This has taken me a couple of days to write. I had to let it cook down a while. I don’t know how others work, but sometimes an idea starts as one thing, or a whole bunch of things, and then it kind of simmers in my head until I can finally see some organization to the chaos and begin writing about it. This one has taken me a while. It started with a very sweet nomination for an award from a friend who has been in my life for more than 40 years. She’s a fellow writer, poet, blogger whom I met in the late 70s when both of us were cute little enlisted girls (I know, I know. Not politically correct. But we were cute, as well as smart and damn good at what we did).
Sherry went on to become an officer and, because our career fields were different, our paths only crossed now and then. Now, through the magic of the internet, we are able to have tea and catch up with each other, even if asynchronously. I’ll tell you more about that award that Sherry nominated me for in another post, but I have to start with awards and recognition and a whole lot of ambivalence I am having around those things the past couple of days.
Awards and recognition is the label the Air Force gave to all of the ways of rewarding and motivating airmen. The catalyst for my swirling feelings and emotions has to do with a room in our house that I am cleaning out so that we have a real guest room again. In the days around Bill’s death, my daughter and I had created a kind of military award shrine in that room. The last of the plaques we had moved around the world were up on the walls — just the most important ones, along with portraits in uniform and other memorabilia. We had weeded one or two out each time we moved — making a huge purge when we moved from Maryland to Colorado.
It’s a lot of stuff. We were both in for more than 20 years and we both did good work. In addition to the stuff on the walls, there are several dozen certificates accompanying the Air Medals, Commendations, awards for Meritorious Service, and letters of appreciation from commanders and their commanders, etc., etc. And then there are the trophies I can’t bear to part with just yet: Bill’s Father of the Year for 1984-1985 (the year I spent in Korea) and my Bravest Girl of the Year for 1961 (the year I was burned over 60% of my body).
I’m at a point in my life where I am wondering what to do with all this stuff? Do I keep it all? Do I store it and continue to haul it around with me? All of it represents some milestone, hard work, and was a pretty big deal at the time. For example, I received the John Levitow Honor Graduate Award at the NCO Academy and it is personally autographed on the back by John Levitow. I had the honor to meeting Mr. Levitow on three occasions. There are the plaques hand-made by CMSgt James B. Heath honoring my service at the Professional Military Education Center, and the one given to Bill upon his retirement. Where do these things go? I can’t imagine that my children want the responsibility for all this stuff. They have their own awards and honors.
Coincidently, I got a request from another old Air Force friend for some things like training certificates and military orders for specialized work that Bill had done in the Air Force. An exhibit dedicated to that work at the base where we met and married. Kind of sweet, huh? That takes care of a very small stack of paper.
But what to do with the rest of it? I don’t want to seem ungrateful or disrespectful. I’m just trying to be practical. Where do these things go when one stage of life has ended and another is beginning? Or when life has ended.
For now it is going into chests and boxes and onto closet shelves. It’s going to have to simmer a while longer.