As someone who was raised with a genuine appreciation and respect for the US Military and traditional, conservative values, Memorial Day was always about so much more than just backyard barbecues, although my parents typically hosted one every year. And once we'd gotten an in-ground pool when I was twelve (the realization of a fervent childhood dream for a Pisces child who loved being in the water all summer long), outdoor grilling and socializing with family and friends became that much more enjoyable.
But growing up with parents who constantly espoused the concepts of freedom, capitalism, strong national defense and love of America, as well as having numerous relatives who'd paid the ultimate price in World War II, I was fully aware of the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make on our behalf. Gratitude for their courage and willingness to serve at great personal peril has always remained with me, along with pride for people like my Uncle Dan, who was an Admiral in the US Navy and one of the most devout, honorable men I have ever known.There is a passing reference to him in Water Signs, in the scene between Madeline and Monica, in which Madeline's mother implores her daughter about the importance of education.
And of course, the hero of the story, Ken, is a US Navy veteran, just like his real-life counterpart. Although by the time readers meet him, his service has already taken place, his love for America shines through in word and action. In Chapter One, in reaction to Carmen running off with her Iranian date, he notes with palpable exasperation, "I spent four years of my life defending this country from people like him and she and her girlfriend run off with them?"
Of course, Maddy is quick to remind him of the distinction between the Iranian people and their tyrannical rulers.
In another scene later in the novel, as Ken and Maddy are enjoying a romantic beach picnic in Ventnor, she ruminates about what others might be doing at that very moment on the other side of the ocean (something I'd often thought of during my visits to the sand and surf):
"...well, I've actually gotten to see what many of them were up to firsthand, during my Navy days. Unfortunately, not all of it was good."
"We're very blessed to live in this country, aren't we?"
"Yes, we are," he agreed, kissing her forehead.
The character of Ken also embodies love of God, country and family, which is revealed through his actions in addition to his words. Whether professionally or personally, commitment is of the utmost importance to him; therefore, he's not above working menial jobs such as Taj Mahal parking valet and electric company meter-reader on his way to bigger and better things. And no matter the task, he throws himself into it diligently.
When he mistakenly believes Maddy is over him, he follows through with his marriage to Erin and valiantly fights for it as the years go by, in spite of his wife's superficial obsessions and his lingering feelings for his former love. It is only after exhausting every possibility of reconciliation that he ultimately chooses divorce, and it is only after the legalities of the dissolution of marriage are finalized that he even entertains the idea of meeting up with Madeline, following a thirteen-year estrangement. Once reunited, the pair still takes it slowly, preferring to reacquaint themselves with one another spiritually, mentally and emotionally before consummating their new and improved relationship. All the while, being a good father to his two children remains his top priority.
On the night of their engagement, as the happy couple is cruising down A1A along the Atlantic Ocean, a specially made CD is playing in the car which contains many of Madeline's favorite love songs. One in particular, Song for You by Chicago, represents the comprehensive celebration and description of her perfect love, Kenny:
"...it resonated with Maddy in the same way Chicago's ballad, Song for You, always had. Whenever anyone would ask her about her ideal mate, she'd invariably tell them to play the famous rock band's classic song: it not only summed up her sentiments perfectly, it extolled them with an accompanying, beautiful melody."
In Sea to Shining Sea, Ken will continue to evolve as a stalwart, passionate defender of freedom; a faithful, ever-loving husband; and a devoted, affectionate father. Along with Madeline, he will face incredibly trying challenges, including the loss of his executive position and the birth of a son with Down syndrome. But through it all, in spite of moments of human weakness, he will rely upon his faith and uphold his duty to God, country and family, in the true spirit of a US Military veteran.
This Memorial Day, I honor our men and women in uniform, who nobly and courageously fight for our freedom. God bless them one and all, and may He also provide solace and comfort to their loved ones. Words cannot thank them enough for everything they do. They make me proud to be an American and represent the very best of all of us.