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Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam War’

When I was  about six or seven we lived in California.  My dad was gone a lot, doing who knows what , and I was left with my first step mother her daughter that was six years older than me and my youngest half-sister that was just a baby. 

 Let me back up a little.  What I mean by who know where my father was, meant really that.  He would just disappear for weeks, not leave much money, we had no transportation, but could walk to the store if we needed food, again that is if we had enough  money.  As mentioned before my father was a Vietnam Vet that was still trying to adjust back into reality and was not doing that well (he is doing amazing now and has turned out to be a good dad to his adult daughter and a wonderful grandfather.  I would never call him a great father, because he was not that when I needed him to be and he owns that.  He has a strength that I admire so much in him.  He made tons of mistakes and big ones, but he owns them all, turned his life around and polished up his heart of gold and made himself a success story – there are still issues and he does like to push buttons, but he conquered his personal Everest!).  

During this time, my step mother would make these dolls, I called them Pee- Pee Dolls, because that was exactly what they were.  They were made out of nylon stockings and fluffy felt.  They were little cave men and when you would lift up their beards, their pee-pee’s would pop up.  I was part of the assembly line on those projects and I think that is why I abstained from sex until well into my twenties, those things scared the death out of me. Anyway, we had three next door neighbors in their late twenties and early thirties that always  participated in flea markets selling their art and willow furniture they made.  They would take bags of this Pee -Pee Dolls and sell them for her.  With that money we would have money for our daily needs.

If things were a bit tight and there were no cave men to sell, these next door neighbors would bring us bags of groceries and check up on us a couple of times a week and do odds and ends around the house if needed or just be a companion for my step-mother to smoke weed with and socialize.  They were very wonderful men, beautiful men, the kind you could stare at all day and never get bored doing it; they each looked like a member of an 80’s hair band. They had great patience with us and even took interest in our pictures we drew, stories we waned to be read, you know kid stuff.

One day my step mother explained to me that our neighbors were gay.  I responded to her, “I know they are happy, they are the nicest people on the street, why wouldn’t they be”.  She laughed and left it at that.  She realized that child like perception was the best way to look at life. 

We moved away a little while later leaving my father there and lost touch. Over the years I always wondered what happened to them and wished I could have thanked them for their kindness.  My grandmother told me that they moved to Wisconsin and opened a restaurant (since she owned that house we lived in).   A year ago, I was having a conversation with my Aunt (not related to my father) and somehow this story came up.  When I said Wisconsin she asked if their names were Jim, David, and Jessi.  I was floored! How did she know them?  Apparently, the world is a small one and when it comes to antique dealers and ex husband’s ex wives.   Turns out my aunt’s ex-husband and father of her son married a woman who was friends with them and they were all antique dealers (they are now divorced).  They all moved to Wisconsin and they started a restaurant and antique shop.  Within twenty-four hours of that conversation, I had a phone number and was calling these three angels from my childhood.  I could finally thank them!

The phone call was a bit of a shock to them and it was a bit of a shock to hear Jessi passed away about ten years ago.  It was a great conversation and I could tell that they were genuinely happy  “gay”  to hear from me. I was able to thank them and they were able to hear good reports on how it all turned out.  I could tell they were proud and honored that I made an effort to contact them just to say thank you.  We never exchanged information, we just left the conversation the way it was and hung up.  I feel that for some reason both of us needed to have that happen, not sure why, but it did.  

Those three men were my first introduction to the gay community and I was blessed to have them in my life.  With that experience, I could never hold prejudice or malic towards someone because of their sexual orientation.  What someone does in their bedroom is less concerning to me than what someone does out among society.  These young men were kind, caring, loving and thoughtful.  They showed compassion to a woman and three children, they were even kind to my father.  They understood that he was messed up from the war, and even though they did not like what he was doing, they were kind.   I cherish this piece of my history very much.  It was part of the molding process of understanding what being a kind and tolerant person is about.

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Today is Veteran’s Day and since I am a daughter of a Vietnam Vet, I sit and really think about this day and what we are truly observing.  I will never fully understand what the Veterans of this nation from any war has gone through and are currently going through, but I have a compassion and honor towards each and every one of them.  The below post is a piece of something I have been working on for over ten years.  It is the birth of a book. 

 I remember walking in the cold and rain past the Korean War Memorial and its frozen majestic metal soldiers.  The dogwoods were in bloom and blossoms were falling with the steady sprinkle of the rain.  I caught one in mid-air before it could reach its final resting place; it was delicate and perfect.  I placed it behind my ear under my hood and continued on my journey.  My purpose was to pay respects to a man who had fought for this country beside my father.
As I made my way up the sidewalk I saw a black structure ahead. It seemed to grow in size as I drew closer, and suddenly I was enveloped in an ocean of black stone walls with numberless engravings.  I was unprepared for this; I had heard that The Wall was big, but that was a gross understatement.  I had no idea where to start among the many flags, flowers, family pictures, unopened letters, and poems left at the base of The Wall.  Then I noticed a kiosk a few feet away where there were directories.  I flipped through one as if I were trying to look up the local pizza parlor.  Eventually, I found the name and location code.  I was on a mission, still very detached from what I was doing; it was exactly like solving a puzzle.
As I walked down the sloping sidewalk, the wall seemed to grow even larger and the engravings became recognizable as individual names.  My heart beat faster; I felt hot and sweaty beneath my raincoat and my throat tightened.  I was beginning to understand that this was not just one of the many tourist attractions of the Nation’s Capitol, but was instead a horrifying reminder amidst this beautiful setting of manicured dogwood parks, majestic granite, and immaculate walkways; a perfectly evanescent of Viet-Nam.

I could not grasp the sheer number of names on that Wall.  It seemed to go on forever, with each name representing a family, a wife, a lover, a friend, a son, an enemy never reconciled with… but most of all a life never truly lived unto its fullest.  How did this happen?  How did it get so far out of hand?  Those were the questions that ran through my mind as I finally found the name for which I was searching.   It was too high for me to reach; I found a step stool provided by the groundskeepers, pulled out a pencil and a scrap of paper and began taking an impression (never suspecting that when this mere scrap of paper, when presented to my father, would cause him to fall on his knees and weep as no one had ever seen before). 

 As I rubbed, I began thinking about his family and those who survived him.  How they must have felt so robbed and betrayed by death, the Government, and the senseless war he fought.  He was very young — in his prime — and it never should have happened.  It never should have happened to any of them.

I left the dogwood blossom that I had caught earlier on the ground just beneath his name, and an undeniable truth suddenly occurred to me: The Wall is not big enough… it is missing numberless names, and for countless reasons!  Most particularly, the names of the survivors with whom these men and women took their last breaths.  My father is one such survivor.  The guilt that he bears on that account is just another death sentence awaiting execution at any time.  He is only the least bit better off than those veterans who have lost their minds, their self-respect, and who sit outside the local grocery store hoping for a handout.  Likewise the veterans who didn’t make it even a decade past the war, whether death was by their own hand, or drugs, or alcohol, or violence.  And you must include the veterans who cannot cope without substance abuse or some toxic relationship to dull their pain.  Their widows, their ex-wives, their estranged family members, their forgotten high school classmates, their neglected children who forfeited childhood because their fathers lost all enthusiasm, compassion, understanding, and their once responsible outlook on life… they must be included in the list of casualties.

At that moment, standing in the rain and looking at my reflection in The Wall, the child of a Vietnam veteran, I knew that this Wall did not only memorialize the tragedies of those engraved upon it.  I realized that this Wall was only prologue to another war that will be fought for generations yet to come.

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