LITTLE PINK HOUSES

You know, Jack, it’s been a while since we visited your parents.” Diane put her gardening tools down and glanced up at her husband who was busy painting the backyard fence. Her heart always did a little flip when she looked at him; at 50 he still had his dad Henry’s rugged good looks and his mom Alice’s mass of blonde curls. “Why don’t we drive over for Memorial Day?”

That’s a swell idea, hon! Funny, but I was just thinking about my folks the other day. Thanks for always remembering.” Jack was that ridiculously likeable guy who said words like “swell” and nobody gave it a second thought. Diane grinned at him like she always did.

Diane stood up and tossed her gloves onto the porch. “It would be wonderful if we could get the kids together. I’m going to call the boys; if they don’t have any plans maybe they can wrangle the grand kids and join us. It would be such a nice day with the family.”

Jack and Diane had two sons – Rob and his wife Kelly had 5-year-old twin boys Kyle and Kevin while Mark and his wife Janice had a 4-year-old daughter named Sophie. When COVID came along two and a half years ago, visiting was curtailed for everyone.  It seemed even more cruel since the family lived only 15 minutes apart and used to get together all the time.

While Jack and Diane were good about keeping in touch with the kids via computer, that wasn’t the case for Jack’s parents, “Pops” and “Mims” ; they couldn’t be bothered with all that “new techno gadgetry“. Their Philips transistor radio on the kitchen counter and a rotary dial phone on the side table in the living room was good enough for them.

Due to social distancing, Rob and Mark were unable to bring the kids to visit their great-grandparents. The kids didn’t get to know “Pops” and “Mims” very well or learn about some of the amazing things they did, like the years they spent in Vietnam.

Diane called Rob and Mark via FaceTime – their lifeline over the past twenty-eight months. Now that socializing restrictions had been lifted, Diane asked her sons if they’d like to get together for Memorial Day and pay a visit to “Pops” and “Mims”. The short drive was easy for everyone and Diane planned a family dinner after their visit. Mark and Rob thought it was a great idea. Kyle and Kevin were really into the military superheroes like Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Deadpool and Spider-Man and would love hearing stories about their great-grandparent’s tour of duty in Vietnam.

Henry was a medevac helicopter pilot flying unceasing perilous missions and Alice held down the arduous assignment of an army triage nurse. They met in the jungles of South Vietnam and fell in love; their love for each other was one of the few good things to come out of the carnage of Vietnam. As soon as they returned to The States, they got married and Jack was born one year later. Henry and Alice made military life their careers and Jack was an “army brat’ – something else the kids would enjoy hearing about.

Married members of the military usually have the highest priority for private housing – both on and off base – so Henry and Alice chose to live in their own house on base with their son Jack.

Diane’s parents owned a popular bar and burger joint a couple of klicks from the army base; that’s where Jack met Diane who was working as a waitress. The place was called ‘The Pink Palace’ because all the houses and barracks on the base were painted various shades of pink. Just like Alice and Henry, love was in the air for Jack and Diane. The couple got married in the little church on base and settled down in the nearby town of Alexandria, Virginia where Jack was working as a carpenter.

Now 25 plus years had gone by and it didn’t seem possible to Diane. Folks often say “Don’t blink” when talking about life, raising a family, kids growing up, people passing away, etc. Logically Diane understood the inevitability; emotionally was another story and she found that old feeling of nostalgia worming its way into her heart. Diane suddenly was filled with melancholy knowing that Kyle, Kevin and Sophie missed so much time with “Pops” and “Mims”. Her momentary period of sadness vanished as soon as she caught sight of her grandchildren.

Kelly and Janice had dressed the kids in blue and white outfits, their faces scrubbed and their light blonde hair shimmering in the sunlight. The boys waved little flags while Sophie carried a wicker basket of red carnations. “Pops” was extremely fortunate to have returned home from Vietnam and he realized Memorial Day didn’t apply to him but he regarded it as a deeply sacred day. He lost a lot of good friends there, too many young men to count. Memorial Day was for them and all those selfless men and women from every war who never made it home.

Jack and Diane held hands as they walked down the path, ready to greet his parents; their little family followed closely behind. Finally they reached the neatly trimmed grass still glistening in the morning dew. Before them, in gleaming white marble stood the final resting place of Jack’s parents – an immaculate plot at Arlington National Cemetery. The family was devastated when they lost both “Mims” and “Pops” just one year after COVID hit; they both survived the ravages of the Vietnam War but didn’t have the strength for this virulent virus.

The family stood by the grave site as Jack read the inscription:

HENRY JOHN CONWAY
CAPTAIN, MEDEVAC PILOT
UNITED STATES ARMY
JULY 20, 1950 – FEBRUARY 11, 2020
AND WIFE
ALICE FITZGERALD CONWAY
TRIAGE NURSE
UNITED STATES ARMY
NOVEMBER 2, 1950 – FEBRUARY 24, 2020

Jack rested his hand on his parent’s headstone and everyone was very quiet. Sophie placed her basket of carnations on the ground and Kevin and Kyle stuck their little flags in on either side.

The sun shone brightly in the blue sky, as warm and radiant as one of “Mims” smiles. Off in the distance was the sound of a bugle playing Taps, whispering to them it was time to leave. It was a lovely visit, the perfect Memorial Day salute to “Pops” and “Mims”.

NAR © 2022

YES, VIRGINIA

Preface: All this month I gave a lot of thought to writing the “Great American Christmas Story”. I began more drafts than I can count and deleted them all; I just wasn’t feeling it. When my grandchildren began asking if Santa was real, I remembered the true story of an 8-year-old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon who wrote a letter to her local newspaper asking that very question. The newspaper’s editor, Francis Pharcellus Church, felt compelled to respond to Virginia’s letter in the form of a feature article. His ‘letter’ to Virginia contains an amazing message, a poignant gift to share with young and old alike. It’s an inspiring response and truly makes one stop, think and assess what’s important in life.

I realized that’s exactly what I wanted to convey in my story but Mr. Church beat me to it and in a much more eloquent way.

I hope during this holiday season you’ve had a chance to reflect on some cherished Christmas memories. There are so many magical moments during Christmas that really do make it the most wonderful time of the year. Isn’t it a pity the special and unique love we feel for one another during Christmas starts to evaporate shortly after the holidays?

Life is often not fair nor is it easy. There’s a lot of discord in the world, too much hatred, unhappiness and suffering. Sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other can be a monumental task, especially after the last two years. We need something to cling to, to believe in and to help us remember what Christmas was like when we were 8-years-old.

I hope you find Mr. Church’s response to Virginia’s question enlightening, captivating and heartwarming. This is how it appeared in The New York Sun on September 21, 1897; I think you’ll agree it’s as appropriate and meaningful today as it was 124 years ago.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

NAR © 2021