Nineteen years ago, not too long after I met my dear husband, Herman, I went back to my Alabama hometown for the wedding of a childhood friend. Like many weddings, this was also a reunion of sorts, for a group of girls–now women hitting age 40–who hadn’t seen each other for years.
We had all gone off to college in 1970. We had all been (oh, the dirty little secret) debutantes together. Most of them had joined sororities and gone on to marry bankers and lawyers. All had stayed in the South but me.
I, on the other hand, divorced my banker and moved to Washington D.C.
I guess I had always been the odd one.
Herman didn’t go with me to the wedding. Neither of us was ready. I’m white. He’s African American. And Alabama, in 1994, was still, well, Alabama. It would have all been a distraction and way too “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
But I took a picture of Herman to gingerly share. It was the last official portrait he’d had taken before his retirement from the U.S. Army the year before, smiling ever so slightly (mustn’t lose command), handsome, and wearing his full-bird colonel’s uniform.
I’ll never forget the faux shock expressed by my very oldest friend. She laid it on thick in an exaggerated drawl. “Carlotta,” she said. (For some reason neither one of us can remember, she long ago took to calling me Carlotta.) “I would have figured you for a Black man.” Deep sigh and pause for emphasis. “But the Ah-mee?”
Yeah, well, me too.
Somewhere in our basement, I still have the Indian print maxi dress I imagine I was wearing in 1971 when I joined Quaker candlelight vigils for peace in Vietnam. At the same time, Herman, then a captain, had survived the Tet Offensive with honor, come back to the States to disdain and turmoil, and was, ironically, serving a required tour as an ROTC professor of military science.
I look back at myself and think how foolish I was. Not that I stood for peace. I still stand for peace. And so does Herman. He ought to know. He has been in an ugly war. He doesn’t take it lightly and doesn’t believe our nation should either.
No, I was foolish because I wore my political positions like fashions and I didn’t have the foggiest idea what it might mean to hate the war and love the soldier.
Turns out, a soldier is just the right man for me. Mine is courageous. He was dedicated to his career, although he jokes that he tried it for 28 years and decided he didn’t like it. He doesn’t back down from responsibilities. He doesn’t back down from what he believes in. He is realistic and pragmatic and somehow completely idealistic at the same time. He is an officer and a gentleman, and I am very blessed that we found each other.
On Veterans Day, I salute him.
This is Day 11 of Thirty Days of Thanksgiving. Please Like my Facebook Author Page for daily updates. Or submit the Get Notified form here on my website to get blog posts in your email. To Leave a Comment, just click on the link below.