mayWritten by the late James R. May. Originally published in the Oologah Lake Leader, August 2004.

Reality set in when my wife, Dori, and I saw the test kit results turn blue. We were going to be parents. There were new businesses for us to run, a larger apartment to find, and now a nursery to prepare.

We managed to sell one restaurant, open another and sell a building maintenance company before I took off some unscheduled time for a surprise heart attack. My young but determined wife managed the two remaining businesses by day and evening. She found time to take care of me at night in the hospital, all the while continuing her baby-making duties. It was a busy time for us. We took Lamaze birthing classes for five weeks, skipped a class to welcome the arrival of our new daughter and went to the class graduation party. Our new baby was the center of show-and-tell.

Some months later, we learned about Rogers County and the beauty of Green Country. Ashley, my Autumn Child as I thought of her, flourished in eastern Oklahoma. She went quickly from toddler to accomplished tricycle rider. All too soon for her doting dad came the first bicycle. No matter how hard it was for me, Ashley’s parental-induced limits stretched. First bike boundaries were limited to in front of the house. Next came the corners of the block, all within view of nervous parents. Soon came the day of the solo trip around the block and out of sight. Our baby was no longer a baby.

In a blur came parochial school, high school, college and graduation, each progressively enlightening and expensive. To offset university expenses, my wise child worked part time and joined the Air National Guard. With guard duties came heavy responsibilities. She reinforced her suspicions that there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

kuwaitAir Force boot camp in the Texas August heat is no picnic. Neither is a military deployment to Turkey. Next came more college and more military deployments. Ashley learned that traveling with the cargo in the belly of a C-130 was not exactly cruising with the civilian jet set. Neither was Kuwait a vacationer’s paradise. It was this military tour I think, that really brought home world realities to our young daughter. Her military unit set up in what were supposed to be “bomb-proof” concrete aircraft hangars. The installations had been built by the French to protect the Kuwaiti Air Force. They had been captured by Iraqi armored infantry forces.

When Ashley and her USAF buddies set up in these recaptured facilities, she was quick to note that each of the numerous hangars came equipped with a giant hole in what had been previously thought to be “bomb-proof.” Scattered about lay the remains of submunitions from cluster bombs. “You might want to stay away from those,” said her sergeant. Ashley learned two things on that deployment. The US Air Force makes better bombs than the French do “bomb-proofs.” Secondly, she learned that war is deadly serious business.

From that military deployment onward, I became keenly aware that my heretofore Autumn Child was no longer a child. Ashley will always be my daughter, but never again will she be a child.