Each year I take my two grandchildren to the Veteran's Home to say "Thanks" to the Veterans. Yesterday for the first time in four years, we were told we could not shake hands or even speak to a veteran because of the swine flu. I assured the receptionist we were not carriers and told her how much Noah and Malia looked forward to shaking hands with the veterans. She crossed arms over her chest and shook her head "No."
At that moment, two men emerged from a nearby corridor. The older man, who was in a wheelchair was about my father's age and a younger man with a Vietnam name tag pushed the wheelchair.
Undaunted, I said to the receptionist, "Just try and stop us. We will be fast."
Malia, age 8, raced up to the older, white haired man, extended her hand and said loudly, "Thank you for making our country safe and me safe." He stared at her, smiled, extended his hand and cried. Noah, age 5, was next. Even though they practiced their speeches before we arrived, Noah often surprises us with his spontaneity. He extended his hand and said, "Thank you for protecting our country so my grandmother was born, and then my mother was born, and now I am here." The older man, whose name was Tom laughed and shook Noah's hand, saying, "You're welcome, I'm sure."
Then Malia moved to shake hands with the younger Veteran. He ignored Malia's outstretched hand and surprised us saying, "I need to give you a hug."
She looked confused and glanced at me for a clue about what to do. I nodded. She looked embarrassed, but she smiled and returned his hug. Then he looked at me and said, "I need to hug you, too. I giggled and we hugged each other.
Then he surprised me and said, "I'll bet you were one of those peace protesters."
"Yes," I admitted. "How could you tell?"
"You look the type," he said.
“And I'll bet you were one of those perpetual re-enlistees."
"Yep, I upped three times," he replied.
We both laughed and hugged one another again.
"Imagine that and now forty some years later and here we are hugging.
Tears filled my eyes. The receptionist walked towards us and she was crying, too. We all held hands and just looked into one another's eyes and smiled.
I left feeling flooded with love and appreciation. I also was aware that I wanted to thank more veterans more of the time. One day a year was no longer enough. I also imagined hugs might be an essential part of our thank you from this time into the future and I laughed out loud as I remembered an old bumper sticker: Arms Are For Hugging.