Like countless women who've agonized over sons, brothers or husbands at the front, Evelyn Jackson pulls peace from skeins of yarn.

"When I worry, I knit," she says.

Which is why on this particular day -- the day of the midnight Iraqi withdrawal deadline -- she'll check the TV news, fret for a while and then force herself to go to the basement.

There she'll thread one of her five knitting machines, program a pattern into its computer and move the carriage from left to right, right to left. Losing herself in the whirrr, in the loom's hypnotic motion, Jackson may forget for a while that Army Warrant Officer Stanley Walker -- her "baby," Sheila Breen Walker's husband and Stanley Jr.'s, Monica's and Erica's daddy -- could be parachuting into Iraqi territory within hours.

Sometimes, even the knitting doesn't help.

"If I get really bad, I pray," says Jackson, 57, of Wheaton. "I say the same things, always. Keep him safe. Give Sheila strength. And no matter what comes, give us the strength to see it through."

Jackson, a retired department store manager who knits "Eve's Originals" -- baby clothes, sweaters and dresses for individuals and stores -- is one of thousands of American women praying for the avoidance of war. What's it like, watching the minutes slip closer to zero hour? Knowing that your child is one of hundreds of thousands who are in place, ready and willing to fight?

"He asked me not to worry," says Jackson of her 30-year-old son, whose wife and children still live at his last American post, Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

"He says the Army has trained him well and he has had a good life in the Army. And now he would do what he had to do. What he was trained for."

Jackson, it seems, would be used to offering up prayers -- at 20 she became a military bride after a year's engagement to an Air Force man who'd served in Korea. Each of her five children was born at a military base in a different state. Divorced in 1974, she waited four years before marrying another military man, Capt. Nathan N. Jackson, now a veterinarian at the National Institutes of Health. One daughter spent eight years in the Army; Stanley has been an enlisted man since 1978.

She looks surprised when it's suggested she might have grown accustomed to this.

"Mothers always worry," she says.

Especially mothers of sons like Stanley. This was a kid who was never afraid of anything.

There was the time a bunch of 14-year-old girls jumped on his sister, Linda. Stanley, all of 6, leapt onto the girls' backs, yelling for them to leave her alone. Then there was the time when racial tensions were high at Wheaton High School, his alma mater. Jackson came home from work to find her son huddled in the basement "with a couple dozen white kids, talking peace. The next day, he had all the black kids in the basement, talking peace."

Or the night he and some friends who were out for a drive got stopped by police. One officer, she says, provoked the driver -- brusquely ordering the boy to get out of the car, get back in the car, open the trunk, stand over there.

"Stanley said, 'Why do you have to keep pulling on him?'," she recalls. " 'Why are you trying to make him do something? So you can bring him in?' ... The policeman ended up letting the other boy go and taking Stanley in."

She sighs.

"Stanley was never the type of child who would back down."

The U.S. government, she observes, is not big on backing down either. But she worries more about war being ignited by young men like Stanley -- "boys who are ready and eager -- just a little thing could set off the spark" -- than by President Bush or Saddam Hussein. She worries about her son's passionate commitment to the military, to fighting when he's ordered to.

"He doesn't think of his own safety. If his commanding officer ordered him to jump behind enemy lines, no matter how dangerous it was, he would do it. My other son would step back, say, 'Let's talk about this.' "

But doesn't that make Stanley a good soldier?

Silence. "Yes." Another sigh. "But I would prefer he put that energy into something besides war."

The news is on. Jackson shakes her head as a smooth-faced American cradling a very big gun promises that Saddam will pay for having made him miss Christmas at home. She shakes it again when another kid boasts, "We're going to kick some butt."

She turns away from the TV. "Want to know my greatest fear?"

She pauses. "It's when he comes back. Because if they treat these vets like they did the Vietnam vets -- that's going to be one upset young man."

In high school, she explains, Stanley took the coach's instructions as gospel, following every command. "He'd get on his teammates for not doing everything Coach asked -- getting to bed early, exercising, practicing plays... . And then, he had a minor problem at school and Coach didn't stand behind him. He was so upset, he got himself suspended."

But it's her son's gentleness that she most fears losing.

"Right now his greatest pleasure is to come in my kitchen, pull my apron off and call me 'Shrimp.' He teases Sheila, messes up her hairdo. He likes to braid Monica's hair. I don't know if he'll be that type of kid anymore."

Could Stanley experience war, she wonders, and still be the man who wrote to his seventh-grade brother, Nathan Jr.:

"I remember the 7th grade. Boy, did me and {best pal} Butchie have a blast... . We had so much fun that our grades suffered. You can have a good time and still make good grades... . Would you do me a favor and try to get all A's and B's?"

Her daughter, Gena, now 35, "became harder, not as feminine" during her stint in the Army, continues Jackson. Years ago, when Gena was born, "there was a doctor at the hospital who'd just come back from the Korean front. One girl complained that he was rough when he examined her, and he said, 'You women, complaining about childbirth! You should have to amputate a leg with no anesthesia, sew up an abdomen when there's nothing left inside.'

"How can you see those things and come back the same person?"

Jackson doesn't know. What she does know, she insists, is that Stanley will not die in the Middle East. She's as sure of that as she was last February, when doctors discovered cancer near her left breast and ordered a lymphectomy. "I had this confidence that ... my life would not be lost. I have the same confidence about Stanley's being all right."

Whatever happens, she says, she will knit, pray and wear the button Gena made featuring her son's face surrounded by red, white and blue ribbon. She will try not to worry.

"You know, the deadline doesn't make any difference," she says, almost to herself. "I just have this inner feeling that by midnight, something will have happened. It's the same feeling I had during the operation. Somehow, something is going to change things.

"The 15th will not see a war break out."