As a child, I would play Taps on my saxophone but didn't know what it meant.
It was a joke in our home that Dad had built a cellar, not for tornadoes that might hit West Texas, but to shield the family from the squeaks of my atrocious alto.
The only thing I could really play well, because it was easy on my saxophone, was Taps. No one, except my family, would really hear it because we were surrounded by hay fields and ponds.
Mama would tell me to stop. Dad would say, "Shut the hell up," in the kindest of military voices.
I was ignorant and had no idea why they hated the only song I could play well.
Today, we honor Memorial Day. It is a day to remember those lost in combat. I say combat, and not war, because not all wars are declared or known.
What matters is that someone's family member didn't come back, a brother, a sister, a father, a mom, a partner.
I didn't understand that as a child playing Taps in the cellar.
I grokked this as an adult. My father came home from Vietnam. Two brothers arrived safe from Gulf War combat.
But the full realization came when my father died. Art Herrera was a retired enlisted Air Force Master Sergeant who spent his later years of his life as the town barber. They played Taps in trumpet at his funeral. My mom shuddered at each volley of bullets shot into the air.
I had no idea.
I hate that song now.
I cry every time I hear it.
My son celebrates his 16th birthday on Memorial Day, today. The picture here is with his retired decorated Colonel uncle, my brother, and me. It is a happy picture.
The Boy wants to make the military a career in the Air Force and attend an academy. This weekend Aidan took part in a World War II battle reenactment at Camp Mabry as part of the Texas Military Forces Museum. He was thrilled. I was proud. We took lots of pictures with smiles.
Then they played Taps and the full realization of war hit me. I looked at my son in his World War II uniform shooting a gun and thought, these are just characters playing a part in a play. How many people did not come back? How did my mom deal with this with a husband and two sons not knowing?
What if I lost my son in real life? It was a devastating moment. I thought about all of those mamas who lost a child in battle.
I have no answers. I have no real resolved thoughts. All I know is that every military person I encounter, I think about my son, somebody's son, somebody's loved one, and I say, "thank you."
I don't want to memorialize them, ever on Memorial Day. I want to appreciate them now.
(Enriching music: I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home, Grand Funk Railroad because Dad said this was played over and over in Vietnam; Sentimental Journey, Doris Day version, because it's the best one.)