Sunday, June 29, 2008

'Twas the Night Before R-Day...

...and all through the hotel, all sorts of nervous "cadet candidates" (to become "new cadets" on the next day), parents, and other family members were stirring. They were everywhere: checking in, filling ice buckets, standing outside smoking, loitering here and there.

What they/we should have been doing was going to bed early, especially those of us with the 0630 report time in the morning. (The *official* 0630 call, that is. It seems that in the Army "early is on time," whereas "on time is late."). But no. We were more like antsy little kids waiting for Santa to drop in.

Our cadet candidate was in that 0630 group, but instead of going to bed early, we wandered upstairs to the balcony/deck for some solitude to ponder the enormity of what was coming up in a few short hours. However there was no solitude to be had. The balcony was full of others out there, just like us, with just the same thoughts on their minds.

So there we sat, alone in the crowd, and then invariably the small talk would start up. "Where are you from?" is always a favorite, and we learned that the young man sitting at the table with us was from Texas. YES!

Nighttime is not the best time to be away from home, particularly when facing a life-changing event, but there we were, bonded together into an odd fraternity of strangers. There was a big well-kept lawn going down to the road, and across the road was a body of water of some kind. It was beautiful, but foreign and uncomforting, giving rise to all manner of disconcerting thoughts.

And then...what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a skunk waddling around on that immaculate lawn. I poked the person next to me and whispered, "Is that a skunk?!" Yep, it was, but by the time he looked, there were two skunks. And then there were three. WOW! Just like HOME! And here we thought Texas had the corner on the skunk market! It wasn't long before the whole crowd began snickering and pointing. And it wasn't long until a fourth and then a fifth skunk showed up, milling around like a garden party.

By that time the skunks had the attention of the entire balcony assembly, though not that of the couple who stood on the edge of the parking lot, just a few feet away from a stand of tall grass where the skunk party kept going in and out. They (the couple, not the skunks) were hotly discussing something or other, completely oblivious to their peril.

Our focus began to shift somewhat from the skunks themselves, to wondering who would notice whom first, and speculating on all the possibilities that might occur? It happened that the people noticed the skunks before the skunks noticed the people, and they began pointing and inching away. This provided a whole new wave of amusement to those of us not immediately in harm's way. Fortunately the skunks behaved themselves and continued their marauding without making any sort of statement.

I often wonder what prompted God to create the skunk, but at least for that night, the funny little creatures provided some welcome comic relief to a poor band of uncertain ex-patriates.

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