The King-Sized Sheet: A Veterans Day Story

My 80 year old parents use a fitted sheet on their king-sized bed.  Their one and only fitted sheet.  Once each week, they remove it, put it through the washer and the dryer, and back on the bed it goes.

Well, you know what happens after a couple of years of this.  One day recently, my father hauled the sheet out of the dryer, spread it out on the bed, tugged at one of the corners, and rrrriiiippp!  A sheet that is used daily only lasts so long, and this one had reached the end of its natural life.

So my parents were forced to go shopping for a sheet.  They looked for a good price in several stores, finally settling on an Egyptian cotton number marked down at Ross Dress for Less.

It was apparent that numerous shoppers had put their grubby little hands on the sheet before it attracted my parents’ gaze.  The zipper on the plastic wrapper was partially open and an edge of the sheet was sticking out.  It looked as if someone had completely removed the sheet for inspection, rejected it, and stuffed the sheet back into its casing.  But my parents liked the color and they felt the price was reasonable, so they bought it.

Back at home, my father set down the package in the guest bedroom to disengage it from its plastic cocoon.  When it was out, my mother took one look at it and said “that’s not a king-sized sheet.”  “Yes, it is,” my father replied, spreading it out roughly on the guest bed to prove his point.  After all, the outside of the package had a large K sticker and the tags inside were marked “king” as well.

Very well, said my mother, who removed all the tags and threw them in the trash.  (Now I know why we keep our tags along with the receipts.)

Several days elapsed before my parents removed the torn sheet from their bed for the final time.  Time to bring out the brand new sheet.  In the washer went the sheet, then in the dryer.  My father carried the new sheet into the master bedroom for its inaugural run.  He tried to spread it out on the bed when he realized something was wrong.

“You were right,” he admitted to my mother.  “It’s not a king-sized sheet.”

My parents knew they had to drive back in to the city to exchange the sheet that very day.  My mother brought out the ironing board and ironed the sheet.  Then she folded it neatly and stuffed it back into its plastic casing.

The only problem was the tags.  My mother had thrown them away.  And my parents knew that the store was not likely to take back the sheet without its tags.

Thus, my parents proceeded to conduct the great tag hunt.  This involved rummaging through several days of accumulated trash.  Now, my parents live out in the country where there is no municipal trash collection.  Most of her neighbors pay a trash hauler to come by each week to pick up the contents of their trash cans.  Not my parents.  They are too frugal.  It’s a waste of money, in their opinion.

So they dispose of their trash themselves.  This means that when the trash cans in the kitchen and the bathrooms fill up, they dump it into their large trash bucket out back of the house.  When the bucket starts getting full, they haul the contents into town for disposal in a convenient location.  Dumpsters located at convenience stores, supermarkets and restaurants are likely targets.  When larger items (such as old furniture) require disposal, they are taken out back, where my father chops them up with an axe before dumping the pieces into “the hole,” a large trough that they had dug years ago, way back at the property line of their 2½ acre spread.

My parents pulled chairs up to the trash bucket out on the patio, tilted it onto its side and began sorting through the contents.  Partway down, the errant tags were located, covered in coffee grounds.  Breathing a sigh of relief, they cleaned off the tags as best they could, then washed them.  But they still were all crumpled and ugly-looking.  So (what else?) my mother ironed them.

Back into the plastic casing with the sheet went the tags.  My parents drove back into town, returned the sheet to be credited back to my father’s charge card, and headed over to Bed, Bath and Beyond to look for another sheet.  A real king-sized sheet.

Locating a sheet that satisfied them, my mother bemoaned the fact that here she was making a purchase from BBB just when she did not have one of their ubiquitous 20% off coupons that are always arriving in the mail.  Luckily, they overheard a conversation in the store about a discount granted to veterans.

My parents entered the checkout line with the sheet, and another elderly couple lined up right behind them.  When the clerk rang up my parents’ purchase, my father asked about the veterans’ discount.  “Sure, let me see your veteran’s card,” said the clerk.

The clerk, a young woman who appeared to be barely out of high school, didn’t realize who she was dealing with.  My father explained that he didn’t have a veteran’s card and, in fact, didn’t even know that such a thing existed.  “I served in the Korean War between 1952 and 1956, young lady,” began Dad, “but you wouldn’t know anything about that because that was before you were born.”

The manager had to be called, holding up the line.  Finally, the elderly couple waiting behind my parents came to the rescue.  “Here, use my veteran’s card,” said the man.  The clerk punched the card number into the computer, my father returned the card to his neighbor, and a receipt spat out with the veterans’ discount duly deducted from the total.

Word is that my parents are now enjoying their new king-sized sheet.

Happy Veterans Day, everyone!

NaBloPoMo 2014 Logo


And Our Veterans Fight On

flag wheelchair

It’s Veterans’ Day in the United States and President Obama spoke at Arlington National Cemetery, urging us not to forget the role of the military in our history and national security.

What images come to mind when we think of the military?  Discipline, certainly.  Row upon row of soldiers standing in formation, identical uniforms, weapons at the ready.  Being rousted out of a barracks bunk before dawn to hike up mountains and drag through swamps.  Drop and give me twenty.  Yes, sir.  No, sir.  Men and women subject to all manner of verbal abuse to toughen them up for… the unthinkable.

And then the unthinkable happens and the media provide us with images of war.  I think of novels like Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and movies like “Saving Private Ryan.”  I think of framed paintings of Washington crossing the Delaware and the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima.  The invasion of Normandy at Omaha Beach, Pearl harbor, the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima.

And just as in the case of a nuclear blast, we are left to deal with the fallout.  Gold stars in living room windows, duck-and-cover air raid drills and draft card numbers called out over the radio yield to bittersweet images of the homecoming of American heroes.  The joy of a nurse and a serviceman kissing in Times Square on V-J Day, but also agent orange, limbs lost to IEDs, post-traumatic stress syndrome, homeless vets.  White-gloved soldiers saluting at graveside as they remove the star-spangled banner from a coffin, fold it neatly and hand it to a grieving mother.

But mostly, I think of my father.  I don’t know a lot about his military service; it’s not something he chooses to talk about much.  I know he entered the Air Force as a teenager and was fortunate to escape the worst of the horrors that war serves up.  It was the dawn of the 1950s, and he voluntarily joined the military rather than face the near-certainty of being drafted and shipped off to Korea.  Instead, he served in southern New Jersey, at McGuire Air Force Base/Fort Dix and across the river in Delaware.

He worked on planes.  The only story I remember about this is that he sometimes had to work around the clock and how one morning, after he had been at it for two days straight, he woke up on the tarmac under a plane and was shocked to realize it was the middle of the night.  No one had noticed that he was still there.

Oh, and when, as kids, my sisters and I had lost something that we needed, my father would tell us that, in the military, the officers would order the soldiers to “shit one.”

My father’s commanding officer had to give him permission to get married.  After which he stood by the side of the road in his uniform, stuck out his thumb and hitched a ride up to his wedding in New York.

Four years later, he had completed his military service and was able to obtain a college education on the GI bill.  But for others, the story did not end as well.  There are those who never made it home.  And there are those who returned to their families broken in body and in spirit.  Some are unemployable, others continue to live in their own private hells, unable to reintegrate into society.

So yes, we must remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  But we have Memorial Day devoted to that.  Today, on Veterans’ Day, we are called upon to reach out to the lost souls who protected us in Korea, in Vietnam, in the sands of Iraq and in the mountains of Afghanistan, and who continue to suffer long after the bombs have stopped falling, the firing of guns has ceased and everyone has gone home.

They remain among us.  And now it’s our turn to give.  Encourage employers to hire the vet, donate time and money to the VA hospitals and support programs for veterans in your community.  Show them that their service to us has not been forgotten.



On WordPress:

“Honoring the Veterans” on In the Write Moment – Mindy Peltier describes her visit to the Wisconsin Veterans’ Memorial.

“Thank God No Son Sonuvabitch Lives Forever” on What Happens to Us –David Groves describes the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, in which is father fought in the Korean War this month in 1950.

On BlogHer:

Sleeping Separately Won’t Kill Your Marriage – Blogger livingin4rooms tells us what it’s like to sleep in the same bed with a combat veteran who returned with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress syndrome.


NaBloPoMo November 2013