Wednesday morning, Mandy got off to school, and Vic’s ride to Pocatello showed up shortly after that. It looked to be a good day for traveling – chilly as usual, but only partly cloudy, and expected to warm up into the mid-40s. In fact, high pressure was establishing itself over the Magic Valley area, ushering in several days without either rain or snow predicted..

   Greg, Alice and Chuck treated themselves to second cups of coffee and a little conversation, before Greg announced that he should get out to the refuge. Chuck said he would be out a little later, and would plan to stay until Friday evening.

   At the refuge, Greg boosted the heat in the office and residences, checked the weather station, and went through the recent mail. There was an envelope from Fish and Game, with the hunting season report and a note from Todd. He skimmed through the report, noting the obvious: not many very good hunting days, a major decline in hunting activity as the season progressed, and mallards the preponderant species shot. He spent more time on Todd’s comments. Todd and a couple of his check station crew had managed to get to the hunt area during one of the less stormy January days, had taken down the rest of the hunting area signs, removed a little bit of trash, and generally cleaned up the area. Obviously, the weather had not cooperated for a good hunt season, but he had checked back through previous reports, and found that they seldom had much hunter  use, or much success, after Christmas. He had recommended to his bosses that they close up shop every year at the start of Christmas vacation. (He thought that would be approved.) He also suggested they consider hunting only three days a week, but he doubted that would get the nod. (The State had always committed themselves to maximum opportunity for hunters, but assuring only quantity, not quality.)

   Chuck hadn’t appeared yet, so Greg decided he would drive through the refuge, and see if any changes were obvious. On the way out of town, he had seen more ducks and geese in the farm fields than he had seen on his last trip, and there were more small flocks of songbirds moving through the sagebrush. On his drive through the refuge, he caught a glimpse of two coyotes running in the distance, and waited for a few moments while a porcupine took its time crossing the road ahead of him. Warmer daytime temperatures were obviously waking the uplands, but the below freezing nights still had all the water areas locked in their icy covers. The owl roost still had a few birds, but the majority seemed to have moved on.

   Chuck was in the office when Greg returned, talking on the phone to someone in the Regional Office. Nothing important, apparently, just someone in Personnel checking on Tim’s status. Both then spent their time on miscellaneous chores until quitting time.

   “Come on over after a bit,” Chuck invited. “Allie sent a bunch of food with me, and we can share if you like.”

   “Okay, but I know it’s just you leading into my next massacre at checkers.”

   Chuck smiled. “No, it isn’t. The massacre part is just a side benefit.”

  They did get together later, shared a nice lasagna, and played a couple games of checkers – the usual massacre ensued. Chuck had brought the day’s papers with him from town, and they sat and read for a while.

   “It says here that there was a major plane crash in Japan,” Greg read. “133 dead, no survivors – says it might be the world’s worst aircraft disaster, involving only one plane.”

   “Bad luck. Didn’t we have a big one in England last fall – supposed to be the biggest, or second biggest air disaster in British history?”

   “I remember that. I guess with the thousands of flights every day around the world, and the hundreds of thousands of people flying, it’s still considered a fairly safe way to travel. Unfortunately, when they do have a problem, it’s always a really big one.”

   “Here’s another plane crash of a different kind,” said Chuck. “That Idaho realtor who was going to run for Congress, died when he crashed his plane yesterday.  At first they thought he had messed up, trying to land at an airport. Now it seems he was flying cross-country toward Spokane, ridge hopping to stay under the bad weather, and he clipped a powerline that took one wing off his plane. Another guy was in the plane with him. Both dead.”

    “Yeah. Unfortunately, those types of crashes are pretty common. Mostly pilot error, but not always inexperienced ones. Sometimes taking too many risks, sometimes just bad luck.

   “I see a pretty famous  person died – Gilbert Grosvenor. He edited ‘National Geographic’ magazine from 1899 to 1954 – man, that is a long time to be editor! - and has been chairman of the Society since 1954. Pretty famous, and influential around the world. He was 90, and lived in Nova Scotia.”

   “Well, here’s a little more foreign news,” Chuck said. “All the way from the moon. British scientists released the first pictures available from the Russian space vehicle they landed on the moon. I guess the Russians are a little miffed that the Brits are showing the photos, and describing them to the world, before the Russians did.”

   “Tough. Yeah, I’ve got that story in the Burley paper, too. The big news, I guess, is that the photos disprove the idea that the moon is covered in a layer of dust many feet deep. The dust seems to only be a few inches deep.”

   “Well, that’s good to know.”

   “True, and here’s the quote about what the moon really looks like: ‘A dusty and rocky surface dotted with lunar pebbles and craters as small as an average dinner plate.’ That could be a description of our refuge, except there’s no water.”

   ‘Yeah, I guess I’m in no hurry to move there,” opined Chuck.

   They read in silence for a while. “Here’s one about Viet Nam,” said Chuck. “The Senate is holding hearings on the Government policy toward Viet Nam. They’ve asked the Secretary of Defense and others from the Pentagon to testify, but McNamara and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs both refuse if it’s an open session, that the public can attend.”

   “I’ve got the same story in the Burley paper. Senator Morse, from Oregon, says he will boycott any closed sessions about Viet Nam, and suggests – here’s the quote in the paper – ‘the American people are being led a long way down the road of government by secrecy.’ He says ‘the American people are entitled to have the secretary of defense on the public record.’

   “And it’s not just the Democrats up in arms. Clifford Case, who’s a Republican from New Jersey says he agrees completely with Wayne Morse.”

   “Yeah, the Twin Falls version says the same thing. I guess the main reason for the hearings is that the administration is asking for $275 million more aid for South Viet Nam. Senator Fullbright, of the committee, says that would bring our costs to Viet Nam – for just this fiscal year! – to almost $16 billion! That’s more than your and my paychecks, combined.”

   Greg laughed. “I would say so.” Then: “Oh, crap! Excuse me. I didn’t mean to say that.”

   “What did you see?”

   “In the section of the Twin Falls paper you just gave me, there’s an editorial on the draft. It sounds like Vic could have written it.”

   “Really? Is it about her letter?”

  “No, I don’t think so. It’s just covering some of the same kind of ground. Let me read it all, before I talk about it.” He read in silence for a couple of minutes. “Okay, the editorial is called ‘Unfair Draft.’ First, they talk about Selective Service planning to change the rules about education deferrals. Freshmen could lose their exemption if they rank below 50% of their classmates, sophomores have to be in the upper two-thirds of their class, and juniors in the upper three-quarters. So, you’ve had to get a deferral, but at least you know where you stand. No, you don’t! Sorry, student, you didn’t make the educational requirement, so you’re in the Army, now. Maybe you can come back and finish up after the war! The editorial asks, how many of those drafted under such circumstances will ever return to universities? They don’t give any answer, obviously, but they don’t make it sound too hopeful.

   “There’s another little twist here that I don’t understand. Under the new proposed rules, not only would you have to keep your  position within your class, but you’d also have to take and pass some ‘special test.’ It sounds like another way of saying ‘you’re in the Army, now!’

   “Okay, the next point is one that Vic brought up. We have thousands of men in the Army Reserves and National Guard, all trained and ready in case we have a ‘national emergency.’ Apparently, some of these forces were called up during the Korean War, but almost none have had to go to Viet Nam, so far. Instead, we’re pulling immature, untrained kids out of school, while the already highly trained troops are sitting around, waiting for some ‘emergency!’  The editorial writer also points out that getting people better educated has been one of the national priority programs for some time – just apparently not as important as using those potential scholars as potential ‘cannon fodder!’ My term, not theirs.

   “Finally, they take a little stab at all the young men who seem to escape the draft, while those really trying to get an education are caught. They talk about all the guys racing up and down the streets in their cars, and about the ‘young thugs’ and ‘beatniks’ who seem invulnerable. That may be a little over the top, and prejudicial, considering they also cite the so-called ‘beatniks’ as those who are out picketing. One point they do make that is probably true is that few college athletes are being drafted. As they write, ‘Athletes capable of absorbing a fearsome beating every weekend somehow come up with freak knees or bad backs that make them ineligible for military service.’

   “I think what it comes down to is that, like most human endeavors, the system pays a lot more attention to the effects of money, prestige, and popularity than it does to long-term good.”

   Greg tossed the paper aside. “Well, that’s pretty discouraging, but I guess it’s good that somebody is pointing out the problems and inequities.”

   Chuck put down his paper, too. “You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about your letter. You and Vic did a great job with it. It’s really well thought out, and put together. I hope it gets some attention.”

   “Thanks, Chuck, but don’t give me a lot of credit for the letter. That is entirely a Vic product. We’ve talked a lot about Viet Nam and the draft this past year – so we have shared ideas. But she sat down and wrote that entire letter by herself. I was working, and didn’t see it until she had finished it.”

   “Really? Well, I’ve always known she was a smart kid, but that shows real talent. You didn’t even help her edit the final product?”

   “I didn’t. We had just one discussion about possible content, but that was before she even started to write. She wondered about bringing up the subject of drafting women. It’s a legitimate topic, I think. Many countries have women in their military, often in battle situations. Our stance has always been that we have to protect our fragile womenfolk from ‘the horrors of war.’

   “Now, we weren’t talking about any letter at that point. We were just discussing, if we had to have a draft, what would be the recommendations? I thought we shouldn’t include it – at least in any early discussions – because I thought it would be the thing that almost everybody would home in on, and everything else would maybe get lost in the emotion and rhetoric of that one touchy topic. She seemed to agree with that, and the subject didn’t show up in what she eventually wrote.”

   “I think you were probably right about that. Women in the military is kind of a taboo subject in America.”

   “That’s right, and the other concern was that we were thinking in terms of why we shouldn’t have any draft. So, why muddy up the conversation with more hypotheticals?”

   “Good point. So, what do you think will come of all this?”

   “Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t even know what to hope for. What I do know is that it’s a good enough discussion that – if it caught the attention of the right people at the right moments – it might really provoke a meaningful discussion.”


   Nothing significant occurred on the job Thursday or Friday, and Chuck left for town at quitting time. The office phone rang just as Greg was getting ready to go home.

   “Greg, it’s Alice.”

   “Hi. You just missed Chuck. He’s already headed your way.”

   “That’s good, but I really wanted to talk to you. I got an inquiry from a newspaper about Vic’s article.”

   “Wow. Well, that was a quick response. I hoped we’d get something, but not so soon. Did you tell Vic?”

   “No, that’s why I was calling. I gave the reporter her dorm phone number, and said the best chances to get her were evenings and weekends, but I didn’t know if that’s how I should handle future calls. I thought maybe you should call her, and make plans. You know you can go in the house and use our personal phone any time you like, since you can’t call her on the government phone. She can also call you and reverse the charges, if she knows when you’ll be in the house.”

   “Thanks, Alice. I think it would be good for Vic and I to strategize a little bit more. I’ll try to get her this evening.”

   “Oh, good. Let me know if you decide anything different for the future.”

   “Will do. Thanks, again.”


   Greg called Vic’s dorm that evening, after he thought women would be through with dinner and back in their rooms. He heard the phone answerer yell “Vic,” and a few moments later Vic was on the line.

   “Hi, Greg. I didn’t expect to hear from you. Is everything okay?”

   “Sure, everything’s fine. I’m calling – besides for the obvious reason of hearing your voice – because your mom got a call from a newspaper reporter, wanting to talk to you about your letter.”

   There was a silence on the line. “Really, already? I guess that’s good – what we wanted – but it’s a little scary for me, too. What did mom tell the reporter?”

   “Just what we agreed on – your dorm phone number, and the suggestion that they would most easily reach you in the evening or on a weekend. That’s part of the reason for this call – to talk about anything we might want to do differently, for future calls.”

   “If there are any.”

   “Oh, with this quick a reaction, I think there will be more. That’s why I thought we should talk. The only thing different that came to my mind is that we could give them your dorm mail address. Then, if they had time they could take before they saw you, you could maybe arrange a more specific time or place.”

   “That sounds okay. One thing that’s going to bother me about all this is standing here in the hall, with other girls wanting to use the phone, or just listening in. Maybe, if there was a specific time for a call or a visit, Mrs. M would let me take the call from her apartment.”

   “That’s a good idea. I’ll tell your mom what we talked about. How are things, otherwise?”

   “I got all registered. Pretty much the same classes at the same times as last term. The only difference is I have a psychology class, instead of sociology. It’s another general ed requirement.

   “I decided to take another term of swimming as my P.E. elective. I think I’m making some pretty good progress, and it’s kind of fun wearing a bathing suit at an indoor heated pool, while the temperature outside is about 10 degrees.”

   Greg laughed. “Well, my lovely Victoria, I better not run your parents’ phone bill up too high. Oh, your mom said you could call me here, collect, any time you needed to. We’d have to figure out some way for me to be around at logical times. Of course, your dad is here Monday through Thursday, and I’m often around eating, talking, or being destroyed at checkers. You could probably catch me at this time of evening most days. On Friday and on the weekends, I could just plan to spend an hour in the house about this time of day, so you could call if you wanted to.”

   “That sounds good. I better go. I have others waiting to use the phone. I love you!:


   Greg called Alice, and told her about the call, including the news about Vic’s course schedule. Alice reported that she had already received two more inquiries from reporters. It was beginning to look like the letter was making an impression.


   Greg drove to town Saturday morning, did his grocery shopping, and had lunch with the Andersons. There hadn’t been any more phone calls from reporters, but there were half a dozen letters from congressional types. Greg opened them to read. All were of the “thank you for writing; we’re always glad to hear from constituents” type.

   “I guess this is about what I expected from the politicians, and is probably what most people get when they follow that age-old advice to ‘write your congressman.’ These are just form letters sent out by staffers. The bosses probably hadn’t read the enclosure. Well, it was a long shot, but there still might be some real responses, particularly if there is more publicity in the papers – like, more letters to the editor, written by people who read the first story.

   “Alice, why don’t you look at these as they come in, but just send the ones on to Vic  - or tell me about the ones - that have some substance to them. I’m going to try and call her tomorrow night, so I’ll tell her about this batch.”

   Before he headed back to the refuge, Greg took some time to talk to Mandy about school. “It’s pretty crazy,” she said. “Most of my classmates are acting like we’ve already graduated, and this is just a few months of play time. The teachers will be nuts by the end of the term.”

  “I think you’re probably right, but I think the teachers have been through this enough times that they know the symptoms. Your classmates are suffering from a malady called ‘Senioritis.’”


   ‘Yes, a common affliction suffered by those in their final year of high school, characterized by decreased motivation to do school work. There is only one cure – graduation – but, when that occurs, the disease magically disappears.”

   “Senioritis, huh? Well, that explains a lot.”

   “You’re talking about your classmates. I assume you haven’t exhibited any symptoms?”

   “Of course not! You know how serious I am about everything.”

   “Yes, I do.”


   Greg was able to connect with Vic on Sunday evening. “I wanted to let you know that we got two more inquiries from news reporters.”

   “I know. I’ve already talked to all three of them.”

   “You have? How did it go?”

   “After the first two, I was feeling pretty disappointed. I didn’t get the feeling that either reporter had seriously read my letter. They pretty much just wanted background on me, and both came across as if they were trying to answer the question, ‘Why is this young woman so interested in war, when she should be off with her friends listening to the Top 40, talking about boys, and comparing new shades of lipstick?’”

   Greg chuckled. “I guess I should have anticipated the ‘human interest’ angle – kind of pathetic, when you want to be serious, but maybe they won’t all be like that.”

   “Well, in fairness to them, one did ask me a question about the letter. ‘Do you really want your father to be drafted?’”

   “Oh, no. She didn’t!”

   “Oh, yes, she did. I tried to explain that I didn’t want anybody drafted, but that seemed to be well beyond her.”

   “Well, love, you said you were discouraged after two of the interviews. Does that mean the third one was better?”

  “The third was lovely. It was clear that he had really read the whole letter, and had given it some serious thought. He had a number of questions about why I thought the draft was slavery, but he asked them really nicely, like he was really trying to understand me.

   “Then, we talked quite a while about the recommendations for improving the draft – if we had to have one at all. He didn’t agree or disagree with anything I said, but he was clearly trying to understand my rationale. I enjoyed it – a lot!”

   “That’s great – what I hoped would happen. If he writes a story about his interview with you, it should provoke more ‘letters to the editor,’ both for and against your ideas. That’s super!”

   “I thought so, too, but it’s exhausting, trying to keep up with a really good reporter. It’s a lot better, however, than spending my time with somebody who feels my greatest goal in life should be to decide which shade of lipstick I like the best.”

   “I imagine. Oh, I was also going to tell you that we got a bunch of congressional responses. Unfortunately, they were all just form letter ‘thank yous.’ Probably, none of the addressees had actually read the letter, yet. That’s disappointing, but also not unexpected. We may still get a real response from one of them.”

   “I’m really tired, Greg. This has been a tough couple days for me. I think I’ll get off the phone, and go to bed, now.

   “Oh, but I did want to ask you one question. We hadn’t talked about Valentine’s Day, but I wondered if you might be planning some kind of surprise for me.”

   “I seem to remember that you don’t especially relish surprises.”

   “That’s true, but I do love to see you, under any circumstances. However, if you were planning something that involved coming up here, you better forget it. It’s been really lovely here the last two days, but our weather report is for snow – a lot of it – every day from now through Valentine’s. We could really be pretty much snowbound. I don’t want you thinking about driving up here.”

   “I wouldn’t. You know me and snowy roads, but thanks for the warning. I don’t think we’re supposed to get anything like that down here. I don’t think there’s even snow predicted.”

   “No, I think we’re kind of on the edge of a massive Rocky Mountain storm, that is going to stay pretty much in southeast Idaho.”

   “Well, to be completely honest, I hadn’t even thought about a Valentine’s day visit, regardless of the weather. What I had been thinking about was coming up the following weekend, if you think you could stand to see me.”

  “I would love to see you then, but I can’t guarantee we would stay ‘standing’ for long after you get here.”

   “That sounds okay to me.”


   The first Tuesday of the new school term brought Vic an unexpected surprise. It came in her political science class, taught by the same professor she had in the previous term.

   “Those of you who have had previous classes with me know that I will have a general plan about what I expect to accomplish with you this semester. You also know that I have been known to get ‘distracted’ by other events, and may peregrinate off in other directions when I see something that I think is worth covering.”

   Vic couldn’t help smiling, as she remembered her introduction to the word “peregrinate” in a far distant context.  (Greg, what are you doing? I am peregrinating.) At the same time, a student asked what the term meant.

   The teacher had noticed her smile of recognition. “Miss Anderson, you seem to know the word. Can you explain?”

   She hoped she was far enough away from him that he couldn’t see her blushing. “It means to travel from place to place, like the peregrine falcon. I think it usually refers to actual travel – going places, physically, but you’re talking about your mind exploring, not your feet.”

   “Very good. Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. The thing that incites me to peregrinate today is a letter to the editor about Selective Service, and the military draft.”

   “Oh, my god!” Nancy muttered, loud enough for most of the class to hear. She looked over at Vic, who tried to signal that she should keep her mouth shut.

   “Miss Anderson, Miss Williams, is there something you want to share with the class?”

   Vic forced herself to stand up. “I’m sorry, Professor. I seem to be a disruption this morning. Nancy just remembered something that we really need to talk about, but not here, obviously. I really do want to hear what you’re going to say about the draft. It’s something that affects me very personally. Again, I’m really sorry.”

   “Thanks, apology accepted. And what you said about the draft affecting you personally is why I want to talk about it, here. Probably just about every male is this room is draft eligible, and draft-vulnerable. Probably every woman in the class has family, friends, or special loved ones who will be affected by the draft. It’s important that you know about it. So, let’s talk.

   “As I said, there’s a letter to the editor, apparently published in quite a few papers around the country, that I think is worth analyzing. She – the writer – is very clear about what she thinks about the draft – it isn’t good! She thinks it’s unconstitutional and immoral. Even so, she goes on to explain in detail how – if there had to be a draft – it could be made a lot better, both militarily and humanely. Her personal stake is that her boyfriend – actually, I think she says fiancé – is vulnerable, and he doesn’t want anything to do with either the military or Viet Nam. That could make this a ‘why do our lives have to be disrupted by this?’ letter. It is, but more than that, it’s a very thoughtful, very well researched question about why should anybody be subjected to it.

   “So, starting off, can somebody explain what the draft is, and how you become eligible?”

   There wasn’t any immediate show of hands, but finally one student volunteered to begin.

   “There isn’t always a draft, but every guy in the country, when he turns 18, has to register with the Selective Service. Then, your name is on file if they do start up a draft.”

   “You have to register when you turn 18?”

   “Yeah, it’s the law. If you don’t, you could go to jail.”

   “Okay, you’re registered, and they call a draft. What does that mean to you?”

   “It means that if my name gets selected I have to go into the Army.”

   “Thanks, that’s a good start. Okay, somebody else. How does your name get selected for the draft?”

   Another hand went up. “I think it’s all up to your local draft board. Each board is assigned a quota, based I guess of the size of their register. I don’t know exactly what technique they use -  I think it varies with every draft board – but first they see how many volunteers they have. Then, they go to their register and pull out enough additional names to meet the rest of their quota. They send out the famous ‘greetings’ letters, have the selectees get a medical exam, and then interview them each individually.”

   “What kinds of things do they ask them?”

   “Well, I think that’s part of the problem people have with the draft. Those on the board are all locals, and I guess some have been on the selection committee for, like, 100 years. Some say that decisions are made on things like, is your daddy the bank president who doesn’t want you in the army, or are you just some local farm kid that they don’t know. In other words, unless you have some serious health or medical problem that would disqualify you, there’s no real way to guess if you’ll be picked.”

   “That doesn’t sound very good but, from what I know, I think you may be accurate. So, anyway, they’re going to select somebody. Do they begin with the 18 year olds, or…?”

   “No. Actually, I don’t think they can draft you if you’re only 18. You have to register then, but they can’t actually pick you until you’re at least 19.”

   “So, do they just call one age group at a time?”

  “No.  They  include everybody from 18 to 26, I think.”

  “Do they take into account the actual ages of the selectees?”

  “I’m not positive, but I don’t think it so. Again, some draft boards might, and some might not.”

  “Okay, thanks. Somebody else. If your name is selected, can you get out of going?”

  One of the women responded to that. “My boyfriend and I have looked into that pretty deeply. I guess the answer is, yes, it’s possible, but it isn’t easy, and just about anything you try has the potential to be worse than just going.”

   “Can you give us some examples of how one might get out of being drafted?”

   “Well, as I said, it isn’t easy. I guess maybe the most surefire way is what Jim just mentioned - if you had some medical condition that the Army doctors agreed made you unfit for duty. I think it used to be that if you were married, you might escape, but I think they’ve really tightened up on that. Now, with the draft, the only difference between being married or unmarried is whether you’re saying goodbye for two years to your husband or your boyfriend.

   “I think maybe married with kids is still a valid excuse not to go, but I’m not sure about that. There are some things to delay the draft, like you can get a deferment to finish school, but that just means you finish school and have to serve your two years, then.”

   “Anybody else with ideas?”

   Another student spoke up. “I know the Army won’t take you if you’re a homosexual, but announcing that to the world may be worse for your future than just biting the bullet and going to war. There may still be some states – maybe in the South – where just announcing it could land you in jail.”

   “Isn’t there something about not believing in war, or in killing people?” asked another woman.

   “I think you mean conscientious objection,” replied the instructor. “Yes, that has been a possibility in past drafts, and I guess it’s still possible, now. However, I think Selective Service is a lot more hard-headed about it, now.

   “It used to be that you could be exempted if you could really explain to a draft board why you have the anti-war beliefs you do. I think they have to be religious reasons – I mean, associated with the teachings of some particular church. There has been talk in recent years about moral justifications that have to do with your upbringing outside of a church – I think it may even have been talked about at the Supreme Court – but the Selective Service is still hanging tough to religious training.

   “Even so, that won’t get you completely out of the draft, but you could get assigned to a non-combat role – like assisting in a military hospital, or doing administrative paperwork. Some draftees objected to even that, because they still felt they were supporting the war. There used to be one more possibility for a conscientious objector - you could be assigned to two years of non-military work that supported the country in other ways, like working for the Forest Service. I don’t know if that option exists, anymore. As has been said a couple of times today, I think the Administration is trying to get rid of a lot of former escape valves.

   “Even when you get off from active fighting, you’re seldom really ‘free.’  Like declaring yourself a homosexual, being considered not patriotic, or being a draft dodger, could haunt you your whole life, and affect how people treat you, who is willing to hire you, and so forth.

   “So, what happens if your name gets called, and you say you won’t serve?”

   “I think you go to war, or go to jail,” said one of the students who had spoken earlier.

   “I think you may be right. Now, we’re just about out of time, but I’d like to pick this up again on Thursday, at the point where the writer declares that the draft is not only immoral and unconstitutional, but is actually a form of slavery. I’ve copied out that part of her letter, so grab one of these sheets on your way out. Read it, and think about it, and we’ll talk about it next session.”


   “That was pretty weird,” said Nancy, as they left the classroom. “You didn’t want him to know you wrote the letter?”

   “Not yet, anyway. It was a good discussion, and it was about the letter, not about me. Two out of the three interviews I’ve had so far have been more about why this young chick is more interested in war than about trying on spring dresses with her friends. Greg says everybody likes ‘human interest,’ but we want to talk about the draft, not about what some young woman thinks.”

   “Yeah, I can see that. Are you eventually going to tell he?”

   “I think I will after the next class. The word may get out, anyway, if one of the local papers picks up the story. I’d just like to be the one deciding where the discussion goes.”


   Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, three more reporters got in touch with Vic. One was from one of the bigger newspapers they had contacted, and Vic thought the interview was very good. The reporter obviously knew what the letter was about, and asked some good questions. He asked if he might contact her again, if he needed to. She said yes.

   The other two interviews were brief, and the reporters didn’t seem to want to know much more than where she was born, where she was living, how old she was, and where she was going to school. She didn’t have much hope for articles generated by those two.

   On Thursday, Ruth – one of the women from her “church hopper” group – caught up with Vic just as they got to the classroom. Ruth was clearly excited. “Vic, this is about you!”

   Vic tried to adopt a blank look. “What about me, Ruth?”

   “The class. The letter. You’re the writer!” Ruth paused for a moment, as Vic gave no sign of understanding. “Vic, I heard you on the phone last night, talking to a reporter.”

   Vic nodded. “Okay, I confess. But can you keep it to yourself until after class?”

   “But why?”

   Vic led her a little way from the class door. “Because I’d like this discussion to be about the war and the draft, like Tuesday’s was - not about me. If everybody knows I wrote the letter, then suddenly the discussion is going to be all about me.”

   Ruth looked skeptical. “Look, Ruth, I’ve had several interviews with reporters, so far. Only two of them really wanted to talk about the subject of the letter. The others just asked questions about me. You know, like why was I so interested in war when I should be doing normal girl stuff with my friends – like talking about boys, or trying new makeup.”

   Ruth still looked uncertain. “Look, I’m going to tell the teacher right after class but, please, can I stay anonymous for just one more hour?”



   “Okay, let’s get right back into the letter,” the teacher began. “The letter writer believes that the way the military draft is being handled is a form of slavery for the young men who might be called. If so, it wouldn’t be just morally wrong, but probably unconstitutional. You know, the Constitution guarantees us all ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ Is she right?”

  One male student spoke up. “Isn’t that a little strong? I mean, slaves were like property. They didn’t have any rights, and there wasn’t anything they could do to help themselves.”

    “But isn’t that just what she said about the draft?” This came from a woman. “With very few exceptions, isn’t every male between – what is, 18 and 26? – kind of a captive of the draft board? All he can do is wait – put his life on hold – until he is actually called, or until he passes the age limit. That’s more than five years in which he can’t do anything to help himself, and he doesn’t even know how much of that time he will be in complete ignorance of where he stands. He can’t get off the list.”

   “But he could enlist, serve his two years, and get it over with.”

   “But that’s not his choice, if he doesn’t want to be in the Army. It’s just a way of cutting his slavery time down to two years? And whether he enlists, or chooses to wait out however many years he’s left in limbo, he doesn’t really have a choice. If he’s called, he has to serve.”

   “Well, I still think slavery is too strong a word. Anyway, isn’t there another part of this discussion? Don’t we all have the responsibility to do what our country needs us to do? Isn’t that what patriotism is all about? You don’t necessarily want to do something, but you do it because your country needs you.”

   The instructor intervened at that point. “I don’t think the writer would necessarily disagree with you on all of that, but I do get the feeling that she doesn’t subscribe to patriotism meaning ‘my country, right or wrong.’ I think she says pretty clearly that she has yet to have anyone explain to her how this already bloody war in far off Asia has anything to do with our country. She wants to know why this is our fight.”

   Another woman student held up her hand. “And we’re not just talking about liberty and slavery here, are we? Did you read what she said about the number of American men already killed and wounded, in a war that has hardly begun? Liberty is certain a constitutional issue, but isn’t life kind of pertinent here, too? In our lifetimes, we will probably all have things that we would be willing to give our lives for, but is this really one of them?”

   The teacher took control, again. “And before we’re forced into those kinds of choices, the writer wants to be sure that other options have been fully explored. For example – and I don’t want to put words in her mouth, or actually in her fingers on her typewriter – but she gives some indication that she thinks an all-volunteer military could be possible. There’s been some talk about that over the years. I don’t know if she’s right, but I know she gives some recommendations in that direction – well, things that would make a draft less necessary, but if a draft was inevitable, things that would make it fairer. Can we look at those for a bit?

   “I guess her first point would be to encourage more men to volunteer. She suggests money as an incentive. Pay a volunteer two or three times what you would normally pay a serviceman for a two-year enlistment. If a man doesn’t have any other objections to serving in the military, that might be a real enticement.”

   “Wouldn’t that be a big cost to the military?” asked one student.

   “Well, the costs of drafting and training anybody are pretty high, but the military budget is gigantic. I doubt the increased costs would even show up where anybody could really identify them.”

   “I think I’d do it,” said another student. “You’re probably going to end up serving, no matter what you want. I don’t think you have to spend too much of your own money when you’re in the military, so you send two or three times your normal paycheck home. It’s either there waiting for you, or it gets used by your family. Sounds like a good deal.”

   “The writer is obviously hoping a lot of men feel the same way you do. Now, leaving behind the constitutionality of the draft – the Supreme Court would probably have to decide that, and they haven’t, yet – she talks about another constitutional issue. If a draft was ever to be authorized, she wants it to be only after Congress had officially declared a war. According to the Constitution, only Congress has the authority to declare our country at war, but Congress hasn’t declared a war since the 1940s. They’ve let the Administration come up with some excuse that whatever we’re doing in Korea or Viet Nam isn’t a real war. We’re just helping out, some way, is what is claimed. The writer is saying ‘no war, no draft.’”

   “I don’t understand how we can be sending our men to be killed, if we’re not officially at war,” said one of the women who had spoken previously. “It’s not only unconstitutional, it’s criminal!”

   “I don’t disagree, but that’s how the executive and legislative branches have been choosing to act.

   “The writer’s next point is that there shouldn’t be anybody drafted until all current military people have gone to the war. She points out that there are a couple million servicemen scattered around the world, as peace keepers there to respond to emergencies. These people – already in the military, and more or less trained for combat – don’t seem to be getting called to Viet Nam. Most of these people are not currently involved in any ‘emergencies,’ so why wouldn’t it be more effective to send them, before you spent all the time necessary to train completely raw recruits?”

   “There was an editorial in the Twin Falls paper last week, that was on this same subject.” This was from a student who hadn’t spoken previously. “I’m from Twin Falls, that’s how I saw it. Anyway, it was about the unfairness of the draft process. It didn’t talk about the foreign- stationed troops, but it did talk about the Army Reserve and about the state National Guard troops. Although they are all trained and available for emergencies, almost none were called up during the Korean War, and apparently none so far in Viet Nam. That seems pretty shameful.”

   “Don’t a lot of the guys join the National Guard because they know they won’t go to combat?” asked one of the other men. “Aren’t they supposed to be specifically home guards? I’ve heard the Coast Guard called the draft dodger’s yacht club. It’s not fair to say that, because the Coast Guard does hard, dangerous, and important work, but you’re guaranteed your two years of service will be free from flying bullets and bombs.”

   “I think both the Reserves and the National Guard can be called into combat,” said the instructor. “I think it takes some complicated agreements and paperwork, but it’s possible. I don’t know how they’ve managed to stay pretty much exempt.

   “Moving right along, I want to be sure you have a chance to comment on her recommendations about who should be in or out of a draft, if there had to be one. She says men in their upper 30s and low 40s should go first. Those men are exempt, now. What do you think?”

   One of the women spoke first. “I had trouble at first, thinking about my dad in the Army. But she’s right that a lot of those guys are still in good shape, or could get back in shape fairly easily. Also, they have the maturity to know what they’re doing once they get in a war. I think mentally they’re a lot better equipped than kids just out of high school – I mean, I’m talking about us. We’re those kids just out of high school!”

   “She says ‘those kids’ shouldn’t be drafted, at all. Do you agree, or disagree?”

   “Well, I read the entire letter, and what she says about us being thought incompetent to vote, to buy or drink alcohol – even to get married in some states – until we’re 21, but old enough to fight in a war is pretty ludicrous.

   “Also, it made me want to cry reading about ‘battle fatigue’ and ‘shell shock,’ and then her reminding us that a lot of us have never had anybody really close to us die, or seen a horrible traffic accident. I bet a lot of us have never had a broken bone, or ever been in the hospital for a serious injury or illness. Then, they take our guys and send them into a completely unfamiliar situation, with people shooting at them, and them supposed to shoot back. How could that not be a horrible strain, mentally?”

   “Yeah, and that one quote she had from the Selective Service guy,” volunteered one of the male students. “Don’t worry, folks. We have an endless supply of 18 year olds coming along. Man, talk about a ‘cannon fodder’ mentality!”

   “Our bell is about to ring,” said the instructor. “Thanks to all you guys for participating these two sessions. I thought it was a good way to start the term. I hope you did, too.

   “By the way, I made some copies of her entire letter. I’ll put them here on the desk, if you want to take one.”

   The class bell rang, and everyone filed out except Vic. “Do you have a minute more to talk?” she asked.

   “Miss Anderson, you’re still here. Sure, I’ve got a break, now.” He came, and sat at the desk next to hers. “Frankly, after having you in my class last semester, I was surprised that you didn’t really participate this week. It seems to me it would have been right up your alley.”

   “Oh, it was, and I was really following along with the discussions. It was great.”

   “So, why…?

   Vic held up one of the copies of her letter, so he could see the bottom of it. He just looked at her, without comprehension. She pointed at the initials “V. A.,” and then at herself. He still looked puzzled. She repeated the finger pointing.

   “What? Are you saying… My god! Excuse me, I didn’t mean to say that. Are you telling me that you wrote this piece?”

   “Guilty as charged.”

   He still didn’t seem to be able to take it in. “You’re saying you wrote this great piece? Well, what I mean, Victoria – er Miss Anderson…”

   “Call me Vic. Everybody does, and it’s easier.”

   “Thanks. Vic, I didn’t mean to imply that you couldn’t have written it. I mean, what I saw of your work last semester, this shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s just – well, I didn’t expect it. And it is a priceless piece of writing.”

   “Thanks. I was pleased with it, but Greg – my fiancé – reacted like you did. He was the one who thought we should publish it.”

   “Wow. Well, it is great. But why didn’t you tell me before… Wait, I think I know, but you tell me.”

   “Well, first off, I didn’t know what was coming. I was floored when I started to understand what you were talking about. My roommate, Nancy, realized it, and I thought was going to blurt it out, so I tried to shush her up. That’s when you accused us of disrupting the class – which we were.

   “So, anyway, I’d already had a few interviews on the phone with reporters. A couple were really good. They had obviously read the letter, and studied it a little bit. They asked what I thought were some really good follow-up questions.

   “The others disappointed me. They didn’t seem that interested in what the letter said. They just wanted to know more about me. I started picturing them writing little pieces with headlines, like ‘freshman coed takes on the draft board,’ or ‘a girl who would rather think about war than check out the new spring fashions with her girlfriends.’

   The teacher chuckled. “So, you didn’t want me and the class to suddenly know, because…”

   “Because then we would have had to waste a lot of time talking about me, not about the draft. It’s just human nature, isn’t it? I thought it would be better to just sit and listen. It was a great couple of hours. Thanks.”

   He shook his head, and chuckled, again. “I’m still having a little trouble taking it in. So, you and Greg – your fiancé – came up with this…”

   “No, Greg won’t take any of the credit. And he’s right – I did write the whole thing, all by myself. He wasn’t even around, and he didn’t even know I was writing it, until I handed it to him to read. That’s when he got excited, and told me we should publish it. He didn’t change one word.

   “In fairness, however, I wrote it only after we’d been talking about the war and the draft for several months – first, about how it affected him, then later how it was affecting us, and finally about its effect on everybody. He supplied a lot of the information, and a lot of ideas, then I added some of my own when I wrote it.”

   “Well, I can’t help saying it over and over again. It is really an excellent letter – not freshman good, but graduate student good. You should really be proud of being able to express yourself that way.”

   “I guess I am – or, at least, I’m beginning to believe Greg, and now you. I guess that’s why I want to ask you for a favor.”

   “Sure. What do you have in mind?”

   “Well, I think the word is going to spread. I’m a little surprised I haven’t had a call from an Idaho paper, yet. I think I probably will, but even if I don’t, my blabbermouth roommate, and another classmate who knows, will get the news out. With that in mind, I wondered if you would let me have a little class time next week to tell my story, in my own words.”

   He smiled. “I think that would be a great way to round up this discussion, Vic. Yes, definitely, on Tuesday you can start out the class. Would it be all right with you if I invited a few other instructors to sit in? I think they’d like to.”

   “Really? Sure, I’d be pleased.”


On February 12, Vic received a letter-sized manila envelope in the mail. It was from Greg.

   “Mother Nature – or Old Man Winter – is keeping Greg from being with me this weekend, but he didn’t forget me,” Vic said to Nancy, as she opened the envelope.

   “When was the last time that man forgot you?”

   Vic giggled. “Good point. Never.” She brought out two sheets of paper, decorated around their edges with colorful birds, flowers, and hearts. “How pretty – and he wrote out his whole message, long hand. His penmanship is pretty good, all the time, but it looks like he must have spent hours writing this out, and making it so clean and clear.”

   “I assume it’s a Valentine’s card?”

   “Well, I assume that, too, but it’s quite long. It looks like a story of some kind. I’ll let you read it, if you like, but I think I better go through it first, and make sure there isn’t anything your young, innocent eyes shouldn’t see.”

   “I appreciate your concern, Vic.”

   “Okay, here goes.”

For Vic

On Valentine’s Day, 1966


   In most northern climes, February 14 is a day when almost everybody could use a little warming up. What better way to warm up than with a little romance? Maybe that’s why Valentine’s Day was invented.

   Nobody knows for sure who St. Valentine was, or why his name is on that particular date. I have my ideas about it. I think that Val (as his sweetheart called him) was a Norwegian. It’s possible his surname was Anderson, but that’s just an idea of mine, based on certain historical facts. Some think he might have been a clergyman, or perhaps a high-ranking government official. I think he was just an average country farmer – not poor, but certainly not rich, growing up with his farming family in the Norwegian countryside.

   Early in life, Val fell in love with his neighbor – well, not exactly “the girl next door” -  her family lived about five miles from his  - but they were, indeed, his nearest neighbors. Like Val’s parents, hers were Norwegian farmers. I’m assuming that, like Val’s family, her family all looked very “Norwegian,” with light complexions and blond hair. She  - her name was Gaia - was a notable exception. Gaia  was light-skinned, but her hair was chestnut – dark brown, with shadings of red – that she always wore long, reaching below her shoulders. I think she had an ancestor from southern Europe – possibly Greece, which could account for both her coloration and her name – Gaia, goddess of the earth. I think Val would have fallen for her whatever she looked like, but the long, flowing, dark hair with a slight curl in it sealed the deal for him. He had loved her since pre-teen days. He was pretty sure she loved him just as strongly.

   I assume that Val and Gaia talked about marriage and family, but I don’t know that, for sure. Val proceeded as if it was inevitable. He bought a parcel of land about mid-way between their two families, where he built a house – not too ostentatious, but large enough for a growing family. He did all the work himself, taking extra time for personal effects that made the house uniquely their own. When it was finished, he sat down at the desk he had hand-carved, took a large sheet of paper, and spent several days painting the edges with bright birds, flowers, and hearts – all the symbols of love in early Norway.


   “Oh, my. He copied Val’s original letter, with all the flowers and birds and hearts!”

   “What are you talking about?”

   “Sorry. I’ll show you in a minute, Nanc. I’m still reading.”


   In the center of the page, Val wrote out what is believed to have been the most heartfelt, emotional, and deeply romantic poem ever composed. The poem didn’t survive, so no one but Gaia and Val knew exactly what was said. (This was a real frustration to some later scholars, who – hearing that it was the greatest expression of love ever written – wanted to examine and analyze Val’s technique.  Technique? Didn’t they realize that the only way to create a poem so amazing would be to have feelings as deep and sincere as Val’s, ready to spontaneously spill out on the page as one began to write?)

   Well, Val finished his poem on a cold and snowy February day, bundled himself in the warmest clothes he had, and walked to Gaia’s home. He presented his card to her – the first “Valentine.” He was very gratified by her response. The cold, snowy day suddenly felt a lot warmer.

   I said it was “the first” Valentine. Actually, it was the only Valentine ever written and presented. What followed was the result of an historical confusion about how Val closed his “card.” He didn’t say, “Will you be my Valentine?” What he said was, “Will you be Mrs. Valentine?” This was his proposal of marriage to his one and only lifelong true love.

   By the way, she said yes. She and Val did live “happily ever after,” and produced the start of a vigorous shoot on the Anderson family tree. Descendants spread out over the Northern Hemisphere, including some who arrived in the United States in the late 19th Century. Most Andersons had – and have – Val’s light Norwegian hair and complexion. But every second or third generation, the line produces a beautiful child with long, flowing, slightly curly, chestnut tresses – a tribute to, and reminder of, Gain’s southern European roots. Some believe that these dark-haired Norwegian beauties carry special magic in their genes, and that those around them all seem especially blessed. I don’t know if that’s true of all of them, but it certainly is of the one dark-haired beauty I know personally.


   “Thank you, my lovely Greg.”

   “What was that?” asked Nancy.

   “Oh, sorry. I’m still reading.”


   Valentine’s Day, 1966, isn’t anything that Val and Gaia would recognize, or relate to. Grammar school children give cards to everybody – girls and boys, alike – in their classes. Sons give Valentines to their mothers, sisters to their brothers, nephews to their aunts. It’s all good fun – just a way to say that you’re thinking about the other person.

   Of course, there’s still the romance side. Flowers, candy, stuffed animals, dates at fancy restaurants, scanty sexy sleep wear (often in red, of course, and not really meant for sleep) – all part of saying she or he is the love of your life – or, at least, your love of today. Like most celebrations, it can be awful for those who have nothing to celebrate – the longest day of the year! – but most love the plans and the hoped-for (and sometimes realized) rewards. Of course, the retailers of cards, candy, etc., love it the most.

   Well, I won’t be sending a lot of cards this Valentine’s Day. Like Val himself, I just have one sweetheart, and just one card to give. In my case, it will become an annual “thank you” to my love for saying – as Gaia did, so many years before – yes, I will be your “Mrs.” Oh, I’m definitely looking forward to some of the flowers-candy-restaurant-sexy non-sleepwear aspects of the 21st century Valentine’s Day – as soon as the weather will let me get to her. Who wouldn’t? But those are just nice, fun extras to go with a lifelong commitment of one man to one woman.

   Happy Valentine’s Day, Vic - my lovely, chestnut-tressed, magical, Norwegian beauty, who I promise to love deeply and sincerely for the rest of our lives.  Greg.


   Vic set the papers down beside her. “Golly, golly, golly. I love that man!”

   Nancy walked over to her, and held out her hand. “Do I get to read it? Is it safe for my young, inexperienced eyes?”

   “I think I said innocent eyes. Yes, you may read it, but I think I need to read it again, first.”


   “Oh, all right. Treat it carefully. It has to last 100 years, or so.”

   Nancy gave her a long-suffering look, and took the letter back to her bed. She began to read, silently. “Oh, I see why you gasped that first time. Greg’s letter and Val’s letter look the same.”

   “Well, Val’s card didn’t exist, so Greg probably found that nice stationary, and decided that’s what Val’s had looked like. Nice touch, anyway.”

   Nancy read the rest of the letter, then set it down beside her. “Quite a tale, Vic. None of it true, I imagine?”

   “I wouldn’t think so.”

   "No Val, and no chestnut-tressed Grecian-Norwegian Gaia?”

   “Well, probably not by those names, or in those circumstances. However, there must have been a line of Gaia types somewhere in my family tree to produce my dark hair.”

   “Maybe you were adopted.”

   “Nope, Mom and Daddy know precisely when and how I arrived.”

   “Okay. Well, do chestnut-tressed Anderson maidens appear every second or third generation?”

   “I’ve never heard of any. It seems like the gene must show up from time to time, but this particular story is straight out of Greg’s fertile imagination.”

   “Imagination wasn’t the only think fertile, if Val and Gaia produced a whole family tree.”

  “Not the whole tree, Nancy. Just a branch of it, and we don’t have any idea how big the branch was.”

   Nancy picked up the letter again, and seemed to be rereading it. She set it down. “Well, Victoria Anderson, I am content with the whos and the whats I have right now. Someday, however, I think I’m going to want my own Greg.”

   “Sorry. He is definitely taken, forever.”

   “Maybe he has a twin, who is just as nice.”

  “No luck there, either,  but if there was one, I think Mandy would already have him staked out.”

   “Sisters ganging up, huh? Well, drat! So, going back to the details, do you think he will give you one of those sexy, red, non-sleepwear things?”

   “No, I wouldn’t think so. Red is not really my color. Besides, I already have a pale green nightie, and also some white, silky pjs – both of which seem to have a lot of the same properties as the skimpy red thing. I think Greg will stick with what he knows works.”


   Saturday evening, as soon as he agreed to accept the charges, he heard the voice he wanted to hear. “Oh, goody, I hoped you’d be there tonight.”

   “Hi, Vic. I’d planned to be here tomorrow evening, too. I suspected you’d call one time or the other, if you could.”

   “I figured tonight might be better than closer to Valentine’s Day, when more girls might be trying to use the phone. Actually, it’s very quiet here, now. Maybe everybody’s still at dinner, or they can’t get back into the dorm through the snow drifts.”

   “Are you snowed in?”

   “Pretty much. It’s snowed every day for a week, sometimes three or four inches in a day. None of it’s melting, of course, and the wind is really piling it up. The maintenance people are keeping paths open to our various classes, but other than that, it’s pretty much a white wilderness out there. Did you get any of this?”

   “Not a flake, and hardly a drop. We’ve even been a little warmer this week. I’m seeing more birds and mammals moving around but, of course, it’s still cold at night, and all the water areas are still frozen.

   “My, I am glad you called.”

  “Any reason in particular?”

  “Vic, my love, any time I hear from you is ‘in particular.’ But no, I just wanted to hear your voice.”

  “Well, that’s nice. By the way, thank you for the Valentine story. It clears up a lot of what I wondered about on my family tree. I’m especially glad to know about Gaia, and to have confirmation that being a dark-haired Norwegian is perfectly legitimate.”

   “I’m glad I could set your mind at rest. So, is there anything besides snow going on up there that I should know about?”

   “Now that you ask, there is a little bit of ‘in particular’ that I have to share. For instance, I had several more phone interviews.”

   “Good. How did they go?”

   “About the same as the first ones – one long and very good, the others kind of sudsy, ‘girl protestor’ stuff.” She paused a moment. “Oh, there was one other thing that you might be interested in.”

   “And what was that?”

   ‘Oh, just that my political science teacher devoted both class sessions this past week to talking about the letter.”

   Now, there was silence on Greg’s end of the line. “Can you repeat that?”

   “No, I don’t need to. You heard it right. He took both full hours to have a class discussion of what is in the letter. It was a complete surprise to me, when he started talking, and he had no idea that I had written it. I thought I was going to have to muzzle Nancy to keep her from blurting out the truth, but I stopped her in time. I was able to just sit back and listen to people discussing it for two whole days, with nobody but Nancy and me knowing who wrote it.

   ”Well, that’s not entirely true. Ruth, one of the other women from the dorm, heard me on the phone for one of my interviews, and she put two and two together by Thursday. She was so excited and insistent I thought I was going to have to promise her our firstborn to keep her quiet.”

   “You are really free with our firstborn. Be careful. I think we’re going to want to keep her, or him.

   ”So, how did it go, otherwise?”

   “It was wonderful! Almost everybody in the class spoke up at one time or another. The teacher led the discussion in ways that helped cover all parts of the letter. And I wasn’t mentioned one time!”

   “Does the teacher know, now? It seems like it might be hard to keep it secret after that.”

   “I stayed after class, and talked to him. He was flabbergasted. Is that the word I want? Anyway, he was really surprised. He had no idea.” Vic’s voice started to take on a teary quality. “And, Greg, he said the letter wasn’t just freshman good, it was graduate student good.”

   “He’s right, Vic. It’s a real winner. You did good – better than good!

   “So, there’s more, isn’t there? What happens next?”

   “I asked him if I could talk directly to the class next week, and highlight a couple things I consider are most important. He said yes, and he also asked if he could invite some of the other teachers!”

   “I’m going to have trouble waiting to hear about that! And by the way, I really, really want to see you. Does it look like your winter will be over any time soon?”

   “I really, really want to see you, too. We’re supposed to keep getting snow through about Tuesday, but then there’s supposed to be about a week of fair and dry weather. If the forecasts are anywhere near correct, next weekend could be pretty good.”

   “So, a tentative date? Friday around noon, at your dorm. Fun and frolic Friday night and Saturday?”

   “You do make it sound appealing. Let’s try.”

   “So, you’ll call me here, sometime Tuesday, or later in the week, to talk about your class, and keep tabs on the weather?”

   “Okay. I love you, Greg Cleveland.”

   “And I you, Victoria Anderson almost Cleveland.”


   Greg drove to town Sunday to shop, and to tell the Andersons about Vic’s adventures. When he got to the Anderson’s, he found that Alice and Chuck were off somewhere, and Mandy was home alone. She didn’t know when they’d be back, so he invited her out for burgers or pizza. She opted for pizza.

   “Is senioritis still rampant at school, or are thing calming down?” Greg asked, as they sat down to wait for their order.

   “It’s worse than ever. Nobody’s getting anything done. It would be kind of fun and funny, except we have to be at school during it. If we’re just going to goof off for several months, I’d rather go play someplace more interesting.”

   “I see what you’re saying. Some people are good at being sluggards, but you have to like to  waste time. There probably isn’t such a thing as a conscientious sluggard.”

   “Conscientious sluggard? No, the words don’t even go together properly.”

   “Speaking of conscientious – but definitely not sluggard – I had a long talk with Vic last night. She’s had quite a week. That’s really the main reason I drove in today, to tell you and your folks about it.”

   The waitress brought their pizza, and they took a moment to admire it, then to select the right slices to start eating. “Good,” they both observed, after a few bites. “So, what about my sister? Was it a ‘quite a week’ in a good way, or a ‘quite a week’ bad?”

   “Overall, I think, very good, but I think she’s exhausted. She had several more phone interviews with reporters – another good one, where the reporter really did want to talk about her ideas and recommendations. The others were more what she calls ‘fluffy,’ or some such word – like they were just looking for a catchy headline – ‘Wonder Coed takes on the Army!’”

   Mandy giggled. “Yeah, boring.”

   “Well, that was probably enough excitement for her, considering she was just starting all her new classes, but there was more to come. Her political science teacher started to discuss her letter with her whole class.”


    “Yeah. She had no idea, and she didn’t know if the teacher knew she wrote it. Nancy’s in that class, and Vic wasn’t sure she could shut her up before she blurted out something. She did quell Nancy, but the next day, another student – Ruth, I think; one of her ‘church hoppers,’ as she calls them – had heard Vic giving an interview, and had guessed the rest. Vic said she almost had to promise the woman our firstborn to keep her from telling the class.”

   “Isn’t that the second time she’s offered up your future kid to somebody?”

   “It is. So far, we’re okay.”

   “Yeah, but this is your future family she’s trading with. You need to keep a close watch on her.”

   Greg smiled. “Well, one nice thing is that there’s nothing in life I enjoy more than watching your sister.”

   “My god. If I didn’t know my sister, and how great she is, I’d think you were going a little nuts.”

   That just elicited another smile. “So, anyway, the whole class talked about her letter both Tuesday and Thursday. She managed to keep her identity secret, and she said that the teacher led a really good discussion.”

   “And she didn’t want them to know it was her, because then it could have turned into a ‘fluffy’ discussion – about the class celebrity, rather than the letter. So, did she tell the  teacher later?”

   “She did, right after class. He was amazed – not that she could have written it, but that she was in his class. It sounds like he praised the work as much as I did – maybe more, because he was seeing it as a teacher, and as her writing about his main interests. Anyway, she asked if she could have some time in class next week to talk about it. He said yes, and even asked if he could invite a few other professors to hear what she has to say.”

  “Wow, that does amount to an exciting, exhausting week for her.”

  “It does.” He paused, apparently thinking about something. “I guess we have one big decision to make.”

   “What decision?”

   “There are two pieces of pizza left. Do we take them home to your parents, or greedily finish them off, ourselves?”

   Mandy considered. “Well, it would be nice to share. On the other hand, they’ve probably eaten somewhere, already.”


   Mandy reached for one of the slices. “I say, let them eat cake!”


      On Tuesday morning, Vic waited outside the classroom until she saw Bob Swinton. “Bob, do you remember my Speech class talk about my imaginary protest?”

   Bob glanced down toward her knees. “You have really great legs,” he said.

   She laughed. “Well, you remembered that part, anyway, even if maybe not the actual speech. Luckily, that’s the part I wanted you to remember. Will you help me with a little demonstration?”

   “Does it have anything to do with your great legs?”

   “Sort of.”

   “Okay, I’m in. What do I do?”

   “Great. Now, you know that I am the mysterious Viet Nam letter writer?”

   “I think everybody in Pocatello probably knows, by now. Congrats.”

   “Thanks, I think. Well, the teacher is letting me talk to the class this morning, to tell a little of the personal side of writing the letter.”


   “Yeah. What I want to do is give a little demonstration at the start. The teacher will introduce me, and I’ll say just a sentence or two, about some interviews I’ve had. That’s when I want you to interrupt me, by saying something about my legs.”

   “Anything I want?”

  She looked at him. “Well, something like you said a few minutes ago. You can pick the words. Just don’t be too inventive. We don’t want the vice squad called in.”

   “You think they might come? Cool!”

   “You just make sure they don’t. So, you’ll do it?”


   “Well, even if they don’t haul you off to jail, the class will obviously go crazy for a bit, and the teacher will no doubt yell at you. I will quickly rescue you from the spotlight, and give the rest of my talk. Agreed?”



   From the reaction in the classroom when she came in, it was obvious that her authorship was well known. She took her usual seat, and tried (unsuccessfully) to act a little nonchalant. The instructor’s revelation that she wrote the letter they had been discussing was obviously unnecessary, but he was brief, then turned the class over to her. As she stood up and turned to face the students, she was surprised to see seven or eight teachers in the back row.

    “I wanted to tell you a little about why I didn’t reveal myself as the letter writer last week. It had to do with some interviews I had… Bob, did you have a question?”

   “Vic, I wondered if you could walk around behind the desk while you talked.”

   She looked puzzled. (She actually was, a little bit.) “Why do you want me to do that?”

   “Well, I want to concentrate on what you’re saying, and I don’t think I can as long as your beautiful legs are in full view.”

   Shock, then laughter from the whole class followed, as a scandalized teacher stood up, probably ready to expel Bob from the room.

   “Hold on!” cried Vic, over the hubbub. “I asked him to say that! Can we calm down, again?”

   She did gain partial control, and decided to go on. “Well, that was interesting. Sorry for the surprise, everybody. I did ask Bob to say that – well, not exactly that. I didn’t expect him to be quite so inventive. But thanks, Bob.”

   He tipped an imaginary hat to her.

   “Bob was in my Speech class last semester when I gave a talk about an imaginary one-woman peace demonstration. I took my sign – I don’t remember what it said. ‘Make love, not war,’ or ‘Get out of Viet Nam,’ probably. Anyway, I took it out, and stood on the hillside near the student union. A lot of students and teachers walked by, but nobody even glanced toward me and my sign. I was just about to give up, when a guy stopped near me, and stared up at me for a long  time. He didn’t say anything at all. Finally, I walked down the hill to talk to him. I asked him if my sign had meant something in particular to him. ‘Sign?’ He looked confused. ‘Oh, sorry, I hadn’t noticed. I was just thinking what great legs you have.’ “

    That got the second wave of reaction that she had expected, but she quickly gained control, again. “I brought this up because of some newspaper interviews I’ve had. The letter got published in several papers, so I had half a dozen reporters calling for follow-up stories. Two of them were really good. They had obviously studied the article, and they asked me a lot of questions, seeking clarification or more information on what I wrote. What you guys did in this class last week was very similar. You homed in on the important issues, and had good discussions about them.

   “My other interviews were different. Mostly, those reporters were just interested in me – who I was, where I came from, why I was writing about war when I ought to be talking about boys with my girlfriends…”

   That provoked a little laughter. “Yeah, they were okay, but they didn’t want to talk about the substance of the letter. I started imagining the headlines that would go with their follow-up articles. ‘Freshman girl takes on the Army!’ ‘A coed more interested in war than in checking out the new spring fashions with her friends.’

   “Anyway, when the Professor announced that he was going to talk about my letter in class – a complete surprise and shock to me, by the way – I was thinking about those kinds of stories. I really wanted to hear what you guys had to say, and – although I’m not a celebrity or anything – I was afraid that you wouldn’t talk as freely if you knew the origins of the letter. I think I was right. You got to the meat of what I was saying. You didn’t all agree with me – which is fine with me – but you gave my thoughts some real thought of your own. I got a few new good ideas from you, so thanks.

   “So, about the letter itself. My main theme I think was hard to miss – I don’t want any draft for any war. We’ve had it on and off since the Civil War. Maybe it’s never been as bad as the old British press gangs – when they needed more men for their Navy, they just went out to the streets and the taverns, and kidnapped men, and immediately put them on ships going to sea. Usually, their families had no idea what had become of them. But ours has always been our own brand of  ‘involuntary servitude’ – slavery. As one of you said last week, ‘go to war, or go to jail.’ There’s no free will in that.

   “Besides, the draft has never been fair. You used to be able to buy your way out of the Army, either by paying money direct to the government, or paying somebody else to take your place. I learned something new just this weekend, in the school library. The Confederates had what they called the Twenty Slave Law. If you ‘owned’ (god, I hate that word!) ‘owned’ twenty or more slaves, you were exempt from service in the military – apparently, so you could stay at home and defend your ‘property!’

   “In our more recent drafts, local citizens sit on the boards, and decide who gets drafted and who doesn’t. I’m sure that some draft boards try to be fair, but if you’re friends with the bank president, who has a son of draft age, it’s quite possible the son won’t be among those selected. I read that Twin Falls editorial that one of you mentioned. In that, the author suggested that home town football players – even though they were real tough guys on the field – might be found to have ‘medical problems’ that made them unfit for duty. I don’t know how prevalent such practices are, but the end result seems to be that the less connected you are – socially or politically – the more likely you are to be drafted.

   “Anyway, I’ve used up most of our time. I think my arguments are pretty clear in the letter, but in summary: One, I think any draft is immoral and probably unconstitutional. Two, I think an all-volunteer military is possible, with enough incentives for potential enlistees. Three, the requirement for even talking about a draft in the future should be that Congress officially declare a war, like they’re supposed to do. Four, if some future draft proved inevitable, men under about 22 should be exempted. I list a lot of reasons, but basically if we’re not old enough to vote or buy our own beer, we aren’t old enough to fight a war. Thanks for letting me talk, and for talking about my letter to the editor so intelligently.”

   The teacher took charge. “We could probably squeeze in a question or two before the bell. I guess I’ll start. You mentioned to me the other day that you’d sent your letter directly to a dozen or so political types. Have you heard anything back from them?”

   “Just ‘thank you for your information’ form letters. Hopefully, if follow-up stories and a few answering letters to the editor keep this going another week or so, somebody will get interested.”

   “Okay, I guess that’s it. Thank you, Miss Anderson – Vic – for helping us have three periods of useful and interesting conversation. I really enjoyed it. I hope the rest of you did, too. As Vic said, you guys carried on a great discussion for a couple days.”

   Several of the teachers had general comments and congratulations for her, and then it was over. She found she was exhausted.



To The Writing It Down Homepage

Leave a Comment:

© Sanford Wilbur 2024