Honored with a salute

Johnson City, TN

One fat tear seeped from the corner of his eye and quickly moistened the deep crevasses around it. It sought the path of least resistance. First it filled the slightly deep creases, spilled over into the deeper ones, and finally giving way to gravity rolled down his cheek. He stood on neatly clipped green grass at attention as best he could. Under a baby blue sky filled with white puffy clouds the hunched over shoulders of his figure revealed his age. He stepped back a step, raised a trembling hand and executed his best firm salute. He turned slowly away from the solid white cross feeling the warm sun on his back and leaned onto his cane. After steadying himself he shuffled away a few steps. In his head the story played back as if it had happened only days ago. He hadn’t been back to the cemetery in years. It made him feel better to get back to pay respects. The little girl that had been watching him broke the silence and interrupted his thoughts as she suddenly called out to him. “Hey mister” she cried. Startled, he turned and peering through the bright sun squinted and tried to focus. He spotted her. She couldn’t have been more than 8 or 10. He managed a smile once he realized she had in fact addressed him. She jumped up and ran over to him grinning. She skipped in her childlike manner, hair tossing about her sweet and pretty little face. She took his shaking hand and asked him who was in the grave he had just saluted. She plied him with question after question until his head spun. Patiently he listened to her chirping. Then he raised his hands and asked her if she really wanted to know about the man in that grave. Changing her tone, she nodded that she did. It took a great amount of effort but he made his way to the ground and began his tale. She sat right in front of him with crossed legs and elbows on her knees. She cupped her face with her hands and listened intently. She was quite intrigued. He gave her the child-friendly array of events that led to his friend’s untimely death. He was very surprised at the young girl’s attentiveness. After the story he spoke gently to her and made a profound statement. He told her that she should always be thankful for those who fought and died for freedom. He doubted that she really understood but he said it anyway. Nodding at him she made some appropriate comments then hopped up and thanked him. Spotting her parents she ran off to meet them, calling goodbye over her shoulder to him.

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