War memories

Friday, September 3, 2010

It has been half a century plus a decade since I went to Shady Nook School in the Ozarks over yonder for the first grade.

I have so many good memories about Shady Nook and my first year of school, which started, as I recall, shortly after the Fourth of July and let out eight months later with time off for Christmas and, of course, deer season.

One of my best memories is of my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Rayfield. She also taught second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades in the one-room school that turned into Shady Nook Church on Sundays and revival nights. That's the way things were as the 20th century passed its halfway mark.

Mrs. Rayfield was (still is) beautiful. I fell in love at first sight. Our "affair" got serious when Mrs. Rayfield started picking me up where our farm road met the blacktopped highway. She drove a new Ford coupe that smelled like it just came off the showroom floor. How different from the two-ton timber- and livestock-hauling flatbed truck that also served as our family car.

I remember recess at Shady Nook with its work-up softball games (everyone bats in rotation), Red Rover, hide-and-seek, cool drinks of water from the pump -- all brought to a halt by Mrs. Rayfield standing on the steps by the schoolhouse door ringing the bell that meant it was time to go back to the books.

I remember the library at Shady Nook, which was a large (to me) cabinet at the rear of the room crammed with shelves of books, including a set of World Book encyclopedias. A couple of years later a traveling salesman persuaded my mother, also a teacher in one-room schools, to purchase our very own set of World Books, most of which I read before I got to high school.

I remember the lunches at Shady Nook. I had store-bought lunchmeat on store-bought white bread with store-bought cookies in my lunchbox. Most everyone else had homemade sausage or ham or pork chops on homemade biscuits with homemade cinnamon rolls or mashed-potato candy. That's where I learned the art of bartering.

Another memory came to mind Tuesday evening as President Obama addressed the nation upon the conclusion of combat operations in Iraq. He tallied the terrible toll the war has taken in terms of lives lost and other casualties. He spoke of the millions of pieces of military equipment that had been sent to Iraq and now were being moved out of that country.

It made me think of those days during recess in the Shady Nook schoolyard when a rumble off to the east signaled the approach of huge convoys of military aircraft headed for some West Coast destination (I assumed) and then to Korea, where the U.S. was at war and where people I knew, like Bobby Tooke, were serving with other U.S. armed forces.

I actually had never met Bobby Tooke, but I grew up with his younger brother and sisters. I saw Bobby in full uniform in the framed photo proudly displayed in the Tooke living room.

Fifty years later I realize how little I understood then about what happens in a war or why we were fighting in the first place. With the president's announcement about the end of combat operations in Iraq, I realize now how little I understand about why we were fighting there.

Do I get another 60 years?

jsullivan@semissourian.com

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