I found myself starring out at a long line of white uniformed clad cadets running across, what is known as the "Field of Lost Shoes." It was a pseudo reenactment of what a real Corp of VMI Cadets actually did in the Battle of New Market, Virginia, in May of 1864 during the Civil War. Those cadets, ranging in age from 15 to 21, charged across that field under cannon and musket fire, and even had to overcome a driving rain on a recently plowed field. The valiant cadets, as they moved forward, constantly lost their footwear due to the suction of the muddy terrain...hence the "Field of Lost Shoes." Undaunted, they stormed the Union lines, overran an artillery battery and forced a retreat. Not bad for what amounted to be a bunch of snot nosed kids.
I was there for a particular reason; my niece, Paige Marie, was amongst those cadets plodding their way across that field minus the cannon and musket fire and driving rain. She had just participated in the Cadet Oath that a "rat" must abide by during their tenure at the Virgina Military Institute and the reenactment was a time served lesson to remind them that a cadet must always be ready when called upon. Anyways, there I was panning up and down the line searching in vain for any particular body movement that I would consider to be a LAUGISCH trait. I then noticed one particular cadet who's stature was smaller and the fact that the M-14 rifle she was toting around was damn near taller than she was. None the less, there she was hoofing it across the "Field of Lost Shoes" on her way to glory.
Your guess is as good as mine as to why on God's green Earth she chose the regimented and Spartan conditions of VMI for her choice of college. She's a girl for Christ Sake and naturally, she's my niece. Now before anyone starts jumping my ass about that last comment...pump your brakes and give me an opportunity to explain myself. I don't have a problem with women doing this or for that matter what most would consider "Mens Work." Heck, I work with women on a daily basis and even have had one as my direct supervisor for a spell...and naturally, being married for 21 years, it suffices to say that Claudia has been "in charge" for most of that duration except on Sundays and American Holidays. I will even go as far to say that the finest officer I served under in the Army...was a woman and a West Pointer.
Back to that niece of mine. It wasn't like she decided upon VMI as a dare or just for "shits and giggles." Oh no, she planned this out and she was well aware of the academic and physical requirements. She does come from a long line of military veterans...both her grandfathers are long tenured Army veterans and survivors of Vietnam and her father and I combined for 20 years as fellow Army Redleg Artillerymen. As much as I would like to believe she is following in that traditional vein, I think her reasoning is just as simple that she has decided to challenge herself mentally and physically. She has a lot of endearing qualities that remind me of my mother, which would be her Grandma Helen. If you know the woman then you are well aware of her outspoken ways and she has a pugnacious, bulldog mentality honed from a lifetime of people telling her she shouldn't do this or shouldn't do that because of her physical handicap. Her hands have prevented her from doing most things normal folks take for granted, but I and most of my family don't view it as her handicap...just a hindrance.
Paige is Helen Jr. in my book....but, with a complete set of hands. She is outspoken as dear Mom and has the same "pugnacious bulldog" quality that her Grandmother possesses. As much as our family tries to figure out why she chose VMI, I just resign myself to the fact that this a path of education she is suited for when you realize who her grandmother is. If she ever finds herself feeling down or just can't quite muster the motivation to do one more push-up I would hope she conjures up Dear 'Ole Mom's spirit and guts it out.
"Paigy" is going to be fine and will make us even prouder; I applaud her for choosing the "path less traveled" but she's still my niece...that cute little girl who would yell "Stupid Boy!" at the TV when we watched horror movies together and I can't help but smile when I here that infectious laugh of hers. Here's to you young lady...Hip-Hip-Hooray!!