This post is written in response to my offer, in Book Seasons, to provide my book list. Rather than simply post a dry bibliography, I have made the list into a story.
Literally the first book I read about Vietnam was not about the war. I credit this with setting me on a more circuitous path than I would have taken if I had begun with what, by the time I started, had become the ‘war classics.’
So I began with To Vietnam With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur. I read this because John had bought it and he was about to leave for Hanoi where he would, some months later, invite me to visit. This book introduced me to people, to food, and to beauty, and it aroused my curiosity. I was going to need curiosity in the months and years that followed. Read more
If I have a lodestone – a spiritual magnetic north – it is here, in this little country church a mile or so away from my grandparents’ home where I would come to spend most summers growing up. I love this place, this beautiful land in the Appalachian foothills, rolling pasture lands, wandering Black Angus cattle, green in the way Ireland is green. My memories are deep and woven into me in the complicated ways of love.
I went away, but always came back, even after the people I was related to, one by one took their places beneath the headstones. I read off the carved names and hear my grandmother’s voice saying them. They lived “down the road a piece,” or “over town.” It was a place where around a bend in the road meant a different world, but it was all linked by a party line that was the quickest means of knowing who might need a cake to be brought, or the rest of Sunday’s ham. I learned community here, the simple caring of showing up and then showing up again. Read more
Augustus Saint Gaudens, Adams Memorial, 1891.
It is 40 years since what we call “the fall of Saigon” and we are still struggling with memory. Forty years since the North Vietnamese reunified their own country and we still don’t know what to make of it. The military is trying to find as many heroic stories as it can to somehow recast the whole war as heroic. Anti-war activists are jumping on their anti-war horses to make sure that doesn’t happen. Most people just want to think about something else, everyone is confused and meanwhile, memory persists. Read more
Vietnamese and American veterans, 2013, Binh Dinh Province, Viet Nam
In all the stories of the United States and Vietnam there runs a mysterious emotional and psychic connection that weaves through the increasingly frantic and desperate actions of the war, persists in the sad and unresolved aftermath, and shows up in the stories of individual people. Read more
I walk through the churchyard of Fairview Methodist Church in Rural Retreat, Virginia, among headstones carved with familiar names. These are people who were a part of my childhood. They helped me grow up. Their lives formed a network around mine and I was woven in among them.
He sits facing the camera, legs crossed. A stripe runs down the outside of the pants leg. His left hand cradles a revolver while his right holds a Bowie knife against his shoulder. A jaunty striped collar sets off a strong head with dark, wavy hair and a fringe of beard. I notice the eyes, intent and knowing. They are different sizes, the left slightly smaller than the right. I have the same eyes.
This is my great grandfather, John Thomas Dixon. Most of his life he was a tobacco farmer in Charlotte and Prince Edward counties in Virginia but from June or July 1861 to April 23, 1865 he was a Confederate soldier, 56th Virginia Infantry. He fought in many well-known battles but his greatest claim to fame, if only in our family, was that he was wounded in, and survived, Pickett’s Charge.
“That was great!” I said, setting down my suitcase. I had been to my umpty-ninth high school reunion without having been to one in years.
“Yes?” Coyote smiled. He was working on a photograph album at the dining room table.
“It’s just so wonderful to have friends like that! We haven’t seen each other such a long time and we just picked right back up where we left off!”
“Have you ever seen a ghost,” my friend asked.
We were having breakfast at Cafe Dewitt. I was on the banquette with my back to the fishtank. We were early so no one was seated nearby but they would have been intrigued.
“I haven’t seen one, though I have always wanted to,” I responded. “But I think I heard one once.”
So I told the story. Read more
As I gardened this weekend, musing about Memorial Day in light of the journey I have been on in the past year and a half, I remembered this. It is a story about my godson, three years ago, when he was eight. We had gone to visit the family and to attend the spring fair at the children’s school. I wrote this a few days after I came home.
My mother always held something back. I saw it from the time I was a little girl but didn’t know what it was. Some topic would come up and she would press her lips together and look away severely. I began to think she was sending me a silent message, a warning, but I did not know why.
I knew she feared physical dangers. I never had a bicycle because my aunt, a nurse, had told her about the injuries she would see in the emergency room. I had cats as pets but there were not allowed to be in my bedroom because she had read about diseases they carried. I never learned to roam, to explore, because of the menaces she was convinced were lurking. As an adult I came to believe that she was protecting me from something that had happened to her.