He sat alone, a crinkly paper in his hands. His pants were pressed, shoes shined, a brightly colored cap that read USMC atop his head. The barista rattled off the names of fancy overpriced beverages in rapid succession. He looked up each time someone came close enough to glance his way, to see him- really see him.
A large majority of hip youngsters were glued to their devices, clutching for dear life, scrolling feverishly to feel connected. They hadn't noticed the gentle invitation that rested in his green eyes. I accepted because I can sometimes be the person obsessively checking, comparing, feeding on distractions desperate for affirmation. I met his gaze, my husband a Marine serving as the perfect pretense to engage him. I had work to do but I pushed my computer aside; it could wait.
He served in peacetime as a pilot, having decided to join the ranks of the United States Marines because he loved the sharp green color of the uniforms. Stationed in San Diego, life felt like a grand vacation he confessed. His days consisted of studious practice, taking off and landing on a narrow air strip three days a week. After four years he retired a Captain and went on to excel in the world of business. He and his wife had nine children, six of them physicians, one sweet youngster, Jimmy, gone too soon at just six years old to Leukemia. I am certain a tear flirted with his green eyes, pain of this loss as raw as if it was yesterday not some forty years prior. My eyes welled up too.
A massive heart attack cut his career as a CEO short as he welcomed retirement at 55 years old. Later in life he would also survive breast cancer. Although his compensation package would carry him through the rest of his days, retirement felt like a slow death. Morning mass, breakfast, the Price is Right, Repeat. To the sick and elderly he brought communion. I knew he was Catholic and likely Irish with nine kids. But those were not the reasons for his considerable tribe. He and his wife had wanted each and every child. From his wallet a tattered photo folded in thirds. His children, their spouses, and twenty-four grandchildren surrounded Jack and his wife on their 50th wedding anniversary. They were beaming. How some can be so abundantly surrounded by love and others never feeling its warm embrace I will never fully understand. But within each of us lies the opportunity to welcome someone in. Jack welcomed me in, a stranger in a suburban Starbucks of all places. His tall delicate frame wandered off. I closed my eyes and saw a vibrant young pilot boarding a plane in Marine green.
Happy Veterans Day to the men, women and canines who have served and are currently serving. To the families that support them, to the civilians that are indebted to them, to those who will serve, and to the world that is so fractured- let's be nice to one another.
Two words. Well, proper nouns: Sarah Kieffer. Over time I have become transfixed by Sarah's words and her confections. I am simply delighted to have in my possession her first book. Each page teems with love, and light. An affinity for pumpkin and chocolate, I am sharing her pumpkin pound cake below. Make it, buy her book, read her words.
To Prepare Sarah's Pumpkin Pound Cake with Chocolate
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
- 3/4 cup canola oil
- one 15 ounce can of pumpkin
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 8 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
- confectioners' sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt pan. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
In a stand mixer, fitted with paddle, beat the eggs until pale yellow and doubled in volume, 4 to 5 minutes. And the granulated and brown sugars and mix on medium until combined. Add oil, pumpkin, and vanilla and mix on medium until completely combined.
Add the flour mixture and mix on medium until smooth. Stir in chocolate.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 45-60 minutes until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes and then invert the cake onto rack for cooling. Dust with confectioners' sugar before slicing.
A Call to Action on Veterans Day
Lastly, if you know of any individual serving in the military who could use a greeting card and care package during the holidays, please complete the form below. I am partnering with a local organization in my town to gather names for their upcoming mailing. If you rather send something on your own to commemorate Veteran's Day, visit Operation Gratitude.