Monday, March 21, 2011

What have you done for me lately?

After high school, I worked at a variety of jobs, including being the Social Director at a posh nursing home in Perrysburg, Ohio. It was a private pay facility, but we had a Veteran’s contract, so a small percentage of our residents were Veterans. During this time, I was still living with my folks and attending church with them each week. A rather loud and obnoxious member of our church (who is probably a member of the Tea Party now) would verbally harass us young adults each week, cajoling us for being in college and not “doing anything” in his stunted vision of life as an adult. Due to his family’s status in the church, we usually just blew him off and laughed while he called us worthless one hundred different ways each week.

Was this bullying? Probably, but we were young and no one seemed to care that this guy could verbally abuse us every Sunday and get away with it, everyone, including my parents seemed to think it was okay. I think they actually sent me to ex-Gay Camp at his house when I was a kid to knock out some wood working projects and tinker on cars (which I hated) since I didn’t embrace any of that as a kid. This guy grew up with the Toledo mentality of post high school plans, which, even in the 80’s seemed rooted in a post WWII Boomer mindset. If you were a girl, you had three options:

1. Get a job in a factory and hope your future husband makes more money than you do.

2. Go in to the military.

3. Get the Mrs. Degree (read= get married and have kids and don’t do anything).

4. Go to college? Only if you were going to be a teacher.

For guys, your options were:

1. Get a job in a factory and hope your future wife didn’t want to go to college or have too many kids.

2. Go in to the military.

3. Go to college if you were going to do something useful like engineering.

And that was it. So this big guy (and I do mean big… he was physically large and intimidating and wore a flag pin before you HAD to wear one post 9/11) would pony up to us youngsters in the narthex of the church and smack our shoulders and ask us what we learned in “college” as he wiggled his hips and made funny faces. If he didn’t do that, he’d ask us what we had done for our country lately, insinuating that since none of us were actually in the military, the answer would be nothing (he was a veteran, natch).

After I got my job at the nursing home, I finally had a response for him to that annoying question. I worked with a group of veterans each week. We’d do puzzles, smoke cigars (yes, they could smoke in the facility, and drink too!), or we would just watch old war videos that I rented from the library. The VA made sure that these guys had my full attention for a couple of hours each week. For those that couldn’t get out of bed, or were too far gone, I’d sit with them and read them a story from a Reader’s Digest (which, seems to be the ONLY reading material you can find in nursing homes) or I would read their mail to them. For the ones that were unresponsive, I didn’t know if what I was doing was getting through to them at all. I could have read the phone book (again, probably more interesting than the Reader’s Digests) to them and they wouldn’t have known or cared.

So one Sunday, I had finally had enough. When the guy came up and started talking to us, the question came up, as it had so many Sundays before: “What have you done for your country this week?” I turned to him and started listing all the things I had done with the various Veterans in the facility, calling each of them by name and mentioning what I did with them and how much time I spent with them. I then looked him straight in the eye and said, “how about you?” He didn’t have an answer, and from that time on, the bullying subsided.
Anna meeting Senator Stabenow

Today, Anna had a chance to meet Senator Debbie Stabenow with her Daisy Troop at a local coffee house downtown. The troop donated come cookies to the Senator and her staff for them to distribute to the troops or any other deserving group. The Senator is a former Girl Scout (trivia: all of the 13 female US Senators were Girl Scouts!) so she was more than happy to come and share a moment with these young girls. It’s about service, it’s about what you give, and today, I am happy to say that Anna was able to give to her country, even if it was a small gesture. But as we know, small gestures often times turn into big deals.

Thank you Senator Stabenow for your service to our country.

Thank you to Cindy, Erica, and all the other parents who helped make this event, and the biweekly troop meetings happen.

Who knows, you may have a future President or Senator in your midst.