Years ago when my sons were young, and I was feeling homesick for California (I’m still homesick for California)… I took them on one of the coolest vacations I’d ever taken them on. We flew into LA, rented a car, and drove up into the high desert and visited cousin Lynn. The first evening, we went back to the park where she and I had often taken her children, and we all laid on the picnic benches in that Victorville park, and watched shooting star, after shooting star, after shooting star. Though my life looked nothing at all like it had when I called that place home, and Lynn’s kids had grown up since I’d last seen them, absolutely nothing in that beautiful nighttime desert sky had changed even in the smallest way. It was still bright with stars and gave us an amazing show that night!
Rory, Ian, and I went on over the next few days to visit several family members, as well as the various theme parks. My favorite ride, “It’s a Small World After All” hadn’t changed in the slightest either. Neither had Los Angeles traffic, or Uncle Al and Aunt Jean’s famous lemon meringue pie.
We drove up the scenic Pacific Coast to the small town of Monterey, and the familiar sounds of hundreds of sea lions calling out day and night brought back so many memories of my days at the Presidio, when I’d get nervous at the bottom of Franklin Drive with my little Renault Alliance in 1st gear, hoping I’d make it up to the top without stalling and rolling backwards. Nothing had changed, except that I could no longer wave to Senior Ferri, my Italian language instructor at the Defense Language Institute who lived with his adorable little wife on the left, about halfway up that road. He’d passed away just a couple of years before this trip and they’d never gotten to meet my kids they had sent gifts to over the years.
My long time friend Shelly and her kids met up with us there, and we visited Cannery Row and the Aquarium, went to a nearby park and enjoyed paddle boating in the water for a bit, and then headed up to San Jose where she and I had been stationed together at the 341st Military Police Company, 155 W. Hedding Street, San Jose, CA 95110. (I typed that entire address by heart just for fun, and find it amusing that I remember it, but can’t remember a simple password I created two weeks ago). Shelly and I became friends there, and have not ever, ever, ever lost touch. Never.
We marched right up to the front door of our old unit, went to the front desk, and said we were just there to show our kids where we’d been stationed when we were in the Army, which to US felt like yesterday, but the young man at that front desk just chuckled. “You were in the Army? And stationed here? Um, when?” It gave me a whole new appreciation for those older gentleman dressed in their last military uniform who stand tall and march proudly at local parades. It must feel just like yesterday to them, too. He didn’t let us in, or allow us to show our old unit to the kids, but it was fun for Shelly and I to go back there anyways. It wasn’t a wasted trip. We remember those days well, like it was yesterday.
Why is it that we cruise through life, most of the time unaware of the changes that are going on? My cousins had all grown older, but that dessert sky hadn’t changed one bit, nor had our fascination with it. My favorite Disneyland rides hadn’t changed at all, but what had was my enjoyment of it. It was so much more fun to watch my sons enjoy it, than it was for me. Monterey still had it’s familiar sounds (like no other city ever), and I still enjoy (most) of my memories of living there, including my friendship with Felix Ferri, my most favorite pen pal ever! (Still have all of my letters from him!) I’m sure any memory of Shelly and I’s years at 341st MP Company are long forgotten – after all, it’s been 32 years since I left there! That’s two generations of soldiers right there! But our friendship is still as close and loyal as it was in the days of field exercises at Camp Roberts and Fort Ord.
A few weeks ago, I visited my orthopedic surgeon who did a root repair on my left knee’s lateral and medial menisci. (I promise, I’m going somewhere with this).
I was there for the results of the MRI on my right knee, this time. “Doc, I wanna get this one fixed before it becomes as bad as the left one did,” to which he looked at me and very unsympathetically sighed. “I hate to tell you this,” he said, “but your right knee is already way, way past that point. You need a total knee replacement. It’s full of arthritis due to your age, and quite frankly – it’s shot!”
We did agree to manage it with steroid shots, Tylenol, and other measures until that time comes, but I walked out of that office feeling like an old car whose transmission was shot and needed to go to the junkyard. But then a few traffic lights later, and a random text came through from Shelly, and on my 40 minute drive home from that appointment, I began reminiscing about all of the good memories I have with her, with my cousins out in the desert, and my old Army days when I lived close to family and got to enjoy visits with them, and before I got home – my entire perspective changed.
My knee might be shot, my hair grey, my mid-section a little thicker than it was almost 40 years ago, (okay, maybe a lot thicker), and I may not stand nearly as tall anymore, but…
Ya know what? This here “shot” knee has done some pretty cool stuff. It’s run up “drag ass hill” at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, walked the Causeway in Panama on more weekends than I can count, repelled off of a 6-story building, ran a million miles (maybe not a million, but it FELT like it in the tropical heat at 4 a.m. in Panama), done full gear ruck sack marches in combat boots in that same tropical heat, bounced, cuddled, and rocked my sons on that knee, danced with Rory at his wedding, (and I WILL dance with Ian at his too!), taught Lyla how to play hop scotch, chased Owen up the stairs giggling, and danced one heck of an amazing treble jig (if I do say so myself) on the best hardwood floor ever in the Gaelic League in Detroit, so I’d say having a wrecked knee is a right of passage into my middle-aged season, a trophy, a crown, and certainly nothing I’d change! I’ve totally earned this wrecked knee!
I don’t really know what the point of this whole “journaling episode” was, except perhaps to say that change is not really all that bad, after all. And, I’m pretty sure I’d still scale that 6-story building despite the injuries I sustained, and I’d still dance my heart out, even knowing one day it would hurt to even MOVE! LOL And I’m glad that all of the people, and friendships, and things that remained constant in my life – even the stars in the sky – made me completely unaware that anything else around me was changing, including my limp.
This ol’ knee has had a pretty good time 😉 And now, I think I’ll limp myself off to bed. G’night all!
ps) Shelly… May we never, ever, ever act our age 😉