Aug 5th — Day Five
This was a day of driving. We wanted to get to Oklahoma City and figured we had all day to do it. Good thing, too. We missed one turn-off and stuck a toe into Colorado before we came back down and hung a left. Then we saw a bit more of Texas than we’d planned and are still scratching our heads about it. I mean, when you’re following a road that is shooting straight as a razor toward a distant vanishing point, and fifty miles of empty prairie stretch out on either side, and after an hour you’re nearly cross-eyed with boredom, any small change in the scenery (like, say, another road) will catch your attention instantly. So how we eventually found ourselves on a road that apparently had no physical relationship to the one we started out on, is a question for the gods. “Whaddya mean, we’re on Route Whatsit? We’re supposed to be on Route Whosis!” But as Dottie’s husband would say, we were not lost, we were simply exploring alternate avenues of access. A simple adjustment put us back on track with very little loss of time.
As I said, any small thing catches your attention. One small thing that began to obsess me was an unassuming little sign that showed up at nearly every dusty deserted crossroad. It was a simple little sign with one word and a pointing arrow. The word was “cemetery”. No name, no explanations. Just “cemetery”. In the faint delirium of mile upon mile, I began to wonder how – in a land where the only thing moving was the occasional pickup truck fleeing in the opposite direction, where the tiny towns we sailed through sat clamped under the broiler lid of 118 degree heat with no humans ever in sight – how did they come up with so many dead people? If, as Dottie suggested, they were very old family cemeteries that contained many generations from older centuries, why did they consider it necessary to post these unobtrusive little signs, rather like a series of garage sales on a Saturday morning?
We arrived in Oklahoma City finally and met up with Pam Tate, a local coordinator for the Patriot Guard Riders. She graciously agreed to meet us for a late dinner, even though she’s getting up incredibly early tomorrow morning for a full day of events honoring members of the military and their families. She explained that, since she could not be in the military, nor was her father or anyone in her family, this was a way for her to feel that she was doing something for her country. The Patriot Guard are all volunteers who foot their own bills. Families call and the PGR does whatever they request to honor their loved ones. If the families change how they want things done, the PGR changes what’s done. “It wasn’t just the service member who served – it was the whole family. Flexibility is the key to making it work.”
We were grateful for all her insights, but one in particular stays with me. Pam explained that it wasn’t just the present members of the military that they honor, or the passing of one of the “Greatest Generation”.
“Whenever a man walks into [my place of business],” she said, “and he’s wearing a cap that says ‘Viet Nam Vet’, never mind that it might be forty-some years since he was discharged. I shake his hand and say ‘Welcome home’. It just might be the first time anyone’s ever said that to him.”