Stan Crader

Author & Lecturer on Writing About Rural America

It’s Not Always What You Think


A couple of weeks ago I bought a black suit—it was the first suit I’d purchased in maybe two decades.  I also bought a new white shirt, tie, and dress socks but stopped short of new shoes. I’m funny about shoes, one of those rare people that still get them resoled. The new suit, shirt, tie, and socks were for a special event to which Debbie and I had been invited—or so I thought.

We’d been invited to attend the New York Stock Exchange Congressional Medal of Honor Gala. It would be our first trip to New York. We weren’t particularly looking forward to New York City but felt honored to have been invited to a most prestigious event.

Since we were sure this would be our first and last trip to NYC, we arrived a day early and planned to make a weekend of it, taking in all of the famous sites. We awoke our first day to the winter storm that paralyzed the eastern half of the country Valentine’s Day week. Having watched the weather forecast days before, we’d taken the right clothes. There’s no such thing as bad weather, I always say, just bad gear.

Debbie and I braced ourselves and stepped out of the warm hotel lobby into a cold wintry NYC. “Need a cab?” The bellman asked. “Nope, we’re walking.” He gave us one of those looks. As it turned out the cabs were of little use—the snow was already several inches deep. We made our way to the subway and miraculously got on the right train that took us to Grand Central Terminal.  I need to mention that we asked directions several times during the day and found everyone to be most gracious. In four days, we never encountered a rude person. It wasn’t what we expected.

After gawking around Grand Central Terminal we asked, twice, how to get out. We finally found the clearly marked exit and headed toward Times Square. On our way to TS we stopped at what looked to be an Irish Pub and in fact it was. Everyone spoke with an accent difficult to decipher.  We both had a Rueben.

By the time we finished our sandwiches and listened multiple times to directions from a guy who could have been in the Irish Spring commercial, we got on our way. The idyllic snow had become a wind driven, skin piercing sleet. The snow-covered streets had become rivers of slush. We splashed our way to TS, did a Chevy Chase 360 and asked directions to 34th Street and Macy’s, our primary destination, made famous by “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “A Christmas Story.” The Christmas display was long gone. We road the rickety wooden escalators all of the way to the top floor– Macy’s is a huge store, even bigger than a Wal-Mart.

From Macy’s we jumped a subway train for Central park but ended up in Harlem. Again, the people were friendly and helped us find our way back to Central Park, which due to the weather, we had to ourselves. Central park is over 500 acres of serenity in a sea of chaos. We raced around the park for over an hour and then after asking directions, jumped a subway train that took us within two blocks of our hotel.

New York boasts the biggest sub system in the world. And they brag about being the greenest city in the world. I’m not sure of the metric used, but over five million people ride the sub system on an average day, so there’s some sort of efficiency thing going on. And since the subways are electric, the smoke belching power producing plant is miles away, out of site, and NYC is green, so to speak. Sorry about that New Jersey.

With only minutes to spare, Debbie and I got ready for the Gala. I got my tie tied on the first try, a harbinger of good things to come. Once through security, we were ushered to the New York Stock Exchange floor where, along with several others, were greeted by thirty four Congressional Medal of Honor recipients—one WWII, three Korea, twenty five Vietnam, and five Iraq / Afghanistan. This was not what we expected.

The Medal of Honor Society is relatively new. There’s not much information available on omniscient Google. So, Debbie and I weren’t sure what to expect. We were sure one or two Medal of Honor recipients would be present but not a room full of heroes in tuxes, adorned with their gallantry and humbly receiving us onto the floor as if we were long lost friends and deserving of the honor. It was a spine tingling surreal evening. Because of our support of veterans through book sales proceeds, Robert Simanek, a Korean War veteran, presented me with his challenge coin. It was a chin quivering moment.

During the banquet each table was honored with a hero. Don Ballard, a Vietnam era recipient and a user of Stihl products, was seated at ours. Don shared with us the events that resulted in him being awarded the Medal of Honor. During dinner I asked the others seated if they had ever been in a room with a more distinguished group of people. None could say they had. I was sure that I hadn’t and furthermore would never again be in the presence of such a moving group of people. I would be proven wrong again, and too soon.

One week after Debbie and I returned to Missouri, my father passed away unexpectedly. On the day of his Victory, he and Saundra, his wife of seventeen years, had attended Church were he played the piano to everyone’s worshipful delight. After worship service they’d gone to lunch at Jer’s, famous for fried chicken, with friends. That afternoon he worked in his yard, sat down on a bench that sets between two towering trees, and fell asleep, for the last time. He passed peacefully from this world into that of our Heavenly Father. Jesus promised he was going to prepare a place for us. And now Dad is there. But I’m stuck here with the rest of my family. Ever wish you were in two places at the same time?

An endless stream of well-wishers and mourners waited hours in line to share their personal Don Crader story at his visitation and funeral. My knees never hurt so good while I stood with my family for over six hours shaking more hands than a politician on election day. Against my will I spoke a few words at the funeral. While standing at the podium and looking out at a sea of friends and family. I then realized two things. The reason I’d purchased a new black suite wasn’t for the previous week’s Gala event, it had been for Dad’s funeral, but God hadn’t taken him yet. And the most important group of people I’d ever have the privilege to be in the presence of weren’t those assembled at the Medal of Honor banquet–they were in that sanctuary.

It’s not always what you think.



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