The happy scheduling coincidence that put the PBS interview on the same weekend as the First Colonial High School reunion made it possible for me to see family, family friends, and childhood friends all in one evening. Two such friends, Sean and Shone, whom I've collectively dubbed, in the chaotic portion of my brain in which I store childhood memories, The Two Shawns, will be the resounding impression of the evening.
This is my sister, Mary, far left, and brother, Michael, far right, flanking Sean Mulligan and me. Sean may have been taken aback by the enthusiasm with which the Dentons greeted him. He was probably blissfully unaware of the elevated place of esteem that he and his family hold in the minds and hearts of we sentimental slobs. (My dad used to make charmingly affectionate use of the word "slob." It was a compliment. As in, "You poor slobs." when he saw us eating from seemingly endless bowls of freshly steamed shrimp at his round kitchen table.) My siblings and I cherish the place family friends held in our lives as we grew up in our unusual circumstances. When the family friends grew up in the same unusual circumstances - in passel of kids (Sean was one of six brothers) and we had seven kids in our family) growing up with a father across the world in a POW camp - well, we latch on to that pretty tightly. And, so it was when we saw Sean at the reunion.
I very much want to compare notes with Sean, but am not sure he is ready for the Let's Explore Our Childhood Experience and Talk About Our Feelings session that it would involve.
(Hi, Johnny Robbins, peeking out from behind Sean and me! He's no doubt looking for his wife, Judie, who was everyone's long lost best friend that night.)
Capt. Mulligan, left, and my dad at a press conference after their Feb. 1973 release
That's my Dad's Mona Lisa photo - his intense gaze pierces me.
The thing is, Sean is special to us because his parents were special to our parents who are gone. His mother, Louise, and mine, were active in the POW wives' efforts to bring their men home. She was my mother's friend in the way only another POW wife can be. Sean's father, Capt. James Mulligan, was one of the two people who knew my father best in this world. (The other was my mother whom Capt. Mulligan refers to as Saint Jane.)
In the seven years and seven months that my dad was in a POW camp, he had roommate, sporadically, for about half that time. Every single time he had a roommate, through what must've surely been the benevolence of God, the roommate was Jim Mulligan. With that pairing, the Vietnamese may've unknowingly saved my father's life. No one on Earth could've been a more perfect match for my dad than the tough, devout, and, here's the critical quality, good-natured, Jim Mulligan. I loved Capt. Mulligan the 1973 moment I met him in the hallway of the floor reserved for recently released POWs at Portsmouth Naval Hospital. He recognized me, no one else in the hall, no introduction necessary: "Madeleine! I've watched you grow up." I loved him for the friendliness, the warmth, and for the first realization that my father had known of me, thought of me, while he was gone and had shared his thoughts with someone.
The morning after the reunion, acting on Sean's tip (A steady diet of American Justice and Dateline makes me think like that.), Michael and I went to 8:15 Mass in hopes of seeing his parents. We pulled into opposite parking spaces at the exact same time, as if synchronized, and shared their pew. They sat me between them and didn't even seem to mind that tears streamed down my face during the hymns. It's a humbling experience to sit between two people who have prayed their way through what they have and risen above circumstances that would've crushed me like a bug.
Equally meaningful for me is that I got to see the other Shawn, Shone Kirkpatrick. We've renewed our childhood friendship, built upon it, or at least established the intention of building on it. The supportive role that the circle of family friends plays in the diorama of my life can't be properly explained. Not that I won't throw a few thousand words in an attempt. As a little girl, time spent with the Kirks and others was fun, festive, gave me a sense of belonging. As an adult, I've come to realize families like the Kirks provided a cocoon, allowed us to feign normalcy, elevated our moods, diluted our pain, enhanced our joy, expanded our efforts.
Shone and I decided to go to the high school reunion together and, best of all, met at his parents' home in Virginia Beach beforehand. Michael and Mary went, too, adding the necessary M Society element to a momentous occasion. Stupidly, somehow I felt that to take pictures would cheapen the moment and am left with no tangible record of the time we spent together. I didn't want to pause and pull out my IPhone and break up the intensity with with I wanted to reconnect with Mr. and Mrs. Kirkpatrick, Shone, and his sister, Deidre. I wish we hadn't had to rush out to go to the reunion and look forward to our next opportunity.
I've always loved the picture of the Kirkpatricks and Dentons on the bed. A couple of days before the First Colonial reunion, I found pages from a book that my mother had begun in which she describes the importance of friendship, in general, and the Kirkpatricks in the specific. Though the picture is dated Feb. 1966, it turns out that the picture was taken July 15, 1965, my father's 41st birthday, the night before the Kirks were to move to their new duty station in California. Three days after the happy "camping in," the Kirks, driving across country, heard the news on their car radio that their friend Jerry Denton's plane had been shot down in Vietnam.
I didn't get a good picture of me and Shone nor of me and my friend Kathy, with whom he's speaking in this picture, so this one will have to represent both.
Judie Lynn and I like the reunion theme. We turn every visit into a reunion/talkathon. The next time, though, we gotta have more than a couple of hours. We barely get started and the bell rings and we're out of time.
Judie and I have been friends since we were ten (She, being younger, was nine, if you must know.) Here we are at my tenth birthday party. I'm at the far end of the table and she's in pink. My baby sister, Mary, is in the forefront in green overalls. The overalls, btw, were brushed corduroy. Don't ask me how I remember that. They weren't even my hand-me-downs. Remembering fabric is my gift.
Mike and Katherine at the reunion.
There were those who weren't there that I wish had been.
My sister-in-law, and beloved friend, Mona, in whose home we spent the night.
Thanks, Mona, for everything.