Vail Daily column: A poignant symbol for Memorial Day
I feel like a lot of people hear “Memorial Day” and think of sunshine, grills and hanging out with friends. It has come to mean more than that to me for a variety of reasons. I’m not usually one to preach, but I wanted to share a quick story from work today in honor of everyone who has served and to those who have been affected by the loss of a family member, friend or fellow soldier.
Memorial Day was a sunny beautiful day during the mud season here in Vail, which equates to a slow, slow afternoon at the bar. People trickled in and out, heading off to barbecues, kickball, parties and other Memorial Day festivities.
One local who I see a few shifts a month came in and sat down at the bar. I asked if he wanted the usual and to my surprise he declined, opting for two Sierra Nevadas. Strange … as most people who have a preferred drink usually stick with it. He took a long drink out of the first beer and sat the second beer down in front of the empty stool next to him. About a half hour later he motioned toward his empty glass and I poured him another — full beer still in front of the empty bar stool next to him. Again, about a half hour later, he subtly raised his empty glass. I began to protest, suggesting that he should drink the beer next to him as it was getting warm. He shrugged the suggestion off in an uncharacteristically reserved and almost somber manner!
One final time, a half-hour later, he motioned toward his glass. I brought his beer over and asked if he wanted me to put the extra beer next to him on ice. He mumbled something unintelligible, along the lines about waiting for someone to come back and asked to close his tab. He signed his receipt, emptied his glass and, as he silently walked out, placed a coaster over the beer he had bought when he first sat down — a universal bar sign that someone is coming back for this drink — leave it be.
So I left the full glass there for some time, thinking that one of his friends might show up for it. After a while the bar filled up again and I began to pull the beer off the bar to dump it out. Then I saw the writing on the coaster. Three names of soldiers — soldiers which I would later discover were all killed in action in 2004. I left that beer on the bar for the rest of the night, where it went largely unnoticed by the other patrons. I took the time to occasionally glance at the empty bar stool behind the full beer. It was tough to ignore the symbolism — poetic, oddly beautiful and deeply saddening — thinking of the people who have an empty bar stool in their life, wishing someone they cared about could fill that seat and share a beer with them. His silent, personal memorial caused me to stop and reflect on what, in my estimation, is the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Joe Erario lives in Vail.