Welcome Home, Hero. Rest in Peace.

This was not the first military funeral I had attended.  It was the first time I’d been to any funeral that took place 76 years after the deceased had died.  This young man, a kid the same age as my third of five children, has finally made it home to be put to rest with his family in a hero’s ceremony.  Seaman First Class George Anderson Coke, Jr. came home to Arlington today for the first time since he left for boot camp back in 1941.

My friend, Leslie Dorn Barton, is George Coke’s second cousin once or twice removed.  I’m still unclear on all that genealogy stuff.  While I’d like to be able to trace back my family tree, I’m quite unorganized and tend to think circularly rather than in clear straight lines.  Besides, I’ve got aunts and cousins on both sides of my tree who really dig that sort of thing and they actually journal it all. Anyway, Leslie is one of the Special Education teachers who taught my daughter at Sam Houston High School. We became friends over the last couple of years. So naturally, when she mentioned that this funeral was happening today, I told her I’d come.

It’s been hotter than ever all week and I was so relieved when the thunderstorms hit our city last night and it rained until the wee hours this morning.  I donned my black abaya and a gray and black scarf and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church and tried to “blend in” with the Arlington locals.  I know.  I didn’t. The sole Muslim in a sea of mostly older, white, Christian faces.

I listened to the history of George Coke, Jr., son of George Coke, Sr., who was the Chief of Police in Arlington back in the 1920s.  I learned that of the 3,500 American casualties that day in Pearl Harbor, that Arlington lost 48 souls.  My mind wandered, as is the norm during funerals.  Everyone in some way or another is reminded of their own immortality at a funeral.  With military funerals, you are also reminded of all of your family members and friends who also served in the armed forces.  I felt a few tears escape today as I remembered friends who were killed in foreign wars.  I felt a few more tears escape as I offered prayers of thanks and gratitude for those family and friends who returned safely home.

I followed the funeral procession to Parkdale Cemetary. We were escorted by members of the United States Navy and a large number of the Arlington Police Department.  I watched as the sailors, now pallbearers, respectfully carried the remains of their comrade who fell in the line of duty more than half a century before any of them were born.  And the firing of the three volleys, though I knew they were coming, still caught me off guard and those tears of relief that most of my loved ones returned to me fell from my eyes as a silent salute to Seaman Coke and all of the thousands who didn’t.

My heart stirred as I watched the slow and deliberate movements of the sailors folding the flag and the hand off of that folded flag followed by the final salute from Seaman to Non-Commissioned Officer to Officer to Rear Admiral and finally to George Coke, Jr.’s family members.  The spent shell casings from the three volleys, symbolizing duty, honor, and country, were then placed into the hand of the young descendant of Seaman Coke.

A cool breeze gently blew across my face, air-drying the silent tears and leaving my cheeks a little bit sticky.  I hugged Leslie and shook hands with her son, aunt, and mother.  I looked back to see the final resting place of Seaman Coke, under the Live Oak and the Crepe Myrtle trees, beside his mother and father.  Welcome home, hero.  Rest in peace.

 

Milestones

Tomorrow afternoon will mark a big fat milestone in our lives. Two more of our five kids will be crossing that stage at their high school graduation. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this. So why am I so overwhelmed with the feels of it all?

Randa is 20. She’s our “special needs” kid and while eligible to stay at the school for one more year before she ages out of their Alternate Curriculum program, she is bored. She wants to graduate NOW. They told us going in that there was going to come a time when she is going to advance past what they are able to teach her. That time has come. Many would argue that she could mainstream into the general education population. That is just not a possibility with her issues. So we’re going to do more Mommy-Randa stuff starting next Fall. We’re going to visit museums and family members around the Metroplex and take some classes at the fabric store and learn to sew and join a water aerobics class. Randa is excited to start the next chapter after Sam Houston High.

Ismail is 18. He, like his older brother before him, seems to be struggling with the excitement of graduating versus the sadness and anxiety of leaving behind all he knows. I am guessing that boys are like this. (I wouldn’t know, having never been a boy.) He is suffering today as he paces around and asks questions to which he already knows the answers. He’s spent a lot of time on the front porch. Being outside calms his nerves. He is still not certain what he’s going to do. He wants to become an electrician and be a man and not have to answer to his parents and buy a car and get a job, and all of the swirling plans that all boys his age have.

But Ismail is still so tender-hearted in so many ways. And his family is all he’s ever known. No matter where we lived on the globe spanning three countries and several states, we’ve always had each other. The idea of moving away to another part of the state to go to school without his safety net is so intriguing and exciting and altogether scary. So he’s put off making firm plans as of yet. He wants to take a little time off and work. And that’s okay. Ismail has always been one who needs to chew on his idea before he spits out his final answer.

And tomorrow as I stand on that stage, holding Randa’s hand to help her to battle back the anxiety as she walks across toward the end of her high school tunnel, I’ll be watching Ismail, one place ahead of her in the alphabet, reaching his. I’m so proud to be their mother.

I Did It Again!

Everyone has been guilty of it. At least, I hope I’m not alone in this. But I have this tendency to put important things in a “really safe place” and then when it comes time that I really need them, said “really safe place” has completely left my mind. Last time it was a social security card. Only took 5 days, but I found it. The application for health coverage took a little longer to find. Well, a lot longer. Like…6  months longer. But in my defense, someone rearranged all the paperwork in my stacked filing system. For crying out loud, would you people just STOP touching my desk!? But this one is a doozy.

I placed the tassels for Randa and Ismail’s graduation caps in a drawer so that no one would lose them. And I don’t remember which drawer. I’ve searched them all. And poof. They’re gone. And while I have until Sunday to find them, I really don’t. Because Randa has an awards ceremony for the seniors in the Special Education department and she is supposed to wear her cap and gown tomorrow. *sigh*

One of these days I’m going to find a “very special place” that is just a blatant out in the open place with a lock on it to keep nosy people and meddling hands away. Of course, you know what that means, right? I’ll just lose the damn key.

In Memoriam

The doctor is not in. He is no longer accepting new patients. He is gone. There will be no referrals. You’re on your own. It’s just as well. No one could fill his shoes anyway. His title was honorary. He wasn’t really a doctor. He was a pipe-fitter, master mechanic, automotive hobbyist. He was known as Dad, Uncle Tracy, Mr. Tracy, and Honey. (His grandkids call him Honey.) To me, he will always be Dr. Tracy – the brain surgeon who earned his title teaching his teenage daughter how to drive a 3-on-the-tree manual transmission pick up truck as I sat between them. “If this truck is in first gear, then I’m a brain surgeon!”

When Dr. Tracy called me back in January to let me know that he was terminal, I was at the high school doing volunteer work. He seemed matter of fact and could just as easily have been telling me that he’d sprained an ankle.  Being the walking Kleenex commercial that I am, I sat down and started to cry.  He got upset that he’d upset me. I guess that’s always the way with any terminal disease, isn’t it? The person who is doing the dying always spends his last days consoling those who aren’t.  He said, “Now see? I shouldn’t have told you. I knew you were at the school, and I’ve gone and upset you. I didn’t call to make you cry or beg sympathy.” Well, then the tears were replaced by anger. (Yeah, I’m an emotional funnel cloud some days.)

“Look here, Old Man!” I told him (without shouting because he is still my elder.) “I love you almost as much as I love my own daddy. So, you’ll allow me the privilege of crying for you.” Aside from my dad, husband, and brother, there is no other man I’ve loved more.

It took a few weeks to arrange things here in Texas before I could get down to see him. While my five children are mostly grown, there are still 4 in high school, one of whom is “special needs.”  My siblings took turns heading from here to Mobile to visit with him. And then it was my turn. And I think for each of us it was similar. We arrived at the house and had something to eat at the kitchen table with him. Then we held down that kitchen chair talking to him, laughing with him, reminiscing with him until it was time for us to head back to Texas. Our cousins from Alabama, Mississippi, and even New York, traveled down to Mobile to sit on that chair and love on him these past few months.

Aunt Ginger and Wendy have both told me how “tickled he was” that we took the time to come visit with him. And I think that I speak for all of us when I say that we wished we could have done more. You see, Uncle Tracy was not our “blood relative.” He married our Aunt Ginger more than 54 years ago and he seemed to think that he was an “in-law” to all of us. He seemed genuinely surprised by the number of his nieces, nephews, and grandnieces and grandnephews whose lives had been touched by him. Most of us had known him as long as we’d been alive and had gotten advice from him about various mechanical issues, or home repair issues, or just chewing the fat. He’s family. However it was that he joined it, by birth or by marital bond: He’d been part of it longer than any of us.

Our family is short by one tall member today. And while we mourn our loss of him, we rejoice that he is no longer suffering the pain that he endured for these last months. The good doctor will always be with us in spirit and in memory. And every time I start to drive after accidentally putting my car in third gear rather than first, I know that there is a brain surgeon smiling down from Heaven at me.