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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (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.
“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!”
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. (more…)