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Grace Carlson

Three Growing Boys

(9 March 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 10, 9 March 1946, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Recently, the Woman’s Home Companion asked several thousands of its readers the question: “Now that the war has been over for some months, do you feel that we are on the road to permanent peace?” Eighty-two per cent answered, “No.”

Although I do not believe that she was approached by the Woman’s Home Companion investigator, I know one Detroit woman, who thinks the same way. She is sure that the United States will go to war again – and she is terrified at the thought!

I don’t even know her name. Ours was just a grocery store acquaintanceship. I met her one busy Saturday afternoon, after I had rescued her little boy from the grocery store window, where he was about to be snowed under by the piles of apples and oranges with which he had been playing. The mother thanked me gratefully and then turned to the four-year-old with that mixture of pride and irritation, which is characteristic of the parents of small children.

But her “Donald, you’re a bad boy,” didn’t bother Donald at all. He started for the window again, thinking that he would give the apples and oranges another try.

“I know that I spoil him,” she said to me apologetically when we were outside, “and I should know better too because I’ve brought up three other boys.” I was almost speechless with admiration for a woman, who could cope with the problem of four “Donalds.”

While I was trying to find words to express my admiration, she spoke again, And this time, there was a little catch in her voice. “Since Gordon died, I haven’t, been able to bring myself to punish Donald. When he was little, Gordon looked just like Donald does now – the same blue eyes and red hair, even the same dimple in his chin.” She pulled Donald’s curly head against her side in a gesture of affection – and sorrow.

I murmured a few words of sympathy, but the mother scarcely listened. She wanted to talk about her dead boy. The words came pouring out as if they had been dammed up for a long time,” Gordon was just 18. That’s why it’s so hard to believe that he’s dead. It’s almost a year now since we had the telegram from the War Department that he had been killed in action in Germany, but I still can’t believe that he’s really dead – that he’ll never come home again.”

* * *

Her voice broke then and we walked along in silence for a little while. When she spoke again, there was a note of anger in her voice. “It isn’t right for them to take a young boy like Gordon and give him only 17 weeks of training and then send him out to be shot. He just didn’t have a chance at all!”

All this came in a rush of anger. She paused a moment to catch her breath and then said in a meditative tone, “And I always took such good care of my boys. We never had much money, but they always went to a good baby doctor and had all their shots. Yes, you can save your boy from whooping cough but not from war!” She shook her head back and forth in a kind of hopeless anger, “It’s terrible, it’s terrible!”

I agreed with her that it was terrible and completely unjust! This seemed to give her the courage to go on. “And there’s another war coming. I’m half crazy worrying about it – when it will come and whether they’ll take my other boys, Robert is 14 and Peter is 16, so if the war comes in five or ten years, they’re sure to go. And, if the war holds off for fifteen years, they’d take all three – even the little one – even my baby!”

We had reached her home by then and were standing on the sidewalk outside talking. Donald was restless and wanted to go inside, so it was impossible to prolong the conversation. But I did say a few things about our fight against war and our hope for a socialist world of peace and brotherhood. I wanted to comfort her a little – to give her some hope for the future.

Otherwise, this world is a pretty terrifying place for the mother of three growing boys!

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