Thanksgiving Day dawned blue and windless, a pleasant snap of chill in the air. The two couples rose early and ate a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and buckwheat flapjacks in front of a cozy fire in the Carsons’ living room.
They had met that spring at a peace demonstration in Washington and immediately hit it off. They had made arrangements to spend Thanksgiving weekend together. The Carsons, Paul and Sarah, lived in a pleasant, rambling brick house near the zoo in Cape May Court House. Sarah taught eighth grade special education and Paul taught computer science at a local high school. They had two grown children who had moved away and had families and careers of their own. Their guests, Chuck and Mary Love, lived in New Brunswick where Chuck worked as a research chemist at Johnson & Johnson and Mary operated a yarn shop on the outskirts of the Rutgers campus. They were childless.
After breakfast, the women bundled up for a morning walk with the Carsons’ Labrador retriever, Sasha, while the men prepared the Thanksgiving turkey and side dishes. Paul Carson loved cooking and enthusiastically undertook most of the couple’s meals, and Chuck Love had volunteered to assist him while the women walked. When they returned, and the turkey was roasting in the oven, the two couples would drive to the intersection of Routes 9 and 47 in Rio Grande for a one-hour demonstration against the war in Iraq. Usually the Carsons’ group demonstrated on Friday, but their leadership had thought that a Thanksgiving demo would be all the more symbolic. Actually, the two dozen or so people – mostly middle-aged, middle class couples – who demonstrated on a regular basis at the intersection were well aware that their efforts were mostly symbolic, but they helped to alleviate in some small measure the frustration they felt at the tragic and wasteful and seemingly inexorable conflict that spiraled on and on in that remote desert country.
As the women walked, Mary Love said, “I heard a roar last night before we fell asleep. Was it a lion at the zoo? It was really deep and long.”
“Yep,” Sarah answered. “When the wind blows from that direction, it sounds like he’s in the next block. The first time I took Sasha for a walk and she heard it, she turned tail and almost dragged me back home. She still won’t let us take her in that direction. You know how skittish Labs are.”
When they arrived at the demonstration site, most of the regulars were already there and Paul and Sarah introduced their guests, who were warmly greeted and welcomed because it had been a long time since any new people had joined their group. There were no young people present. The Carsons’ daughter, Rachel, before she married, had come along once when she was home from college, and had told her parents that the war was not a factor in the lives and thoughts of her generation, who were mostly preoccupied with getting on in life and attaining as much material success as possible.
Most of the demonstrators already had their signs out and were pacing along the shoulder of the road toward traffic. Their signs were printed on both sides so they could be read when the marchers turned around and sported rejoinders like: “Bring Our Troops Home!” and “End the War Now!” and “Wanted for Crimes Against the Planet” with photos of the president, vice president and secretary of defense. There were also some signs that asked motorists to “Honk If You Want the War Ended!”
Not everyone marched. Several very elderly people sat in lawn chairs, gossiping and occasionally calling out words of support to their fellow activists.
The Carsons got signs out of the back of their Ford Explorer and handed two to the Loves and they joined the slowly moving procession of protestors, talking idly and dipping their signs in thanks to motorists who honked against the war.
Presently, across the intersection, an old Chrysler van pulled up and unloaded what appeared to be a family of five – the parents and two young boys and a little girl – who got their own signs from the van and began a counter-demonstration.
“That’s the Crouse family,” explained Paul Carson to the Loves. “Every time we’re here they show up and begin their own little parade of ignorance. You’ll get a kick out of their signs.”
Chuck Love read a few out loud: “ ‘The Protestors Across the Street Support Terrorists’ and ‘Honk If You Support the Troops!’ They do this every time you’re here?” he asked incredulously.
“Yep,” answered Sarah. “It gets to be a honking battle sometimes. One time, the father, Bill, got so mad that he came over here and began screaming at us and Larry, who you met, had to call the cops and get an injunction for him to stay on his side. The next time we were here he had signs that said ‘Larry Is a Tattle-Tale!’ and ‘Larry Wears Girl’s Underwear!’ Even our people had to laugh. I wonder what he’ll do when he sees you guys? He knows all of us and will know you’re new.”
Across the road, Bill Crouse was carrying a sign apropos of the Thanksgiving holiday that read “Don’t Pay Attention to Those Turkeys!” with an arrow pointing at the anti-war people. As he walked, he kept looking over, his head cocked to one side and his face screwed up in a frown of curiosity and perplexity.
After ten minutes or so, he could contain himself no longer, and handed his sign to one of his children and, during a break in traffic, trotted over to his antagonists. He was a large, fleshy man in his mid-forties dressed in a worn, dirty gray down jacket, greasy khaki pants, and cheap black sneakers patched with duct tape. Up close, his mottled brown eyes were wide and unblinking.
He strutted down the line of protestors until he reached the Loves and, hands on his hips, confronted them belligerently.
“You know what you’re doing, don’t you?” he rasped, small beads of spittle at one corner of his mouth.
Chuck and Mary Love stopped and regarded him evenly, silent.
“I SAID DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING?” he almost bellowed, reddening.
When they still didn’t reply, he answered for them: “You’re dishonoring our brave troops and this great country, that’s what you’re doing. You know that, don’t you? ”
Still the Loves were silent.
“ANSWER ME, DAMMIT!” he screamed.
Mary Love looked at her husband, who nodded slightly.
In a loud, clear voice, she said, “Let me tell you about honor, sir. What we’re doing is honoring our only son, a soldier who was killed by a car bomb in Fallujah almost two years ago. Before that, like you, we blindly, stupidly believed all the lies they told us. When he was killed, it shocked us into really looking at this war and what we saw was a sham of perverted politics, greed, and arrogance. Nowhere did we see even a vestige of honor except among the young people who were fighting and dying. Our country’s honor has been mortgaged to pay a debt of blood and immorality that grows with each day and each death and in this small way we are trying to restore it.
“Now please excuse us,” she said, looking him directly in the eye and beginning to walk again with her husband, who had been standing erect at her side the whole time.
Crouse was left gasping after them. Then he slowly crossed the road and resumed his picketing, glancing across occasionally, obviously shaken.
The Carsons approached their guests almost cautiously after the confrontation.
“We had no idea you’d lost a son,” Sarah Carson said softly. “We’re so sorry.”
“I know. We rarely speak of it,” said Mary Love. “We just live with it.”