In the early 70’s when I was searching for an undergraduate social work program, most of them were located in the South. Dad said he was not paying for college south of the Mason-Dixon Line so I kept looking and found Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. That fit Dad’s geographic requirements and I am eternally grateful to him for having provided my college education.
Dad did not live to know that we have made a wonderful life south of the Mason-Dixon Line. It was an adjustment for this New Englander. I have learned to eat grits. I have made peace with the geckos. I know to live inside in summer and enjoy the outdoors in, what I previously called, the “dead of winter.” The biggest surprise and the on-going learning are living in a military town.
We did not realize Jacksonville was a military town until we arrived. I had had little exposure to the military growing up. My parents had friends who were veterans, but Dad was unable to serve so I do not recall overhearing conversations retelling the stories of the war. Mother was forever grateful that she had her husband home throughout the war and could never volunteer enough time to compensate for that gift she was given.
Our nephew, David, is a West Point graduate and a career man. He never speaks of his work and when asked, he has one answer, “if I told you, I would have to kill you and I love you too much for that.” We have endured multiple deployments and sometimes we have learned he was deployed only upon his return.
Now it is a familiar sight to see men and women in uniform in the grocery store, at the park and on the beach. I have grown accustomed to military discounts in all types of establishments. I have met many colleagues in the non-profit world who developed their skills while in uniform.
We are honored to have many veterans in our Temple family. Throughout the year, we recognize their service. We want to hear their stories for their stories are part of Temple history. Some of the men and women have shared some of their mementoes and we have carefully cataloged them in our Temple Archives.
We have welcomed military families and, then, said good-bye because, with two weeks’ notice, they were moving to their next “home.” I respect the servicemen and women and I have grown to respect their families as well. It is a profession that affects the entire family. It is a very special partner who can embrace that life.
July 4 used to be picnics, hotdogs and fireworks. July 4 is all those things and much more somber for me now, after more than a decade of southern living. Every day when I see men and women in uniform, I walk up to them and thank them for their service. And every time I do, I weep. I am awed by all they are willing to do and grateful to each of them. It is their service and the commitment of all the men and women who wore the uniform in decades past, which enables me and you to live freely, as Jews, in this great country of ours. The red, white and blue; long may she wave!