Friday, November 10, 2006
A Veterans Day thank you
I was shopping in a family-owned store in Maynard last week. Over the entrance hung a large sign, surrounded by several American flags: "Welcome Home, Jason!"
As I waited in line for the cashier, a tall, strapping young man — no more than 19 or 20 — strode into the store with his gigantic dog (a Doberman?) urging him along. He stopped to chat with a sales clerk, and the cashier told me proudly, "He's just back from Iraq." I smiled at him and I heard myself say, "I'm glad you're home safe."
Jason was the incarnation of the many — too many — young men I hear about in the media who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. With each heartbreaking recitation of roadside bombs, dead soldiers, grieving families and hometown burials of kids of 19 and 20, some with young wives and babies, my rage against this war grows.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day, an opportunity to honor all living U.S. veterans. Although Carlisle has no events planned to commemorate the day, all of us should be aware of the sacrifices made by servicemen and women in all the wars and conflicts that have marked our lifetime. Years ago veterans sold artificial poppies as a visible sign of remembrance, a tribute to the World War I poem that begins, "In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row by row."
Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day in May is set aside to remember and honor military personnel who died in the service of their country. While those who died are also remembered on Veterans Day, its purpose is to thank and honor living veterans for their service. Since we have no town-wide program as a focal point for this recognition, perhaps each of us in our own way can remember to thank a veteran. Since the Carlisle Public School is closed today, November 10, to mark Veterans Day, an opportunity to discuss the significance of the holiday with the children is lost. However, families could talk with their older children about Veterans Day, and its commemoration on "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month."
An interview with the town's Veterans' Agent (see page 13) reveals that no reliable listing of veterans of WWII, or any other war since then, exists in Carlisle. This is regrettable. We hope that the Celebrations Committee will make an effort to identify all of Carlisle's veterans for the Memorial Day observance next spring so that we as a community can say thank you.
I wish I had remembered to tell Jason, "Thank you for your service."
Trial by mile
No two words strike more terror in the heart of my middle-schooler this time of year than "The Mile." It's not that we're a family of couch potatoes; we've earned a respectable number of varsity letters and merit sport trophies. We're just not runners. We're not built like runners. I prefer to think of us more in the mold of Sophia Loren than Bill Rogers. On Old Home Day, you're less apt to find us in the road races than the cake walk.
Let's dispel the nature versus nurture myth right off the bat. I've tried to be a runner. I trained for and ran a 5K (no snickering, this is a big deal for non-runners). I have pictures of me running in a pack of children. Luckily they're stills, so I can tell people I'm overtaking them. Amazingly, my 49-year-old brother still holds his high school's record for the quarter-mile. I don't begrudge him this particular talent, since, I modestly boast, with respect to all other talents, the genetic dice rolled my way. I blame all genetic deficiencies in my offspring on my husband's side of the family, anyhow.
Nevertheless, twice a year — once in the fall and once in the spring for comparison — all middle schoolers are required to test their physical fitness by performing a series of sit-ups, pull-ups and toe stretches, and by running The Mile. I'm sure this hearkens back to President Kennedy's Council on Youth Fitness. With visions of a barefoot Jack Kennedy jogging along the beach, our 1962 first-grade class all received pamphlets bearing red, white and blue silhouettes of trim bodies doing calisthenics. We'd record our progress toward national sit-up goals with the dream of accepting a Presidential Physical Fitness Award from the handsome young president himself. And who could forget Robert Preston's demented Chicken Fat song: "Touch down! Every morning! Ten Times! Not just now and then! Give that chicken fat back to the chicken! And don't be chicken again!"
My middle-schooler (let's call her Dixie because that's her name) is not the only young teen who wants The Mile behind her. Last year, she accidentally stepped on the heel of the boy in front of her and yanked off his sneaker. Rather than stop and pick it up, the boy preferred to finish the race with one shoe. Dixie understood. Why prolong the agony by retracing your steps? Dixie still revels in last spring's achievement. Did she surpass her personal best? No. With sick days, heat delays and year-end curriculum crunches, she managed to avoid the run altogether. I've been told of the girl who suspiciously, but without fail, has shown up the week of The Mile on crutches.
Of course, there's a moral to this saga. The worst dragons are in your mind. Dixie starts dreading The Mile before school starts in September, and the gym teachers drop hints beginning with the first gym class (confirming that gym teachers are sadists), and then the actual event is over in eight minutes. In this respect, The Mile is a rarity — a terrible ordeal that is over in the blink of an eye. Isn't it just good things that are supposed to be like that?
© 2006 The