I have often heard it said that “object lessons” are those lessons which we learn as we travel through life, and whether or not that object lesson has had a positive impact upon our lives, depends entirely upon how we apply it later on in life. I think that I learned many “object lessons” while I was in the Air Force, but none more important than one which I learned while stationed at Iraklion Air Station – one which I have carried with me through life – and one which I shall carry with me until the day I die.
I’m sure that all of us remember “mid-night chow” – that meal served to those who were coming off of a “swing shift” (4 PM until midnight), and those preparing to work a “mid” (midnight until 8 AM). Now, "mid-night" chow was not especially known for its taste, appearance, or even its smell. It was usually known for the inability of those of us eating it to correctly indentify what it was! And, I’m sure that the term “mystery meat” must have originated from some dish which had been concocted specifically for “midnight chow”. At any rate, late one evening, I, along with several other airmen, had gone over to the Airmen’s Dining Hall to partake of “mid-night chow” before reporting for duty in the Compound at midnight. This particular evening, “mid-night chow” was particularly bad. The meal had the appearance of something that might have been picked up by the side of the road, had some vegetables (or weeds) thrown in with it, and baked, cooked, or broiled (or all three), until it had reached a state in which it could not be readily identified except by laboratory analysis! One airman, after having tasted it, simply took his plate, turned it upside down on the dining table and then walked out. Many of us, after having tasted it and concluded that it was unfit for human consumption, devised a game of sorts. Each would pick what looked like a vegetable part, i.e., a pea or kernel of corn, etc., place it on the end of a fork or spoon, and then strike it with the fist as hard as possible to see how high it could be catapulted into the air. If you were able to hit the ceiling of the Dining Hall, you got five points. If you got it to stick to the ceiling, you got ten points. And, yes, I am ashamed to admit it; I was partaking in this game (I hope that my son is not reading this!). But, there was one airman sitting at our table directly across from me who was not playing the game. I mean, he was what we called, “chowing down”. He was leaning over the table with has face about five inches from his plate. He had one of those extremely large spoons – one that almost looked like a small shovel – and with that spoon he was scooping up the food and cramming it into his mouth. He would chew it as quickly as possible and then take another scoopful and shovel it into his mouth, all the while looking as if he savored every bite! I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he was from the Appalachia region of eastern Kentucky – an economically depressed region – an area of coal mines and abject poverty. I watched for a few moments and then asked him, “Man, how in the world can you eat that crap?” He paused just long enough to look up at me, and said, “Bob, this is the best food that I’ve ever eaten”. And with that having been said, resumed his attack on his plate of “mid-night chow”. Now, when he responded to me, he didn't say it in a hateful way, or in a “smart aleck” way, or in a mean-spirited sort of way; he just said it in a matter-of-fact manner. But, his words cut into my heart deeper than the sharpest knife! At that moment I felt so ashamed and so embarrassed that I had been playing in my food like a child, and wasting food that others would have fought over to eat! At that point, I slowly picked up my fork and began to eat what was left on my plate. I didn’t enjoy it, but I ate everything on my plate until it was clean. Then, I watched as that airman sitting across the table from me went back for second helpings! From that day forward, if the food didn’t look particularly appetizing, I would only ask for just a very small portion – if it was good, I would ask for more – if it tasted bad, I would eat just what was on my plate. But, never again did I waste the food that was put before me. And, even to this day, it troubles me greatly to see food that is wasted, goes uneaten, or is thrown out!
Take care, stay well, and let me hear from you...and eat your vegetables!
Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,
Bob (Midget) Armistead