When I was a little kid, or even a big one, I had no idea what a veteran was. I mean, my parents did a good job of educating me about the fact that these were people who fought for our country, but I just didn’t get it. I remember watching Charles in Charge, where the grandfather on that show was a veteran. He was portrayed, in my memory, as fierce and closed-minded. This is not someone I wanted to make a connection with. This is not someone I wanted to understand.
I remember seeing poppy flowers being sold outside of the grocery stores. Sometimes my parents would buy me one, but I didn’t think they were very pretty and I did my best to lose mine as soon as it was given to me to wear. The symbolism was lost on me, because I never bothered to ask, “Why a poppy?”
I didn’t understand much about war or freedom because, quite frankly I was a spoiled white kid in a good neighborhood who had parents that didn’t advocate war. Going into the military was never even a consideration in my household. Do I resent them for that? No. Do I wish I had asked more questions? Yes. Now I’m an adult. Not just an adult by age, but a person who thinks more critically and thoughtfully than one in adolescence, or early adulthood. I was forced into this mindset of wondering “why” more often, because there are two little people asking me that question All.The.Time.
The other major problem with my comprehension of this day is that I did not know many, if any, veterans when I was young. Yeah, I knew some veterans, but I didn’t really know what they had done. I thought they were all similar to Walter Powell, that grouchy grandpa. But then, graduation came, and one of my best friends in the entire world enlisted in the Marines. He came back, thank God he came back. But he was not the same. He lost in those years the wholesome playfulness that I adored. He became a stronger person, a man. But a man who knew too much anger and saw too much sadness.
Then there was my cousin. He is the baby out of almost 30 of us cousins. And I asked myself time and again, how did our baby become so strong and so brave?
Then there was my teaching partner, the man I taught beside for almost all of my teaching career. He was the epitome of a military man. We didn’t talk about it much, but I knew that you didn’t just come out of the womb that diligent, that focused, that disciplined. His work ethic is unmatched. His faithfulness to all people he cares about is remarkable. I was thankful every day that the students we shared could know a man who had done so much for our country, and then come back and serve in the classroom.
When I ask myself, “Why?” I will not know the answers that my friend Jimmy gave himself when he went into service. I will not know how my cousin Dan got so brave. I will not know what my teaching partner, John, experienced in the Marines. But I do know that because of them, my children are safe, and when Harrison asks about monsters, I can tell him there aren’t any here. And now, when I ask, “Why a poppy?” I can answer myself: A poppy represents the lives given for the freedoms we have.