Tuesday, May 13, 2014

'Follow The Rules And Follow The Mules...'

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

“We're in the Army now.
“We’re not behind a plow.
“We’ll never get rich diggin’ a ditch.
“We're in the Army now.”

When you apply for an appointment to the United States Military Academy and begin receiving letters in the mail from West Point, it has to be both thrilling and intimidating.

But when your Army-issue boots arrive, and they sit there in the closet with your high school tennis shoes and your Sunday shoes and your flip flops, looking a lot more mature and grown up than your other shoes, all standing tall and at attention and whatnot, then things start to get real.

At church Sunday, a proud and somewhat rattled mom showed me just such a picture, the floor of her baby boy’s closet and the new size-13 boots. Maybe size 14s by now. (He has a “firm foundation” either way.)

His mom also showed me a picture of his nameplate and other things that will be sewn onto his uniform. And not a high school athletic uniform, but a uniform worn by members of the United States Army.

Big-boy stuff.

In less than two weeks he will a high school graduate. In late June, he and his boots leave for West Point, where he’ll become a member of the Corps of Cadets. 

The military. The U.S. Army. The Thin Gray Line. That kind of a deal.

“We’re in the Army now …”

Just the other day when I met him, he was in the eighth grade and I was the grownup in charge in his Sunday school class. We didn’t cover how to cook a baked potato in the wild or even how to quarter a well-fed ox for sacrifice, much less how to dig a foxhole, repel off a mountain or fire an M1. How could I have known? Who knew Josh would apply to be in the military? It’s like predicting Bozo would grow up to split the atom.

I’ve watched him and some others in my step-daughter’s graduating class “mature” these last few years. I’ve seen this particular guy act like somebody I used to know, which would be me. 

As a preacher’s son, he is as goofy as I was. Maybe even a bit more. Once in a high school football game he caught a pass and got cracked on the helmet and knocked into next week’s game, and they had him on the sideline, asking him to count fingers and answer questions, and I asked the people around me, “Unless that doctor knows him, how is he going to know if Josh is OK or not? If he’s acting crazy, for him, that’s normal.”

Unless you don’t like teenaged boys who are a brick shy, whether they’re acting or not, it’s impossible not to have a fondness for him. Besides being crazy, we have other things in common, like a crush on my wife. But he was recognized by Shreveport’s chapter of the National Football Foundation for scholarship, and was on the all-district football team, so he is much smarter than I am, and a better athlete. He is also much more brave. 

I have told his mom that if she starts to miss him, I will come over to their house and eat everything in the icebox, just to make it feel as if he’s still around. But like so many other moms, she’ll have to come to grips with the sad truth that parenting ain’t for sissies, and that you grow them up to leave and become independent, and then when they do, it sort of hurts your feelings in a way that’s weird. You almost feel guilty. You definitely feel sad. I did. Still do.  

He’s breaking his boots in this summer so they’ll be ready for – of course -- boot camp, all of July and August. And while he doesn’t mean to, at the same time he’s breaking a piece of the heart of the first and only sergeant he’s ever had – his momma’s. But even the part that’s broken is proud.