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Tales from a small town

Short stories about life in a small town. Non-fiction. Great reading.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Zell Miller and spitballs

I watched the Republican convention Wednesday night, and I saw something that I'll never forget: Zell Miller's speech.

I was sitting in the living room, the convention providing background ambiance; kids playing, conversation with family members going; it was just an ordinary evening at home.

I was looking at our local paper. It was opened to the obituary section. I was looking at the names, trying to determine if they were the names of people I was acquainted with, or if the names were just one or two letters off from the names of people I'm acquainted with. It takes concentration. Sometimes, you look at the organizations they've belonged to, or at the names of surviving family members, if you're not completely sure. I think we've all been there.

I was half listening to his speech, pretty much picking up on the standard, "blah, blah, blah..." He was going through a list of weapons systems Kerry voted against by name: "blah, blah, blah, F-22 Raptor, blah, blah, blah, Aegis, blah, blah," and so on. Pretty much standard fare.

Then, it hit me: the defining moment when you know you'll remember where you were when you first heard it; it was when he said, "What does he expect to arm those missile batteries with? Spitballs?"

I'm still concentrating on the differences between "Smith," and "Smithe," and I'm thinking to myself, "Oh, hell no! He did not just say that!"

Forget about the rhetoric we've all heard a thousand times, about getting a permission slip from France, or a permission slip from the UN; this guy was pissed, and he wasn't holding back. He was tossing bombs, and he wasn't acting in the least bit apologetic about it.

He was talking about rallying around the president during a time of war. He was talking about not allowing partisan differences getting in the way of patriotism. He was talking about what made America great during WWII.

This struck a chord with me. I remember my grandfather talking about how he couldn't stand FDR. He remembers in the months before Pearl Harbor, listening to FDR talking about how he would, "...not send any mother's son to die on the battle fields of Europe," and how excited he was to hear that.

My grandfather said that FDR went back on his promise, and how betrayed he felt. He felt further betrayed when, at the age of 32, he got his draft notice. He was just engaged to my grandmother. They had big plans. The wedding date was already set. Unfortunately, the big day was during what would be his time in basic training. The plans had to be moved up.

They rescheduled the date. He got another notice from the draft board: due to unfavorable events in the Pacific Theatre, the date to report to basic training had been changed. He was to report immediately. They went to Arkansas. The only way for him to get married before basic training, was to get married on a Friday in Little Rock. The only stores that carried wedding gowns, were in the rich, Jewish section of Little Rock. Those stores were closed on Fridays.

My grandmother had to go to a less well-to-do secion of Little Rock, in search of an appropriate dress. The only one that looked good, and fit her right off the rack, was a racy, black dress. She got married in a black cocktail dress!

So what does any of this have to do with Zell Miller's speech on Wednesday night? Everything! My grandfather told me that despite the fact he hated FDR for going back on his promise not to send, "...any mother's son into battle on European battlefields," he sucked it up and reported for duty, regardless of his personal circumstances.

My grandmother had to ration gasoline; she couldn't buy any rubber products. The small-town newspaper my grandfather owned, was now without a publisher. My grandmother had to learn how to set type on a linotype machine, sell classified and display ads, and find out through trial and error, the fact that you reported a subscriber's bridge party on Saturday night, over a non-subscriber's engagement announcement, if space was limited.

They got through it. They rallied behind the president. America rallied behind the president. America won WWII.

What's different today? We don't rally behind the president. We call him a baby-killer, incompetent, too simple to understand the complexities of French culture, etc.

Zell Miller reminded me of the WWII generation's desire to put aside partisan differences, and what they accomplished as a result. Zell Miller did this with fire in his eyes and passion in his heart. Zell Miller reminded me that we're only an attitude-change away from recapturing America's greatness. Zell Miller reminded me that we no longer have to put our tail between our legs because of the mistake of Viet Nam.

I will always remember what I was doing, and where I was, when I heard Zell Miller's speech.