The Last Full Measure
“The last full measure of devotion,” that was when my tears started. And only my mama knew why but she wasn’t there. She was working an extra shift at the mill. Probably to pay for the little blue suit and red tie and new white shirt I was wearing. I was part of the Memorial Day program my little junior high school was putting on. That was such a long time ago. But I remember. Crying in public is not easily forgotten, not when you are twelve years old and a boy.
And I remember through my tear filled eyes the lights of the old auditorium looking kaleidoscopic and sparkly. And all the faces looked like strangers, all but Mr. Ferryman’s. His eyes asked a thousand questions just like in class when he was teaching us history. Blinking away my tears I answered his questions. I was going to be alright. Mr Ferryman believed in me and because of that I believed in myself. Good teachers do that and Mr. Ferryman was a good teacher and I couldn’t let him down. And I could let Abraham Lincoln down either. He was the one who had written the speech I was reading from the crinkled paper, now tear stained, I had copied onto it.
That was so long ago, me standing there in my little suit, eyes full of tears, and hurting more than I ever hurt before. Hurting inside, hurting for my daddy, the daddy I would never know but through what my mama told me and some old photographs, hurting for my mama who still cried for him when she didn’t know I was awake and listening and hurting for myself.
Mama had let me wear his dog tags that day. She said maybe that would help and wishing she had waited a while longer to tell me about my daddy. But I had asked.
With her arm around me the two of us sat on the edge of my bed where she told me everything. And it was there she left me with the American flag that had draped my daddy’s casket. She said they gave it to the family after the service. She said it was mine now, along with the two stripes he had never gotten around to sewing on his dress uniform before he was killed.
I still have it, that flag, and I still take it out every Memorial Day just as I did that morning before I headed off to school. And I still unfold it and try not to cry when I think about such a beautiful thing draping my daddy’s casket. He got killed in the war. I was just a baby. My only memories of him are those I borrowed from my mama.
“What does that mean, ‘The last full measure of devotion,’ I asked my mama the night before as I rehearsed my little speaking part in front of her and the mirror behind our sofa.
“What do you think it means,” she said her voice suddenly filled with sad and hurt frustration.
“I don’t know,” I answered honest.
“It means what your daddy did, he died,” she managed to reply before leaving the room her face in hand’s filled with tears and my heart swelling with confusion.
I was sitting and thinking and watching shadows being cast about by a setting sun when she came to my room. Eyes tears swollen and with her voice soft and trying to be strong she told me about my daddy. Until that night all I knew was he was a soldier and he got killed in the war.
Then in a little while she hugged me tight and kissed me once for herself and once for herself and once for my daddy like she promised him she would do. She still does that. Then she got herself ready for work but not before telling me how proud my daddy would be that I got a speaking part in the Memorial Day program at my school.
And standing there alone on that stage that Memorial Day so long ago I remembered what my mama had said about my daddy being proud of me and I pushed through my hurt and wiped away my tears. I couldn’t let him down or any of the brave men and women who like him, gave “The last full measure of human devotion,” so that a government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
A work of fiction to honor those who keep us safe and free. edward reed 2018