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In country

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It's not every Quaker mother who can take her 7-year-old, fourth-born, soccer-sibling-supporting, war-obsessed son into an Army Navy Surplus Store. And why is this mother doing this particular act of nonsense? I had promised the visit to him weeks ago, when, racing to his sister's soccer game in Sanford, he caught a glimpse of GI Joe's Army and Navy Surplus. Ah, the squeal he let out then. Here now was our compromise moment: He'd spectate yet another of her games and I'd take him to GI Joe's the next time we were headed south. He and his best war-obsessed friend. It wasn't enough that I was contributing to the delinquency of my minor; I was contributing to the delinquency of another's minor as well.

As we were driving into Clayton to find the infamous GI Joe's, an enormous red, white and blue sign blasted its message on the edge of town: JOHNSTON COUNTY IS BUSH CHENEY COUNTRY. Immediately I had that sick-to-my-stomach feeling, the one I've had for four years now, but particularly in the last few months as over and over again, we're all blasted with red, white and blue messages disguised as patriotism. I touched the Kerry/Edwards button on my sweatshirt. I'd bargained a stick of gum for it earlier in the morning, with same son, because it wasn't quite as loud as my usual North Carolinians for Kerry button. I started to think I might not be so welcome in Johnston County.

I followed the two ecstatic boys into the store. The ninja swords were displayed front and center. Bins of water containers, camo gear, boots, belts, caps, packs, bandannas and T-shirts jumped out at us. They walked silently down the aisles, occasionally touching something. Then they stopped in front of the grenade bin. Loud whispering ensued.

"D'you think they're real?"

"Course they're not real. If they were real we'd BLOW the place, like this...." and one of them pulled on the pin.

I whimpered softly.

"Mom. They're not real."

"They look real," I said.

"Mom, they're not real. They can't sell real grenades."

"They're just 7 bucks."

"A grenade for 7 bucks. We could get two."

"We could blow up the neighborhood."

"Uh...." (me again).

"Mom."

Camo belts were selected to finish off their gear.

"We can slip the rings through the loops."

"We'll have them whenever we need them."

"We can make a surprise attack."

"No one will hear us, then, BOOM."

I slunk up to the counter to help them pay for their gear. I watched them hand over their allowance. It was not my allowance, I said over and over again to myself. And then the owner, a short, crew-cut man leaned near me, looked sideways and whispered, "Where'd you get your button?"

"Up in Durham."

He nodded his head.

I whispered back. "I wasn't sure I'd be received that well down here..."

He looked sideways again and raised his finger to point at my pin. "I'm a Republican and I'm voting for THAT man."

I took off my pin and handed it to him. He waved his hand at first, but then accepted when I insisted. I don't know where he'll wear it. I didn't see too many Kerry signs the rest of the afternoon. But I walked out of GI Joe's a more relieved Quaker mother than when I'd walked in.

And the grenades? Haven't seen them since we left the soccer field.

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