The brittle cold outside vanished as I walked through the giant/wheelchair sized revolving door at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis. It was so cold out that there wasn’t a single wheelchair occupant with an oxygen tank taking a smoke break. (Grim humor, but a good weather indicator: those guys are out for their smoke in most weather.)
I had some time to kill so I wandered around doing my appointment making. Everyone was uniformly helpful, pleasant, even eager to serve. I got it done in record time. The next time someone badmouths the VA please remember that it was the administrators, political appointees, that killed veterans with their schemes to get bonuses. The average employee is a veteran, or at a minimum, helpful to veterans. They have my admiration. They remember the maxim that nobody is shouting from blocked freeways: “Veterans’ Lives Matter!” Over 1,000 vets were likely to have died because of neglect in the last decade. Why aren’t there riots over this?
But I digress. Once the paperwork was done, appointments set, I headed to the cafeteria. This is not an event to be cherished in most hospitals. But since they craft the menu for cranky old people like me, I like this place. Starting with the fudge/donut/coffee bar as you walk in the entry. Let’s get things started out right!
The smell today was amazingly enticing. Monte Christo sandwiches were the featured item. I’ve made no secret of my love for that item, but today I had a lunch date after I got done at the hospital, so I settled for a Diet Dr. Pepper.
Drink in hand, I approached the cash register. Dead ahead, right in the middle of the channel, was an old, bent, arthritic man with a walker trying to juggle a tray with a cheeseburger.
I’m no fool. I’m at the VA today for treatment. They will be taking care of me if I reach the age of this man. He is me in forty years. I offered to carry his tray to the register. Deaf as a post, just like me, he needed two tries to get the message. The smile was beautiful. My heart and head agreed that this would be our good deed for the day.
I picked up the tab for lunch and grabbed cups of condiments for him. After setting down the tray, he very graciously thanked me like I was a long-lost son. Moved. Seriously moved that someone would be so grateful over such a small thing.
Once he was seated, I asked if I could join him. Turns out his name is Roy, he was a Chief Petty Officer during WWII and served in all sorts of interesting places. Instantly he was Chief to me. We had a great conversation for the next thirty minutes. It covered everything from technology to randy Yeomen that we had known.
Roy was a brother, even though he’s four decades older than I am. In his eyes I saw not the scars of age, but the dancing orbs of a young man doing important things for the war effort seventy years ago. Seventy. He’s been married for 67 years to his bride, an English girl. Roy didn’t want to have her be a war bride, so they agreed to wait until she could come to the United States after the war. Married to the same love ever since.
Someday, soon, I’ll be the old man with the walker. Some kid who served in Afghanistan will be carrying my tray to the table. And when we sit down to talk, he’ll be my brother as well. He’s already Roy’s brother. There may be seventy years between them, but under the skin we’re all brothers and sisters.
I’m proud to be a vet. I’m proud to have Roy, and that young one from Afghanistan, as my brothers. Extends to my sisters as well. Got a big, big family that I’m so blessed to be a part of in my time.
So, carry a tray for an older person this week. You might just hear some fabulous tales about drinking Triple Sec in the back of a truck as it bounces across Morocco and Algeria. I did.
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