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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Column: Hors d’oeuvres for all

Veterans Day just passed. It’s a date set aside to remind the common man of the sacrifice of his slightly less-common counterpart, of the sacrifices men and women both have made to protect what we call “our land” and what the British call “formerly our land.” But to most of us, it was an excuse to sleep in.

It’s hard to say this singular little day commemorating the hundreds of thousands of Americans that have given their lives for our liberty is, in fact, more exciting than the three weeks or so where our country goes ape shit for merchandise in malls. But it’s easier to forget the sound of artillery fire when I’m in a Hallmark Store and squeezing one of those singing holiday polar bears. Which are sold, not for veterans, but for people who want a little piece of the best holiday on their shelf or mantle.

Let me run a something by you. Hallmark sells a plush sled dog that comes with a little storybook and barks from a remote location. I’m guessing this is to remind children of the holiday we want them to like best (spend, spend, spend, kids!). What I think we should sell is a storybook that comes with a plastic enemy soldier who fires intermittently in your direction while you read the book he came with. “This is what it’s like to be in the army, Happy Veterans Day! BANG BANG BANG!”

But it’s hard to imagine that selling well. There’s no money in getting people to fake shoot themselves. There are no light up figurines, frosted villages or artificial trees to decorate with ornaments and candy canes; and the solider card idea, (which is trademarked, with the honor system, all of you) is probably not going to find its way onto shelves.

I’m not suggesting we’re a thoughtless group of unappreciative schmucks. Though that might make it better, actually; at least then we could acknowledge our lack of appreciation and then not really care about it. What I am saying is that don’t we all prefer a birth to a death? And, what’s more, the birth of the (alleged) savior of man to thousands of deaths?

After all, Jesus came into the world and set into motion the biggest commercial holiday the globe has ever seen. Though he was born in a manger to a virgin and a remarkably amenable husband (skeptics would say “naïve”), we’d rather celebrate the Frankincense and Mir he got rather than the blood spilled in Vietnam, and Normandy and Iraq.

Veterans day is the hors d’oeuvre we’ve forgotten by the time the main course arrives. That is to say, the time when a fat man in a red suit is suddenly being tracked by CNN with the radar they usually reserve for hurricanes.

It’s not that Jesus isn’t as good a holiday figure as St. Nick, or that a paraplegic veteran is what Thomas Kincaid’s holiday portraits should really be about; it’s that we seem to prefer fantasy to reality. Namely, St. Nick is a paunchy old man who watches everything our children do and he lives sequestered in an arctic fortress. Jesus, (according to The Da Vinci Code), is the father of at least one secret offspring, or, to people who reject that hypothesis on the grounds of blasphemy, is the Son of God, and we’re fine with all of that. Alright…

Our veterans, however, are not separated by stories that obscure truth or lend themselves to merchandise sales; and they’re not people isolated in polar locations and surrounded by elves. They’re neighbors, friends and family. Somehow though, their day — their single day — is overshadowed by the monopoly Jesus and his partner-in-crime Santa have on the last third of the year.

Some people have personal relationships with Jesus, but in a much more real sense no one’s actually met him, and Santa’s as distant as ever, but we’ve all met a veteran. And, if we haven’t, we’ve seen them on television and in magazines. Which is good, because we need clear reminders it seems.

Without pictures we have only the faintest recollection of that distinct, mostly forgotten flavor of the hors d’oeuvre from a while ago, sometime before the main course. Which was served just before we hit the sack, losing track of time altogether, and thinking to ourselves that, thank god, we can sleep in tomorrow.

EVAN WHITE can be reached at emwhite@ucdavis.edu.

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