“I always enjoy being out here in the sunlight. Not that I really want to spend that much time here, but it is kind of interesting to see who shows up today.”
“I love the women. My wife quit coming after she got remarried, but I don’t blame her at all. Our kids needed a dad. Besides, I can gawk without guilt if she’s not here.”
“It always comes down to chicks with you guys. Fair enough. The beefcake is nice for me.”
Silence fell over the group taking up the last row of chairs to the East side of the tent. The crowd was starting to find its way across the vast ocean of grass and granite, many wearing poppy pins and parts of uniforms.
A program fluttered across the lawn, blown by a light breeze. Hernandez picked it up and scanned the page before passing it along the row. “Same guy as last year. His heart is in the right place. I know those guys he talks about from the reception area. Both good dudes. He gets all choked up each year like they just died. Wish I could tell him they were unconscious when the plane went to the bottom. Didn’t feel a thing. Guess that’ll have to wait until he joins us up there.”
“I was with his cousin in Vietnam. Crazy guy, kind of a poet. Most of those linguists were a little loopy. But he was a good Marine. This guy even looks a little like him. Way heavier, but Cal never got very old. I suppose he would have gotten fat himself.”
A six year old stared down the row, clearly seeing all of them seated there. Janice put a finger to her lips to indicate it was a secret. The little girl just waved and guided her grandmother to another set of seats under the shaded tent.
“Always amazes me when one of them sees us. Makes me tingle a bit. I’m so used to people forgetting we were ever here. If it wasn’t for my birthday and my brother, this would be the only day of the year anyone says my name out loud. I sure miss that jerk. He misses me as well. I’m glad he broke that arm when we were kids, or he’d probably be sitting here with us right now. He always did have guts.”
Silence settled over the row as a few others joined them, taking seats in the bright morning. The wind had died down now and the tent was almost full. It was time.
Mass started at 10:00. The superintendent of the cemetery was punctual. Things moved right along and the religious service was over in just under an hour and ten minutes. The big crowd this morning slowed things down at communion time, but the back row inhabitants kept their seats throughout. Not quite enough people to fill it all the way back to where they were congregated.
An honor guard moved up near the altar under the tent, and a ceremonial grave was laid out in front of the speaker’s podium. The speaker was indeed the man who’d presided for the last decade. He was rounder, grayer, and walked more slowly than he had when he first took the job on for his American Legion Post. He was a bit sadder as well: too many of his friends were now buried in the cemetery beyond the tent boundaries. Friends and comrades who’d spent their youth with him had left him behind for the first time in his life – it was a bit daunting. They’d never been apart for this long before.
After a short speech about the meaning of sacrifice and courage, the sounds of rifle volleys and bugles rang out over the reflecting pond nearby. Crisp salutes were delivered by arthritic hands in honor of those who would never have a chance to grow old. Cookies and coffee were served as people dispersed.
Hernandez stood up and stared toward the reflecting pond. The others looked as well: the speaker was standing alone and staring toward Heaven. “He’s talking to his friends. He never got to say goodbye or go to their funeral. Feels bad about it still. Let’s go over and comfort him.”
The silent troop from the land beyond marched in formation to the edge of the pond and stood in ranks with their brother for a moment before they departed, one-by-one, for the sky above. Left alone, he wiped a tear from his eye and headed home.
He’d be with them one day. But while he was here, he’d remember them until his time came as well.
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Let’s finish with shameless self promotion: if you’ve enjoyed this blog, please take a minute and help me out in a writing contest I’m entered in right now. Your vote will help me get to the final round, and it will be very much appreciated. Click this link and vote for my short story before going any further. While you’re there, a vote for my friend Tamara would be nice as well. We aren’t in competition (I’m fiction/she’s non) and she’s a gifted author. Your voting for us both is a blessing and we appreciate it in advance.