At the Forest Diner, like many places, the talk during breakfast, lunch and dinner has been of the latest Persian Gulf story. And when ground forces became engaged last week for the first time, it only fueled more of the same.
But waitress Pauline Chausse does not get into the minute-to-minute discussion of the war, even though her son, Sgt. Michel Chausse of 290th Military Police Company of Towson, is serving in Operation Desert Storm, about 20 miles from the Kuwaiti border.
An occasional patron of the diner, on Route 40, will give her a hug, and another will take her question of "How're you doing?" by asking without answering "How are you doing?"
When terms like "CNN-Syndrome" are used to describe those who are addicted to information about the Persian Gulf, Pauline, a native of Canada, keeps to the same routine that she had before Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm became part of the vernacular. She claims that her regular source of information about the gulf is only the nightly news, which she usually watches between serving diners.
"No, I haven't changed," she says in a French accent with a Scottish tint, "(We'll) never know the truth until it is all done."
She may be keeping her own private distance, but she and the diner and its patrons are openly pulling in other ways for her son, whom they have watched grow from a child into a soldier. On Pauline's blouse are two gold-bordered pendants, each containing a picture of her son on duty in Saudi Arabia. Both pendants are tied with yellow ribbons. Other waitresses remember Sergeant Chausse with more pendants, yellow ribbons and even yellow blouses. Pauline has sent 200 similar pendants and mailed them to friends in the area and her Canadian relatives.
One wall of the diner is devoted to Sergeant Chausse. Newspaper clippings, snapshots, a map of the MiddleEast and more yellow ribbon adorn the wall. On a nearby table is an enormous greeting card for Sergeant Chausse that stands about 2 feet high. Dozens of patrons have signed it so far. A second giant card has been signed by the Chausse family's neighbors in Ellicott City.
"Friends are everything," she said. "Especially for us because our relatives live in Montreal.
Pauline readily furnishes pictures of her son in the Middle East to whoever inquires about him. Most show Sergeant Chausse and fellow soldiers in the Arabian landscape and their encampment. One, however, betrays a tender sense of poignancy. It shows the sergeant and two of his fellow soldiers in their fatigues before a 1-foot Christmas tree buried in what appears to be the wall of afoxhole or defensive trench -- a symbol of Christmas forbidden in that nation.
Sergeant Chausse's path to the Middle East probably started when he graduated from Centennial High School in 1981. His only option for a college education was serving in the military. After being stationed in Germany for three years, he returned to the states with plans to earn a degree in international criminology.
He graduated from Towson State University in May 1988, but found full-time employment in his National Guard unit headquartered in Towson. Before Operation Desert Shield, he was part of the military police force stationed in Panama after the U.S. invasion in December 1989.
Since the first week of December 1990, he has been stationed in the Saudi desert. Pauline has received four letters from her son and a telephone call every 10 days, which come to the Forest Diner. "He called me three times at work here. He says, 'Hi' to all the people in the back. Everybody knows him here."
His address has been changed five times since his arrival. The Middle East map on the wall in the dining room marks these different addresses with small stars. The stars form a right angle starting at Riyadh, forming the angle at Dhahran, then two more stars lead toward the Kuwaiti border. The final star touches the line marking the Kuwaiti/Saudi Arabian frontier.
Pauline, who has five children and two grandchildren, is facing the possibility that another son, Second Lt. Jean R. Chausse, might also be headed to the Middle East. He is presently serving in Mainz, Germany.
Pauline doesn't see another son in the region changing her attitude during this crisis, "No problem. Both of them have that attitude. They're doing what they want to do. They want to repay their government for all that it has done for them with honor, pride and joy."