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Throwback: Boomers and Iraq

This week a decade hence, Sue VanDerzee wrote about a heavy display put on by a local Quaker organization, and Betsy White Booz discusses parenting as a Baby Boomer. Come back next week for more Throwback Thursday! – Charles Kreutzkamp

A Reporter’s Notebook - Opening Our Eyes

Town Times (Middlefield, CT) - Friday, July 23, 2004

Somehow the simplest of objects can carry the most emotional weight. Just as shoes support our physical weight as we travel through our daily lives, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization, used shoes—and boots—to graphically illustrate the human cost of the conflict in Iraq.

Like the dirge for lost friends from Le Mis, “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables,” the 894 empty boots and the thousands of empty sneakers, oxfords, sandals etc. served as a visual dirge for the lost lives of American and coalition forces (the boots) and Iraqui citizens (all other shoes). Each pair of boots spread out on the lawn and in the sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Trinity on Main Street in Middletown this past Monday bore the name, age and hometown of a deceased soldier. The 14 pairs of boots resting on the church steps were dedicated to Connecticut’s lost soldiers. Next to the pile of “ordinary shoes” on the lawn was a placard with the numbers, places and times of death of Iraqui casualties—as close as citizens of this country can get to naming the Iraqui dead.

The display, which was the idea of an AFSC group in Chicago, is traveling around the country attempting to educate people on the “hidden and human costs” of the war in Iraq. The display was on the mall in Washington, DC on Memorial Day and in Philadelphia on July 4. Currently, it is on its way to Boston for the Democratic convention, and a Hartford Quaker group made arrangements for several Connecticut stops on the way, including Monday’s in Middletown. Also included in the display are large panels with the recent history of Iraq and financial statistics on the amount of money spent by different countries on defense and weaponry.

Adding to the imagery at the Middletown site, as well as several other Connecticut sites, was a “wall” of American casualties with pictures, names, ages, hometowns and places of death for those killed in the war. Reminiscent of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC or the spontaneously created victims’ wall of names at the World Trade Center after September 11, 2001, the several large panels pictured too many young and hopeful faces—faces who will no longer need those hundreds of military boots, achingly young faces.

This reporter visited the display at about 6:30PM and stayed for an intense and moving program at 7PM with about two dozen others, a turnout which seemed wildly disappointing given the costs of this conflict. However, Meg Scata, the local coordinator of the event, seemed undetered, pointing out that between 200 and 300 people had visited the display during the day and signed messages of support for non-violence in Iraq.

One speaker, Chris Ducette of the Hartford branch of the Catholic Workers, told of his nine visits to Iraq, the last in 2003, and stated simply, “Iraq is where we come from” referring to its central position in the history of mankind from its very beginnings. He detailed a little of the interlocking history of the US and Iraq, noting ironically that “We sold Hussein anthrax and helicopters to use it” in the 1980s. He painted a picture of a stable society with the highest standard of living, the highest literacy rate, free public education through college and excellent medical care—the Iraq he first knew in the 1980s—contrasted with the beaten, impoverished Iraq of sanctions and war that he saw in his last visit. He added, “Iraq in the 1980s had no civil liberties. Most Iraquis are glad that Hussein is gone, but if the price is no jobs and no services, illness and hunger, they begin to wonder ‘How come this superpower can’t fix what was broken in the fighting?’”

Scata urged anyone who is interested in the continuing quest for peace to come to a local meeting of Connecticut United for Peace held every third Sunday from 2-4PM at the Church of the Holy Trinity on Main Street in Middletown.

What Were They Thinking?

Town Times (Middlefield, CT) - Friday, July 23, 2004

Baby Boomers as parents are an interesting lot. Just as we stretch over a pretty wide span of birthday years, 1946-1964, so, too, does the age that many of us got married. Another one of those “break out of the mold” type things, some of us married early—say around 18 or 19—many in their 20s, lots in their 30s, even others in their 40s.

The same is true of when we had our kids. For example, between the three of us who write this column, the oldest is a grandmother, the youngest is soon to be one, while the one in the middle (that would be me) still has a kid with a couple more years of high school. One need only go to a school or community function to look around and see that the ones toting babies—their own babies—can be almost any age these days, gray hair notwithstanding!

My mother was 24 when she got married, and she had two kids—the first at age 26 and the second at 27. I was 30 when I got married, and I had my two kids at ages 32 and 35. Since my mother died when I was 29, I never had the wisdom of her advice as I raised my kids. My “default” solution has often been to think, “When my mother was my age, I would’ve been such-and-such an age,” and then I retrieve a memory and try to apply it to the situation. The older my kids have gotten, the more valuable this exercise has proven to be—and the more I’ve realized how either BRAVE or CRAZY my parents were in this whole kid-rearing thing.

Take my oldest child, now in college. When we were going through the whole college-picking, visiting and decision thing for him, I recalled that I chose a college for myself that was 3,000 miles away from home—with nary a thought about the worry this cost my parents. I was not as generous with my offspring; I told him that a plane ride could not be in the college equation. I just didn’t want him that far away.

I drove across the country with a friend when I was 19. We hung out in San Francisco, camped out in Yellowstone, rode horses in the Grand Tetons, stayed with friends of my brother’s in Colorado. It was great! I made the return trip west by myself a year later—and several other times too, back and forth across the country in my little Datsun B-210 station wagon, all by myself. Call it oblivion or whatever, but I didn’t worry a bit about what troubles might befall me, although I’m sure my parents did. And how did I feel about my son planning a similar trip this summer? I was terrified! (P.S. It didn’t happen.)

When I look back on some of my other youthful adventures (like my first time hitchhiking, in South Africa, for heaven’s sake!), I think about the freedom (and, yes, indulgences at times) that my parents gave me, and I reflect, what were they thinking to allow me to do this stuff? We may say that things are more precarious and the world is a scarier place these days, but it’s really just a matter of degrees, isn’t it? I’m sure our parents feared equally for us, and the hazards that could befall us back then seemed just as real and threatening.

My older son goes to college in Vermont now, and he decided he wanted to work up there this summer instead of coming home. I understood his need to be off on his own, but it made me sad because I just assumed he’d be here at least one more summer. Then I thought back to my teens. At my own choosing, I never spent a summer home after the age of nine. Those summers away from home provided me with a wealth of treasured memories and lifetime friendships, but I know my parents missed me. And out of sight is not out of mind when you’re a parent, no matter what age your child.

So when my friend with the adopted five-year-old recently called me with fears for her daughter’s impending entry into kindergarten, looking for reassurance, she said—as she has at other critical points in her young daughter’s life, “This is tough; it gets easier, right?” I laughed, grateful that I’m not in her shoes. But then I thought about the shoes I am in—and I did the usual look-back exercise. I thought that when my mother was my age, her kids were college graduates, out in the world, on their own. The tough part was past for her, right? It was more relaxing now, yes? Who was I kidding? And I realized, it doesn’t get easier—it just changes.

So I look at my 50-something friends with toddlers and my 50-something friends with grandchildren and my 50-something friends who are right where I am, and I take comfort in the memories of my youth, the memories of my parents—and their support and caring which, even today, helps me.

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