That's all I wanted. A Coke. It was Sunday morning, and I needed a little boost before facing my classroom of Kindergarten Sunday School kids. The closest place to my house is the local Ameristop gas station. I pulled in, locked the boys in the car (hey- it was like 30 degrees, sleeting, and I was only going to be in there for a minute), and ran into the store.
I paid for the Coke, noticing the man across the counter from me. He was reading the paper, waiting for a fresh pot of coffee to brew. He looked like a mountain man, grey hair, beard. Baseball cap covered with military pins, like POW/MIA, Army, Marines, yellow ribbons, and American flags. On his faded blue jean jacket, he wore a button with Sgt. Matt Maupin's picture on it. A common sight around here, since his house is just up the street. On his plaid flannel shirt- another button, this one with a Marine's picture on it. I knew right away who he was. Matt Maupin's Dad.
In case you've forgotten, Matt is a US Soldier. He was taken hostage by insurgents just over a year ago. A video appeared a month or so after his capture claiming to show his execution, but it was at night, never showed his face, and was never substantiated. The Army is currently considering whether or not to declare him "Deceased- Body Not Recovered". His parents, friends and family send care packages to Iraq every week, with a flyer showing Matt's picture and asking them not to forget to look for Matt. He's the only US Soldier not accounted for during this war.
I didn't know what to say. I wanted to say something, but didn't want to impose, so I just left. I went outside, and suddenly realized I left my keys on the counter, so I turned around and went back in. As I grabbed my keys, I jokingly said, "Good thing these were on the counter- otherwise I just locked my boys in the car!" I giggled and started for the door. The clerk and the man on the other side of the counter smiled and giggle, and then the man said "Yeah- that would be bad!"
I said, "It sure would be! Say....um...you're Mr. Maupin aren't you?" He looked up from his paper, looked me straight in the eye, and said "Yes ma'am, I am." I put out my right hand to shake his, hoping to simply show my respect for him and his family. He grasped my hand with a good, firm handshake, and held my eyes in his. They were so gentle...so aged...so sad. I told him how much I wanted his son to come home, and that we prayed for his safe return every day. He just looked at me, still holding my hand, and said "So do we. So do we."
I let go of his hand, and continued. "You may not remember, but my husband plays guitar in our church band. They played in the Amelia Christmas Parade." He stopped me and said "Yes! Of course I remember- we loved listening to them!" I told him how much it meant to the band to hear him and his wife tell them to "Keep playing! Don't stop yet!" after they reached the end of the parade route. I thanked him for his kindess, and turned to go. As I walked out the door, he said "Be careful- it's slippery out there".
I got back to the car, unlocked the doors, and climbed in. The boys in the back seat asked me who I was talking to inside the store. I looked at them in my rear view mirror, and started crying. The stark reality of having my two boys safe and sound right there with me was like a slap in the face. A wake up call. I knew exactly were my children were- and Mr. Maupin didn't, yet he took the time to shake my hand, look me straight in the eye, and then, like any good father would do, told me to drive carefully. I hope I never take my family for granted again. God bless you Mr. Maupin. May He bring you and your family peace- and bring Matty home soon.
I just stopped in for a Coke...but I got a lesson in life.