It was about a year ago, right before Veteran’s Day, that I offered to share part of my pitcher of beer with a stranger sitting next to me. In return with a thanks and a cheers, he invited Aiko and I to the American Legion next door for a beer and game of pool. It had the antiquated look of a small Midwestern town bar, lined with old men seated in red vinyl bar stools. We made small talk, I lost at pool so quickly that you would be embarrassed to gloat, and enjoyed a few drinks. One of the men found out that both of my grandfathers were WWII Vets, right there they had me sign up to become a Son’s Of member. I didn’t have more than a few dollars in my pocket, so he paid the membership fee for me. I didn’t know it then but that would be the first of many nights sitting in those red vinyl bar stools.
Over the next few months, we became more involved volunteering for different events. Eventually, we began selling 50/50 raffle tickets every week to help raise money to cover transportation to the local Veteran’s Hospital. We would sit and listen to stories, mostly funny experiences from when they served but sometimes also somber ones where the only proper response was silence.
I’ve never considered myself overly patriotic, appreciative of the actions of others, those that served, but that to me isn’t the same. I wonder what my story would be if I had joined, or would I have a story to tell. College was a big gamble, and not one I was sure I could have afforded at the time, which left the alternative of signing up for the Reserves. I went as far as taking an intelligence test, but never went back to officially sign up after scholarships became available. I’m sure I would have been called to serve, most of those in my community did, it was 2004 the high time of the Iraq invasion.
Instead, I listen to the stories of others, those that share, and appreciate the experience. Wondering to myself, if I had ever met my paternal grandfather or spent more time asking my maternal grandfather about his experiences, what their stories would be like.
I knew that leaving the US, I would miss my family and possibly my hometown. Leaving work would have me missing my students. However, I never imagined I would miss the place that I now call home, a little corner of Northeastern Ohio, nestled along the border of Michigan. A tiny bar where country music echos in the dance hall and old men sit in red vinyl bar stools telling stories.