Hero in Aisle Six
he walks through the grocery store,
a small red basket filled with meager necessities.
I want to help.
I want to carry his load.
I want to know the cause of his limp…
a bout with arthritis
or an old war injury?
Looking beyond his stooped posture and frail bones,
I imagine a handsome soldier with broad shoulders and curly brown hair.
Envisioning a framed picture, faded with time,
I see the soldier with his lovely bride,
dreams in their eyes,
promise of the future.
No sign of what was to come –
a demure apartment,
growing colder each year as the cost of fuel rises.
And the man,
Beside the wedding portrait are two more frames –
one housing a yellowed newspaper headline:
Japan Surrenders, End of War!
A Purple Heart safely ensconced in the other.
My cheek is moistened by a lone tear.
“Excuse me,” I say, “but I wanted to thank you.”
He turns his gaze from the floor.
“For the war. You fought to keep our country free, didn’t you?”
“It was my honor.”
His voice is raspy as his eyes travel to a distant place.
I offer to carry his basket as we head to the checkout counter
and he submits.
I am carrying the basket of a giant.
Hopeful, I ask, “Would you like to join me for lunch?”
I want to hear his stories.
“It’s been a long time
since anyone wanted to know what I have to say,”
he explains without self-pity.
“I want to know,” I tell him,
and he agrees.
Sliding behind the wheel of my car,
I notice his license plate.
There beside the letters and numbers
is the distinguished Purple Heart.
I am having lunch with a hero.
-- Hana Haatainen Caye