Almost every day, my oldest daughter, Gabriella, who is 4, asks me to tell her the Cinderella story. When I start by telling her that Cinderella’s real name is Ella but that her step-sisters call her Cinderella because she would get dirty cleaning the cinders out of the fireplace, Gaby turns story time into a one-sided version of the improv game where characters can only speak in questions.
“What are cinders, daddy?
“Um, they’re like ashes, honey.”
“Well, what are ashes?”
“Good question. It’s something left over after a fire.”
It’s at that point I realize there are some things I just know even if I can’t articulate them.
That thought occurred to me a couple of months back when I visited the Vietnam Memorial during a trip to Washington, D.C., with my daughter. As we walked along the wall, Gaby asked me if I’d help her find abuelito’s friend. My father-in-law served in the 1st Battalion, 7th Calvary — presumably as the world’s shortest infantryman (he claims all of the parachute landings caused him to shrink from 6’1 to 5’1) — during Vietnam. Unfortunately, my father-in-law, like all too many others, lost a dear friend during the war, and before we left for our trip to D.C., he told Gaby to look for his friend while we there. Of course, she didn’t know what the wall was, and I knew that if I couldn’t explain Cinderella’s name to her satisfaction, there was no chance I’d be able to do justice to the Vietnam Memorial.
But as we searched for my father-in-law’s friend, Gaby found a note a young kid left at the foot of the wall, which she asked me to read:
As a citizen of the USA and a soon to be adult, I greatly appreciated the freedom I have in this country. I can work for my own money, get a decent education, and enjoy recreational activities without someone else telling me what I can and can’t do. I also know who I have to thank for my freedom. You soldiers who lay down your own lives and futures, your hopes and dreams, all to preserve the lives, futures, hopes and dreams of the upcoming generations of people in our nation. None of you deserve anything less than the highest honors available for your sacrifices.
I’m not sure I could put it much better.
Now that I’m a parent, I realize how fortunate I am that my children will grow up in a country where they are free to go as far as their talent and hard work (and a little luck) will take them. And I realize that’s true because people with more courage than I have — people like Col. Kenneth Davey (who was profiled by our Military & Veterans Affairs Committee); my grandfather, Mike Joseph (who served as a Seabee in World War II); and my father-in-law and the others who served alongside him in in the “Garry Owen” Brigade in Vietnam — were willing to risk their hopes and dreams for mine. I’ll never be able to adequately express my gratitude, so I’ll just simply say thank you to all the veterans who have served our country.