By Marsha M. Brown
With Memorial Day weekend just behind us, I wanted to write about what I experienced and my new found way to celebrate the holiday. I manned my first donation booth for the American Legion Fort Raleigh Post 26 Manteo where good folks like you stopped by to donate and help our veterans and their families! Thank you!
Collecting money for worthy causes isn’t foreign to me because if the subject matter is important and I take part, I know it’ll be a blessing…I just hadn’t participated in an American Legion poppy donation booth before. My veteran sweetheart Billy, who inspires me every day, encouraged me to help, so, I picked up my donation bucket and bunches of little red “Made by Veterans” poppy flowers to give to anyone who made a contribution. Then I headed south to Hatteras Island.
I situated myself in front of a busy grocery store behind a table covered with a red, white and blue fireworks tablecloth. It was a windy day, so on my head I wore a visor to help keep my hair somewhat in place. On one side of the brim I inserted a poppy flower and on the other side I stuck a 10” American flag over my ear like the ones we give out at our annual “Salute to Veterans” events. No question, I stood out…but…I had to get in the spirit, you know? I wondered a few times sitting there if I was an attraction in and of myself and if the folks who wandered over came just to take a closer look…but whatever got ‘em there is what mattered most to me.
If you’ve never been a member of the American Legion (Auxiliary) or volunteered to help at a Memorial Day donation booth, you should! While I was there, I got a little glimpse into the humorous side of life and it really got me tickled. Some folks were ‘wall huggers’ and others ‘studiers’. They might have been extremely bashful but they seemed to size up my little booth’ set up as if it were a piece of abstract art…heads tilting side to side…they looked puzzled…could it have been my hair or everything I had stuck in it? At one point my tablecloth almost took flight and I had to hold it down with a bag of charcoal. I had to keep it from blowing over my head and swallowing me up whole!
Sometimes I’d get excited when folks walked toward me while reaching into their pockets…and I’d think…yippee! Today’s going to be a great day for poppies only to promptly realize they were pulling out a card for the instant DVD movie machine beside me…then sometimes it was their cell phone they were grabbing for…and more than once it was a deposit in the trash can they were headed for! Regardless, it was a sure thing that the ‘folks’ and I, without a doubt, got a kick out of each other.
Regardless and most importantly though…they were all folks that I wanted to get up and hug. And if I hadn’t been sitting so low in one of those fold up metal/canvas beach chairs with my knees almost touching my nose…I would have! There were people who came up to make a donation…or just thank me…or to thank the veterans everywhere. They were kind and generous; there were couples who looked at each other and whispered quietly about what pocket money they had to put in the little donation bucket…and then…there was a little boy who found a name tag sticker that I had written “God bless our veterans” on. It had blown off of my shirt. When he saw it…he picked it up, read it then proudly stuck it to his shirt over his heart. Minutes later, he and his Mom came back to my table and added to the donations.
As time passed on I was moved that a lot of young people in their teens and early to mid twenties stopped to take the time to give. A few remarked that some of the men in their family were veterans and some young people didn’t say anything except, “Thank you ma’am…thank you for what you’re doing.” I was impressed.
About mid way through my stay, a young man walked over close to my booth. He smiled, tipped his hat (cap) and then almost seemed to vanish in thin air…no doubt inside the store. In the meantime, other folks gathered close by including a handsome young man with reddish hair. He came up to the table, reached into his pocket for money to donate then looked at me and said, “Thank you”. I said “No, thank you. We appreciate you and your help”. Then he responded by saying, “I’m in the Army ma’am.” I said, “Thank you for your service, my husband was in the Army too. He’s a Vietnam veteran.” He said, “My Sergeant was too ma’am in Saigon when his barracks got hit”. Again, he thanked me for taking the time to sit and collect money for our veterans. While standing watch over my collection bucket embellished by tight rubber bands and miniature bouquets of red poppies it became clearly evident to me that he appreciated those who had served and those who serve our veterans now…period.
By and by, two young girls walked up to the movie box. They glanced over their shoulder to the table, and then their eyes became fixed on my hair ornaments. About that time their family came to pick them and their groceries up. Each of the girls dropped money in and I thanked them. They responded by telling me their family members had served our country and I could see the pride in their eyes. Then, I noticed the driver of the big truck was almost beside me. Their Dad, a man who looked to be about my sweetie pie Billy’s age, smiled when I said, “You’ve got some good girls there”! He said, “I know”. I told him I appreciated that on their own they had wanted to help the American Legion and that it meant a lot that coaxing them to do so wasn’t necessary. I told him my husband was a Vietnam veteran when he in turn said, “So was I and there are less of us all the time. We were treated really bad when we came home” he said. I thanked him for her service and told him I thought in retrospect that a lot of people were sorry about not embracing them as they should have been. He asked me to thank my husband for his service too and when his big truck rolled away, tears came to my eyes. I was proud of my Vietnam veteran husband and of that man too. The pain of rejection at such a time in his life was still evident even today.
I was glad I was sitting there with my wild and crazy hair, poppy flower and little American flag flying! What I was doing meant something to people that day. It was an afternoon of showing respect and teaching little boys who stopped by my table with their parents what the little red flowers stood for…exactly what the little poppies hand made by veterans themselves poppies were really about. It was a reminder to all that veterans matter…not just on Memorial weekend…but every day…and every single minute.
The time had dwindled away before I knew it when the same fella who had tipped his hat earlier came out of the store. He walked up to the table and said, “Thank you ma’am for what you’re doing. This is what this Memorial Day weekend is all about”. He reached into the side of his shorts and pulled out some money to put in the bucket. I thanked him for caring and when he walked away, I could then see that he had two prosthetic legs. Obviously he knew full well, up front and personal what that weekend represented and my little bucket of donations too. He touched my heart.
For all of the families that made a donation that weekend…THANK YOU! From the northern beaches, through Manteo and the southern beaches too, thank you for taking part in an American Legion tradition honoring the ultimate sacrifice…the lives of brave veterans. For anyone who couldn’t or didn’t contribute this time, its OK…there’s always next year. Don’t feel bad, you’ll get another chance to help. God is good.
Even though I made a few lighthearted observations and teased a little about human nature (and even about myself) the collection points for the American Legion offering the little red poppies is no joke. The sites publically display respect for fellow men and women who have died serving their country. The dedicated veterans who man booths on Memorial weekend do it for their brothers and sisters. Many of the booth ‘tenders’ are older with ambulatory problems…but they still do it for others.
I took to heart my experiences that Saturday and I’ve teased about a few things because life can make you smile at times…you know? But all joking aside, the people that touch our lives, inspire us and make us happy are just simple reminders that we are wonderfully made…all of us. We are unique, funny and especially kind people with generous hearts overall and the thoughtful side of Americans can never be matched…it’s just who we are…special.
There are lots of things you can do to help a veteran, support and love them for their love of country and its people. Find a way to do it, please. Come to events that honor them, pack the churches, auditoriums, pig pickings, craft & talent show fundraisers to help them…stand for a long time if necessary to watch their parades. Let them know you don’t take them for granted. Take notice of their sacrifices. Show them the honor they deserve.
Thank you American Legion Fort Raleigh Post 26 – Manteo for your diligent commitment to the warriors both living and deceased. Thank you Wounded Warrior Project, Disabled American Veterans (D.A.V.), Blue Star Mothers of America, Sew Girls of Las Vegas and all of the countless sources of help and support to the men and women who have served our beautiful nation! And thank you Dare County Veterans Advisory Council too! Together nothing can stop us from accomplishing great and mighty things on behalf of our veterans! God bless America!
Our new Dare County Veteran I.D. Card(s) are available to every honorably discharged veteran who lives in Dare County. If you would like to get one, please have your DD-214 and local address available. We will be posting regular dates and times for scheduled distribution points but in the meantime, you can contact Rhonda Creef, Dare County Veterans Service Officer at (252) 475-5604; email the Dare County Veterans Advisory Council at [email protected] or contact me if you wish. The ‘Card’ is beautiful and dedicated just to you for your service to all. It will provide discounts at local businesses who engage in this new and very meaningful tribute to our veterans. Thank you for reading GIG LINE everybody!
Please write to me at [email protected] or call my cell: (252) 202-2058 with any questions or comments. Be happy, be safe, be proud and thank a veteran! Until next time…stay tuned!