Parris Island in July
Hometowns and a way of life worth protecting
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For me, military history begins in 2015. That’s when Son No. 3 flew the coop, landing 663.4 miles due east, and for those of you who want to know what he took with him to Marineland, the answer is, not much—his driver’s license, his Social Security card, a pocket-size address book, a New Testament, and $20 cash, as per a sheet of strict instructions.
According to been-there, done-thats, Parris Island is bad enough in cool seasons. Our person of interest arrived in a month of heat so notorious it is the stuff of country music. Trace Adkins’ crooning of those conditions is said to have compelled more than one fence-straddler toward the recruiting station, and his lyrics were belting out loud across our badminton net during a pre-D-Day (as in departure day) family match. The “so gung ho to go and pay the price” line was more than this mama could take, though. A five-minute meltdown/game delay ensued.
Just who was responsible for the military bent in our son I cannot say. There was the Veritas Press catalog, I suppose, where we got that Basher Five-Two fighter pilot book he liked so much. And then there was my dad and his friends down at the 51 Diner filling his head with their enlistment tales. That toy soldier set he picked out at Williamsburg. The airsoft battles he waged with camoed-up friends. His fascination with documentaries about Navy SEALs. But when pressed hard, that son of mine puts the blame where blame often ends up—on Mom.
“It was that diorama of the Twin Towers you made me do,” he says, referring to a project assigned during a weeklong firefighting study years ago. His research led him to read about the loss of 341 New York City firefighters in the 9/11 attack. “I feel like 9/11 was the call of my generation,” he goes on. And on. He reminds me (for the umpteenth time) why he had to do his four years—“his duty.”
I get it. Duty had him taking an oath and walking down a concourse on that long-ago Monday, and it was duty that had me setting one less place at the dinner table.
And contemplating that strict set of packing instructions.
Because the truth is, our Marine-in-the-making went off with a lot more than was on that list. He had a happy hometown history tucked under his belt that began in a delivery room at the local hospital and wound its way through nearby baseball diamonds, Scout camps, and lawns deeply beholden to his weed-eating skills.
That display we saw up there at the international airport just before he jetted off, the one showcasing all the locally made products? Maybe it should have a picture of those fresh-faced recruits my husband prayed over that day, because one thing is certain: They are each a product of a place and its people.
Our son had the friendly ear, nose, and throat doctor to teach him first aid, and the patient Mr. Russell to teach (well, try to teach) him piano.
He had coaches who worked him out and over, and mowing customers who just plain worked him.
He had the fish house and the pizza place and all points in between spend years filling him up and filling him out.
He had afternoons at Ms. Dorsie’s pond, nights at Exchange Club fairs, and a first drive in his first truck down the town boulevard.
Best of all, he had a church send him off with its blessing and pastors’ promise to hold him accountable.
So maybe the military bent started there, in a community with a way of life that made him believe they’re worth protecting. Clearly, he had enough of all those things and people and places and experiences to give him a sense of duty, and maybe that’s the benefit of living where folks seek the welfare of their city, like Jeremiah described.
A mom should be thankful for that.
So while for us it became clear that a parent’s duty, hard as it is, may be to raise them up just to see them go, it’s also equally obvious that a hometown’s duty may be to stay with them forever—even if only in their memories.
Upon further reflection, Son No. 3 may have broken the rules after all, because he definitely didn’t pack light. If only all recruits could say the same.
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