Once again, Memorial Day Weekend sort of crept up on me while I wasn’t looking. In recent years, the holiday hasn’t meant to me what it used to. When I was a kid, Memorial Day was a big deal. It would be met with a parade, then picnics at a park – or perhaps a cook-out at home. Regardless of how the day was celebrated, it was always on May 30, whatever day of the week that date happened to be from year to year.
After the date was changed in 1968, as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, I always had trouble remembering to, well, remember on the last Monday in May, no matter the date. When I worked at the hospital, the three-day weekend was not a factor for me. If we were on call, we worked every day of the week, no matter what. And as a writer the only way I have the three-day weekend is if I give myself days off. Usually, I’m knee-deep in a project and days off are not happening.
This year, I’m knee-deep in getting ready for rotator cuff surgery on May 31, trying to get as much writing done before I’ll be limited in arm movement for a few weeks. It’s amazing how typing can affect the muscles clear up to your shoulder joint. I didn’t realize that until I injured mine and discovered that I can’t type for very long before my shoulder decides to yell at me a bit.
Memorial Day is a day to remember those who have fought and died for the cause of freedom, and I want to thank all of the men and women in my family who have served in the military. While not all died in combat, there are many on my father’s side of the family who served in every war and conflict since before the American Revolution. They are all buried in a family cemetery in Fairmont WVA that I was able to visit some years ago. What a thrill it was.
My father was not able to carry on that family tradition of service. He wanted to enlist after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but he was not accepted because he was color blind. I don’t know how deeply he felt the disappointment, or if he even did, but in my book about my mother’s life, Evelyn Evolving, I gave him this reaction.
At the shop on Monday, all the guys were talking about those dirty rotten Japs and how they wanted to go kill all the fuckers. While Russell wanted to join up, he wasn’t so sure about the killing. He remembered how he always had to look away when his mother killed the chicken for Sunday dinner. When he was a young teen, his sister, Anna, laughed and teased him about it, saying he shouldn’t make their poor mama do that nasty job. Truth was, Russell hated the idea of killing of any kind. He accompanied friends on hunting trips because that’s what boys and men were supposed to do, but he only enjoyed the company and the whiskey they put in the coffee at the end of the day. He left the killing to the others.
Despite his misgivings about actual combat, when the shift ended at five, Russell went with one of the guys, Gary, to the army recruiting office. Lots of men were eager to sign up, and they joined the group, first filling out forms, then moving into another area for an initial physical screening. That entailed an eye test, and Russell was surprised when he was turned down because he was colorblind. He hadn’t even thought about that for years, having grown accustomed to his black and white and gray world, and he really didn’t see what difference it made. But the doctor was adamant as he stamped Russell’s paperwork “ineligible.”
The army wanted men with perfect vision.
Russell drove slowly, trying to get rid of his anger and frustration before he got home. Evelyn hated his flares of anger, so he tried to keep them out of the house as much as he could. It wasn’t her fault that there had been so many disappointments that made him feel inadequate. First it was the music. The dream of being a performer blown away by responsibility. Not that he didn’t love his daughter. He did. He just wished she’d waited a few more years before arriving.
By the time he got home, he’d calmed down some, but he still walked into the apartment and threw his coat in the general direction of the hall tree. It fell to the floor in a heap. He saw Evelyn on the sofa feeding Juanita a bottle. Evelyn had seen him toss the coat. It was so unlike him that she asked, “What’s wrong?”
Evelyn put the baby on her shoulder to burp and said, “I can tell something’s the matter.”
Russell walked back and picked up his coat. “I was rejected.”
“Rejected? From what?”
“From doing my duty?”
“I went to the recruiting station with a buddy from work. Went through all the paperwork. Then found out I can’t serve because I’m colorblind.”
Evelyn lowered Juanita to her arms and put the bottle back into the eager mouth. “I don’t understand.”
Russell turned to face her after putting his coat on the rack. “I don’t see colors.”
“I never heard of that.”
“It’s not common.”
“Oh. Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
Russell went to the kitchen and lit the fire under the coffee pot. “It never came up. And I hardly think about it anymore.” He turned and faced her. “Until today.”
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt and now I’ll end with a joke from comedian Elayne Boosler. “We have women in the military but they don’t put us in the front lines. They don’t know if we can fight, if we can kill. I think we can. All the general has to do is walk over to the women and say, ‘You see the enemy over there? They say you look fat in those uniforms.”
Whatever your plans for the weekend, I hope they are filled with fun and laughter and good times. Be safe. Be happy.