I have an uncle named Sam. I saw his picture all over town. It was in every store window and on the sides of buildings. I thought he was scary--all old and grumpy looking and always pointing his finger right at me. All the signs said the same thing: he wanted me. I didn't know for sure what that meant, but it was worth a tremble or two. Then came the day when mom had taken me to the drug store with her and there, right inside the door was this big poster with the same man on it. Uncle Sam. That was the day I told mom I knew the names of all my uncles but I couldn't figure out who this Uncle Sam was. I asked her if Sam was her brother or dad's brother. Mom explained that he wasn't anyone's brother but he was everyone's Uncle. When I argued that nobody could possibly be everyone's Uncle, she explained that Uncle Sam didn't really exist. The name was just a word that meant the President and all the government people who made the rules for our country. Young as I was, I took it to mean that Uncle Sam must be like God--in charge of everything. Do you suppose the Lord will call me to account for getting things so mixed up?
Farmers are as important as soldiers. I don't recall when my dad and all his best friends went to enlist, nor do I know if I was ever aware of it. What I do remember is that my parents talked about them all the time, always wondering amongst themselves how they were doing and hoping they were safe. One day I asked mom why dad wasn't a soldier like his friends were and that's when I learned that although he had tried to enlist, the recruiting office had turned him down. I questioned as to why when I knew him to be big and strong. "Because he's a farmer," said my mother. She went on to say that the recruiting officer told dad to go back to the family farm as there was no one else to work it. Yes, they needed soldiers. But they needed all the farmers to produce crops for the troops and the homefront. And while I agreed that growing food was an important job, I could never figure out how it got to the soldiers without spoiling. Besides, we ate nearly everything our garden produced. What we couldn't eat, mom canned. Other than the forty acres dad always planted with wheat or corn, there was nothing left to send to the soldiers. It was a puzzle I never quite figured out. Do you suppose farmers are still as important as those who do the fighting?
Even kids have to help win a war. Grown-ups have the big jobs; kids have the little ones. Like saving the foil from gum wrappers. In those days, each stick of gum came wrapped in a foil covered paper and we were to peel off the foil, save it, and help win the war. Never made sense to me, but I did what was required. I gave the foil to mom, all rolled into a tiny ball. What she did with it was always a mystery. The signs around town said to save rubber and metal and grease and aluminum and foil and a bunch of other things and take them to a place where they could be turned into airplanes and bombs and other scary stuff. I could never wrap my mind around what good that little ball of foil could do anymore than I could ever figure out how bacon grease turned into a bomb. Do you suppose I was dumb or just an ordinary kid?
Everyone at home had to help fight the war. I remember seeing signs about knitting socks for soldiers and helping the Red Cross in any way possible and while I don't know if mom joined the Red Cross, I do know she helped those who did because there was a time when she took me with her. While mom didn't knit, she loved to cook, and there was a day when we went to a big building in our town and into a large, dimly lit room where about twelve ladies were sitting in a circle knitting. Other ladies were at long tables on another side of the room, cutting white fabric into long strips and other ladies were rolling them into balls. I understood the knitting because of the signs I'd seen. But I'd not seen anything about cutting up sheets--which is what it looked like to me. What is that about? I questioned. Bandages for the soldiers who get hurt, my mom told me. I thought about my uncle the medic and wondered if any of those bandages would ever be in his hands. Being there that day, observing the women who worked so diligently, made a lasting impression on me. It brought the war home, to a place I could understand. Perhaps my uncle wouldn't eat our corn or use our saved foil, but in my mind, there was a possibility those bandages could end up in his hands. Do you suppose any of our wounded troops actually thought about where those white bandages came from or the homefront hands that had cut and rolled them with such prayerful love and caring?