By Michael Brannon
The Christmas season, when we shop and we buy; the Christmas season, when we put up the tree, wrap the gifts and look forward to Santa’s arrival early on Christmas morning.
It’s the children’s voices, it’s the stirring of the animals, and the smell of sausage and biscuits ready to be consumed as we celebrate Christ’s birthday.
Most who follow my writings know I sometimes make an effort to stimulate thought and allow one to see things in a different light. This story, a true one, is about not one, but many.
Sunday morning, Gee and I drove to Oxford to see my older brother, Buddy, who is in hospice at the Veterans Hospital. Buddy, or John W. as I call him, is six years my senior, and he was my hero as a young boy watching him play football on Wofford Field in Eupora. An all-state tackle, who lived for the next play.
On my previous visit, I wheeled him outside. He lit his daily cigarette, and mostly he talked and I listened. Bring up one subject, and it was if he was an encyclopedia emptying its contents. He could name names one after another, details of events as if they happened five minutes ago, and could recite poetry as if he had written it himself. Our time that day was so enjoyable and it is forever etched in my memory.
Don’t misunderstand, we butted heads because of our differences, but we never stopped loving each other. It’s something about having an older brother, not for the knowledge he might possess, but at times just for the sound, “my older brother” gives in a comforting way.
As we made our way down the hallway there were many open areas where the veterans could watch television, visit, hang out, tell war stories, and a space where they just sat and had propelled themselves to a far off place.
Many of these men and women wore “Vietnam Veteran” caps, stars and stripes T-shirts or jackets, and some just a robe to keep them warm.
You could not but wonder if all the experiences and memories could be harvested, we could listen and learn for years to come. I hesitated for a moment thinking about how much they had sacrificed so we could live and worship as we please. It is an emotional moment thinking about the time these Americans spent away from family, friends, and country for our freedoms. Most were confined to wheelchairs and noticing the losses they endured during battle had a huge impact.
Entering John W.’s room almost brought me to my knees. There halfway off the end of the bed was my strong football brother who gave many years so I could enjoy my freedoms. He was there, but then he really wasn’t. I felt he felt our presence as we talked to him, and he tried so hard to communicate but life had caught up to him.
We never know when the clock will stop. I have to admit mine slowed down that quiet Sunday morning as I held his hand for probably the last time. I felt as if my heart would explode any second. I wanted him to wake up, tell me about his paper route and Mrs. Allen turning her dog loose on him, about Elks Taylor taking him fishing, running the movie projector for Jim Wofford at the Eupora Theatre. I knew any second he would bring up those days of making ice cream for Cecil Bowen. But I also knew this wouldn’t happen.
You see, Veterans Hospital is filled with John W.s. They are our freedoms confined to a building through no fault of their own, but at the mercy of Father Time.
As we left, we noticed a bulletin board of different drawings children had painted for our servicemen and women. There were “thank you,” our “American Flag, but the one that impacted me the most was three soldiers standing at attention with the caption, “Heroes Don’t Always Wear Capes.”
John W., like many before him and many after him, didn’t wear capes. They were our protectors, and like most caped crusaders, they fit into everyday life and you rarely hear about them.
Buddy so enjoyed Christmas, and he would be the first to tell you to not be sad when you read this story. He would tell you to simply pause a moment, thank our servicemen and women in a silent prayer, and enjoy your family.
Life is meant to be celebrated, and I would dare to say that if you asked our military their opinion, they would tell you that their sacrifices were not in vain if you celebrate life.
There were no capes as I exited the building, but I knew I had walked among many heroes. It is so hard to say goodbye.
Eupora native Michael Brannon of Hernando may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.