Nearly every day I walk my dog, Toby, past a neighbor’s whiteboard sign.
Sometimes I stare at it and sometimes I’m repulsed by it.
The board changes every week, but for now it reads:
I tried to turn my glance aside again, but with the upcoming Veterans Day, my curiosity got the best of me. I stopped to introduce myself to the resident, Lorraine Krofchok, and her husband Steve, who were out working on their yard.
Toby greeted them with the unadulterated lick of a little kid going after his first ice cream cone. Lorraine responded with the spoiling love of a grandmother, refusing to let Toby be scolded for jumping on her.
Since Toby tends to steer clear of politics and religion, he makes a lot of friends.
“What’s the story on your whiteboard?” I asked her, unaware of what my question might stir. “Did you know someone who died in the war?”
She sighed in recognition of a common question.
“When people ask me if I have someone in either war, I tell them we all have someone over there. They are all Americans and we should think of them as part of our family.”
Good point, I thought. But knowing that full neighborhood approval was unlikely, I asked if she’d had complaints. Her answer was reminiscent of the just-the-facts-ma’am dialogue of the ’60s television show “Dragnet.”
“What are they going to complain about? It’s a fact.
“Are they going to say, ‘I don’t like seeing the numbers’? If they complained, I’d tell them, ‘I don’t like putting the numbers up there.’
“But, no one has complained. Mostly, I watch people go by and look away.”
Nevertheless, it’s apparent a few people don’t like her sign, because the statistics have been erased three times during the past eight years.
In response, she’s attached a note refuting magical thinking: “Erasing the numbers doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
She is right, of course.
“The sign is not a sermon,” she said, defending the simplicity of factual truth. “I think we need to be reminded that there are still people being killed on both sides.”
I looked at the numbers once more before Toby and I said our goodbyes. Back at my house, I readied the flag I annually post on my lawn and wondered, did I, too, need a sign personally reminding me of the cost?
“No, I don’t think so,” I said aloud, thinking of the 30 names I’d deduct if erasing the board would bring them back. I had notified their families of their deaths.
While I thank Grandma Krofchok for updating my neighbors with the current count, no one knows the true cost of war in the same way a vet and his family knows it.
So this month, while we celebrate contributions of the veteran amid the carving of turkeys, by all means, wave a flag, hang a poster or tally the count.
But above all, thank a vet. Because a vet always will know the cost, and you can be assured he or she will never forget the count.