Monthly Archives: May 2015

A Tale of Two Cousins

In May of 1969, just a little over a month before I turned six years old, I attended my first funeral. Most of my memories of that day so many years ago have disappeared into the mists of time. Yet, a couple moments stick out in my mind as clearly as though they happened just yesterday: walking into a dark room and up to a large black box where my cousin Larry slept on a bed of red satin and being startled by gunfire as I stood in a rainy cemetery surrounded by crying people. I don’t know for sure how much I understood of what happened at the time, but I know now that I’d seen Larry in his coffin wearing his Marine Corps dress uniform, though he’d only been visible from the waist up due to the fatal wounds he’d suffered in the far-off country of Vietnam. The gunshots were the result of the twenty-one gun salute fired off as he was buried with military honors.  Cousin Larry died on May 10th, the same day as the Battle of Hamburger Hill and Operation Apache Snow, but hadn’t fallen in action; he’s listed as having died as the result of a non-hostile action – an accidental homicide with a grenade. He’d only been in-country for a few short days and was all of nineteen years old.

Cousin Larry
Cousin Larry

My memories of Larry before he went to Vietnam are almost gone now. I have a hazy recollection of a photo of the two of us taken at his graduation from Marine Corps boot camp just a few weeks before I attended his funeral. He stood tall and proud in his fatigues and I looked a little like an orphan in my pink dress, black tights, cardigan, and uneven ponytails. My family often told me stories about how I’d asked my cousin to marry me when I was all of four years old. I’d adored him for the short time I’d known him and though I can no longer see his face in my mind without looking at a photo, I’ve never forgotten him.

Cousin Johnny (Larry’s older brother by two years) also served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. Unlike Larry, Johnny survived his tour in the war zone, though I heard he went through a rough readjustment when he got back to the States.  We lost touch many years ago and I didn’t know what was going on in his life until I stumbled across his obituary a couple years ago; he’d died at the still-young age of sixty-six. Unlike his younger brother, Johnny had married, had children and grandchildren, ran his own business, and enjoyed many hobbies. The photo that accompanied his obituary looks like one of a happy man enjoying the prime of his life and might be how Larry would have looked if he’d survived Vietnam. I can definitely see a resemblance between them.

Cousin Johnny
Cousin Johnny

I hope Johnny came to terms with the demons he fought when he first returned from Vietnam and that, in the end, he had a happy life. I’d hate to think that he’d spent forty-something years suffering the after-effects of his time serving his country the way I’ve heard other veterans are suffering. Though the deaths of the young women and men like Cousin Larry are horrible tragedies, I must admit I sometimes wonder if the ones we lost over there weren’t in some ways luckier than those who came back.

The parents of Larry and Johnny, my aunt and uncle, have now outlived two of their four children. As a mother and grandmother myself, I can’t imagine having to deal with the pain of such a loss for so many years. When I think of how many parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses, and children are in the same situation, I’m moved to tears by the sacrifices made by so many.

As an another Memorial Day dawns, I remember and honor my two cousins who went to Vietnam as young marines – as well as all the young men and women in uniform now facing their own nightmares in various parts of the world. I also wish comfort and peace to those who’ve come back and to the loved ones of everyone affected by war.

Seasons Change

Some dreams are in the night time…and some seem like yesterday…

Reading has been a favored hobby of mine since early childhood. I remember well visiting the local branch library with my dad when I was about four or five years old: the smell of books new and old, the crinkle of the plastic-wrapped covers, the texture of the pages, and the vividness of the fresh ink on the checkout cards tucked inside the back cover pockets. Being allowed to take home my early readers caused me a great thrill. An introduction to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series often kept me up well past my bedtime (and got me into quite a bit of trouble) during my later elementary years until horse books took over from them during my pre-teen years. Romance, of course, took over in high school and remained a favored genre well into adulthood. Being a fan of both Star Trek and Star Wars led me to read science fiction. School English assignments broadened my horizons to the classics. These days, I’ll read just about anything I can get my hands on and I’m currently working my way through the hundreds of books I’ve downloaded on my Kindle.

This deep love of reading led to a desire to write stories of my own. The idea of writing romances felt…well…romantic. I wanted to be the next Barbara Cartland in the worst way and started putting pencil to paper. After awhile, my husband bought me an electric Smith-Corona and I started a love/hate relationship with correction tape. Our first computer helped ease the frustration of fixing mistakes, but led to the impatience and annoyance of listening to my dot-matrix printer whine out line after line of text. Now I have the convenience and portability of a dedicated writing Chromebook, along with a desktop computer with second monitor, a bluetooth keyboard for my Kindle, and the ability to make notes on my smartphone, yet I don’t write half as often as I once did.

Seasons change…feelings change

In recent days, I’ve often wondered why I’m having such a hard time motivating myself to write. I’m still a huge fan of reading and the written word. My dreams of becoming a successful romance author have faded a bit, but not enough for me to give up on the idea. What seems to have changed is the hunger I once had to prove myself. My earliest attempts at writing were a way to maintain my sanity while staying at home with my three young kids as well as a potential avenue of making a much-needed financial contribution to our family. The kids grew up and moved out so I no longer need to distract myself from the stresses of full-time parenting. Our finances have also improved so I’m not desperate to earn money. Plus, I fell into an unexpected career that takes up a good portion of my waking hours during the week, draining both my physical and mental energies.

My desire to write simmers beneath all the outside forces taking up so much of my time these days; the trips to visit my kids and grandkids, the household chores, and all the other little distractions of day-to-day life. The change of seasons in my life led to a shift in my feelings about writing. I’ve realized the reason I’m having trouble writing as easily as I once did is not because I don’t want to write, but that I’m no longer looking for the escapism and fulfillment I once found in the process. No longer do I feel the burning need to prove I can be a success at something other than motherhood. Nor do I now feel the urgency of bringing in a second income to help make ends meet. The story ideas that once obsessed me are now no more than an afterthought most days.

There’s time for love and for play

While the mature me continues the long-time love affair with reading that began almost half a century ago, my more recent relationship with writing has suffered. My love of reading has been as easy to maintain as my love for my husband and kids because it’s such a major part of me. Writing these days seems more like a difficult relationship that takes too much time and effort.

I need to bring back the romance I once felt with my writing in order to get any work done. Wine and candlelight may be involved.

Change the season.

(Italicized lyrics from “Seasons Change” by Expose)

Stuck Inside

Writing is an internalized process inspired by external stimuli. Everything experienced by the five senses in the course of day-to-day life can become fodder for a story: the smell of fresh-mown grass, the burning sting of a bee, fire engines screaming past, a bitter cup of morning coffee, or late-day sunlight bathing nearby mountains in a golden glow. The smallest of sensations or experiences may bubble to the surface during the writing process and become part of what may just be the next Great American Novel. That’s why a writer needs to get out and about on a regular basis. Someone who has had little experience with the world at large won’t have much source material with which to work.

I’ve gathered up plenty of these all-important sensations since the beginning of this year and now seem to have so much that it’s all stuck inside. Whenever I sit down to work on my current WIP I can’t figure out what to use so I play games while trying to organize my thoughts. I then ‘zone out’ to the point where time runs out and no actual work is done.

Away from my writing environment, of course, thoughts about how my story should progress flow like fine wine. My drawers are full of various slips of paper with random thoughts that sounded good in my head as I walked to work, but don’t fit with what I’ve got on paper, so that I once again end up stuck inside my head trying to figure out ways to get from point A to point B.

The best way to get past this is to just write. I know that. Getting anything down on paper is better than having all these random bits of inspiration floating free. I know that, too. At some point, I’ll be able to fit all the right pieces together to find the story waiting to be told. The logical part of my mind knows all this. Yet the part of my mind stuffed with all the sensory information waiting to be used has become so crammed that it’s pushing my logical thoughts into a dark corner where they’re struggling to find the light of day.

Discipline and determination are needed and I’m making a pledge to myself. This evening, I will start chipping away, using whatever thoughts break free. Tomorrow night, I’ll do the same…and I’ll continue with this routine on a daily basis until the words flow free. Making sense of them will come later. What’s important is that they escape onto the blank computer screen before me.

I’m tired of having this story stuck inside. Time for it to see the light of day.