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Veterans Day with Multiple Sclerosis

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We sat, Caryn and I, at the window table in the corner of our local pub on Sunday. Having a goodbye pint with a couple of friends (which has become something of a routine thing in these last few weeks before our shift), the room was about half-full but the crowd was growing in advance of a football game.

Finbar, the proprietor of the establishment, had put on his usual Sunday spread of roasted chicken, lamb stew, curry soup, spaghetti Bolognese and sandwiches; his way of saying “thank you” to his regulars every Sunday. But the food doesn’t stop there. Here and there a pot of beans or a plate of cookies might be brought in by the odd patron or two.

And then, in walked Mac.

Carrying a paper plate wrapped with aluminum foil which held a couple of microwave burritos which had been sliced and fitted with frilly toothpicks, Mac shuffled to the bar and handed them over as offering for the communal repast. Finbar thanked the old man with a bright smile, a hearty handshake and the vodka and orange that took less time to pour than it took the old man to sidle the few feet from door to bar.

Mac is one of the regulars at our pub — maybe too regular, but I’m not one to judge — and he’s had a rough couple of weeks.

Mac is one of five old-timers who occupy one of the tables and regularly hold court. They sit very closely and talk quite loudly – age and the ringing of artillery have made Mac as close to deaf as one can be. Itused to befive… now there are four. Mac’s older brother passed away two weekends ago and he’s had a tough time of it since. The two were inseparable.

They enlisted in the army together on December 8th, 1941. Mac, being the younger of the two, had to lie about his age. His older brother vouched for his sibling under penalty of perjury so they could go through basic training together.

The two made a career of the military and their photos that are interspersed among various Patrick’s Day or Halloween or just a Sunday down the pup snaps on the tack board back by the dartboards show them sporting far more combat stripes than any brothers I’ve ever seen.

The gold hash marks make their way from the cuff of their class A’s and nearly touch the gold chevrons of their matching Sargent Major rockers and half way up the opposite sleeves.

Mac scuffed his way — without spilling a drop even thought his arms now quake with palsy shaking reminiscent of a high schooler playing Shakespeare's shylock — to his normal perch where he awaited the remains of his cadre.

Normally on Veterans Day, Mac and his brother would have been at the local Vet’s cemetery to honor the fallen and salute the guns and bugles, resplendent yet mournful in their tone and timbre. I suspect Mac had seen enough of that graveyard as I’m told he’s visited his brother’s grave every day since they laid him there a fortnight ago.

I nodded to Finbar to make sure Mac’s next drink was taken care of and he turned over a shot glass to mark the purchase. I wasn’t the only one to make the same, silent gesture as I saw that mine was now the third in a row.

I think about the men and women who have served our nation and the greater good of the world. I remember my seven years as an active duty Coast Guardsman. I ponder the men and women serving today. But, more than all of that, I think about the men and women — boys and girls now — who have yet to raise their hands and take an oath to hold the line… I think about myMS.

“On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month…” The great guns of the greatest war the world had seen to that point were silenced. The world was different then butthe pain of those who servedno different than the difficulties of our day’s service men and women.

As I steadied myself on a sturdycaneand donned my cloth cap to make my way out into the cold rain on Sunday, I looked back and gave Mac a high-handed but genuine salute of thanks. His cloudy gray eyes sharpened and his quaking arm stiffened as he popped me one back that would make an honor guard proud. And then the soldier was an old man again; slumped and tired and missing his brother.

I slipped Finbar a tenner. There were already too many upturned glasses awaiting Mac, so the barman simply slipped the note into the pocket of Mac’s coat, hanging on a peg near the bar. There is no way to thank someone for the things that Mac and his brother — and all of their kind — have seen and done and had done to them… but it was the best I could do.

Wishing you and your family along, this day, with our service men and women and all of their families, the best of health.



You can also follow me via our Life With MS Facebook page, on Twitter, and in our group on MS Connection.org. Also, check out our bi-monthly MS blog for the United Kingdom, and don’t forget to check out TrevisLGleason.com.

Last Updated:11/12/2012
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