Sunday, July 11, 2010

Time is a River, or Some Such Cliche

My latest conversations with my son Wally have reminded me of the changes that time will bring.

Friday night he said that he is giving serious consideration to enlisting in the Navy.  His main motivation for this is the steady paycheck and the possibility of career enhancement.  I don't have strong feelings either way about the military.  Some of my in-laws are absolute fanatics on the subject -- every week they send me multi-page emails about the honor, glory and sacrifice of our uniformed services, to the point where it sounds like a fetish.  But at the same time, I feel no ideological hostility toward those who choose the military as a profession.  I do, however, believe these same well-meaning individuals are often very badly used by those who employ them.  If you're going to send someone into a life-threatening situation, you had BETTER not skimp on armor and other supplies, and you had DAMN WELL better not neglect their special physical and psychological circumstances when they return home.  Letting veterans languish with PTSD, or lie forgotten on a urine-soaked mattress in a mold-infested hospital unit is beyond unacceptable.
 I'm horrified by the news stories I've heard about the fates of our enlisted since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began -- you'd think we'd have learned SOMETHING from Vietnam, but it appears the only change has been to throw a veil of secrecy over much of it and to muzzle the press.

The Navy is the branch of the service that I'm most familiar with, since my mother's brother and his son both enlisted.  The son went through Annapolis and ultimately became a commercial pilot.  He's now retired.  My father was in the Army, but he was a World War II draftee who slogged all over Europe in the band.  He made the best of it, but the captions on the backs of the pictures he sent home made it abundantly clear that he was not born to the soldier's life.

However, I probably need not worry about my son just yet.  His recent brushes with the law will slow down any such plans for awhile yet.  He can join up anytime he wants to, probably, but I don't think he wants to be a grunt.  He wants some options and they will be few if he jumps right in now.  I'm glad he hasn't given up on finishing college, despite all of his self-created setbacks.

Usually we have one conversation per week on average, but this weekend has seen a heightened amount of contact.  Wally's grandmother Bessie approaches her 89th birthday, but most likely will not reach it.  She took pains to stay in shape throughout most of her life, but the last 20 years have seen a slow decline.  This was precipitated by the death of her husband Al.  They were a cute and devoted couple.  He was every bit as shy and introverted as she was exuberant and playful.  There's a fairly extensive collection, in various family albums, of Bessie dressing Al up in silly costumes (like Tinkerbell) for parties at their retirement community.  When he passed away, she did her best to cope, but too soon we were visiting her in the hospital after yet another "accidental" fall and making arrangements for her to be transported here and there.  Florida's sunshine suited her psyche, but both her sons lived in far-flung, colder climates and to ensure her safety and well-being it was arranged for her to move closer to one of them, in the Rocky Mountain region.  Goodbye 80-degree temps most of the year, and goodbye old cronies.  This transition put nearly as much stress on her as widowhood, and she began going downhill pretty fast.

I have mostly good memories of Bessie.  When Doug and I first met, my relationship with my own parents was probably at its nadir and I was more than willing to "adopt" her as a surrogate parent.  There's some debate as to whether Bessie's perpetual cheer was genuine or a facade, but I thirsted for it at the time.  It was only years later that I began to detect the sarcasm and deliberate obtuseness that she used as weapons.  I also didn't appreciate the clear favoritism she showed toward Doug's older brother.  But she loved Wally, her one and only grandchild, unreservedly and unconditionally, and it distresses me somewhat that he has viewed her for some years now with a rather cynical eye.  I grew up with a lot of older people around me -- grandparents, uncles, aunts and neighbors.  This has not been true for Wally, who solidly identifies with his own generation and has little appreciation for us relics.  Bessie is the last grandparent he has; the other three all passed away before he turned two.

It will be interesting to see how (or if) Wally processes this passage.


Kay Dennison said...

I hope that Wally does choose the Navy! My daughter joined after she dropped out of college because "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up". I thought it took courage to admit that. I wish I'd had that when I was her age. She mostly liked it and spent 8 years in the Navy. I noticed a huge change in her after she completed basic --a confidence and pride I hadn't seen before. May the same happen for Wally -- and it will if he takes it seriously.

Volly said...

Thanks, Kay. I haven't given up hoping he will make something awesome and extraordinary out of his life. My parents had similar aspirations for me, but it's only now that I understand that.

Hope the week's been treating you OK.