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Published: October 24th 2003
I stuck to the backroads on my ride from Greenville to Goldsboro, North Carolina, but my faith in my DeLorme road atlas was substantially shaken. I had planned a simple route to my destination that entailed turning off of a state route onto the smaller "Pate Road," making a left onto "Turner Hill Road," and then finally turning at the intersection with "Hood Swamp Road." The only problem was that the roads weren't there.
Or rather, they were there, but the names of the roads had changed since my atlas was printed. I rode along, repeating to myself the name of the next road I needed to turn at, but I never saw it. Finally, I stopped in the little hamlet of Jason, and consulted my map. Jason was shown on my map as being at least 4 miles past my turn. I looked at the street names about me, but they didn't match up to my map. Although I had been taught in Boy Scouts that asking for directions was something only Girl Scouts did, I swallowed my pride and approached a man chewing on some pork rinds, and asked "Do you know where Pate Road is?"
"Pate road? (munch, munch) Never heard of it. Where ya trying to get to?"
"Mmm..(munch, munch) Well, go north up the street, turn left, head to the stop sign, turn left, go to the next stop sign and turn left again. Keep going on that road and you'll see signs for Hood Swamp."
I considered his directions for a moment, and said, "That doesn't seem quite right. A left, a left, and a left again? Won't that having me heading back east? I want to be going north."
"Trust me, it'll work."
"Sure it will..."
I followed the first part of his directions, and took a left. After a couple of miles I came to an intersection, consulted my map, and found that one road name agreed with my map. Based upon my map, if I made the left as I was advised to, I would have found myself back where I had started. So I took a chance and turned right. At the next intersection I found myself in the same situation: only one road name corresponded to my map. But based upon the geography of the roads, I thought I knew where I was on my map. So I turned right again, and after a few more miles I found myself at the intersection of Hood Swamp Road.
A little further down the road I came to the old Hood Swamp Meetinghouse, and only a few minutes later my hosts for the night showed up. Velda Faye was the clerk of the Meeting, and her husband Bobby was a man of few words who drove an immaculate blue pickup truck that he had bought in 1972. Everything except the seatbelts and the radio in his truck worked. While Bobby had little to say, Velda Faye made up for him.
It was as Bobby was driving us around on a tour of the Quaker Meetings in the area that Velda Faye told me of her tenth birthday, when she had walked down to the newspaper office with some of her family to hear what the latest news was. And the latest news was that on August 6, 1945, Velda Faye's birthday, Hiroshima had been bombed. Recovering from rheumatoid fever, Velda Faye immediately thought of the children her age who were also stricken with illness, although for them there would be no easy recovery from radiation poisoning.
From then on, Velda Faye's birthday was marked by newspaper articles and television stories commemorating the anniversary of Hiroshima, and she could not help but identify with the children who survived the blast. "Harry Truman said he never lost a night's sleep over his decision to drop the bomb," Velda Faye told me, "But I lost sleep for him and me."
Underneath the flight path of the nearby Air Force base, I'm sure Velda Faye spent a lifetime looking up to the sky and thinking of the sound of a single plane flying high over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. As she said, "I know what those refuelling planes sound like, I know when something is up."
On September 11, 2001 Americans found a new sense of empathy for those who had suffered in the terrorist attacks. But instead of reaching a universal empathy with all victims of war, irregardless of nationality, many Americans have been content to channel their pain into supporting new acts of violence. One hundred years ago our troops slaughtered Spaniards to the cries of "Remember the Maine!" Last year the Pentagon released footage of Amercan paratroopers in Afghanistan preparing for battle, and packing up pictures of the burning Twin Towers. It seems that there are few amongst us like Velda Faye who can see that war kills all people, and the cycle of violence cannot be stopped with more violence. At this rate, America is making enemies faster than they can be killed.
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