representative. 

She explains that, once again, my payment has been “reversed” by my bank, so I owe the $132 again. She also explains that the bill is high because of yada yada (same as in September). She also informs me that the bill for November will not be “posted” until tomorrow (Dec. 1).

“Why did my payment get reversed?”

“We don’t know. I suggest you call your bank.”

So I make the payment, and immediately call the bank. They tell me they have received no request for payment from AT&T in months. So, of course, I call AT&T back.

Recording:  Is this regarding the payment you made today? Do you wish details?

ME: NO.

Recording: How can I help you? I can understand complete sentences.

ME: I want to speak to a supervisor.

Recording: I’m sorry.  I don’t understand.

ME: I – WANT – TO – SPEAK – WITH – A – SUPERVISOR

Recording: Is this regarding the payment you made today? Do you wish details?

ME: NO. SUPERVISOR PLEASE.

Recording: I’ll  connect you with someone who can help you with that.

Jay: Hello. My name is Jay. How can I help you?

ME: You can connect me with a supervisor.

Jay:  Can you tell me what this is in regards to?

ME: Yes. My Uverse account.

Jay: Maybe it’s something I can help you with.

ME: I seriously doubt that. Just connect me with a supervisor.

Jay: All our supervisors are busy helping other people.

ME:  I’m not surprised. If all your customers are as pissed off as I am, I’m sure they’re ALL busy and will be for a LONG time!

(pause)

Jay: Can you tell me the problem, so I can let the supervisor know, as soon as he is available?

ME: Yes. I can. I want to know why I’m paying $132 a month for piss-poor service, that works about half the time, and I have to use my personal hot spot the rest of the time, and why you say my payments are being “reversed”, but can’t tell me why, other than to call my bank, which I have done, and the bank says your payment request never came through the bank in the first place, and why I’m not informed of a payment reversal until you have disconnected, so there is a reconnect fee, PLUS a $5 inconvenience fee for paying my bill over the phone, when I have an agreement to autopay every month. I also want to know why your automated recording tells me I made a payment on November 20, but your live representative tells me I didn't.  I also want to know how to reach you people, when your auto-recording says they don’t understand my complete sentences, after it has just said it DOES understand complete sentences, because I don’t stutter.

Jay: Thank you for that information. What is the phone number associated with this account?

ME: Do you people not have caller ID? My number is 205-999-9999 (I gave him my number)

Jay: Is that 215-998-8892?

ME: NO. It’s NOT.

Jay: Can you tell me slower?

ME: 2-zero-5-9-9-9-9-9-9-9

Jay: Our supervisors are all still busy.

ME: Of course they are!

20 minutes later, I get a supervisor.

John: Thank you for waiting. I hope you’re having a great day!

ME: No. Actually I WAS having a great day until I had to interface with AT&T. It has been steadily downhill since then.

John: Well, I’m gonna make your day great again!

ME: We will see…  (and I tell him the same thing I told Jay).

John did make my day a little better, informing me that the debit card number they have “on file” isn’t mine, nor is it even close to my actual number. No wonder my payment is being “reversed”. So far, so good, until…

John: I’m going to make your day even better. We can bundle your TV, phone…

ME: I’ve already got ONE AT&T service that works half the time, and charges a FORTUNE for that half time. Why in the world would I want to have TV and telephone that also work half the time, and furthermore, that I can’t get help with when I need help, because the customer “service” people don’t know anything, and supervisors are always busy, because customers get so upset that only a supervisor can help them? What y’all apparently need down there are more supervisors. NO. I do NOT want to bundle ANYTHING with AT&T. I wouldn’t have Uverse in the first place if there were any other single service in my area. When there is, rest assured, I will be OFF your books entirely.

John: So I’ve made your day better?

ME: (sigh) Yes. I guess so. Slightly maybe.

John: Thank you for using AT&T.


Customer SERVICE. At its BEST.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Rest In Peace, Sailor

Every December, when the ‘Wreaths Across America' program is presented at the Alabama National Cemetery, Col. Bob Barefield reminds us that beneath each marble marker is not just a faceless VETERAN, but a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a mother or father, or a friend. He challenges us to write down the name from the stone where we place our wreath, and when we get home, research that veteran. Find out who he really was.

I received an email that had dozens of recipients listed, requesting that if I am able and available, I attend an interment service at the Alabama National Cemetery for a “homeless veteran, who has been in the morgue since last October”.  Apparently this Navy veteran was estranged from his family, and had no friends either. It would be up to his fellow veterans to pray for him, bid him Rest In Peace, and to thank him for standing his watch, assuring him that he can now “Stand down. We have the watch now.”

The Patriot Guard Riders (PGR), as always, unhesitatingly answered the call. Besides providing a motorcycle honor guard for the final leg of the journey, they also stood an unwavering flag line for this veteran that none of them knew personally.  Six of them solemnly carried the coffin to the committal shelter, and one of them accepted the triangular folded flag. At their own expense, the PGR stood in for family and friends. Not only patriotism, but camaraderie at its very best.

      

The two sailors who folded the flag were uniformed in immaculate, crisp white uniforms,  and performed that honored duty with precision.  

The bugler played TAPS.

As I witnessed this solemn final goodbye, I wondered why. This sailor was a Vietnam veteran, so he was somewhere around my age. Why was he “estranged” from his family? Who had his family been?

Did he have a wife that he had wronged in some way? Children? Brothers or sisters? What in the world could he have done that nobody will even come to his funeral? I have to think his parents are deceased, because I can’t imagine a mother not loving her son, no matter what he has done.

He was once a baby, whose parents and grandparents marveled at his first smile, his first word, his first step. He was taken to Olan Mills and photographed as the most beautiful baby ever born. They put his picture in a frame and proudly displayed it on the mantle.

Once he attended elementary school, cleaned blackboard erasers, played baseball, flirted with a little girl. He had friends on the playground. Once he attended high school, played football or basketball, or played in the marching band.  Maybe he drove a beat-up old Ford Falcon with no hubcaps. He took a girl to a movie, bought her popcorn, and kissed her goodnight.

And once he  visited a recruiter and took that oath... signed that line... that check, “made payable to the United States of America, for an amount up to and including his life”. He endured basic training, and served – HONORABLY -in Vietnam. He shared the “watch”. He had buddies. He laughed and he probably cried. Maybe he played penny ante poker or Bid Whiz with his shipmates. For sure he missed someone back home. And for sure we didn't say, "Welcome home, Sailor."

Then, sometime in the last 50 years he did something so horrendously terrible that he alienated everyone except God. Maybe he had PTSD. Many Vietnam veterans did, and were not given treatment. Maybe he was subjected to Agent Orange. Many Vietnam veterans were, and were not given treatment. Maybe he became addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many Vietnam veterans did, and were not given treatment.

After the ceremony, I asked 3 different people what the veteran’s name was.  Nobody knew.  So I went to the main office and asked there.

When I got home, I tried to research this faceless, forgotten, unloved, friendless, homeless veteran. Nothing. Except the PGR, who also took on the job of obituary.  On their website is the announcement of  the passing of  PO3 George Schenck,  US Navy, Vietnam..... but that's not all...

Following that announcement are dozens of condolence messages – all from Patriot Guard Riders, including this one:
I am forever grateful for your service to our country. Your service and sacrifices will not be forgotten. You are a TRUE AMERICAN HERO. May you Forever Rest in Peace. Stand Down. Your mission is complete. U.S. Army Retired,Airborne
The PGR once again serves the USA and this veteran who served her. His stand-in “friends”.

Semper Fraternitus!