I was stepping off the school bus just as our letter carrier pulled up, envelopes in hand. Rather than stuffing them into the box, he passed the day’s bills and seed catalogs to me. I carried them up the driveway to the house.
Thumbing through them as I entered the kitchen, I found one that looked pretty official. The word “SUMMONS” covered most of the front and the return address was to the county’s circuit clerk.
“They’ve finally caught you,” I joked, handing it and the others to their addressee.
The Old Man saw it and sighed.
“Jury duty,” he said with a grimace.
I had heard my friends talk about the ploys their parents used to get out of serving on a jury, and I assumed the Old Man would be doing the same.
“Are you going to call in sick or tell them you’ll be on a business trip?” I asked.
He looked at me like I’d lost my mind.
“If I’m sick I’ll call in sick, but I’m not going to tell them a lie to get out of it,” he said.
I was a little embarrassed.
“It’s just, all my friends talk about how their parents hate jury duty,” I said.
“Well, it’s not my favorite thing in the world,” he said, “but it’s what we’re expected to do. It’s duty.”
I hadn’t really thought of it that way. I’d just assumed it was a tedious waste of time everyone did their best to avoid.
“Lots of people talk about being patriotic,” he said. “They’ll stand and salute for the pledge of allegiance, they’ll put their hand over their heart when the National Anthem plays, but they won’t really do anything toward doing their part if they can possibly avoid it. Lots of people claim they’d be at the head of the line if we were invaded, but that sort of thing practically never happens, so folks pay the taxes they can’t get out of and figure that’s enough.”
The Old Man had spent the early 1940s on a destroyer patrolling the North Atlantic from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Azores, but the duty he was talking about wasn’t anything as dramatic as that. No one was going to send a torpedo into the Lee County Courthouse. With that in mind, I asked him if he didn’t figure he’d already done enough.
“The little they’re asking me to do now helps preserve the whole lot they asked for back then,” he said. “It’s not much. Maybe that’s why people think so little of dodging it. The thing is, big, dramatic moments in life are rare. Most of life is made up of small decisions that don’t amount to much by themselves. Most likely, you’ll never be asked to go to war. I sure hope you don’t. But you’ll be asked to learn something about who’s running for office and vote. You’ll be asked to pay property taxes on this place when it’s yours. You’ll probably get drawn for jury duty now and then. Being a good citizen means doing the little things your community needs, especially if you don’t want to.”
I said I saw his point. The way he put it made a lot of sense.
“Besides, what if it were you or your kid on trial?” he asked. “Would you want to be judged by whatever 12 people couldn’t get out of serving?”
Kevin Tate is a freelance writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.