Saturday, February 2, 2008

Pinch Me

Part I: Precursor

I haven't had time to tell you about a cousin that I haven't seen since I was 13 years old: Richard. He joined the army when he was 17 years old, in 1976. In 1978, while stationed in Germany, he met and married his wife Ann, and stayed in Germany after retiring from Army life. He has continued to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves for the last 17 years.

Richard has been called up. New Year's Eve was his "going away party" in Germany, afterwards leaving his wife and 2 kids, to report to Fort Benning, Georgia for further training. Fort Benning: where Brian would be, if he weren't in Iraq.

Part II: Noah's Birthday

Today was the day! NOAH'S BIRTHDAY!

Noah, the young man that turned 9, and asked for soccer balls for the troops, instead of birthday presents. Who is this kid, and who are his parents? I have marveled while I waited to find out.

You know from a previous post, that, since I wasn't to bring a gift, that I still wanted to do something for him, and so worked on arranging a phone call from a certain soldier that I know that is my son.

In the interim, I decided, wouldn't it be cool to drag a real, live soldier to this party?! I didn't really know where to turn, or who to ask, so tossed up my hands on that one. Drat.

Part III: A Very Interesting E-Mail Rolls In

E-Mail, Friday, from Michael, Richard's Brother [paraphrasing]: Hey! Richard will be in town tonight! Any chance we can get together this weekend?!

Me: Hmmm. Will Richard be in uniform?

Part IV: The Party

Noah's Birthday party had an "OOooey Goooey" theme; a package deal offered by the Park District, at the Phillips Recreational Center. It was gooey! The boys painted with spaghetti, and shaving cream. White t-shirts mysteriously turned to green in an hour's time.

And I watched and laughed, and waited with anticipation, when at 2:45, a phone call, with the prefix 1-999- came through.

Brian! He did it! He got through! Noah's mother "stopped the presses" and I surprised him, "You have a phone call from Iraq."

(The Birthday Boy, with his once-white t-shirt)

It was pin-drop time. His friends stood silently, with his parents smiling in the background, and we listened to his shy, short answers to Brian's telling him Happy Birthday, and asking him what he was doing ("making slime").

Did I say I wouldn't get squooshy?!! I lied. I teared up and shook as I took photos of Noah and Brian talking. We really pulled this off! Oh, for a hug and a spin with my kid! He did it!

After Noah's mother, Joy, talked to Brian, the phone was handed back to me, where I stepped into the hallway and thanked him. My boy, he is back on the 20-hour shifts. The telephones are 1/2-mile away from his tent. He set an alarm to make this call, today. He continues to make me proud, from the other side of the world.

And at 3:00 in the afternoon, my cousins Michael and Richard informed me they were at the door. And Richard, who I've not seen in 32 years, waltzed in, in uniform, sat down at the kiddie table, and asked "what's your name?"

He then stood up and told those kids his story. He laughed with them. "I'm not rich! I'm Richard!"

My head is spinning. It is 8 minutes since I greeted and hugged them in the parking lot, and a crazy "Hey, great to see you! We hardly know you anymore, but you're a celebrity today, you know, a big giant hero; hope you don't mind saying a few words to people that neither you or I have ever met before. Wow, thanks for coming. Batter's up!"

Next, Clint & Co. rolled up in a firetruck, having been out on errands, and got to say "HI!" and shake some hands, before heading back to the station. Snow piled high and limited parking kept him from inviting boys to a little "Firetruck Monkey Bars," but his quick presence was a nice bonus for all of us.

It was my turn next. Still queasy at "public speaking," I chose to sit and speak to these boys. I thanked Noah, and told them of all of the changes they had made with their contribution. Noah told me, honestly "I just want to hang out and have fun with my friends!"

I'm not even sure if I can get this across: This is not put-upon, this kid. He is so unconcerned with birthday gifts that he can hardly wrap his head around any reason that I'd thank him.

After chatting with the boys, I gave them each a packet with 4 photos that Brian took, and an "Army" bandana that I picked up at Champaign Surplus. I'm surprised now that I just expected them to schlep home with their bandanas, when what they really wanted:

Duh. To wear them.

We had every boy wrapped in a bandana, and on their way to the next Oooooey Gooooey craft, when we took our leave.

Here's the gift table, full of soccer balls:

Here's a token shot of me and the cousins: Michael, Me, Richard:

And at the end of this day, I sit, torn between speechlessness and gushing-gushing-gushing.

Noah. His parents. His friends. Brian. Michael. Richard. Clint. And my friend Diane, in the wings, cheering me on and convincing me to do "something special" with the packets I gave the boys:

Every single person I encountered on this day went quietly about making monumental gestures for people that they don't know.

If I am dreaming, please don't wake me up.

For more photos of the day, click here.