Local writer of the column 'Notes From Home'

Last Sunday, Memorial Day weekend, our beautiful pastor started our congregational prayer thanking God for all the blessings we receive, from large to small, from day-to-day to once-in-a-lifetime. The list was long, the range wide, so it wasn’t hard to find yourself somewhere within that spectrum of light. We all are blessed, and it wasn’t hard to feel it on that beautiful, fresh last Sunday of May here in sunny California. 

Then he thanked God for all those whose lives we were celebrating on this national holiday: those whose lives were lost defending the country. Then he added those who came back maimed from conflict, their lives mangled, rearranged. Then he asked us to thank God for those who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way so that we might have the freedom to enjoy God’s blessings, and it was not hard to say Amen to that.

But from that moment I began thinking about those who are in harm’s way. As we sat there safe from weather (for a change, for a moment), people in Texas and Oklahoma were searching for neighbors in the rubble of a tornado’s wake. So often people are in harm’s way with no particular benefit to be gained from it. It’s an accident that they are there, dealt punishing blows in what the insurance guys and the legal system like to call an act of God.

I wrote about my father’s war experience a couple of weeks ago in “Scraping the Bowl.” At 18, newly graduated from high school, he put himself in harm’s way and received his real education, which he put to work building his family. He also put himself in harm’s way as a volunteer fireman and became a warrant officer in the Coast Guard Reserve, keeping himself available for fending off harm should it arrive. His bags were packed during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We were raised to follow his good example. His contributions to our social and political life we celebrate and remember in November on Veteran’s Day.

My brothers’ lives were not so successful. We grew up in the McCarthy fifties, when the color red stood for the blazing danger of communism burning across the global maps like a virus with no vaccine. In honor of that threat, more than 58,000 Americans, mostly boys, put themselves in harm’s way in Viet Nam, and, not able to see all the directions that harm came from, came home in bodybags. That included my brother Dave, who had prepared himself to fend off harm by joining a search and rescue team in high school. He also became president of his Future Farmers of America unit, where his real contributions to America might have been fending off hunger. Of all the people we celebrate on Memorial Day, his name comes first to my mind, even though I wish his life had not been wasted in southeast Asia almost 52 years ago.

Our younger brother, Steve, flying Dad’s flag, tried to follow in Dave’s footsteps and failed. That saved him from being wasted overseas, but not here. He was an artisan—a musician and silversmith—for whom following orders was a kind of death. For a while he joined the War Against Drugs, but on the wrong side. Over the course of his life he was a frequent victim of the war we wage against poverty. He tightly gripped his self-esteem, always in danger of going AWOL, as he lost his fight against cancer. I am still mourning his death, now almost five years ago, even as I mourn his life.

Saturday night, out with friends, I heard about a man I know slightly who is clearly in harm’s way. He’s a second- or third-generation Tulare walnut grower and a born recycler, a baling-wire kind of guy who keeps a scrap pile most people find unsightly so that he can make whatever he needs from yesterday’s leftovers. The story had details I haven’t fact-checked, but essentially there isn’t enough water, so he’s pushing out his trees. When I heard it, my gut said that must feel like murdering his children and writing his own death sentence at the same time.

Who will stand in harm’s way for him?

Trudy Wischemann is a third-generation foot soldier who writes. You can send her your life-saving inclinations c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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