I saw the sign Friday, somewhere along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I laughed, in spite of myself.
We were headed on a 400 mile road trip to West Virginia, a trip I was making for the second time, and Meghan for the first. Last weekend in June to celebrate Alan’s birthday.
As we traveled through the hills of PA, I became somewhat accustomed to shrieks of joy, as the landscape at times was utterly breathtaking. And, there were cows. Overwhelming for a young city girl, not given too many opportunities to travel out of a small radius. The camera barely stopped.
I was thinking about the list of things creeping into the month of July already. There are 8 appointments and a surgery for Meg already scheduled. I am annoyed, not so much at the surgery, as I am about the time constantly taken to try to stay on top of this cancer -causing, tumor-provoking, life altering nightmare called Cowden’s Syndrome.
Meghan’s next major procedure is Friday July 22nd. The pathology on that procedure will determine what, if any, delays are possible in the future.
“Stay Alert! Delays are Possible!”
There wasn’t much traffic on the way to West Virginia. The trip itself took us a little over 7 hours. We arrived before 9, and blended right into easy conversation on the porch. Alan, his family, and some friends, welcomed us warmly. They greeted Meghan as if they had known her for years, and treated me as if I stopped by every few days. All of this oddly comforting. In reality I met them for the very first time last June, and Meghan was meeting them that night.
Yet, we had known each other for longer in ways that matter. These men, most of them, were Marines that had served with my Dad some 45 years ago in the jungles of Vietnam. These men knew my father during a brief time in his life that undoubtedly changed and shaped the man I later knew.
Alan was the first to reach back to me when I sent a letter to Dad’s 1st Amtrac Batallion, 3rd Marine Division brothers. I was, at the time researching an incident that we felt may have warranted a Purple Heart for Dad. I sent over 20 letters that week in January 2014. I heard reply from every living Marine I contacted. EVERY SINGLE ONE. They spoke to me, and comforted me. Those who remembered the incident wrote letters of support. All told me that as the daughter of a Marine I was one of theirs. I was to call on them as needed. It seemed surreal.
But Alan stayed in touch. Close touch. We spoke, and still speak via text several times a week, and often by phone at least once a week. As he worked every angle he could for a Purple Heart that not earned in the technicalities of the USMC, we grew in friendship. And over time I came to realize that the relationship we had built filled a larger hole than any posthumous medal could have.I do not mean ever to saint my father. Nor do I mean to make excuses for him. There were some terribly rocky times in my childhood that can not be repaired. But, we had time to make peace years before he died, and I started to understand a few things. A few really important things.
Now, we were in West Virginia, keeping time with 5 Marines who served with Dad. They were wounded; physically, emotionally, or both. They shared stories. They shared PTSD. They shared tales of failed relationships, and difficult feelings of guilt. They verbalized what Dad couldn’t.
And Meghan, oh did they take her in! One by one, as if helping my father make up for lost time, they spoke and laughed and listened. They got to know her. They cared.
Saturday morning Alan’s grandson took time out of his day to teach Meghan to shoot a compound bow. It was something she had always wanted to do, and circumstances had not allowed. So, here we were in the hills of West Virginia. And there was her lesson with the bow. Arrows on target. Success.
A few hours later we were on a farm with the Marines. We rode a “side by side” through the farm and got to take in views we would not have otherwise seen. Then, Meghan was invited to shoot a rifle. With a little hesitation she was guided. And I watched as her tense face turned into a smile. There were 4 paper targets 100 yards away. She fired several times and hit paper repeatedly. First try, “Oddly relaxing,” and successful.
Maybe because we live in the zone of “Stay alert! Delays Possible!” that seizing the opportunities as they present themselves is even easier and more logical. I didn’t shoot a bow or a rifle, so I can’t be sure. But, she is clearly not shy about learning new things.
The birthday party ballooned to over 50 people in the driveway and garage of this beautiful home. There was mingling and talking, mostly with people I barely knew. Meghan found the time to chat with each of the Marines. She asked questions. She got answers. And, in some cases more questions. But they each took time to speak, honest, and frank, about their experiences, and about her Grandpa.
I stole away some time to lay on the front lawn and appreciate the flags while enjoying the relative quiet of a “busy” street.
Meghan was met with generosity of tangible items, and generosity of kind spirits. She now has a money clip and some Vietnamese money from the era. She also has some special paintings, and a walking stick. The latter two were gifts from “Uncle Moe,” who was a bit older than the rest. After 3 tours in Vietnam, and 22 years as a US Marine, he had some tales to tell.
When she asked what she should know about the Marine Corps., she was told “Brotherhood”. The simplicity and depth of that answer was playing out over the weekend, and it made sense in concept and in real-time. These “brothers” trained to never leave a man behind. And in our case, that included his children and grandchildren.
The weekend went too fast, and before it was time to leave we even sneaked in a visit with some pigs down the road. City girls have to make the most of things when they are around!
Preparing to leave on Sunday was harder than logic says it should have been. But, we had spent the last 2 days enveloped in a Marine Corps “sandwich” of unconditional love and support. We know now with these Marines there are no “goodbyes,” only “see you soon!”
As we drove I don’t think either of us spoke for at least 75 miles. The enormity of it all was tough to digest.
She held the walking stick in one hand and the money clip in the other, wanting to make the weekend longer than it had been.
I cry often. Meghan, not so much. Yet, both of us were choking a bit. It was the kind of experience that changes you. The simple beauty of just fitting in. Just because.
“Stay Alert! Delays Possible!”
Not just traffic delays, but real life ones too. As we began the 400 mile trek home we contemplated Monday’s appointment in Manhattan – a quick toss back into reality.
I pondered whether it was right to show Meghan this world, and then take it from her so fast. But, I knew it was. It was a part of her. A part of her history. A part of her life. It was something that I do not fully understand, and yet I needed to expose her too as well.
Dad was not a saint. But, he loved us. Deeply. There was never a doubt about that. Even as he began to heal, he often struggled to find ways to express it. It was a battle in progress, and he was winning. But, he was called home before he could quite finish.
So, he left it to his “brothers,” his Marines.
And they did a good job.
This weekend was for the soul.
There’s plenty of time for