Sunday, July 15, 2007

A COLD MEMORY

It was late January, 1967, a few weeks before a middle-teen birthday and we were at a military cemetery near Saint Louis, MO. COLD! Something was mentioned about it being the same plot where my brother was buried. Brother? They told me I had a brother, but he died as an infant. His name was Michael. I didn't know about my younger brother until that day. Strange to lose your Dad and discover you already lost a brother too. Makes trusting adults pretty tough.

That cold January our mom, the widow, tried to be sure everyone was being dignified, though she kept herself warm by half a bottle of 10 High whiskey as she made her way to a front chair. My brother chose to stand in the back. I wanted to stand with him, but was required to sit by the widow. She was not in Mom mode.

I remember crunching sounds. They were boots marching and soldiers lining up with rifles. The muffled grind of snow underfoot merged with huge white disks floating to the ground. Chalk like leaves floating on puffs of winter breath reminded us of the frigid air. It changed crisp to painful with each exhaled breeze.

Sharp, quick commands, then:
Pap, Pap, Pap... 7 men, 7 rifle shots in perfect unison and the 21 gun salute was over by the time I understood. What was missing? There was no sound of brass hitting the ground? Snow is a quiet catcher's mitt. As soldiers gingerly crunched away I noticed my brother digging in the snow and wished again that I could have stood with him.

Then it started and I remember thinking,
"Oh, no. My mother won't be able to hold it together if they play that!" But it was played and my mother did not hold it together. Her desire for dignity fled from her with each muffled scream of grief. Being sick with emphysema, she always thought she should have been the one to die. I tried to put my arm over her shoulder and others tried as well, but TAPS took her somewhere and all had to wait for her return.

Snow absorbed any idea of echo into itself, while each note reached out to pierce all who were alive with militant honor. Hippies quietly hid their symbols of peace and bowed their heads. Taps does not take or give excuses.

As the notes faded many hands lifted, then folded and then two hands presented the flag to a husk that had been mom. A
diminutive and helpless shell of a soldier's widow, soon to awaken as a single mom, received it. Her arms did not lift from her lap. She just turned her palms up and the flag was laid down. I saw her cold fingers curl and grip Old Glory with wishes for her man's shoulders.

Taps ignited the fumes of personal toughness reserved for her children and burned away the broken pieces of her heart. Taps bound her to her man and then Taps cut him loose from her. For the rest of her days she would not listen to those notes unless all around became as stone and listened with true dignity. The
temperature of Taps was captured by a white January and never escaped the cold.

3 comments:

Janie said...

Wow. This is powerful stuff.

Gwynne said...

That's a beautifully captured memory. And I love that line "Taps does not take or give excuses." Very true.

Wazah Bellwether said...

Thank you for Tapping in!