“It seems like only yesterday.”
It’s an expression as worn out as those of us old enough to utter it routinely. But it captures our ethereal sense of time as we watch our major life events unfold.
It seems like only yesterday:
When a busload of nervous USMC recruits arrived at Parris Island, SC, with little to no idea what lay ahead. How could they? The majority were kids, 18, 19 years old. With parental consent, some, like husband Dale, went headlong into the maelstrom known as “boot camp” at the age of 17. They stepped off the bus and into a disciplined world that would sustain them throughout their lifetimes, or so they thought.
Dale’s a pretty tough guy. His first taste of international intrigue occurred when President John F. Kennedy threw down the gauntlet to USSRs Nikita Khrushchev in 1962. Khrushchev wanted to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, and Kennedy said no, not 90 miles off our shores.
For about a week that October, Dale floated around Cuba on the USS Francis Marion, one of many U.S. vessels ordered to quarantine Cuba against the delivery of the Russian nukes. Fortunately, Khrushchev blinked first and the rest is history.
A short time later, the United States committed American troops to defend South Vietnam from its communist enemies in the north. By then, war drums had been beating for close to a decade. Dale’s unit arrived in Chu Lai, landing amphibiously, and set about building the air bases and communications networks for the fighters who would follow them.
The Vietnam War would become the most controversial and emotionally-charged military confrontation of the 20th century. But Dale was blessed. He survived to live a full life, almost.
The Corps had honed his character and he forged his life around “Semper Fidelis” – always faithful to his God, his wife, his country and his principles. Throughout his youth and middle age, Dale didn’t worry about growing old. Who does? If he thought about old age at all, it was simply the fleeting fairy tale — the Rockwellian notion of sitting on a front porch with a gray-haired Carla, taking in a sunset.
As the years began to fly by faster and faster, we were largely oblivious to the gradual changes in our bodies. Youth had faded; stamina had waned, but our lives were unassailable. A little Ben-Gay and Motrin, and we were ready for any challenge.
One day, however, changes accelerated. No longer gradual. The hallmarks of our lives seemed like only yesterday, but in that blink of an eye we found our bodies under siege. The man who had built a number of latrines could no longer hold his water.
Dale was blindsided when he had to abort a shopping trip because he’d wet his pants. He wished the earth would swallow him up before he died from embarrassment.
The young Marine of yesteryear never dreamt that one day he’d step off a commuter train from Dallas and fall flat on the ground, attracting a group of staring, whispering people who wanted to help the “poor old man.” He considered himself lucky that a rolled-up catheter didn’t fall out of his pocket along with a bottle of Vesicare.
Behind a few gray hairs, a labyrinth of wrinkles and translucent skin, the same young, macho Marine who served his country honorably in time of war still resides. I wish everyone could see him as I do. If they did, they would honor him during his time of war with this disease, and always treat him with the dignity he deserves.
In another 50 years, or the next blink of an eye, we hope the array of Parkinson’s syndromes has gone the way of Polio, so that future Dales can live out the fairy tale on their front porches, talking about their pasts that “seemed like only yesterday” – with gray-haired Carlas by their side.