CHAPTER Fifteen: ONCE-A-YEAR-DAY

   Vic had finished a quick breakfast, and was headed for the door by 7 a.m. “I’m going to help Greg with his bird count this morning, Mom. I’ll be back in an hour or two.”

   Alice came out of the kitchen to say something, but Vic was already halfway across the compound. She met Greg as he was coming out his door, binoculars around his neck and a spare pair in hand for her. They walked toward the woods.

   They were barely into the edge of the forest, when she stopped. “Is this going to be your once-a-year day?”

    “What?”

   “Are you going to talk small talk now that you’re alone with me?” She put her arms around his neck, and moved her face close to his. “Don’t you have something better for my lips to do?”

   He did, and they did it for some time, standing on the trail in the morning coolness. Finally, he moved back a little, but just enough to look at her face. In unison, they said, “And that takes no talk, at all!”

   They laughed, but still didn’t move apart. “I thought that was pretty nice,” he murmured, his lips on her forehead. “Well,” she said, just as quietly, “It wasn’t too bad. It would have been better if your clunky, hard binoculars weren’t between us.”

   Greg made a quick motion, swinging the binoculars around so they were resting on his back. “Should we try again, perhaps do it better?.”

   “I’m game.” She was, and after a bit, she said, “That was a little better for me. How about for you?”

   “Pretty good, but the binocular strap pulling on my neck is sort of strangling me. I’m not sure I got the full benefit.”

    “Well, take them off, dummy!” He did, and they tried a long experiment. “Yep, I think that was pretty good,” he said. “Excellent, in fact.”

   She finally took her arms from around his neck, and stepped back. “Certainly quite acceptable, but I suggest more practice, later.”

   Just beyond, there was a little lava rock outcrop, where they could sit and lean back against the trees. Counting birds didn’t seem too important at the moment. They sat without speaking, Vic leaning on his shoulder, and his arm around her.

   “I should have known this was coming, when you made that crack about my ‘once-a-year day.’ I assume you saw ‘Pajama Game?’”

   “Not saw. That seems impossible. It’s too old to be in theaters – probably wouldn’t have been in our local one, anyway. It’s not anywhere on TV. Then, one of my girlfriends thought there might be a record with the music on it. There was, and four of us pooled our money to buy it. It’s fun. Of course, you don’t get the whole story from the music, but you can guess most of it.”

   They sat some more, both savoring the recent kisses and the current closeness.

   “I’ve wanted us to do that for a long time,” Greg said, after awhile.

   “So, why haven’t we?”

   He laughed, a little ruefully. “Well, it just seemed complicated…”

   She interrupted. “Well, you just found out it wasn’t complicated at all. You just face each other, bring your lips together…”

   “Okay, stop!” His laugh was happier, this time. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

   “Was it my daddy’s stern ‘hands off my daughter’ warning?”

   “I think so, at least a little bit. More significant was that, every time the subject came up, or the thought arose, we were in sight of your house, and of whoever might be on your porch. It was also that we really didn’t know one another very well, and - even though you were a young woman rather than a schoolgirl - you were a young young woman.”

   “Two and a half whole years younger than you!”

   “Well, with me a college grad and you just graduating from high school, it seemed significant. But it wasn’t really just those things. It was more me trying to see the future. I mean, you’re about to go off to college. I don’t know how long I have a job here – they like to move people around – and, even without that uncertainty, there’s the whole Viet Nam thing. I get worried every time the mail comes, wondering if there’ll be a “greeting” from Selective Service.”

   They sat quietly for a few minutes, both thinking their own thoughts. “So,” asked Vic, finally, “What keeps a man from being drafted?”

   “Well, if you’re between 18 and 26, not much. I think I’ve done the most important thing, and that’s keeping my draft information in the same office that I originally registered in.”

   “How does that help?”

   “I’m registered in a big city. The quota for each location is filled by enlistments and a lottery. In a big city, versus a smaller town, there will be more men volunteering, so the lottery will be smaller. Also, there will be more people in the lottery in the city, so my chances of being picked are less. If the war doesn’t go on forever, my name might never come up.

   “Other than that, you can avoid the draft by having a health or physical problem (I’m remarkably healthy); being a conscientious objector (I am generally opposed to war, but I think the definition is pretty precise); being a homosexual (no); having a wife, kids, or someone else dependent on my care (nope); being in college (did that; doesn’t work, anymore); having some civilian job that the Government thinks is “essential” (I don’t think they consider assistant refuge managers “essential”); or escaping to Canada. I guess you could take the initiative, and enlist in one of the services that probably wouldn’t send people to Viet Nam – like the Coast Guard.

    “Only medical or physical problems, or having dependents, pretty much assure you will be left alone. Schooling is only good when you’re in school; you’re fair game when you get out. And if you get called when you’re in school, you can get a deferral until you’re finished, but then you have to serve, for sure.

   “Qualifying as a conscientious objector, or admitting to being a homosexual, can keep you out of the service, but you’re not home free. If you object to fighting, they put you in a job where you support the war, but don’t have to shoot at anybody. If you decline that, you could go to jail. In some parts of our country, you could go to jail for just being a homosexual. In either case, you probably live out your whole life with stigmas that affect you, your family, your job opportunities, and how people think of you. Those kinds of cures probably turn out to be as bad or worse than just taking your medicine.”

   Vic took that all in, before speaking. “What about Canada?” she asked, finally.

  Greg laughed, but not happily. “The big unknown. If you go, you certainly avoid the draft, but what then?  I suppose if you go before you actually receive a draft notice, you could later try to convince the Selective Service that you just went to Canada to work for awhile. If you go after you are called, then I think you are officially a deserter. Maybe you could never come back. If, when the war ended, the President decided to grant amnesty to the Canadian draft dodgers, it would probably be with some serious penalties, like going to jail or losing your voting rights. Under the best of circumstances, there wouldn’t be any ‘come home, all is forgiven’ ending. Maybe worst of all, you would be separated from all your family and friends for at least as long as the war continued.

   “A year or so ago, I think I might have considered Canada. Now, I think I have too much here that I want to stay for. My terror of Viet Nam pales a little when I think of things that way.”

   Vic had one idea she wanted to put forward, but she was afraid he might not even talk about it – and might even get angry. She decided to risk it. “So. What would you think about marrying me? And maybe even starting to work on Greg Junior, or Vic Junior?”

   He didn’t get angry. He reached over, softly touched her cheek, and smiled. “Don’t think I haven’t thought about that, myself – and not always in the context of Viet Nam! But I don’t want us to ever make those kinds of decisions just to solve a particular problem. We love each other, and even though this epic romance has been building for a relatively short time, I feel it has the potential to continue an upward climb for another 80, 90, or 100 years, at least. With that kind of a time frame, we can decide marriage and babies completely on the basis of what we want, and when we want it.”

   “Okay,” she whispered.

   “And, for the record, when we get around to creating the next Cleveland-Anderson generation, I will not consider the process ‘working on it!’”


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