The yin and yang of the United States is that we are simultaneously tough and tender. We love our guns. We love our violence and our football. We love to throw our weight around the world. But we also wear our hearts on our sleeves. We root for the underdog. We want to be respected, maybe even feared. But we also want to be loved. We never quite understand why the world distrusts our big stick when we think we’re being sensitive in walking so softly.
Randy is a hamburger and ice cream man. He owns thirty food stands back in Washington State that he carts to festivals all summer. In winter, he simplifies his operation. He brings a couple of trailers down to Arizona and sets them up along US 95 in Stone Cabin just north of the Border Patrol Station. I don’t know why the place is called Stone Cabin. There’s nothing there but Randy’s metal trailers on wheels.
Randy’s a burly guy with a hard belly and quick smile. He serves up a new story with every scoop. Since there were no other customers after he made my date shake, we sat and talked. Which meant that Randy spun his tough and tender tales.
“My daughter got married last year. She came to me a few days before the wedding all upset. ‘Dad, I don’t want you to give me way. You’re still going to be my father, I’m still going to be your daughter.’” A tear welled in Randy’s eye as he delivered his response. “I told her, ‘sweetie, I’ll always be here.’”
Military banners decorate Randy’s hamburger and ice cream compound. He was a marine in Vietnam. When Randy returned to the US in 1967, Hare Krishna’s sprayed red paint on his uniform in the Seattle airport. He beat them up, got arrested, and went straight to jail.
Our national attitude toward veterans has changed. No matter what a citizen’s opinion on the merits of our wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, the vast majority of Americans appreciate our troops. Today, Randy’s son is a green beret. His return flight from Iraq landed in Dallas, where people in the terminal applauded them coming down the escalator. Randy went to the Seattle terminal to meet his son. As the soldier approached, Randy moved to give him a hug. “But my son put up his hand and stopped me. He stood at attention, gave me a salute, and said, ‘Welcome home, Marine.’ It was the first time someone thanked me for my service.”
Out on the desert, in the shadow of an ice cream truck festooned with Marine insignias, tears rolled down a beefy veteran’s cheeks.
How will we live tomorrow?