TITLE: My Boys
AUTHOR: Kestabrook
EMAIL: Kestabrook@aol.com 
SPOILER: In Excelsis Deo
CLASSIFICATION: Vignette
CONTENT: Post-ep (kind of); Mrs. L's POV
RATING: G
SUMMARY: While at Arlington, Mrs. Landingham
reflects on all her boys.
DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Aaron
Sorkin and company. I'm just borrowing them.
COMMENTS: This is my first West Wing fanfic, so
please be gentle with me!!
FEEDBACK: I'd love it if helpful or positive.

My Boys (01 of 01)
by Kestabrook

A cold day--normal for winter in Washington, D.C.
Maybe it's the only thing that's normal about this
day before Christmas. After all, many people would
be readying to celebrate the holiday with a tree
surrounded by gifts. But I, on the other hand,
stare at a flag-draped coffin surrounded by
countless white markers. And I huddle into my coat
more as a chill embraces me.

I sit in this quiet, massive cemetery, watching,
honoring. Remembering. Feeling. So many have given
their lives or of their lives for this country--
and this place shows only a fraction of that
number. It tends to humble me when I think of the
freedoms they've given me through their
sacrifices.

I manage one cautious glimpse which reveals that
your attention is rapt; your eyes do not stray
from the Honor Guard as it ritualistically
conducts the graveside ceremony. And for the
umpteenth time today, I am glad I decided to
accompany you here. You didn't ask me to. In fact,
you were surprised when I told you I wanted to
come. But you didn't ask why, Toby Ziegler; you
probably already knew why. And I'm grateful that
you merely ushered me toward the waiting car and
the silent ride.

I had to come with you. I watched the Mural Room
fill with the young choir--boys whose faces
reflected no knowledge of war and its destruction.
I watched our own White House people enter the
room to be entertained. How easy to forget those
who've gone before; how easy to forget even the
likes of Lowell Lydell, who had in his own way
fought for the freedom to live as he wanted. How
easy to forget so many of our boys. But I can't
forget. And so I had to come, Toby.

I'm glad there's no snow. Snow tends to make
everything more depressing and lonely than it
already is. Green grass surrounds us, and maybe
Walter Hufnagel would be glad to see that. To know
he'll be buried beneath green grass. My boys were
buried when snow surrounded us. A very bleak day
that was.

My boys. They were twins, you know. I hadn't
expected or planned for both of them, but the
births of my Andrew and Simon were a gift for
which I've always been grateful. They were simply
twice as much joy.

As I was telling Charlie, I tried to keep my boys
somewhat separate. I wanted each twin to have his
own personality. I tried to dress them
differently, to encourage each in his own
aspirations and dreams. But no matter what I did,
they seemed to be a united pair. And that was
okay, too.

My boys were such fun. I used to watch them
through the kitchen window as they played in the
back yard. I believe the only real arguments they
ever had, concerned which of them would be Elvis
or Bobby Darin. I can still hear their laughter
and their awful renditions of "Hound Dog" and
"Mack the Knife." Later, they played basketball or
catch or football. They double-dated to the proms.
They were fun boys, and those were good years.

They were also boys of whom to be proud, I can
tell you that. Tops in their classes all the way
through school. Honors and awards aplenty.
Scholarships. I always wanted my boys to do their
best and to be serious about the things that
mattered most to them, and they never let me down.

They were never the type to try to get away with
things either. I could trust them. If they said
they would be somewhere, that's where they were.
Never did a public embarrassment come from my
boys. Not one.

I remember them as they went off to college, both
planning to be doctors. What a celebration we had
when their letters of acceptance arrived. Yet, I
felt pride mixed with heartbreak as they left our
home. Of course, I wanted them to succeed in their
lives, but that empty back yard was almost too
much to bear.

I remember them as they came to the house to tell
us of their draft notices. To tell us they planned
to fight for the United States in Vietnam even
though they could have avoided it. Even though we
begged them to change their minds.

And I remember nights of tears--tears hidden from
my brave twins until the day they left. Tears then
openly shed--even by them as they hugged me the
final time. I can still remember their strong,
warm embraces. Their long arms wrapped so easily
around their mother, holding me close as I let
tears flow into the wool of their coats. And I
remember watching them as they boarded the plane.
Watching till there was no sight remaining of
their backs--or of their plane as it took them
into the clouds.

I remember all too well seeing them that last
time.

And I remember the military men at my front door
on that horrible winter day, talking about bravery
and sacrifice. As those men talked, I thought of
my boys' smiles turning to grimaces; of their
sturdy, athletic bodies riddled and turning limp
and cold. I realized I would never cry into the
wool of their coats again. That I would be denied
giving them a triumphant welcome home. That I
would never see them practice medicine, nor would
I attend their weddings. I would never be
grandmother to their children. I would never see
them again in this life. I realized my boys were
gone.

Again, I glimpse over at you, Toby. And I wonder--
did your mother also watch your back as you
boarded a plane to take you away from her? Did she
cry whenever your letters arrived to tell her that
things weren't so bad, that you were doing fine,
that you'd be home before she knew it? Did she
jump every time the phone rang? Did she pray
nearly every waking moment for your safe return?
Did she feel tremendous pride mixed with horrible
worry, knowing that you were over there?

What would she think of you today as you--having
gone against what's "right" and used your position
to "pull strings"--attend a funeral for a homeless
Korean War veteran whom you didn't even know and
about whom others conveniently forgot? What would
she think of you for having arranged this
ceremony?

I know what I think of you.

When the call came this morning, to inform the
President that the military funeral *he'd*
arranged was a go, I knew very well what I thought
of you. And when later I told you, "You absolutely
should not have done that," I hoped you would pick
up on *my* signs. That you would know my heart
held such pride for you, such gratitude for what
you were doing for Mrs. Hufnagel's boy. I only
hope that whoever brought my boys out of that
hellhole treated them with the same respect, the
same concern. I hope there was a Toby Ziegler
watching out for them.

You know, I used to bake them cookies--my boys. I
guess I still do. For in a way, Toby, you are one
of my boys--you and the others on the Senior
Staff. Even that vegetable-hating President of
ours is my boy in a way. I take good care of you
all, but you deserve it.

Like my boys, Toby, you're a man willing to
sacrifice, willing to give up personal comfort and
happiness to serve his country--both back then,
and now. You're a man who does what he thinks is
right, who doesn't cower under pressure, who
doesn't take the easy path if another one is
better. I cherish that. I respect that in all my
boys.

A gun suddenly fires, and I jump. The gun salute
has begun. What a horrible noise. How terrifying
that this is the last sound my boys ever heard.
Another report, and I shudder. A third. My eyes
squeeze shut. And then it's over. The flag is
presented to George--after you indicate that he
should receive it--and the gesture to stand is
given to us.

Another soldier retired. Another boy returned to
his home.

I watch George lay flowers on the coffin. They are
the only things this simple man has to give to
honor his brother. Flowers--and his presence...and
you made both possible for him, Toby.

I feel your hand on my back, guiding me to leave
this site. And in a single line, we file toward
the car. Silently. Reverently. The cold air
re-introduces itself as the ceremony fades into
the past. And I adjust my scarf, pulling it a bit
tighter around my neck.

I stand back, waiting, as you open the door for
George and then close it after he takes the back
seat. You move toward my side of the car, opening
the door for me, too, but before I get inside, I
stop. I look up into your intelligent, sad eyes,
seeing there the pain of your memories--of boys'
bodies horrifically mutilated; of suffering you
could only watch, not prevent; of deaths that
robbed families of their children or fathers; of
sacrifices made for others' freedom. I see in your
eyes your sympathy for my boys.

I touch the wool coat which covers your arm. I
say, "Thank you, Toby." And I hope you understand
what all I mean by that.

Christmas is tomorrow, but it really hasn't come
for a long time. We ride off in the car toward a
holiday darkened with losses, but made a bit
brighter because Toby Ziegler, one of my boys,
cared.
************************************************
End "My Boys" (01 of 01)

 

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