It was a few days before Veteran’s Day. I was out shopping. I had no idea I would meet a stranger that would never leave my soul. I entered a store and noticed an elderly gentleman in his VFW attire, selling “Buddy” poppy’s in front of a busy department store. The years had stolen the old soldiers strength and youth, but he stood proud and tall.
I noticed most people walked by the old soldier ignoring him as they passed him. Very few stopped to give him a smile and bid him good day, much less thank him for his service to our country. Even fewer stopped to donate small change. Regardless of the recognition he received, he looked them in the eye smiled and said hello to all who passed.
The old soldier looked like he had been there for most of the day with very few poppies sold. I decided to stop and buy some poppies to brighten his day. They were only a dollar each. Joe had the poppies wrapped in bundles of twenty. I decided to buy a bundle to share with my friends and family. As I reached into my purse to pay for the poppies I realized I only had $13.00. I told Joe about being short on cash and I would take thirteen poppies. Joe tried to unfasten the bundle of poppies to give me the exact amount I had had asked for…poppies exploded from the bundle and fell scattered over the table and onto the floor.
The years of hard work had made the old soldier’s hands and fingers stiff. His blues eyes were weak from all the sights he has seen. For every poppy blossom he tried to pick up, he would drop two or three. I could see the embarrassment on his face because he could not accomplish what seemed to be a small task. I saw what a difficult time the old soldier was having grasping the poppies. I began trying to clean up the scattered poppies. I looked at him and said, “Please, let me pick them up “.The old soldier said with a smile and twinkle in his eye “just take them all”. I looked at Joe and told him how sorry I was that I had caused such a mess.
As I turned to walk away I was overcome with emotion. This old soldier touches my soul so deeply. The tears suddenly filled my eyes. As I reached my car, the tears began to fall. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I had met a great man. I also realized his time on this earth was short. I knew he probably would not be here next year. Would anybody care? You see this old soldier mattered in this life. He was someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s husband, someone’s father and friend. He belonged to one of the greatest generations of our time. He was one in ten million strong who fought in the good war that saved the world from evil. Now there are fewer than a million of these brave men and women left on this earth. How many have ever heard the words, Thank You for being brave and suffering against all the tragedy that war brings.
I could not share those poppies that were given to me by the old soldier. I keep them in a bundle, on a table. I pass by them every day. I think about that brave stranger every day. Tears stream down my face when I think of him. I’m sure he is no longer with us. But the old soldier will forever be with me.