Parris Island in July: Part 2

Published 10:17 am Wednesday, July 22, 2015

So here’s what happens when you send your son off to Marine boot camp. First, you learn not to call it boot camp. It’s recruit training.

Next, you get up really early and watch him swear in at an enlistment station. That’s also where an officer explains that your son (and you, by relation) have entered a new culture – the military one. The guy who tells you this seems pretty nice, so you smile back.

Right after that, you head to the airport and sit with your son (and three other recruits) for several hours. You offer to buy him anything he wants, including a Starbucks white chocolate mocha (the receipt from which, you later notice, has been secured by your husband to a position of immortality on the dresser mirror). About an hour into the wait you discover a kin connection with the kid from Hurley. His mother confirms it during one of the calls he makes using your phone (they can’t take theirs).

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And it is during those hours of watching stewardesses in high heels pass by and a sea of Alaska-bound mission trippers sort their luggage that you realize having time to think isn’t always a good thing. The pit in your stomach confirms it, and the notion is later verbalized by the security guy who tells you (as you’re waving your final goodbyes) that it’s best to “leave them at the curb.” We do not bother to tell him, as knowledgeable as he may be in such matters, that we have never been curb-droppers.

At that point you go home and begin to wait for The Call. It comes at 10:15, and you can hear “-cruit – derson – has –safe-rived” shouted at such a high decibel level that your husband must hold it away from his ear. It is a scripted message, as expected, with much chaos is the background, but it is the voice of your son, and you are thankful for it. In the extreme.

For the next two weeks you wait for The Letter. You get so many texts from friends and family asking if you’ve gotten The Letter that your teenager says she is jealous of how many texts you’ve gotten asking if you’ve gotten The Letter. In the meantime, you wash less laundry, cook less food and clean less house. You also pen a column that results in a sweet email from a mother who went through the same thing in 1980 and assures you that all will be well. That’s just after she writes that her son, following his graduation at Parris Island, spent an entire year plotting how he could do harm to his drill instructor.

On a Sunday afternoon the phone rings just as you’re pulling the pot roast from the oven, and there’s a lady on the other end who’s unpacking from her trip to Ireland. She happened to be on the plane with your son that day he left for Marineland, and she made him a promise. Her making good on it, well, it just makes your day. And the fact that she was the wife of Jack Lucas, the youngest Marine in history to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor – well, that was nice, too. Especially since she promised to send you that book about him.

Finally, on a scorcher of a Monday, after buying fewer groceries than you ever have, you pull up to the mailbox and there, tucked in between a Lott Furniture flyer and a livestock catalog, is not only The Letter, but two. You are taken by surprise at the emotions evoked by the penmanship (we should have worked harder on that) marking those envelopes. You use every bit of willpower you have to force yourself and your daughter to put the frozen foods away before you pile on the couch and devour. every. single. word.

And it is harder than you thought it would be, the reading. Because you want to hear about pull-ups (did 20), not a live-virus pill (took that). You want to hear about the food (it’s fine) and the haircut (got it). But there is something between the lines you sense, especially when he asks for prayers “because it is hard to be a light in such darkness.”

Then he makes one last request of you, after the ones for letters, photos and 85 protein bars (has to be enough for the whole platoon). “Change the world with your writings, Mom. The world needs change and Christ so bad.”

And that’s what happens (well, can happen) when you send your son off to boot camp. I mean recruit training.


Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at