Friday, December 4


Something my mother once said to my father stands out in my mind. He had come home complaining about some good deed he’d done that had gone unacknowledged. Mother said, “Did you do it to do it, or did you do it to be thanked?” That made quite an impression.

I adopted a US soldier to do it. It was a heart-warming segment on the Today show that turned me on to this organization which matches willing civilians with soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq who long for the comforts of home. A mother had signed up on behalf of her learning disabled son and the letters from the Middle East inspired the boy to work at his reading and writing. Today hooked them up with the gunnery sergeant by a remote and tears came to my eyes. Enchanted, I rewatched and signed up with

Soon I was assigned an Army corporal (initials: PA) who, much to my delight, had email access. We exchanged a bit of info, he telling me that he was from Haiti (that was a surprise) and deployed from Texas. He had no preferences for items, “anything would be great.” We sent each other pictures and I told him a little about my life in Manhattan, just me and my dog.

Quickly I assembled some care packages, using the helpful list supplied by AAUSS and their recommendations for what the soldiers like and need and what travels best. I tried to maximize my money with careful purchase of snacks, candies and toiletries. Friends generously contributed magazines and all kinds of goodies. (See photo.) I packed everything in USPO flat rate boxes which cost about $11 to ship to an APO address no matter how much one can stuff into it.
With some encouragement – PA didn’t get the chance, have the access, have the time, whatever – PA thanked me for the first two packages and the letter I sent. And I was happy. I knew English wasn’t his first language and that he was in a freaking war zone, so I really didn’t expect long or a lot of missives from him.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for what happened after I sent the third package: nothing. I mean silence. No emails in response to my queries. “PA, are you all right?” I worried. I began watching George Stephanopolous to check the casualty lists every Sunday. No PA.

Weeks turned into months and I began to think that he must have been wounded or something. I had three boxes of goodies waiting to be shipped and taking up valuable storage in my tiny flat. I decided that I would try one more email before trying to contact the Pentagon or someplace official.

To my shock, PA replied. He’s been in Florida since August. August?? Oh, and yeah, sorry, he didn’t write me. He’s been busy.

How did I feel? Glad that he wasn’t dead. But furious that he had treated me so rudely. I didn’t expect bouquets but neither did I anticipate a bucket of cold water in my face.

And it got worse. After I told PA that I still had care packages to ship, could he give me the name of a buddy in his unit? Oh, yeah, he emailed me a name. “Just use my address,” he said. But somehow I didn’t trust that. So I asked him for his buddy’s eddress. And then I emailed his buddy wanting a specific, spelled out address and to tell him I’d be sending packages.
My email to his buddy bounced.

A further email to PA telling him that his buddy’s email bounced was ignored. Bringing me full circle.

And so here I was with three flat rate boxes full of soap and magazines and no where to ship them. I advertised them under FREE STUFF on craigslist. Some people wrote and told me to take them to the USO. And others had ideas on how I could find some worthy recipient. One woman wrote that she wanted them for her sister-in-law who was deployed in Iraq and whose toddler she was caring for. That touched my heart and I wanted her to get them. Only she lives in Brooklyn with her own preschoolers. Yikes. Sorry. I couldn’t lug three boxes to Brooklyn.
I even was willing to give them to this illiterate who sent me a run-on unpunctuated series of words. But then he never followed up on the phone.

Then Joe wrote, sure that someone had already claimed these prizes, but hoping that he could fetch them to send to his brother in Afghanistan. He had documentation of his bona fides and even lived in the neighborhood and was able-bodied and willing to come get them. At last! And he was even on time and polite. Amazingly, he said, he hadn’t looked at craigslist in half a year. And there was my ad. Serendipity.

I asked him to please ask his brother to acknowledge the packages with an email that I could print out and share with my generous friends who have probably totally forgotten about their donations. But I want them thanked.

And no, they didn’t give me stuff to be thanked. They gave me things so that the days of some Americans very far from home could be brightened. And I am sure they were even if I never really heard about it as I had imagined and hoped.

And so I am left with my mother’s question: Did I do that nice thing to do it or to be thanked? And the truth is that I did it to do it and be thanked. Or at least not slapped in the face.

1 comment:

  1. this is @watergatesummer ( or enigma4eve of WatergateSummer-blog),
    I loved this post, and that you thought to do it.

    ( my son and I tried to do a similiar gift project in 2004 with similiar results..)

    You are a good soul that you did this and tried so hard..

    and yes, Someone should thank I am thanking you for caring and having enough heart to follow through with so many obstacles.