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The Government Won't Wait

By Quiet Seagull




"The government won't wait!"  


Uncle Sam dashed down the steps barefoot and sprinted through the snow to the car,  a suitcase in one hand, a shirt, his suit coat and shoes in the other.  Pop followed, shoved me in the back seat, and started the car.  It sputtered and groaned  in the cold, morning air, but finally turned over.


The  narrow, empty street was a sheet of ice.  Pop drove slowly past the hospital, its spacious grounds glowing warm white in the low winter sun. Ice covered the trees, and icicles hung like silver daggers  from the  frozen branches and from the power lines, long, thick icy strands above the street. We drove around an occasional tree limb in the street.


"We'll make it," Pop said.


"Hope so.  I'd hate to start off AWOL," Sam said, with a nervous laugh.


"When will you get your gun?" I asked.  But Sam was preoccupied with his shoes.  So was Pop, with the icy streets.  


At Union Station, the nerve center of Texarkana, the great, black engines sprayed billows of steam along the platform, and the smell of burning coal gave that special feeling of adventure.  Black porters, in red jackets with brass buttons and striped trousers, rushed about, and uniformed soldiers lounged on the benches smoking or sleeping.  Duffel bags were scattered about singly. and in piles.


"Train number four on track number four," Sam read as he unfolded his induction notice which had arrived in the mail a week before.   Pop pointed, "There."


We hurried along the track to the end of a line of uniformed draftees slowly filing past a sergeant who checked them off on a clipboard.  He jerked his head as he barked to each one, "On board!" Sam extended the papers to the sergeant who glared over the clipboard at him, but did not touch the papers.


Sam cleared his throat.  "I’m supposed to be with Group 4, number four train."  The sergeant continued to stare at him  as he tore  the papers from Sam's outstretched hand.


"Where the hell have you been?"


"The streets were pretty icy.  Took a while to get here," Pop said.


The sergeant deliberately examined Pop.  "And who asked you?"


Pop met his gaze.  "Nobody.  I don't wait for permission to speak."


The sergeant turned back to Uncle Sam.  "And why the hell aren't you in uniform?"


"My brother's here to join the army,"  Pop said.


The sergeant turned to look Pop over from head to toe.  Pop asked quietly, "Do you want him or not?"


Sam tapped the sergeant's clipboard.  "Okay, what now?  I'm late.  Should I go home?"


"Go home?  You get your sorry ass through that door over there and get  into uniform private, on the double.  If you're not back here in 10 minutes, I'll  have you court-martialled."  He turned back to the line of soldiers.


"Good luck.  Keep a low silhouette,"  Pop said to Sam.


"Yeah, I will,"  Sam said.  Sam bolted off, but stopped.  He came back and gave me a big bear hug.  We watched him disappear through the door. 


Pop drove even more slowly on the way home.


"Where does Uncle Sam have to go?"


"Don't really know.  Maybe a training camp.  He'll write us."


"Can we go visit him?" 


"No.  He'll be too busy."


"What will he learn to do?"


"Be a soldier."


"Will he learn to kill people?"


We were passing the college.  The campus was deserted except for one young couple who strolled slowly and cautiously along a slippery sidewalk and  across the icy lawn holding hands.  Their breath made little icy puffs as they chatted.  She smiled a lot.  He didn't seem happy.  Pop gave them a long look, then answered me.


"Yes.  But he may not have to kill anybody.  Let's hope he doesn't."


"Will they give him a gun?"




"Can he bring it home?"


"No.  When the war's over, they have to turn all that stuff back in. 

Besides he won't need it when he comes home."


"But couldn't he use it to hunt?"


"No.  The guns the soldiers use aren't made for hunting."  Pop thought a

moment.  "When he comes back, he may not want to hunt any more."


"Why not?"


"Hard to say.  When the soldiers came back from France, some of them  didn't ever hunt again."


"Could Uncle Sam get killed?"


"All soldiers can get killed, but most of them don't.  Sam should be all

right.  He knows how to take care of himself."


"When will he come back?"


"When the war's over."


"When will that be?"


"When somebody wins?"


"Could the Japs win?"


"I don't think so."


"What would happen if they did?"


Pop was silent a long time.


"They won't.  Don't you worry about it.  We'll be fine.  Uncle Sam will

be fine.  We'll all be fine."


We pulled into our driveway.


"Can we get the shotgun down?"


"Why do you want to get the shotgun down?"


"I wanted to march like the soldiers."


Pop picked me up and set me on the porch.


"I sold the shotgun."


"But how can we go hunting?"


"We can still go hunting.  We just don't have to shoot anything."




"We'll still have fun.  I'll take you to the woods."


"But we can't shoot anything."


"That's okay.  I'll show you how to have more fun without shooting    anything."


I went off into the house, my lower lip protruding slightly.


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