Nelson Mandela once said “the brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” If that’s true, my father was a brave man.
My father loved the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). He was proud of his overseas service during World War II; and, to him, the VFW stood for country, the flag, and a belief that the U.S. is great. He was a long-time, steadfast member of the VFW, and over the previous 60 years he held every office at least once and attended most meetings of his local Post. He knew everyone in his Post, and there were several members he counted as close, personal friends.
I was fortunate to take Dad to his last VFW meeting. He had skipped a few when macular degeneration took his eyesight and Parkinson’s took his confidence, but he thought he would like to go to one more meeting, so I arranged a trip home around it.
Dad was a planner, and he liked to know in advance what was expected of him so he could think it through. The night before the meeting, we rehearsed when he would get up, what he would wear, and what time we would leave home. The morning of the meeting, it started to drizzle as we got ready to leave, so I pulled the car next to the house so Dad wouldn’t have to walk to the street. We got into the car, buckled up, and set off.
On the way, Dad lost his confidence and said maybe he shouldn’t go after all. He was worried that with his macular degeneration (and his failing memory) he wouldn’t be able to tell who the other attendees were. He asked that we go home and skip the meeting.
I let that sit awhile, and thought about it. I knew Dad wanted to go to the meeting and see his buddies again. I suggested that we go to the meeting, sit down, and stay in one place and maybe the others would approach him and introduce themselves. That way he wouldn’t have to recognize them. It was interesting to watch him mull that over, and as the idea sank in, he agreed, visibly relaxed, and enjoyed the rest of the ride.
In those years, Dad’s VFW group, which consisted of a couple dozen middle-aged men, met in a dining room in the back of the town bar, called the Brandin’ Iron. It was a typical small town bar with stools, 25 cent beers, and curly cue fries. It also had a back room for meetings.
I parked in front, got Dad through the bar and into the meeting room, and settled him in a chair. A few early arrivals greeted him on their way in, and he started to relax and enjoy himself.
The agenda consisted of the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a brief business meeting, and a luncheon. During the lunch, Dad and I ate our roast beef, drank our pop, and visited with the other men at our table. Dad answered questions about his health, and he and I joined in discussions about the weather, the price of crops, and the local football team.
After lunch, the meeting broke up, and the men lined up in front of Dad’s chair and took turns speaking to him. When their turn came, each man told Dad who they were, how glad they were to see him, shook his hand, and wished him well. They were kind and sincere; they had really missed Dad.
When the line died down, Dad and I said our good-byes and made our way to the car. He was quiet on the drive home, but I could tell he was pleased.
When we pulled into the driveway and stopped, he turned to me and said, “Those are good people.”
He was choked up.
Dad didn’t get to another VFW meeting, although members of the local Post visited him in his home, and later in the nursing home. Their friendship and kindness meant a lot to him and his family.
I think back to that day often, and each time I do I get a warm feeling inside. It was a special day for Dad and a memorable day for me. And I agree with Dad – those are good people.