January 16, 1991. I was eleven. I clearly remember it was a Wednesday as my mother had tossed the idea of skipping mid-week church to hear President Bush speak on the day’s events. America was officially at war. The word scared me – I suppose it still does today. My heart sank and my eyes must have grown the size of silver dollars as my mother, hiding the heaviness in her voice, quickly assured me “It will be okay. There are wars all the time all over the world.” At eleven, my only pictures of war were from drawings and stories in my history book and from the faces of the men who stood at Branson variety shows when veterans were recognized (I didn’t realize my grandfathers had served our country until years later), but the history pages were black and white; many with mere sketchings of past Presidents or military generals. The reality of the war playing out on CNN with reporters ducking for cover as the night raids brought rockets and bombs was redefining my ideas. Several months later when my classmate’s dad was sent to Desert Storm, we all wrote him letters, colored yellow ribbons, and sing-songed chants of “Peace in the Middle East.”
Over the past few weeks I’ve reminisced at my naivety from those 22 years ago and been thankful for it. This past September 11, my school-teacher nephew asked his junior high students what the day meant to them. Many of them had never seen pictures of “9-11” or known the details of that tragic day – the start of a new, different kind of war. I suppose that depending on the generation - and situation - “war” may be defined by yellow ribbons and patriotism, by hippies and protests, by the latest Call of Duty game or television drama or my own TV flips from SpongeBob and back to Fox news, depending on if my six-year old, cotton-topped son is in the room. So, with his cartoon on pause, I asked him last night, “Cole, what does the word “war” mean?” “Oh, you mean like a thumb war?” he asked, with an excited grin on his face, ready to battle. “Yes, buddy. That’s exactly what I mean.” For now, anyway.
(Allyson McElroy is a vice president at People’s Electric Cooperative where she has been employed for over 15 years. She and husband Michael and son Cole are active in the community and their church.)