But his time was up at the end of the year. He’d been a Seal for nineteen years now and was on the fence about re-upping his term. He could take a desk position or simply retire – or- he could request to stay another term, complete with hazardous duty and all the frills that risking your life brought- but was the money worth it? Did he even know a different life anymore? He’d been military for so long that the thought of leaving this life and starting another scared him. His girl had given up on him long ago and he rarely even thought of her anymore since she’d married his cousin back home. His cousin was a fancy attorney, loaded with money from his own practice and safe back in Lexington, Kentucky.
He breathed in deeply and thought of the horse farms, the open fields and the crispy fall air when he’d gone hunting as a boy before he signed up. Rolling green fields, great weathered barns, tobacco farms and roadside stands full of vegetables made him wistful for days long since gone. What would he do? Start over? He was too brittle, too hard, because life had made him that way. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d laughed.
“Griffin! You’re twenty-three! Mobley, twenty-four! Sparks, twenty- five! Cash, you idiot – you’re twenty-six!” the names shouted out went on and continued on for quite some time. They were either passing out something to all the troops or raffling something to keep morale up.Twenty-three, huh?He watched as they handed out envelopes with the corresponding numbers. He got it now. Frankly he was curious and watched the parade of letters flying out and accompanying smiles that went with it.
“Oh ho! Who had twenty-three? Griffin, was that you, ya old geezer? Looks like you got something special with your letter,” the corporal teased tossing him a small, crushed up box wrapped in brown paper with an envelope taped to the front.
Several of the guys had taken to calling him ‘ol man Griff’ due to him being one of the oldest still stationed there. It wasn’t teasing but rather a term of respect. He’d been there the longest with all his fingers and toes intact.The scars were on the inside, he thought to himself and opened the envelope.
Schools were encouraged to write to soldiers often and this wasn’t the first letter he’d gotten. He had always dutifully written back and tried to do so on a good day. No sense in sounding like a twerp to a child that didn’t know any better. He read the words and it struck him deep in the gut, thinking of home. He could feel the grass and smell the pollen in the air, knowing that peace they described. It was what he dreamt about often when he needed to escape…and Twinkies? A single snort of laughter escaped him before he realized it.
“You okay, ol’man? Choking on your salty tears?” one of the youngest enlisted smarted off. He’d just arrived three weeks ago and was definitely a hot shot that needed to be taken down a peg or two before he got himself or someone else killed.
“Shut it,boybefore you choke on your front teeth,” he snapped, not looking up and grateful for the other men that pulled the arrogant young pup back into his seat. He wasn’t in the mood for a fight, but by golly if the boy picked one - he’d finish it and take his punishment for starting trouble. He tore the brown paper box open and a yellow sponge cake fell between his filthy boots onto the ground wrapped in cellophane.
Several shouts of jealousy blasted around him as the others readily identified the Twinkies he’d received. He had several offers of money, one man waving twenty dollars at him for a single chance to savor the delicacy from home. Whoever this kid was, he was darn grateful.
Deliberately, he picked up the cellophane wrapper and pulled it back, inhaling the velvety, sugary sweetness. He could practically feel his blood ramping up and ready to accept the rush that was sure to follow eating the treat. He didn’t think of Twinkies as a naughty thing, but he was tempted to lick it, just to make the flavor last a bit longer than the two bites it would take him to shove it in his mouth that was salivating at the temptation.
But he did.
John licked the sponge cake with a wicked grin towards the other guys that were ogling him. “I hear twenty,” he taunted, “Anyone got thirty?” and took a large bite, moaning aloud happily with enthusiasm. The explosion of sweetener and gooey whipped cream could have made a saint weep with happiness.
While he got a kick out of teasing his brothers at arms, he also had a heart buried deep, DEEP, in him somewhere. He gave the other half of his Twinkie to Radar in front of the other men. Their faces registered disbelief and shock at the outlandish display. John did laugh now, a full-on belt-busting laugh that brought tears to his eyes.
“Get a plate and a knife, boys,” he chuckled, petting Radar’s soft black silky ears and scratching her brown nose, blowing her kisses. He glanced at the beaten-up box and back at their eager faces. “We’ll divvy the remaining nine packages between us all so we all get a taste of home.”
That night, John immediately wrote his letter back. A few of the guys did the same to get it out of the way in case something happened, and they didn’t get to later. Most wrote of their daily life and read their responses to each other. John had a few guys ask him to request more Twinkies if they ever wrote back again. You never knew nowadays.
This Lily kid could be in second grade with excellent penmanship, or it could be a senior in high school. No hints or inclinations whatsoever so the letters need to be pretty upbeat and casual. No one ever wanted their letter turned over to the media for misconstruing something they said or implied. No, there were standards. They couldn’t give away their position, they couldn’t talk about battle or discuss their plans and the letters had to be upbeat. Who wanted a depressing letter to go to a child? No one.
Please thank your kind parents for the Twinkies. The entire barracks all enjoyed a bite, including my K-9 dog. She’s a German Shepherd named Radar and is seven years old.
John nearly wadded the informal basic letter up and threw it away. It sounded like he was talking to a two-year-old. The letter hadn’t sounded like a child wrote it – it sounded like it belonged to a dreamer. A person with imagination and kindness in their heart. They called them heroes, but what was that? Simply doing your duty didn’t make him feel like anyone’s hero. It made him feel grateful to be alive.
Your letter spoke to me and made me think of my home. It’s been a long time since I’ve been back there, and I could practically smell the flowers you described. The Twinkies were awesome and there is no other way to put it. I admit, I did tease a few of the guys because we get so little mail, much less extravagant gifts like that. It was truly appreciated greatly - even if it was banged up a bit. It didn’t affect the taste and I forgot how much I loved sweets. I could use a few of the good dreams you mentioned … and your snack cakes might do the trick.
Take care and God bless you as well,
CPO John Griffin & Radar
He surprised himself and sketched a paw print at the bottom of the letter to mimic Radar’s own signature. He hadn’t drawn anything in years simply because there was nothing really to show. He couldn’t draw the weapons and frankly didn’t want to, nor did he want to draw photos of the rocky hillside. Feeling silly, he quickly folded up the letter and sealed it in the envelope before anyone could read it. If they had, he would never hear the end of the ribbing at his words. He hoped he conveyed how grateful he was to the kid for the brief light that reached his soul.
“Class, we got a few letters in!” Lily announced excitedly. They’d been trickling in for about a week now and she was thrilled with the response. She noticed that it was taking approximately three weeks for the letters to arrive and return, which seemed almost shocking considering how fast things could come and go in the mail. Last time she’d done letters to the military, they’d only received back a handful. She knew now that she got a better response with the self-addressed stamped envelopes. She could only picture that it might be tough to get the correct postage overseas, or at least that is what she told herself to keep from getting upset at the lack of response. One of the retired navy wives had promptly crushed her theory in the teachers’ lounge one day, telling her that the carriers and all the ships had post offices.
So much for that idea,she’d mused, and that was when the idea had hit her. She’d do as much work for them as possible- so all they had to do was reply. It seemed to be working too, since they had almost fifteen responses this year. She flipped through the letters and spotted one addressed to her. Tossing it on her desk just like she did with mail at home, she thought of the cakes and hoped whoever it was had enjoyed them as much as she did. She handed out each letter and asked the student to stand up and read it, so they could share with the rest of the class.