It was tedious and sometimes unpleasant work- sorting through the clothes donated to charity. Alma didn't mind mostly, she felt it was her Christian duty and occasionally, one found something worthwhile, forgotten in a pocket or handbag. Those she did her best to return. The myriad prayer cards, letters and other letter-like items were respectfully displayed on a cork board in the back room, receipts and other such trash were unceremoniously discarded.
She reached for the suit jacket in the pile and began to methodically examine the cloth for tears or stains. There were none, it had obviously been well cared for. To make sure everything was empty, Alma opened the jacket to inspect the inner pocket. Pinned neatly to the lining was a faded and yellow paper- a crudely drawn medal, the circular medallion once colored an overly bright yellow, the navy and crimson stripes of the 'ribbon' below it also having lost their childish primary brightness to many years of wear. The pin was fresh and shiny, though the holes through the paper medal were ragged as were the edges, and she thought it due to the fact the little memento was lovingly removed before any cleanings to keep it out of harm's way.
Though she did not know who the owner was, or who had given them the little paper medal, she somehow knew it was too precious to simply toss in the trash like an old receipt, and too personal to go on the board with the others. This was different somehow. Carefully, she unpinned the faded symbol and placed it securely in her wallet. There was a small box of mementos she kept in the attic, and while this was not hers, she would keep it safe. Something about it made her wish she knew its story.
"Daddy, are you awake?" the little voice was quiet but insistent.
He grunted in reply, more in embarrassment he'd been caught napping than in annoyance he'd been woken up. Sleep was for the weak. Sleep got you killed. He shook his head, clearing it. He snapped the paper in his hands as though he'd been reading it the whole time.
"Of course I am," his voice was clipped, short, military. Glancing around the edge of the newsprint, he saw his tone had cowed his small son. Irritation warred with overpowering love. He wanted to grab him, hold him, tell him he was the reason he'd survived the war, that nothing, no damn Nazi or Jap, was going to keep him from his boy. But he had to be strong. His son had to be strong. It was the only way they'd survive, even though the war was over, it wasn't. He had to show his son how to be strong.
"Happy Father's Day, Daddy."
The small hand held out a crudely colored bit of paper. Frowning, he took it and saw a misshapen medal, colored in a simplistic pattern, the safety pin crookedly attached.
"It's a medal for being the best dad. I made it for you. It can go next to the ones on your uniform." There was a touch of pride in the little voice.
He stared at the offering. How many medals had he seen go to dead mens' families? How many medals for doing nothing more than living through the night? Meaningless, meaningless, meaningless. Empty symbols to pacify the grieving. Worthless trinkets trying to erase the horror of war. Useless gestures to justify slaughter. And still, it was all some had left after a lifetime of service, of sacrifice.
"Son, medals have significance, value. You cannot simply cut a paper star and hand them out to every Tom, Dick, and Harry and expect it to have meaning," he said sternly, tossing the paper carelessly on the table next to his chair. His son had to understand what people had done for those medals, for their country, for him. He couldn't be soft on this. Too much had been sacrificed to take the solemnity of those honors away. "One day you'll understand the meaning of those medals, son. You can be sure of it."
The little boy's face crumpled at the rejection of his lovingly crafted gift. Dejected, he left the room to help his mother, hoping the special dinner they had planned would find his father's favor.
Once the boy was gone, "Mad Dog" Morgendorffer lovingly picked up his son's gift and carefully pinned it to the inside of his jacket.
Jake grinned and took the sparkly macaroni necklace held out to him by his little girl. He shoved the memory of a crude paper medal down deep, not allowing it to taint the day.
"Thank you, Quinn, it's beautiful."
"Put it on, Daddy!"
Smiling, he draped it over his head, the glitter falling off to sprinkle the pages of the book his other daughter had given him just moments ago.
"Will you wear it every day?"
Even if that bastard boss of mine fires me for it. "You bet."