The “delightful work” of this past weekend was “grandparenting.” Hotel grandparenting. My husband and I drove 5 hours south from our little Vermont house on the hill to West Point, NY. We were asked to watch our 11-month-old granddaughter while our daughter and son-in-law attended a wedding of a good friend. Immediately, we said yes. The groom a West Point graduate. We stayed in the lovely Thayer Hotel on the edge of campus. A very busy weekend as our granddaughter was exploring her exciting new world while finding every single dangerous plug, sharp corner, and dirty trash container. Hypervigilance was our military call this weekend. Strategic redirecting was required as our hotel suite turned “baby battlefield.”
While visiting West Point we decided to seek a weekend pass to see as much of the campus as time would allow. More importantly what West Point security would allow. To apply for a “pass” one enters a stark basement office. Two military police officers were situated at the far end of the room behind white desks with computers. We were required to fill out applications as a background check was mandated. We dutifully waited behind the reddish orange warning tape attached to the tile flooring. A visitor must be invited to take a seat as they wait to be systematically called to the desk. Nerves began to build. The environment was intimidating. I immediately felt guilty but tried to reassure myself that I had committed no crimes. I soon was next to be called. I began to perspire. The florescent lights bright. No natural lighting in the basement office. I wondered what the rooms in the back were for. A nod from the military police officer brought me quickly to my feet as I moved swiftly to the appropriate seat in front of him. Both officers possessed muscles that expanded beyond the sleeves of their shirts. I felt like he could see right through me. He knew I had stolen a pack of Wrigley’s gum at age 5 from my father’s grocery store to which my mother swiftly grabbed my wrist and brought me immediately to the cashier to pay for. A “mom” lecture quickly ensued. Even though we owned the grocery store we still were required to pay for any of the items we took. Did he have that incident appear under my driver’s license number? Had that crime followed me from MA to VT to West Point? I wanted to crank my neck around his computer to see what details of my life he was reviewing to determine my “pass acceptability.” Instead, I sat glued to my vinyl hard chair with a forced smile upon my face waiting for his next instruction. Asked what the purpose of my visit was I nervously responded that my “son” was in a wedding this weekend. Lies, lies, lies he is your son-in-law ran through my creative brain!!!!! I squirmed as I tripped over my words. The reality was he was just doing his job. Protecting West Point. Grandparents included.
Once we were approved, we decided we would walk through the West Point Museum. The start of the exhibit leads visitors through a narrow dark hallway. The loud noises seemed to come from everywhere. Guns exploding. The army “hooah” enveloped me. The visuals were just too overwhelmingly real. Sensory overload. A party of young strong men were walking in front of me. Cadets or visitors? Suddenly there were too many people around me. All things military. All things pandemic. My every masked and vaccinated fiber reacted. The hallway closed in around me. It all felt uncomfortably too close. I fled.
Safely and distantly outside the building I turned to my adult daughter and shared my immediate thoughts of wondering how my father her grandfather survived WWII at age 18? Landing on Omaha Beach, marching across Europe right through to The Occupation. War 24/7. Death 24/7. I couldn’t last 5 minutes in a simulation. My heart ached for him because while he physically survived the war mentally, he was forever changed. How could he not have been forever changed we both agreed.
The beautiful yet austere West Point campus sits high above the Hudson River. On a quiet Sunday morning the boats moved silently yet reverently along the river. Large estates dotted the opposite coast. Military drills on a nearby field were the only other activity early that day. Small groups of soldiers marching in army fatigues reminded me of my actual surroundings. Bronze monuments on display. Names and dates forever solemnly documented. The following words jumped off one of the WWII plaques: “DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY’
This bleeding heart of mine struggled to understand why we humans have an unsatiable need for war. We ask so much of those that are willing and able to serve our country in fact we ask for it all. My mother was right. We do pay for everything we want in this life and especially the cost of freedom…
I wish to acknowledge and thank all of the brave men and women who have served our country and the far too many lives lost. To those who are called to serve and protect, I am forever grateful for each one of you…
“Only our individual faith in freedom can keep us free.” Dwight D. Eisenhower