For some, the final weekend in May is an annual chance to fire the boat motor up, hit the lake, and put some beef — or venison, perhaps — on a red-hot backyard grill.
If that’s how you and those dear to you plan to spend this Memorial Day weekend, then by all means, enjoy yourself, have fun, and be safe.
While some of those activities will undoubtedly find their way into my family’s holiday weekend plans — especially since my daughter Katie and son-in-law Tim will be in town — I also hope to spend a few quiet moments reflecting on heroes.
That’s only natural on a weekend where we remember our war dead, the members of the U.S. military who have paid the ultimate price over the years to preserve our nation’s liberty and keep America’s stars and stripes flying. To those courageous warriors and the families they have left behind, saying thank you and pausing for a day of remembrance hardly seems like enough.
But even with such thoughts in mind on the eve of this year’s solemn remembrance of Memorial Day, the idea occurs to me that there are other heroes in this nation we live in, people who aren’t honored in a parade, memorialized in stone, or remembered with a special day on the calendar.
Instead, they are everyday American heroes, the kind who steadily get up, go to work, raise a family, and form the very backbone of this American way of life. Pilots, lawyers, doctors, plumbers, electricians, wildlife biologists, first responders, coaches, and teachers among many others.
One of those everyday heroes is the woman I’ve been married to for nearly 27 years now, my wife Charissa. While there have been plenty of heroes in my life over the years, she tops the list.
A lovely and willowy woman, her youthful beauty has made me the punchline in a number of jokes over the years, usually something related to good old Burkhead outkicking his punt coverage, or something like that.
Take, for instance, the visit of a childhood friend years ago, a missionary home on furlough who came to visit me one day at my office. When he spied a photo of my wife sitting on my desk, my friend — who had never met Charissa — casually asked what kind of dog we had.
When I told him we had a Labrador retriever, he quipped with a twinkle in his eye: “Yup, they make good seeing eye dogs. And your wife obviously needs one.”
A typical hunting/fishing widow, my wife has steadily tolerated my love of the outdoors over the years — and my passion to write about it — all the while as our bank account has suffered because of gear purchases and far flung adventures, my early morning wake up calls have jostled her from a night of restful sleep, or my truck has pulled into the driveway late to another family gathering because I had trouble tearing myself away from fish that were biting, ducks that were flying, or big bucks that were rutting.
About the only defense that I can offer is that she knew from the start what she was getting into. We started dating as deer season opened, celebrated the holidays and became engaged as duck season rolled on, prepared for our wedding as the turkeys gobbled, and enjoyed the last few days of our engagement as the springtime bass spawn faded from view.
At one point in the months leading up to our wedding day, I knocked on Charissa’s apartment door and sheepishly asked if I could borrow her refrigerator. She smiled, said sure, but then quizzingly asked why. I almost didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was running late for work, had a half limit of quail in the back of my truck, and needed to put these upland birds on ice until I could finish prepping them for the freezer later that evening.
While my wife grew up on a farm, showed livestock for the Tom Bean FFA, and was an hardworking do-it-yourself type, she came from a family that didn’t seriously hunt or fish. Because of that, getting married to someone who did took some getting used to on her part.
But get used to it she did, learning to speak my language, figuring out what made me tick, and even surprising me the first Christmas that we shared as she gave me a framed print from master American sporting artist Terry Redlin. If I didn’t already know this truth before I tore open the wrapping paper that Christmas Eve — mere moments before she opened an engagement ring box and I popped the question — that gift proved to me that I had truly found the woman of my dreams.
As our wedding day turned into daily life and marriage, the years have been kind to us for the most part, bringing some amazing highs thanks to our children, Katie, Zach and Will. With me being a disorganized, creative type, my wife has steadied our family life many times with her boundless love, selfless sacrifice, constant preparedness — for years, I would look at a spread sheet each day to see which ballgame or practice I needed to attend that evening — and a lifetime of rock solid commitment to me and the kids.
My outdoor writing career path — including more than one layoff, unexpected detours, and sudden trips — has complicated all of that along with unwanted health hiccups that have occasionally surfaced in recent years for yours truly. But through it all, my wife Charissa has stayed by my side, encouraging me, inspiring me, and to a great degree, simply putting up with me. She isn’t perfect, and neither am I or our marriage, but aside from my Christian faith, Charissa has been my constant bedrock on an uncertain, and at times, bumpy journey of life.
Why such introspection in an outdoor column, especially on the eve of such a holiday weekend? Simple, my wife — who retires today from the Denison ISD after a long, successful career as a teacher at B. McDaniel Middle School — is my ultimate hero, the everyday kind. For many thousands of routine days, she’s risen early, gone to bed late, and worked hard to help raise a family, build a home, and invest in the lives of many others — including countless local students — for more than a quarter century now.
As I write this on Thursday morning, I just watched my wife get up, go through her morning routine, and depart for the land of the Yellow Jackets on the final day of school. After the students leave her classroom for the final time on Thursday afternoon, she’ll spend this Friday morning as a Denison educator one last time, walking across the stage at the DISD end-of-year breakfast as she poses for a photo with superintendent Dr. Henry Scott and accepts a rocking chair as a retirement gift. By early this afternoon, she’ll wrap up posting final numbers in her gradebook, turn in her keys, and call it all good.
Since Charissa is my hero — a wife, mother, and educator who has made a life and career out of putting others first — I don’t mind admitting that I’m looking forward to the time we’ll be able to spend together in the years to come.
And now that she’s got some extra time on her hands, maybe we can venture out together into the Creator’s grand outdoors world where I can introduce my wife to the thrill of a duck blind at dawn, a deer stand in November, or a topwater bass explosion in the warm days of spring.
And someday, we’ll get another rocking chair, sit side by side on the front porch, and enjoy a few sunrises and sunsets together.
Because after all, who doesn’t want to spend time with their hero? I know I sure do.