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Imagine yourself in a multiplex movie theater. Curiously, no walls separate the half-dozen theaters that form the multiplex. Miraculously, you are watching six different screens all at once, thoroughly understanding and enjoying every scene, word, character.

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Quiet griefThough truly I enjoy all my time as a hospice volunteer, I most soak up those moments among veterans.

And why do you suppose that is, Black? queries Screen Five, always interested in the psychology behind my thoughts. Veterans are just like any other human with whom you spend time.

“But they’re not ‘just like any other human,’” I counter. “They have played a key role in the defense of America and the preservation of my freedom. True, not all have seen the rigors of battle and the horrors of war. Yet their hearts were ready to endure combat. It’s … well, selfless. Heroic.”

Beyond heroic is their quiet humility afterward, commends One. When asked about particularly courageous events and incidents, veterans always point fingers elsewhere, re-directing the praise to cohorts “who made the ultimate sacrifice and never came back.”

Sighs Two, Pop Blackwell was that way. Your father always downplayed his role in the Navy, regretting he had been too young to enlist prior to Pearl Harbor’s devastation.

Says Six, You all know the bravery is what resonates with me. He sighs, thinks a moment, then laughs. But I believe you cannot pin down what you love best about the veterans because they, the backbone of this great country, represent so many different elements. And one of the most surprising is the humor they bring to your life despite the tragedies experienced in theirs.

My eyes widen. “That’s it, Six! I love the contrast between the two qualities.”

Grief and LaughterShakespeare, ventures Three, teaches us that laughter is strengthened when sadness is present. How better to know the heights of joy than to have tasted the bitter depths of grief?

Asks Four, Speaking of laughter, do you remember writing about that lively veteran, Quinton McHale? The few visits you shared with him gave you enough material to write a book ….

“Hello again, Mr. Blackie,” Quinton greets me effusively. Though we are tucked within an extended care facility, he asks, “Why are you in my home? Have you come to pay my rent?” He claps his hands in laughter. “What do you think of my room?” Pointing out minor changes here and there – “Like what you see?” – he cautions, “Don’t take it!”

I am mid-promise to leave his carefully positioned belongings precisely where they are when he interrupts. “I’ve added something,” he says, lifting the large sash beside his bed. “I now give people the chance to bring me steak through this window.”

Studying him intently, Five whispers, I cannot tell whether his mind wanders or his spirit teases.

Mr. McHale resumes. “Turned this place into quite a party, I have. And really shouldn’t, not with my wife away.” Screen Two starts to point out Quinton’s bride went Home years ago, but tactfully silences himself as our energetic vet questions a caregiver entering the room.

“Miss Angie, is that fellow of yours ever going to marry you?” She, embarrassed, fumbles for an answer. Quinton takes her hands and chides gently, “Don’t tell me living together is the same, because it isn’t.” He puts his right hand to her chin. “I think the problem is that fool can’t see how cute you are. But I do. It’s just that I’m too old. And I really shouldn’t take another wife.”

LemonadeThe aide and I laugh as our “emcee” spirals wildly on. “Ah, well. Not much to be done about that. Except maybe have some pie. That would help. And something tart. A lemonade for me and my volunteer friend here, if you please!”

Screen One laughs, then prompts, Do not forget your many moments with Roger Mear. Of all the stories garnered by the precious time you share with him, I most like his “romantic holiday” mishap.

“So, Blackie,” Roger explains, “I’m sitting at the nicely decorated dinner table, minding my own business, when this 90-year-old woman to my left asks me something. At almost the same time, the woman to my right, who is 101, also wants something from me.

“Somehow, a terrible argument erupts as the two vie for what I guess is my ‘male attention.’ ” (“I may be wheelchair-bound,” he says in an aside, “but I am only in my 60s.”)

Whatever else this vet may lack, applauds Six, confidence is not among the mix!

“Anyway, both women still have pretty strong legs, so they pop right up on their feet, shout German and Swedish – well, curses, I guess – and start swinging at each other right above my head!”

“Concerned?” I ask, laughing at the madcap image.

Nah. Their slow-motion punches never really land.” And then he smiles widely. “But what’s great is I honestly get to tell people, ‘On Valentine’s Day, I literally had two women fighting over me!’”


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Postscript: Youngest-brother Barry writes the Blackwell brood about the way he and his friend display a beloved veteran’s memorabilia.

Dad's flagLisa had Dad’s [military-service burial] flag encased in Plexiglas and mounted into a wooden triangle. I took Dad’s “Certificate of Satisfactory Service” [discharge card] and put it in the bottom left-hand corner. It sits on the wall above my bedroom door where I see it every morning and night.

Dad's rifleI built a rack for Dad’s gun [a .22 caliber, short-bore, bolt-action rifle he got at 13 and used for rabbit hunting when he went out with his dog, Bingo].

I shoot it pretty often.

But even with our vast array of weapons, it is still Lisa’s go-to gun. So far, she has yet to miss … they have all been bulls-eye shots.

Just thought you guys might enjoy seeing them.  I miss Dad so much. It still hurts. He was my single, most-favorite person in the world.

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Blackie’s Weekly Wonders

One of the most applauded “rescues” ever

Young heart understands the cost

Trace Adkins honors those in Arlington

This father remembers his son’s sacrifice

And just for fun, Mike Senatore’s bottle flip