When I was a lad, early on any fine summer morning, I’d strap on my ammo belt with my .45 caliber cap pistol, don my plastic Army helmet, sling my Thompson sub-machine gun with the realistic sound feature over my shoulder, call my dog and head out for the woods across the street from my house. I would be joined by several other similarly-attired and equipped 8-9 year old boys, who would be known for the balance of the day as “Cage, Kirby, Doc and Little John.” There would be a short but vitriolic argument over which one of us would be called “Sgt. Saunders,” the loser being relegated to the role of “Lt. Hanley,” a man worthy of his rank but not quite up there with the good Sergeant in terms of leadership skills. The issue settled, we would spend the remainder of the day chasing the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo over hill and stream, through swamp and mire. We might emerge from the bosky dell to grab a tonic (a “soda” to you) at Fordie’s drugstore, but otherwise the world of adults did not impinge upon us, save for an interlude of lunch in any one of our mothers’ kitchens, until the sun began to sink in the sky and dinner beckoned.
From the time I left the house until the time I got back, the cell phone not to be invented for several decades, my mother had no idea where I was. My father only knew where I was on Saturdays and Sundays and the knowledge seldom thrilled him. But I did not feel neglected. I knew that when I got home, I would be supplied with food, clean clothes, affection or discipline as appropriate, a warm TV, bath and bed. These things were sufficient to my needs at the time and I could not envision wanting more, unless it be in the area of comic books. The simple facts of my life were as constant as the northern star. They could be relied upon. Since my father had taught me how to find that star, I was certain I could always find my way home.
My friends and I sometimes ran into bullies. Sometimes we bullied each other. My grandfather had taught me various strategies for dealing with bullies, all of which devolved into variants on two basic themes: “run away” or “give them hell.” Experience readily taught me when to apply which strategy. My preferred one was “give them hell with a stick.” Seldom did I encounter any threat so severe I could not handle it with a stick.
The reason my friends and I could wander freely about our little world in relative safety without constant adult supervision was that my father and grandfather had made the world safe and exercised a manly vigilance to keep it that way. My father and his contemporaries had actually fought the Third Reich and Imperial Japan, fought hard and killed them and took their wounds so that we could play at it through the soft summer days and then drink lemonade on our front porches. Every so often, driving through town with my dad on some household errand, if our route took us past the town cemetery, he’d stop the car and out of the clear blue sky say, “Let’s pay our respects.” Then he’d lead me through the cemetery’s wide granite-pillared gate and stop in front of the great lawn where my town had buried her World War II dead. He’d survey the lawn silently for a moment and say quietly to the air around us, “I knew some of these men.” He’d pause, then look down on me suddenly and say, “These men died so you could be free,” pull me back to the car without further ceremony and drive us away, back into my little world.
The hearse passed by that same World War II lawn when I buried my father in that same cemetery about ten years ago. Needless to say, things have changed. Many stereotypes have been shattered, many rights exercised, many lifestyles liberated. But some things don’t change too much. Now there are Vietnam lawns and Gulf War lawns and Iraq lawns and I know some of the men buried in them. They, too, died so you and I could be free. But what has changed beyond all recognition is my little world. It’s completely disappeared. Little boys aren’t freely wandering the streets and the woods, chasing imaginary bad guys with cap guns, stopping into the drugstore for a soda as it suits them, getting home after being who-knows-where for who-knows-how-long. It’s a loss, a real loss, and I have this dreadful feeling that, when someone buries me in that same cemetery and I meet my father and my grandfather and all those other men, I will somehow have to account for it.
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Books by Joe Eliseon
The Seamless Web Part 1: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JNFLSWC
The Seamless Web Part 2: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JPT39L4
The Seamless Web Part 3: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KCAP4JA
The Seamless Web Part 4: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KCE12H4
Five Minutes More and Other Stories: http://www.amazon.com/FIVE-MINUTES-MORE-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B00JMSOZ3Y/
The Richest Man in Babylon, Revisited: http://www.amazon.com/Richest-Man-Babylon-Revisited-ebook/dp/B00JJAI1XU/
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