So there I was, with my wife and two of my three children - the ones who are 22 and 16 - enjoying a nice day at the beach. Actually, it was day on the island, but give me a little leeway here, please.
It was a Saturday morning - a warm Saturday morning. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and I really and truly shouldn't have had a care in the world, but I have a tendency to create cares where none exist. I'm an old curmudgeon, in other words. A mulligruber. I don't recall what my worries were on this glorious Saturday morning, but I'm sure there was something that didn't suit me.
Perhaps my coffee had not been hot enough at breakfast. Perhaps our entourage had taken too long to get ready for our bike ride - which happened to be the only thing on our agenda for that day. Perhaps I wasn't satisfied with the way the golf tournament was going in Augusta. The point is, I am sure I wasn't enjoying the day as much as I should have, because that's just the way I am lately.
I had stopped at the Sweet Shoppe in the Jekyll Island village. Not the one the millionaires built. The one regular folks can shop in, if they have enough money. I wanted a praline, and my oldest child wanted a turtle. The two of us walked out of the store with our treats and were greeted by the sight of a young family who seemed to be enjoying their day more than I was enjoying mine.
I couldn't help but smile as I watched the young man in the Texas A&M baseball cap wipe melted chocolate ice cream off the face of his own daughter. The fresh-faced young father looked like he couldn't possibly have been a day older than my daughter, the one standing beside me enjoying her turtle. The child with the ice cream on her face might have been 3 1/2.
I took the beautiful brunette - the one with the 18-month-old in her arms - to be the young man's wife and I felt like a voyeur as I stood for a minute or two and just watched them interact with one another and with their children. I could tell by the way they looked at one another that they were very much in love - with one another and with life itself.
I could no more have resisted speaking to them than I could have resisted eating the last bit of my fresh confectionery.
"Are you an Aggie?" I asked the young man, in reference to the baseball cap that covered his closely cropped blonde hair.
"I am," he said proudly. Class of 2003.
"Really?" I asked, surprised that he was so long out of college.
"What are y'all doing so far from College Station? Are you out here on vacation?"
"I'm stationed at Ft. Stewart," he told me, "and we just drove over to enjoy the day."
And then he added, "I just got back and we needed to spend some time together."
"I just got back," the Aggie told me. I didn't have to ask from where, so I asked, "How was it over there?"
"About the same as the first time I was there," he answered.
The first time. A young man who looked to be no older than my daughter had already served two tours of duty in Iraq.
"Really?" I asked. "There is no change?"
And then he amended his response. "Oh, no. there is. Things are lots better from the Iraqi stand point. They are beginning to take over and things are a lot calmer and everything will be OK soon, if we stay the course."
If we stay the course. His words. Not mine. Not George Bush's. Not John McCain's.
And then he said, "It just wasn't any easier to be away from them," nodding at his young family. "That's what I meant when I said things were about the same."
"Are you home for good?" I asked.
He smiled and said, "Yeah. Or until next time."
I didn't learn the name of the young hero in the Texas A&M baseball cap and I didn't want to steal any more of his time. I simply said, "Well God bless you all. Thank you for your service," and started on my way. His young wife, however, reached out and touched my arm.
"We knew what we signed on for," she told me, "and as hard as it is, it's worth it. It has to be done."
I smiled and turned away because I hate for beautiful young brunettes to see tears forming in my eyes.
On April 19, 1775, the first American soldiers answered their country's call to arms and for 233 years now brave men - and more lately, women - have been leaving their families to serve on our behalf.
I don't know what kind of mood you are in today or what you have on your plate, but I know that each and every one of us can breathe free because there are about a million-and-a-half men and women in uniform scattered across our country and around the globe, making sure that we are as safe as we can be in a world gone crazy.
God bless them one and all.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.