Thursday, October 10, 2013
Always, always, I scan my mental, emotional horizon for clues to what it all means. What it means now and what it meant then and how then affects now. The texture of life is endlessly fascinating. Strands that make up my life are continuously separated, examined, analyzed, in hopes that eventually, my questions, indistinct and undefined as they are, may some day be answered.
Lives are fascinating. Everyone's lives. I want to stop strangers on the street and ask about their deepest feelings and what they feel defines them. I'm terrible at chit chat. Conversations without depth make me nervous. "Real conversations" (to borrow a phrase a friend used today, in somewhat the same vein) exhilarate me, make me feel connected.
My father's POW experience - the fact that it happened, what he had to endure, what he missed, how it affected the rest of the family, the fallout - qualifies as the dominant influence on who I've become, but there are others: being a part of a large family, sometimes a family under duress, the fact that Jerry went to Vietnam; Billy's illness; having four older brothers; being a part of the M Society; the Sixties; my friends; my family's friends... for starters.
Actually who I've become was probably determined before I was born, imbedded in my DNA. My personality type. But, if that's the case, I have nothing to blog about today, so let's just push that aside. Or, better yet, add it to the list of intriguing aspects. How does the prism of a personality type disperse the rays of life's experiences and produce different outlooks and effects? You may say, WTF is she talking about? Believe me, I'm wondering the same thing.
I want my children, my nieces and nephews, beloved all, to know from where they come. As if the self-absorbed, obsessive talk at every family event doesn't make it clear. So, Jake, Jessica, Edward, Katie, Caroline, David, Fontaine, Maury, Allison, Micah, Ben, Nick, Bartlett, Denton… this is my version of Watergate Lane. I wish you'd been there. As Dad says, and Jim repeats, your generation is a great improvement on ours!
And, Eliza Jane, I wrote this with you in mind. I'm glad you're interested, sweet girl.
And, Eliza Jane, I wrote this with you in mind. I'm glad you're interested, sweet girl.
These posts are a work in progress to be supplemented and edited indefinitely. The topic continues onto another blog page. Click on "Older Posts" at the bottom for more - the pictures of Dad's return to ur home in King's Grant. The topic is too wide in scope for me to do it justice, but it's a start. A meagre one.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
This is the photograph released by the Vietnamese after Dad was shot down on July 15, 1965. Mom describes in her diary how she had taken "the younger children," Michael, me and Mary, to see the movie Mary Poppins and, for the first time since Dad left, had a premonition and wept in the theatre. The next day, a Navy official knocked on the door at 3125 Watergate Lane to give her the news. "He's alright."the officer said, meaning "He's not dead." Vietnamese confirmation that he'd been captured, in the form of a statement accompanied by this photo, was nearly a week in coming. Dad's book describes the shoot-down and the fact that he tried to evade capture by submerging in a river and breathing through a reed before being taken in by armed civilians, briefly held in a village, then transported over bumpy road to the Hanoi Hilton.
My memory of that day is that Mom sent the little kids across the street to the Armstrongs. We had lunch and spent the day with them. We'd spent many hours playing in that house, but that day, the atmosphere was so odd that I was afraid to ask for a glass of milk to wash down my peanut butter and jelly. At some point, we went someplace in the car (to buy a bike, I think, but that seems odd) and the news came on the radio that my Dad and Bill Tschudy had been captured. Mr. Armstrong quickly turned off the radio. None of us said anything, but I was acutely aware of his kindness in trying to protect us. That night, we went to the Carvers who, no doubt, enfolded us in the warmth that was always the Carver home.
Off to a shaky start on this blog topic! It's tricky to make the story cohesive, because I had to start at the end of the story and move backward. Never mind.
For now, I'll skip to the next picture...
I bought this photograph off eBay: Dad's interview with a Japanese reporter that made its way to America... As many people know, Dad blinked the word torture in morse code under the guise of his eyes being affected by the bright lights, thus alerting the world to the POW's treatment. He received quite a bit of recognition for that. And, rightly so, of course. However, the fact that, during the interview, when asked how he felt about the war, he replied that he didn't know what was going on in the war, but that whatever was the position of his government, he supported it and would for the rest of his life, was the toughest thing to do and the accomplishment of which he is most proud. This despite having been tortured prior to the interview and knowing well that he'd be tortured afterward.
We tried to help Mom. Some of us more than others. (Sorry, Mom.) Here we are planting a Mother's Day Garden.
We went to church.
Did Michael's imaginary friend, Michael Clinton Denton, have tea with him Christmas?
We looked after each other.
Don and Mary in the snow. It reminds me of the Cowardly Lion, assuming the same position as Don in this picture, saying they'd erect a statue him in this town and the Scarecrow saying, "Well, don't start posing for it now!"
We had birthday parties with our friends.
We watched too much Gilligan's Island.
The big kids took care of the little kids. Donnie cutting up Mary's food.
We ate a lot of birthday cake. Bill and Jerry shaking hands. By my calculation, Dad missed over sixty of our birthday parties. That's sixty plus times Mom had to pretend to be light-hearted.
We played some more.
We stuck together. Donnie and Jerry shaking hands.
Among my siblings, I've been one of the most reticent and stubborn about publishing anything from Mom's diary. I'm going to do so here, because it seems to me that this entry may be representative of the hope and uncertainty every POW family feels as they wait day in and day out for Something to comfort them. I hope Mom wouldn't mind.
" Feb. 4, 1967
I wish I had a red pencil because this is a red letter day. We got a letter from Jerry. Thank God. He says he’s all right and seems all right. His message is short and written on a greeting card – he didn’t have room to say much but all the important things are there. I believe he is all right. Also today Fr. Darkowshi came down from Wash and showed me a letter from Cdr. Jenkins saying intelligence sources have said Jerry has been seen in a POW camp the end of 1966. Very sensitive and secret. Both in one day. And how wonderful to know they (Navy intelligence ) have that much of a watch over them. Janie Tschudy called this AM to say she received 2 letters (1 card 1 letter) from Bill today. I did not expect any. I wrote my letter to him, so did the children, and I took it to the PO. When I got home I looked in the mailbox and there was Jerry’s letter lying there all by itself. I saw the envelope, didn’t look at the address, the handwriting or return address but just knew it was Jerry’s. I reached in for it, restrained myself and tried to look casual – there were children in the yard and I wanted a private moment with it and I was so glad I had found it. Walked in the house. Madeleine was on the porch and I couldn’t resist whispering “We have a letter from Dad.” And we burst into the house and suddenly everyone knew it. I told them to be quiet and give (this next section is written on a separate sheet of stationery, tucked into the diary, because she ran out of room on the page for the date.) me a few minutes. I came up to our room, closed and locked the door. I sat down and tried to collect myself – I held the letter relishing every second. With gloves I opened it and read the dear, dear words. He’s all right. I really believe he is. He said so and also his writing looks good and even and strong and just like it’s always looked. After I had it to myself for a little while – not very long because the children were waiting – I called the children in. They all stood around me in a semi-circle to hear. Mary Beth was standing directly in front of me. I started to read and saw her little earnest upturned face and stopped to be sure she understood. I said “This is a letter from your Daddy.” With complete sureness and alertness she said “I know.” I read it to them and they were all wreathed in smile of joy and relief."
Monday, October 7, 2013
The thing about blogging is that I have all these feelings to expel from my poor overloaded psyche, but doing so can be a delicate undertaking. Writing about my own stuff is difficult enough. While I yearn to purge every intimate feeling and memory, the term TMI comes to mind, causing me to reel myself in. But, then there's the danger of making a colorful story, beige, with all the life sucked out of it.
What's really tricky is writing about someone else's story. How can I speculate on how twenty-one year old (give or take a year or so) Jerry must've felt when he volunteered to leave his family, his girlfriend, his world, to go to Vietnam? How does a young man that age step up to that decision knowing his best friend has just died on Southeast Asian soil and his father is in a POW camp there? How did our mother allow her firstborn, whom I acknowledge, with regret, may well have been her favorite, to go? (Jerry, that will be the first and last time I make that "favorite" concession, so don't get used to it.) It would be presumptuous of me to speak for either of them, so I won't.
I could speak for Jerry's brothers and sisters and how we felt about it, but the expressions on our faces make that unnecessary.
This letter that Jerry wrote Jimmy from Vietnam is illustrative of the way he rose to the occasion and explains the otherwise inexplicable partiality Mom felt for him. I hope none of the parties involved object to my sharing this.:
"Dear Jimmy, I hope you realize that March 23 is Mom's birthday; try to make it nice for her. I'm sending some money so you can distribute it to the kids so they can all buy her a present. Make sure she has a cake, even if you have to buy it. I hope everything is alright. Mom said you would be writing soon. I'll be looking forward to hearing from you. One more thing, please make sure Mom doesn't have to scream and yell at the kids on Easter; try to make that nice for her, too. Take care and work hard. Jerry"
Is that not the most precious thing ever? (I know, I know, her birthdate was actually March 22.)
Sunday, October 6, 2013
From the Virginian-Pilot: Janie Tschudy (whose husband, Bill, was shot down with my father and imprisoned for the same 7 1/2 years) and my mother. Memories of Janie and her son, Michael, and the part they played in our family, in our home, are among the most constant and warm of my childhood. Sharing the experiences they did, it's not surprising the two Navy wives became close friends. Janie was probably the friend in whom Mom was most able to confide and laugh for the rest of her life and, fittingly, coincidentally, Janie and Bill were visiting Mom in the hospital the day she passed away and stayed with Dad in his home that night.
The National League of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia was formed in 1970. POW wives who had patiently waited and kept quiet, not wanting to interfere, or "rock the boat," eventually began to take matters into their own hands. The progression of my naturally reserved mother from homemaker to activist, from background on Watergate Lane to forefront of the effort to get those husbands home, is evident in her diaries. In the beginning, she's reticent to interfere (quotes a Washington official essentially telling her to just go home and let the government do its job and not get involved, "If I've learned anything from my years in Washington, it's that if you push too many buttons, the whole switchboard gets jammed.") but, as time passes, she and many other wives become frustrated by the wait. By the end of the diaries, her tone has changed to one of resolve and action and her entries relate meetings in Washington and mention names like Kissinger.
One of the most striking things about my mother's diaries from the years that my dad was gone is the prominence of my parents' friends. It's no wonder that they're an integral part of the puzzle I'm trying to sort out. Friends from the neighborhood, from church, around VB, POW families, Navy old and new, friends that crossed categories. Their friends had children, so their children were our friends. There were many (beaucoup, as mom might've said) friends in our lives.
One family that was a big part of our lives then and an even bigger part now is the Bordone's. Dick and Mary Belle Bordone are mentioned over and over in my mother's diary. He was a shipmate of Dad's and it was they who Mom asked to come help her go through Dad's personal effects when the Navy sent them to her after Dad was captured. Mom told me many times that Mary Belle went to Mass for the POWs every day and I know Mom admired her. Widowed about the same time as my dad, Mary Belle and Dad were reacquainted after many years and are now husband and wife. I don't have any old pictures of the Bordone's which is a darn shame, because those Bordone boys were so cute! Right, Kimmy?
I took this picture from Carlen's restaurant (Colington Cafe in Kill Devil Hills, NC) website thus the food theme. Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan were my godparents and my parents were Carlen's. Helen Sullivan was French. I was so touched to see her at a memorial service for my mother at our old parish in King's Grant and she's since passed on. You know the old round oak kitchen table that I'm obsessed with (on Dad's sun porch now)? Helen and Mom bought that at a junk shop in VB, painted it yellow and Helen painted fruit border on it. Little did they know how iconic it would become.
Slumber party. Some of the Kirkpatricks with some of the Dentons - the early years. Don, in the back is making a mustache out of Laura's long blond hair. There was a metal sewing box, with a cross stitch patchwork motif, up in Mom's closet on the right. I used to lay on the bed and read the sayings written on the side in faux thread. One of them said, "Littlest said is soonest mended." It was a sewing box, remember? The sentiment stuck in my head and is partially responsible for the fact that I'm so socially awkward. I get ready to say something, in a group, and remember that box and decide not to speak. Funny the things that stick with you.
New Year's Eve - Me, Dee Dee Kirkpatrick, Mary Beth and Wendy, a neighbor - under Jimmy's corrupting influence. One can practically see Wendy shaking her head in amazement at Jimmy's poor judgment as he appears to be berating his baby sister into drinking Falstaff.
Thanksgiving at the Carvers' - the little kids' tables
Don, Jim, Bill with Karen and Ralph Beatty - the Beattys have been friends of my family since before I was born. The year I was born, Dr. Beatty and my dad collaborated and were credited with "revolutionizing naval strategy and tactics for nuclear war as architects of the "Haystack Concept." This strategy called for concealing aircraft carriers from radar by intermingling with commercial shipping and avoiding formations suggestive of a naval fleet." according to Wikipedia.
Me with Dr. and Mrs. Beatty
Dottie and Bobby McFarland (mother and brother of Bill McFarland, Jerry's best friend who was killed in Vietnam) - Easter dinner at our house. It must have been before Bill was killed, because Bobby, Dottie and Jerry all have genuine smiles. When it happened, Jerry had to drive to the Outer Banks to get Bobby, who was down there surfing, to tell him his brother was gone.
Janie Tschudy, far right, watching presidential election returns with us. Jimmy giving us a peace sign.
As an adult, I understand that my friend's parents must've been acutely aware of my father's imprisonment and probably thought of it every time they looked at me. (As a child, I thought they were really nice to me, just because they liked me.) Their support distracted and sustained me.
Kim was my first best friend. We spent many a happy hour on our bikes, at the Little League field, family events in each of our homes, sleepovers, sitting on the King's Grant wall, eating junk food and talking… We still are, and always will be, close friends.
Around the table, left to right: Judie, in pink, Lynn, me, Mary Cary, Susan Carver, my sister Mary, Wendy. A forty-year (unintentional - the time just went by really quickly!) pause in contact with Judie, ended two months ago, and hasn't dimmed my permanent affection for her. I count her among my dearest friends and hope we can make up for lost time. Lynn and I have always kept in touch, at least sporadically, from before this picture was taken until our last long phone conversation, two months ago. Susan will always be a friend, because she's family. I last saw her over a year ago at the wedding of our shared (first) nephew. My little sister, Mary, will always be my closest friend.
Michael, Sarah Jean Taylor, me, Patrick Armstrong with Mary Beth and Gary Armstrong in front. Mary is holding a baby duckling that we'd swooped up in a net from the lake behind our house. Poor little ducks. We let them go later.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Cheatham Annex is a cluster of cabins situated in the woods near Williamsburg. One would never know, being there, that it's on a military base. We went there many times, usually with another family and/or individual friends and it was always an adventure. The photo, above, is of poor quality, but is representative of Cheatham Annex in the later years. Besides my siblings, minus Don, Michael Tschudy is laying crosswise in the front and my friend, Kim, is on the far right.
Michael Tschudy roasting marshmallows. Have I mentioned that we loved Janie and Michael Tschudy? A lot. A whole lot. Besides the Tschudy's, other families often went to Cheatham Annex with us. Other POW families - the Bradys, Mulligans, McDaniels - and other Navy families - the Kirkpatricks.
Staying in those cabins, where we could run free, no traffic, mom relaxed, with friends, is one of my favorite childhood memories. In retrospect, it almost felt as if life were normal. Not that I felt it wasn't normal at home, exactly, but the shadow of Dad's absence certainly hung over our household in King's Grant. Staying in cabins in the woods was carefree.