At The White Table

dedicated veteransThis week I went to the second grade chapel assembly due to the unwritten rule requiring attendance at the presentation sponsored by your own child’s class. This was my self-appointed date with good Christian motherhood. Don’t get me wrong, I love that my kids go to chapel once a week, and I love seeing them in brown paper pilgrim bags, picking their noses, and stumbling over memorized verses. It’s some kind of Christian school right of passage to publicly embarrass yourself while attempting to read aloud certain Biblical characters and places.

 But the Second Grade does the annual Veterans Day chapel. I knew this would be a pretty rough one for a certain little girl who was the only one in the class with a deployed daddy, let alone for me. So to make up for it (I’m a classic overachiever), I coordinated with the school to have Husband make a big screen Skype appearance. ‘Cuz I am the mom-bomb. But at noon the day before the assembly, I got an email marked “urgent” that said Husband’s unit was headed in country for a few days. There would be no Skype. Thank goodness I’ve learned over the years not to tell the kids about events that rely upon military coordination for success.

Undeterred to fulfill my duty, I showed up. The program opened with an adorable little girl with sparkly silver pants who led us in the “Pledges of Allegiance.” She put her left hand over her non-heart, and stood frozen in horror for a good three seconds before deciding to surreptitiously change hands. Next, a child describing the holiday concluded with, “And that’s why we honor our vet – vet – vet – veterinarians!”

And oh, the cheesy patriotic hymns took me off guard. There’s a long list of patriots in our family: my grandpa and great uncles were at Normandy and the South Pacific, my grandmother went with her sisters to the shipyards during WWII, my father was a Naval Aviator, Husband’s father flew the controversial B52 in Vietnam, and of course there is Husband.

But what started as a swell of pride turned quickly to a gut punch when they announced a class reading of a book called “America’s White Table.” I honestly think I didn’t breathe for ten whole seconds as the children filed out of the row to take their places up front. If you’re not familiar, most formal dining events in the military contain a small white table, chair tipped inward, perfectly set but never occupied. Even those who don’t understand the significance of each item on the table can appreciate its iconic value once they see it. A projection of the book’s cover washed us all with light, and I realized this was going to be exactly what I had feared.

 

holding hands

"I love you."

Sweet Pea was sitting next to me, and as I looked down at her over the tears that were already welling up in my eyes, I had to suck it in, really suck it in hard. I could not lose it; I just got done lecturing her that we shouldn’t be sad all the time because Daddy would want us to be happy and healthy until he returns. So I sucked that snot right up into my nose, and gave her a pained fake smile. She clearly wasn’t buying it, so I winked. But unfortunately a tear I had been holding in took that opportunity to pop out. 

She squeezed our family signal into my hand three times:

 once for “I” once for “love” and once for “you.”

And then one by one, as the book was read, children deposited various items on the table:

 
 a white linen for purity of motive;
a slice of lemon for the bitter fate of the missing;
a pinch of salt for the tears of their families;
an inverted glass for the missed meal;
a red rose for the hopes and prayers of those awaiting their loved one’s return;
a red ribbon tied to the vase for our determination in finding them;
a black napkin for the prisoners of war; and
a lit candle, to remind us that America is a light in a world of darkness.poa mia

 

By this time there was no hiding the tears that were clearly streaming down my face. All I could do was turn slightly away from Sweet Pea, who was very clearly looking to me to be the glue that held her own little moment in place. I couldn’t even hold my own together, with the “what ifs” flooding in. I failed miserably at that task, offering instead four gentle squeezes of the hand: “I love you, too.”

I couldn’t decide what had overcome me most. I was honored by my heritage, thankful for Husband’s life and safety, appreciative of those who had sacrificed theirs, guilty for feeling happy about having my husband in one piece, annoyed that I didn’t see it coming, sorry for my children, and lonely – all at the same time.

As I finally left the school, I sent some text messages to those who I know have done multiple tours. It didn’t provide nearly the satisfaction I was hoping for.

I was left pondering how else to be truly thankful.

I think the best we can do is to be thankful ourselves. Veteran’s day really is a great lead-in to Thanksgiving. Both are uniquely American holidays that give us an entire season to be grateful for our lives. I challenge you today to find the long list of blessings around you that you take for granted. And then, would you please take some time in the upcoming week to say thank you to a Vet? It’s easy: just find the older man wearing the navy blue cap with the name of his ship on the brim.

If they were brave enough to serve their country in a foreign land, you just might find the courage to approach a stranger

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amy
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 13:39:17

    I just found your blog, and 5 min in, I am hooked. My husband returned from Iraq in July of 08, and prior to that I had never seen the book “America’s White Table,” and I’m a teacher. My twin’s were in 1st grade at the time, and they had switched to a new school from the one they were at while we went through our deployment. My daughter came home very upset from school on Veteran’s Day. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she cried at school becauses of a book they read in library. I couldn’t figure out why she would cry from a book. After some investigation, I figured it out. Talk about self to text connections. Now I always let their teachers know to keep an eye on them around Veteran’s Day, we never know what might bring on the the tears, and being a land locked Navy family in MN, very few people around us get it!!!!

    Have you seen the new kids chapter book called “100 Days and 99 Nights,” It is wonderful. It is about a little girl and what happens at home while her Dad is deployed! It is up for an award! Great book for others to get a glimpse of what we go through at home.

    Reply

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  8. Lori Kristensen
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 10:16:33

    Sorry friend….I knew that one would be a tough one for you. We just felt it so important that we couldn’t “not” do it. I believe our kids don’t really understand (yours do) the sacrifice, the gift, and the huge responsibility that our military does for us….for which I am so very THANKFUL!! Love you, love your husband, and love your family…..you are not alone! :-)

    Reply

  9. Kaylee
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 09:13:27

    What a beautiful post! Thank you so much for sharing this and linking up!

    Reply

  10. Athena
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 09:13:21

    I am kind of glad that I will miss the Veteran’s Chapel on Monday. I don’t think I would make it through it without sobbing and trust me, me in a melt down isn’t pretty.

    Reply

  11. Poekitten
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 07:57:46

    I ALWAYS cry when the White table is done. When I was teaching, they did it at our Veteran’s Day assembly. DH (Fiance then) was deployed and I couldn’t stop the tears. I could see that it struck them too…not always easy with middle schoolers!

    Thanks for sharing. Blessings to you!

    Reply

  12. Gaily
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 07:44:31

    Thank You. God Bless.

    Reply

  13. JO
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 02:17:15

    Not being raised in a military family, or near anything military, I had never heard of the white table. I would have Boo Hoo’d. My grandfather was in WWI, father in WWII, an uncle is MIA, and we visited the cemetary often to decorate the graves. I knew what it was like to have had someone in the military but never for a career. My father never talked about his time in the military or anything about WWII. I had never even been on a base until my Aunt and Uncle moved back to Wichita when I was in high school.

    I was red-white-blue before it was popular, my living room has been Americana for over 20 years (one friend asked when I would put up my July 4 decorations). I cry every time I hear any song about America. You are doing a great job as mom and dad, and think about all of you everyday. You have a real talent with your blog and letting everyone know what is going on in your heart and family. One day at a time is how I make it thru each day. God is with us with each step we take. Love you.

    Reply

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