Once a Soldier

It’s a brilliant, crisp, cloudless day in Virginia and the sky, a North Carolina Blue, is framing purple dogwoods, red oak and golden poplars. The smell of fresh cut grass, the last of the season, fills the air in a scene so perfect you wish you could live forever.

The drone of the lawnmower mesmerizes me as I steadily, rhythmically, push up the hill away from the house noting there’s still time to finish before sundown.

I hear a vaguely familiar sound, a flapping and rushing of wind, faintly at first, then overpowering as I look to the East. Just above the tree line.

There! . . . There! The lead gunship rotors making near gale-force winds, comes into view with M60’s blazing from both sides, pushing back Charlie. Many more are coming and everyone is yelling to be heard. Hold the perimeter! Hold the line! Secure the LZ! The wounded need be taken out. Charlie’s mortars have the range and he’s pushing back. Hold the line! Hold! Everyone must get out. Even the Silent Ones, especially the Silent Ones. Their fight is done. No one gets left behind!

The line holds and I hear someone screaming in my ear, above the din . . . Dad! . . . Dad! . . . DAD!!

Disoriented I stop the engine, sweat pouring down my face and look into the smiling faces of my children. My son, laughing and teasing says, “Zoned out again, huh Dad?” I give him a sheepish smile as my daughter hands me a cup of cool water while at the same time, playfully smacking her brother on the shoulder.

“Just Veteran’s Day,” I respond and both turn and race down the hill toward the porch stairs laughing and pushing each other.

My daughter calls back, “Hurry up and finish, Dad.”

Watching, I smile and feel content, so complete, thinking. Two children, a boy and a girl, a gleaming white colonial, a good woman inside! It just can’t get any better than this.

Turning to finish, I pull the starter rope and the engine returns to life shattering the calm, soundless day. As I walk up the hill pushing mindlessly behind the mower, I begin to laugh to myself. Softly at first, then loudly for I know, I know that in just a short while I will find myself looking back.

Back over my shoulder.

Back toward the sunset.

Back to just above the tree line.

There! There! Isn’t that a . . . ?