Jess Clark was gone for thirteen years. He left for a commonplace reason—he was drafted—but within a few months of Harold’s accompanying his son to the bus depot in Zebulon Center, Jess and everything about him slipped into the category of the unmentionable” (6).
As a close knit community, one would think that Zebulon County would be constantly worrying about Jess as a family. He is the boy everyone watched grow up on the farm close by and the boy everyone knows got drafted. However, instead of supporting Jess and his family while they go through this rough time, Zebulon County simply stopped talking about him. This quote stood out to me because forgetting about Jess seems so unlike a small town where everyone is in each other’s business. Everyone talks about each other’s personal businesses constantly: land size, mortgages, families, and opinions. Jess was never among these. However, Jess comes back in 1979 after being away for thirteen years. This means he was drafted in 1966, or the year of the beginning of the Vietnam War. This war, being so brutal and highly protested, could have caused Jess to become taboo. The community did not want to upset the Clark family and simply wrote Jess off as a tragedy that once was the little farm boy down the way.
Despite Jess’s lengthy disappearance, nobody inquired too much about his life upon his return. He briefly mentions to Ginny, “I lived in Vancouver before the amnesty” (11). As The New York Times describes, the amnesty he mentions was a proclamation issued by President Ford giving a pardon to those who deserted their military positions or evaded their draft. This leads to thinking that Jess had deserted his position and hidden away in Vancouver. Canada, which was very minimally involved in the Vietnam War, was a very common place for American Draft-dodgers and deserters to hide out. The Canadian Encyclopedia reports that over 12,000 men found refuge in Canada after deserting their military duties in Vietnam.
Jess’s father, Harold Clark, being a very manly and prideful human being, would be appalled with his son if he had truly dipped out on his responsibilities and taken refuge in Canada instead of facing his duties. Harold and Jess seemed to have a great relationship before his draft; Harold even accompanied his son to the bus stop to say goodbye. However, upon his return, the father and son do not seem to have the best relationship as Jess describes to his neighbor and the narrator, Ginny, “Harold acts like I’ve been in prison or something; he hasn’t even asked me what I’ve been doing” (37). Harold, knowing Jess was avoiding his duties in Canada just months after leaving for his draft sentence, stopped talking about his disappointment of a son. Zebulon County, being considerate and not speaking about Jess, had no idea that Harold was not grieving over his son, but instead pushing his cowardly son out of his life. Through the little clues Jess gives and a basic knowledge of the Vietnam War, the reader can piece together the Clark family drama that Ginny cannot understand enough of to narrate.