"Did you hear that Jason Benson is going to be in town for the Fourth?" asked my friend, Jeff. "It was short notice, but the town fathers decided to make him the grand marshal of the parade. They figured Mayor Kane did it last year and he'll probably do it again next year. What's more American than a war hero in your town's Independence Day parade?"
"No, Jeff, I hadn't heard that," I replied quietly. "He must be pretty high up the military ladder by now. He was a captain years ago."
"He's a colonel and in line to climb even higher pretty soon," agreed Jeff. "He was wounded in Baghdad a year ago and has all kinds of medals and citations. He'll be running the Pentagon before he's done!"
I mulled Jeff's news over for a minute. Jason Benson had been our town's version of Jack Armstrong, All American Boy. He played quarterback on the high school football team and shortstop in baseball. He made all-state in both. He graduated first in his class and had division I universities competing for his attendance at their institutions. He received an appointment to West Point and graduated near the top of that class there, as well as played football and baseball.
This was all very good, for him. He was an accomplished, extremely capable athlete, soldier, and citizen. I had to concede that. He was many things that I wasn't. Normally, it wouldn't have mattered very much to me. If it had been anyone else, I would have been truly happy for his success.
You've probably guessed my problem. He dated Sarah, who was now my wife, while they were in high school. Back then, everyone seemed to feel that Sarah was his perfect match. She had also been an amazing athlete, salutatorian in her class, coming in just behind Jason, and the most beautiful girl Williamsport had ever seen. Somehow, they separated after Jason left for West Point and Sarah for Temple. They never got back together.
I was two years ahead of them in school. I wasn't the class genius, but I did okay. I majored in engineering at a state school. As computers became more a part of every day life, I gravitated to software programming. I worked for a few companies before I got up the nerve to start my own.
I still haven't figured out exactly how I conned Sarah into marrying me, but I did. That was the single greatest accomplishment of my life, or at least the best I ever managed on my own. Our two daughters were a joint effort and the source of tremendous pride for us both.
Sarah never spoke much about Jason. She knew I wasn't comfortable with that part of her life. Invariably, well meaning people in the community would bring his name up from time to time. I always marveled that these people seemed to think I should admire and idolize Jason and admit how great he and Sarah would have been together. It was like I had no feelings, or worth, when Jason was discussed. No one seemed to have any doubts that Sarah would have been far better off if she had only managed to hang on to Jason.
To their credit, Sarah's parents never suggested anything remotely close to that scenario. I had even seen Sarah's mother become quite annoyed at a family picnic years ago when a cousin implied that Sarah should have married Jason.
"Only a fool would say something so hurtful and ignorant!" she admonished the stunned cousin in front of a suddenly silent gathering. "If you had any idea what a wonderful husband and father Greg is, you'd never make such a stupid statement!"
Sarah had smiled at her mom's sudden outburst and squeezed my hand under the picnic table. Sarah always treated me with love and respect and never acknowledged any suggestion that I wasn't the best possible husband she could have found. So, what was my problem? It was the long shadow of Jason Benson, hero and all around great guy. It seemed like I was always compared to him and found wanting, both in my mind, and the minds of the madding crowd.
My conversation with Jeff ended when my daughter, April, stole the basketball from the other team's guard and outran everyone for an easy lay-up. My daughters both played basketball in a summer league. April was sneaky fast and aggressive as hell. The girls handling the ball on the other team really hated to play against her. I had only seen one girl that could dribble a basketball past her without having it stolen, and that was my older daughter, June.
June was long legged and moved with an easy grace that made her appear to be letting up when she played. She was going to Temple in the fall with a scholarship in volleyball. It could have been basketball, but she just preferred volleyball. April was going into her junior year and was the main cog in the basketball team that hoped to win districts and try for states.
I never tired of watching my daughters play sports. They were good at whatever sport they played. They always gave it all they had. That is how competitive sports are intended to be played. Combined with the speed and athleticism they had inherited from Sarah, they were simply the best. June had recently graduated top in her class. That had really helped the Temple coaches decide to award her a scholarship. April was in a three-way battle for top honors in her class.
I climbed out of the bleachers as they game ended. The girls were shaking hands with, and hugging, their opponents. I waited for them before I made my way to the parking lot.
"Pretty good game, wasn't it, Dad?" grinned June. "April wouldn't even let them get the ball past half court. The coach finally asked her to give their guards a break and back off a little."
"Yeah, she sounded like you, Dad. She said that we were playing for fun, as well as to win. She didn't want us to ruin the other team's morale by crushing them too badly," chuckled April. "June pretty much stopped shooting after the first half to give them a chance to get in the game, and she was still the high scorer."
"Well girls, the summer league is supposed to be a good time for all the kids. When we started it, we discussed what the goals were going to be and we decided to promote sportsmanship and team play," I recalled. "Coach Simons did an excellent job tonight."
"You're always trying to make everyone happy, Dad, except when you're playing against us in the driveway. You've never let up on April or me when we play at home," observed June.
"That's because you two are mentally and physically tough. I wanted you to learn to never give up and play as hard as you can. In league games at school, no one takes it easy on you, do they?" I asked. "You have to know what type of competition you're in and play accordingly. Do you think I'd do as well in business if I didn't let my clients win at golf most of the time?"
"That's a tough one, Dad! It probably does help that you lose to your clients, but June can whip your butt in golf. I don't think you're letting them win," laughed April. "You're not the world's best golfer."
"Regardless, young lady," I admonished April; "I know enough to look like I'm trying as hard as I can and I'm gracious when I lose. That's the secret to winning at business while on the golf course."
"It's a good thing you explained that to June, Dad, because she'd be kicking butt and losing business all over the place. She does the opposite from you. She looks like she isn't even trying and plays great," boasted April about her sister. "She needs to watch you closer so she can learn some of your techniques, liking slicing all the time."
We were pulling in the driveway so I didn't bother trying to frame a suitable response. I had always been able to coach and teach the kids in sports better than I ever actually played them. Sarah was the natural athlete and the girls inherited it from her. I was the one that had to learn every trick of any game to even try to compete.
Sarah drove in right behind us. The girls started in telling her all about their day and how their game went. As I followed them into the house, I shook my head in amazement. How did I manage to have three such incredible women in my life?
Sarah was the top honcho at the local hotel and convention center, which was part of a major chain. She had started there after she graduated with a degree in hotel management. Her parents wanted her to be a lawyer, but Sarah knew what she wanted and she went for it. Like everything else she tried, she was very good at it. Two years ago she had reached the top and had even turned down a promotion recently that would have required moving to Kansas.
"Was anything special going on today, Sarah?" I asked. "You looked a little more dressed up than usual, and you had to stay late. Are the corporate big boys in town for the holiday?"
"No, but you certainly are observant, Greg," admitted Sarah. "The day after tomorrow is the Fourth and we always sponsor the grand marshal's float, as you know. This year the paper wanted to get some pictures to print before the parade."
Why did I suddenly get a queasy stomach? I realized that it was what Sarah didn't say that gave me cause to worry.
"Was our golden boy and war hero there for the pictures, Sarah? You seemed to have forgotten to mention that he was going to be in town, as well as be the grand marshal at the parade. Any chance he'll be in the pictures with you?" I probed.
Sarah played with her hands and looked to see if the girls were in the room. She seldom showed any nerves so this caught my attention.
.... There is more of this story ...