As a young boy, my husband often found himself in places he should not have been. This includes (but is not limited to): His older brother’s bedroom, the living room that his mother kept so perfectly and, of course, his step-father’s study.
Occasionally, he will recount for our children the day he snuck into the study and simply started looking around. His step-dad, a Vietnam era fighter pilot and Colonel in the Air Force, was an old school, American fighting man. His office, like so many others, was visual proof of a long and illustrious career of honorable service to his beloved nation. Certificates, trophies, citations and mementos from worldwide travel hung on walls and sat on shelves.
In his search for nothing in particular, my husband came across a pen. But, this was no ordinary pen and my future husband knew it. He quietly slipped the pen into his front pocket and tip-toed out of dear old dad’s office.
Next stop… Show and Tell.
Raise your hand if you remember Show and Tell. What a great opportunity to share the doll you received for your birthday or new baseball bat you received for Christmas. My husband was and has never been that predictable. He was an over-achieving Kindergartner, not to be outdone.
As he was called up front to present, one can envision the class patiently waiting for the next classmate’s turn (perhaps even a little bored, depending on what their fellow students had brought to share). Like a magician playing to a full house, with drama and flair, Joe removed the pen from his front pocket and thrust his arm high in the air. On the front of the pen was a woman dressed in a black one piece bathing suit. When turned upside down, the suit slowly dropped to reveal a nude woman. He turned it right side up and voila, she was dressed again! Point up, naked lady. Point down dressed lady, and so it went. For a five-year-old, it was mesmerizing to say the least.
As an educator myself, I imagine his teacher sitting at her back desk possibly grading papers and probably paying little attention to the items brought from home that day. I also imagine her, upon looking up and seeing the unpalatable pen, pulling together her 1970’s poly-rayon dress and scaling not only her desk but subsequent desks much like an Olympic hurdler going for gold.
A day that will go down in infamy at The Kiddie College of Orlando, Florida.
The military culture also has a form of Show and Tell, though nowhere near as scandalous. As far back as I can remember, there have been ceremonies and socials, recognition and recitations all in an effort to send the message “well done” to an active duty service member and often times their spouse. But what happens when the party dies down and the parade is over? You find yourself with a collection of really amazing, one-of-a-kind awards, photos, trophies and certificates. Fast forward a few decades into a career and you have what the military sarcastically refers to as an “I love me” wall. Some may even think it hearkens, “look at me, look at me, I’m awesome, aren’t I?”
A properly hung wall inspires the next generation to create their own accomplishments. Everything on the wall is a story to be shared. A memory to be pondered and a piece of history for all who observe. It is a celebration of camaraderie and the relationships forged during adversity and challenge. A display of gratitude to all the people who served along with you. It also gives our younger service members a sense of enthusiasm and offers a glimpse of what he or she may experience while serving. The wall acknowledges combat experience, multiple deployments, personal achievements, promotions and displays an overall dedication and love for country.
In the simplest of moments, the awards wall is a fabulous conversation starter and point of interest during a unit gathering in your home. I have actually seen people tear up when recognizing a comrade in arms or recalling a fond memory with a unit. Honestly, how many people do you know who have earned the title of Shell Back for their first crossing of the Equator or own aerial shots of themselves in an F-18? It is always fabulous and always interesting from your first plaque to your certificate of retirement.
Unfortunately, it is not all guts and glory. If you are a cut-up, your farewell gift may reflect that. I recently heard a friend describe a gift her husband received from the unit as a farewell. A toilet seat that when opened revealed a picture of himself. Brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that? Would that go on my wall? Absolutely. I’m sure they hang well but it would have to be the right color of course.
If you are just starting out, I encourage you to hang with pride. My husband’s “I love me” wall is my job (by choice) to create every time we move. I find a place of honor in our home for the branch he serves in, pride in my country and to reminisce about our amazing experiences together.
Sadly, there still is no room for the naughty pen on our wall.