Commentary: Embarrassing moments give us opportunity to laugh, grow
March 31, 2009
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - In 1976, when Leslie Henry "Bud" King, half-brother to President Gerald R. Ford, died in Cookeville, Tennessee, I was eight years old. My father was working as one of the local morticians at Cookeville's Hooper and Huddleston Funeral Home when the call came in that King had died.
A couple of years prior to King's death, my family had moved into an apartment above the funeral home. President Ford was not close to his half-brother as they were raised separately and he was not well acquainted with his younger half-siblings. As such, he did not come to the funeral.
So my hopes of meeting a president were dashed, but it would be events surrounding this one particular event-the sitting President's brother dying-which would cause my mother one of her most embarrassing moments and one of my fondest memories.
Our apartment at the funeral home did not have washer and dryer hook ups, so my mother needed to go outside to gain access to a laundry room that was in the funeral home's garage. There was a large, nicely kept lawn in front of the door to that garage, and one day, my mom, in curlers and a robe with a huge laundry basket in hand, stepped out of the garage and onto that lawn in front of a huge group of television reporters and television cameras. They were there to cover the story on President Ford's half brother who had just died. I'm sure they were wondering who this woman was and why she was walking out of a funeral home garage in a robe.
All I can remember is that it was a priceless moment that our family talked about for years, and although mom had a temporary moment of embarrassment, she was soon laughing about it too.
It's a shame we didn't have a VCR in those days, because when the story came on the Channel 5 Nashville evening news, you saw a reporter standing in front of the funeral home garage and over his shoulder you could see my mom in a robe with an over-flowing basket of clothes.
I've also had my share of embarrassing moments. At the age of 18, I worked during the summer for the Alexander Macon County funeral home and their cemetery in Lafayette, Tennessee. I did things like mowing the funeral home lawn, mowing the cemetery and making sure the graves were straight, that vases were clean and that mowed grass was cleaned off the face of the stones.
One day the two cemetery caretakers, Joe and Guy, needed my help at a grave site. They showed me how they dug graves with their big CAT back hoe and I had to climb in the grave to edge the corners and get out some excess dirt. Just prior to the funeral and before the casket had arrived, some of the family had already assembled at the grave site and I was putting some boards in place around the opening of the grave that held the winch that lowered the casket into the grave.
With my mullet nicely groomed-it was the 80s and still in style-I walked with a board, turning to shyly smile at 17-year-old April Wix, a member of the mourning family. As she smiled back, I tripped head first, into the grave, dropping the board and causing April to let out a chuckle over the collective gasp from other arriving family members.
Not one of my best days. I popped out of the grave, wiped the dirt off and continued working. But it was almost like a scene from a movie where a guy jumps up after falling off a motorcycle or taking a spill and someone yells, "He's okay!"
Afterward I apologized to the family, but I think they understood, especially with me being a green teenager. Later as I thought about falling in the grave, I felt a little better, because at least it didn't happen when grandma's casket was in there.
The big lesson though was to pay attention to the job and keep your situational awareness. My teenage act of not paying attention to what I was doing and stopping to smile at a pretty girl showed a huge amount of immaturity, but those types of things teach us to grow, learn and move on.
As Soldiers and military service members, we all have had embarrassing moments at one time in our careers or another and have heard a lot of stories about them too.
About ten years ago, I remember hearing about a young, newly-married Soldier whose wife got up early one morning and put the pin-on rank on the Soldier's BDU uniform. The chevrons were upside down and he left the house without noticing. I'm sure he can look back now and laugh about it, but at the time, it probably wasn't all that funny-especially due to the fact that he was called out of a formation by his first sergeant. Apparently he was the guidon bearer. I'm sure the lesson he learned was to make sure you check your uniform every day.
Life's little embarrassing moments keep Soldiers on their game and teach us valuable lessons. In some cases they may teach us to laugh at ourselves, and in others they teach us to pay attention to detail and attention to what's going on around us. We should embrace those lessons and turn them into an opportunity to improve ourselves as well as to help others.
When we stumble and fall, we can always get right back up, dust ourselves off and start over. It is the nature of Soldiers that if we do make embarrassing mistakes that we always persevere by reviewing what happened, making adjustments so it never happens again and then come out all the stronger for it.