I just couldn’t find an answer

Published 4:11pm Monday, November 15, 2010

In a personal remembrance for Veterans Day I repeat this column, written five years ago. The thoughts and emotion expressed are shared with all who pray for the safety of a loved one serving in the military, and who eagerly await their return:

My first-born grandson came home this week after five months in Iraq and Kuwait. His companions on the chartered Delta flight were the 50 members of his Patriot Missile Company. Their destination was Fort Bliss, but Atlanta was the first stopover, and from there he telephoned his dad, my son David.

As reported to me by David, Alec’s first comment was “We came off the plane together, still in our uniforms, all grungy and dirty, and all the people in the airport rushed over, gathered around us and cheered and clapped and thanked us. It sure felt good.”

His next remarks concerned the flight: “Dad, you know our plane was air-conditioned. First time I’ve been cool in five months. The seats were so comfortable I went to sleep. And you should have seen the meal they served us — wonderful!”

My grandson, in addition to learning how to stay alive in a hostile country, also learned to appreciate the everyday luxuries we take for granted over here. The one regret he voiced is leaving all his books at a base camp when his unit moved forward. “I know I’ll never get them back.” He is a great reader so books are precious to him.

Never mind, the entire family is selecting books to give him next month on his birthday, especially his Aunt Lisa, who is a librarian in Memphis, Tenn. and has the capability of finding replacements for his lost library.

I’ve spoken with him twice since he returned and he sounds little different from the young man who has had such an important role in my life since the day he arrived, a Bicentennial baby born not quite on the Fourth of July. He was slightly more than a year old the summer of the death of my husband. His bright smile, the words he was learning to speak and his affectionate hugs helped assuage our grief and heal our aching hearts.

He was constantly on my mind and in my heart and my prayers while he was in Iraq. I never pass Byrd School without remembering when he was a student there. I can’t recall how many games of football, soccer and baseball I watched him play, or how many books I read to him, sitting in the side porch swing.

Shortly after the fourth grade, Alec moved with his mother and stepfather to Nashville and a new school system. Being a strong supporter of our Selma public schools I was confident that Alec would have no problem academically or in making new friends. The friends came easily as soon as they discovered his athletic talents. Academically, a few weeks of make-up work and tutoring were needed. Soon Alec was bringing home his usual good grades, but the restoration of his self-confidence took longer.

He telephoned one evening and told me about “having to catch up with my class.” He was upset, the usual happy tone missing from his voice. I attempted to console him, “It’s not your fault that Alabama’s schools are a little bit behind your new one.”

“But why are they behind?” he insisted.

I had no answer. You cannot expect a small boy, even one grown tall, to understand inadequate funding, misplaced priorities and the fact that politics take precedence over the welfare of our children.

When I marked my ballot on Nov. 2 I thought of a little boy who knew that “almost as good is not good enough.”

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