Friday's Weekend Column
Sad and Humorous at the Same Time

by James Glaser
May 28, 2004

I was down at the Minneapolis Veteran Hospital for a couple of checkups. They said everything looked good. It was a lot of chaos there. First off, they have a parking lot that must hold 3,500 cars and it always takes like twenty minutes to find a parking spot and they are never close to the building.

After driving the two hundred and forty miles down, with the last fifty on freeway, I am pretty spaced by the time I get there. I see more cars in those last fifty miles, than I will see in a year up north. So when I do find that parking spot, it is usually a rush the last half mile on foot, so I won't be late.

First stop is always Blood Drawing. You have to "fast" on the way down, and as soon as you get in the room you grab a number. This time I was number 106 and they were on 88 when I got there. First you wait until a nurse calls out your number. In the past you would then say your last name and the last four numbers of your Social Security number.

Things always change and now when they call your name you must go up to the nurse and present your VA picture ID card. Well lots of guys have the old non-picture card and they have to leave and go get a new one. Other guys can't understand why they can't yell out their name and number and continue to do that multiple times until somebody explains that they won't get into the Blood Drawing until they do it right. These guys have been doing it the old way for fifty years, some of them hundreds and hundreds of times. They are old and don't want to change. I am not as old and I don't like things to change either.

Now instead of five people drawing blood like they always did, because of budget cuts, when I was there it was two. Of course this made everything a lot slower. In lots of waiting rooms at the VA people like to talk, but not here, because everyone is watching the number machine as it checks off those served. Also you have to be quiet so you can hear your name called.

New guys will walk in and stand around not knowing what to do as four or five who came after them grab a number. Some guys are in tough shape and everyone lets them go ahead of all the rest.

After my appointments were over I was walking down the hall thinking about which way I would head out of town. I always am thinking about the least traffic, but any time down there looks like rush hour to me. As I am walking, a woman comes up, throws her arms around me, and is sobbing. I think she must have some how found out about Charmaine.

I couldn't say her name, but I knew this woman and in between the sobs I learn that her husband has just died and she was at the VA looking for his friends. I knew her and her husband. Charmaine and I had gone out to dinner with her, her husband, and some other couple a few years ago.

Well she wanted me to come to "Larry's" memorial service that night and give a eulogy. I could think of no way to get out of this and so I said yes. She gave me her address and said we could walk to the church from her home.

Driving over there I was thinking just as hard as I could, but I could not picture Larry in my mind. I had no clue about what he looked like nor could I remember anything about him. This could be hard.

At the house I was looking all around for a picture of Larry as I was being introduced to a whole lot of new people. Even his veteran friends did not look familiar. I remembered the dinner we had gone to and Larry and his wife were not the couple that had invited us.

Well, I did see a picture of Larry and thank God I did recognize him. We had some long talks together over the years, but for the life of me, I could not recall any of them. So I winged it.

From what I could pick up in conversation, Larry thought the world of me and his wife was super religious, while Larry wasn't. I went to the service and talked about veterans and wars and how every war leaves a lasting impression on the vet and Larry had his demons that he worked on. I had Matthew 6: 5-9 memorized from Charmaine's service. That is about Prayer and how hypocrites like to be seen by men praying. Christ said, "But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your father."

I don't know if Larry did pray alone or not, but neither did anyone else. After the service the family thanked me and then I saw this guy that I knew. He was the veteran that we had gone to dinner with. He had a beard kind of like mine and his name is Jim.

He thanked me for my words and told me that he and Larry had been friends for over thirty years. I said Hey! You were suppose to be the guy up there talking. He said that he knew that, but he wouldn't have been able to do it as public speaking freaked him out.

Well it was over then and I was ready to head home, I introduced Larry's wife to the "right" Jim and when she saw him she did have kind of a strange look about her, like she was trying to remember something.

It was strange driving home as there was nobody waiting for me. I always stopped in the gift shop at the VA, to buy something for Charmaine. Sometimes she would come to an appointment with me, but really Charmaine hated the city more than I do. If it was supper time she always knew that I would bring home a "Sub" or a pizza. This time I didn't get anything.

The house was dark and silent, I stood out side and looked at the night sky. It was so clear, I could see the whole Milky Way across the sky, and it was so quiet and peaceful that I knew that I was home.

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