Lately, I’ve been feeling a little frustrated with the attitudes of people in the news, on the internet and on the street. While I wasn’t in a bad mood, I probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I left the house yesterday. My plan was to interview two World War II veterans for my Voices of War documentary project as I drove away from Charleston.
My first interview was with Eugene Lusk of Herndon in Wyoming County. Mr. Lusk gave me directions to his house, but I was also following the map function on my phone. And that’s where I got in trouble. Rather than taking me to Herndon Road, the phone app took me to Herndon “Heights” Road. As you can probably guess, that means I ended up following a small winding road to the top of a mountain.
If you’re not familiar with southern West Virginia, I was on a road (barely) one car wide, hemmed in by tall trees. I couldn’t see anything around me and was getting pretty frustrated. Cell signal was pretty much nonexistent as well. I realized I was going to have to attempt retrace my footsteps and find my way back down the mountain. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to my first interview at all. This was not doing anything for my outlook.
While I was pulled off to the side trying to figure out where I’d gone wrong, a car pulled up beside me. The driver had the passenger window rolled down. I told him who I was looking for. He said “Give me a minute. I’ll show you where you need to go. You can follow me.” Just a few minutes later, I was racing back down the hill following a man who had obviously driven this road hundreds of times. While I was late for my first interview, I still made it.
Sitting on the back porch of Mr. Lusk’s home, we had a good talk about his service in the Army during World War II. He was in a Port Battalion where he loaded ships headed to the D Day invasion; then he moved across the channel right just a few hours behind the first wave of men who hit the beach to unload the equipment and food that would help Patton push across Europe. Because I was late, we finished up our talk a few minutes after noon and he invited me to eat lunch. I declined at first, but finally relented. It was good, home-cooked food, beans, cornbread, greens, sauerkraut and wieners.
Mr. Lusk’s wife is suffering from dementia, but after 65 years of marriage Mr. Lusk said they still made a good pair. He was gentle when he spoke to his wife, helping her with her food when the nurse stepped away. He talked about the family they raised together. It made me smile to watch them, and I wanted to get out my camera, but I thought, “No, this is a private moment.”
As I left, I called my second appointment to make sure it was all right for me to stop by. He told me he had plumbers in cleaning up a problem in his home, but then said to come on by because they had gone out for lunch. I thought to myself, “When I’ve had plumbing issues, the last thing I wanted to do is speak with a stranger,” but he was kind enough to let me in. And I got to speak to Ira Richmond, a veteran who served his country, in the south Pacific this time, as a signalman in the Navy. His fellow sailors, including the Captain of the ship, called him “Pluto” for the name of the town he was born in Raleigh County.
All of the anger and hate in the news bothers me. It seems like no one knows how to be civil any more. Sometimes it feels like there’s no respect for people of different faiths, cultures or beliefs. We feel like it is our sworn duty to mock others who think something even marginally different than we do. No one wants to be nice to anyone for fear of…well I’m really not sure what they’re afraid of. But these three men, and their families, helped me realize it is still possible to be nice to each other. These men were just neighborly.
As I drove home, I realized my own mood had lightened significantly. I was honored to be in the presence of these two men, and graced by a favor done by a stranger. Every adventure doesn’t start with a passport. Sometimes they happen in your backyard. I’m sure I learned as much from this adventure as I have any other I’ve been on..