I didn’t think the blue Guam hat I wore to the post office would garner me any attention. When I’m waiting in line to mail something to Guam, I’m usually mum. Fretting the numerous, ridiculous customs forms I have to fill out, a reminder that Guam is merely a "territory" treating incoming packages like suspects. (I digress...) I typically people watch and make sure my home address on my boxes is concealed, residue of my past life as a spy.
Well, a nice elderly veteran either glanced at my brother’s Guam address or spotted my hat when he asked if I had plans to go home. I knew he meant Guam, as I glanced at the boxes on the counter and then saw him smiling at my hat. A quick quip was brewing for him; sometimes I can be a smart ass with people (if I don’t like them), but he reminded me of Morgan Freeman, who looks like my late grandmother, so respect and a sense of filial piety took over me.
We chatted about his days in the Navy and a Chamorro man, his buddy, last name “Quitugua”. I told him we were probably related somehow. Mr. Veteran laughed when I said I had to screen my husband before we married to make sure we weren’t related since Guam is so small. Mr. Veteran said he did the same.
It was nice to see his admiration for an aspect of our culture as he explained, “I’ve only been into the ports on Guam, but when my friend (Quitugua) was there, he had so many people greeting him at the dock.” I interrupted and said, “I bet they all wanted to feed you guys right away.” Mr. Veteran laughed and said, with a twinkle in his eyes, “Yes! They did, actually.”
He then said, in a whisper, “But the thing I was most amazed by were all the envelopes.” He gestured with his hands like he was passing me a gift.
I said, “Ah, yes. We do like to give our money in envelopes.” Immediately, every birthday, graduation and my wedding flashed before my eyes. The gift of money, intimately placed in your hand or shoved in your cleavage (by many an overzealous auntie) is something of our Chamorro culture that I miss. Not so much the money, although that’s nice, it’s the gesture. It’s a way of showing care, reciprocity.
And, so to this unexpected praise and this very short, but meaningful conversation with a complete stranger, I thank you Mr. Veteran. You held up a mirror to my culture and smiled with me as I felt special looking at my reflection. Si Yu’os Ma’ase for making me grateful yesterday.
And to all the Veterans I know (and don’t)—my late father and late father-in-law, cousins, friends, uncles and aunts and especially, my husband….Happy Veteran’s Day, Happy Veteran's Week!
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy
**This is one of my favorite video montages of GUAM.