The Past Is Not Past

I do a lot of my thinking when I’m working with my hands. I can lose myself in manual labor, let my mind drift away from my aching back and/or shoulders, and just cogitate on something for a while. It’s one of the reasons I find so much satisfaction working in my wood shop. It’s intellectually rewarding as well as constructive.  The downside is, having my head in the clouds while framing walls and hanging drywall for my basement rehab project has led to occasional fuckups, like cutting a board or piece of drywall incorrectly. (And subsequent periods of stomping around and cursing.)

Lately, my thoughts have been taking me back to the 1980s. I used to hang out at the VFW Post in the town where I grew up, over in Illinois. I started going there because my dad liked to go there. He liked to go there because a frosted mug of beer cost 50 cents, and that was ridiculously cheap, even in the ’80s. We both eventually made some good friends there.

The members were veterans from World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, but it was mostly the WW II guys that ran, and patronized, the place. They had the time, most were retired or semi-retired, and their children were long since grown. Some of them were there every day. I know because I saw them. Cheap beer and a close proximity to my home made it the perfect place for an out-of-work bricklayer/roofer/surveyor/concrete guy/future amateur philosopher and blogger with only ten bucks in his pocket to spend his days. I got to know some of those old soldiers pretty good — Charlie and Jim and Jack and Clay and Gene and the other Gene and Ray and a bunch more who I can’t remember their names.

Some of them told me stories about their war. Forty years after the fact, they would still get tears in their eyes talking about the atrocities they saw, the concentration camps, the crimes against humanity. I’ve been thinking about those stories ever since that “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last month. The one where a brave, young white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of peaceful protestors and killed a woman.

It took two days for public opinion to shame our shit stain of a preznit into gritting his dentures and saying “Nazis are bad.” And then, a couple of days later, he clarified those remarks by stating that there were some “very fine people” there… you know… marching with the Nazis.

I picture my old drinking buddies sitting in the cool, dark VFW Post, sipping draft Busch with a salt shaker handy, watching the television behind the bar, and seeing all those fresh-faced, young men marching with torches and shouting “Heil Hitler” and throwing Nazi salutes, in FUCKING VIRGINIA! IN THE USA! And I simply cannot imagine what their reaction would have been, the level of pain and anger it would have caused them.

Pretty sure I know which side of the barricades they would have been on, though.

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