When I was seven, my great, great Aunt Sue seemed to be the oldest person I had ever seen. Having always been single, she was extremely devoted to her career as the U.S. Senator from Arkansas’ personal assistant.
My dad was the only child of my grandparents. Sue was aunt, minus the two “greats,” to my grandmother. With no children of her own, Sue considered my dad to be her son, too.
World War II came and Sue, being so close to the Senator, was able to get my dad an appointment to West Point. My dad was plucked out of line during basic training and was whisked away to New York just days before his company’s departure to Europe. He later learned that one third of his company was killed in an ambush somewhere in France. Thanks to Aunt Sue, the only son of Charles and Lois was safe at the United States Military Academy training to be an army officer.
The War ended during my dad’s first West Point year. He was always proud that he had completed that very difficult year. However, deciding to not pursue a military career, he returned to Arkansas, finishing college at the University.
And with him came the West Point uniform. THE uniform … made of the heaviest gray wool material ever. There were trousers, gray coats with plain fronts, a gray coat with very large, round, brass buttons, and a full-length overcoat.
My grandmother proudly stored the uniform in her cedar chest. It remained preserved in museum-like condition for thirty-six years.
Upon my grandmother’s death, my mother inherited THE uniform, dutifully keeping it in her cedar chest. I’m serious when I say that the long overcoat weighed ten pounds. It was no small thing to keep THE uniform. Around this time, my brother joined the Air National Guard. Air-Army, no one cared, it was military. THE uniform was re-assigned to his watch.
“Whew,” thought my mother, “THE uniform is safe and out of my care.”
Years rolled by. My brother downsized his house and needed to store some “stuff.” THE uniform fell under the “stuff” category, so my mom welcomed it back into her house. By now, the cedar chest was gone, so THE uniform was given a closet position.
As Clayton began to express a serious pursuit of West Point during his 9th grade year, THE uniform was swiftly escorted to my house. We had a few yucks when Clayton was able to fit into it. I hung it in a closet, and, I will confess, it was under my guardianship that a few moth holes began to appear.
Twenty five years of marriage and three sons later, I decided I had accumulated too much “stuff.” THE uniform fell under the “stuff” category, and I informed my parents that I was going to send THE uniform away. I considered Ebay and, more than once, THE uniform spent long periods of time in my car waiting an opportune moment for a Good Will donation.
“I just can’t bear the burden of THE uniform anymore,” I would complain to my mom. My dad heard of THE uniform’s perilous status and drove over. Again, THE uniform was safe at my parents’ house.
“What is this? Uniform ping pong? I thought. “THE uniform is a burden. How long must we bear it?”
Recently, while at a local military museum, a light bulb appeared. “Why not donate it to a museum?”
I immediately called my parents with the idea. Everyone was thrilled about giving THE uniform new purpose and life. (Secretly, we were just plain glad to have it out of our lives!)
Back to my house came THE uniform. Back to the Expedition’s rear it was housed until donation time. But, somehow, I just never made it to the museum.
The camel’s back breaker came as I was opening my car’s rear after grocery shopping, and THE uniform leapt to the pavement.
“THE uniform!” I cried out loud, “THE unifoooorrrmmmmm!! How long???”
In December, Clayton experienced his first Army-Navy football game. It is at this game that the Corps of Cadets breaks out their long overcoats. During a phone conversation, Clayton informed me, “Did you know that our Long Os cost $600?”
“Did you know how much your grandfather’s overcoat weighs?” I answered him. “And, by-the-way, I’m donating it to a museum.”
“Mom,” Clayton said, “please don’t do that. I really want to save it. They aren’t heavy like that anymore.”
“Oh my gosh … THE uniform … when will I be rid of it?” I thought but did not speak. “Sure, buddy.” I consented, “I’ll put it in a cedar chest.”
Grandmother and great, great Aunt Sue would be glad. THE uniform has had an active sixty-two years but will be safely returned to the cedar chest. The buttons aren’t so shiny, there are a few moth holes, and it’s been through two generations of being oral report visual. It has survived World War II, as well as, Good Will and museum donation threats.
I suppose it’s safe to conclude that once it became a part of our lives, THE uniform was never meant to leave us.