Thursday, July 31, 2008


Over the last several Years, I've made it a point to asked all the Vietnamese I've met their views of being in America and if they had a chance to go back and live in Vietnam, would they? Rarely have I found one who would. And, I might add my informal research has included a good number. My barber, for instance, was thrilled when I told her I was going to my Vietvet reunion a few months back. She joked: tell all those GIs about me. What she meant was tell them how successful I am: and she is--owns three full service shops, i. e., manicures, facials , etc. Her view: in America your success is limited mainly on how much you want to work; (sounds much like our parents, not present day Americans); two kids in college, living the American dream. Maybe a little overboard by present American views but pretty inspirational to me, not to mention the lesson we might need to relearn. "If I want to go back to Vietnam, I can go back on vacation," she says. A view!

Why am I insistent on asking these questions? Here's what I think it
is: guilt! I want to think that somehow for all the suffering we caused,
some good came out of it. The presense of the successful Vietnamese in America may salve a little of our guilt, especially if they are like my barber. (Vietnamese are probably the most successful immigrant group in America).

Along that line, I've just finished this sweet and charming little book about the Vietnam war, seen from a child's viewpoint, Beyond The Rice Paddies. The author was a small child when us big old Americans were trudging through her village. I always wondered what the people felt as they were watching us. Then, especially after I had been there a few months and realized the futility of what we were doing, I hated it and felt bad about our actions upon the common people especially (wonder how the Iraqi vets will feel in a few years). In Nam, the villagers were just trying to survive and had done nothing to deserve this. Sure, there were probably some VC (Viet Cong, the insurgent group), hiding out but we didn't know.

When I heard about the book, I immediately ordered a couple of copies. All Vietnam vets should read it, guilt or no guilt.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


In keeping with a philosophy of watching weirdo movies, A Texas Funeral, is right up there. However, it made a good point or points about many things and did what movies can do if you watch them in this way: instruct and provide lessons. The movie portrayed most of the stereotypical views of the South, running the gamit from the romanicism of the culture, which is mostly myth, to being a hotbed of right wing Christians. Somewhere in the middle are most of us. For us slow talkers, the yankees of New York think we are stupid while the gays of San Francisco love us. Go figure.

What I liked in A Texas Funeral was the typical view on African Americans of the Sixties. The AA character in A Texas Funeral was a Vietnam vet who had some clever lines and did a mockery in the bathroom mirror of some of the stupidity of his white friends. The movie should be seen merrely for that scene if for no other. ***

***The below is taken from the soon to be published, Brothers, a memoir of five brothers growing up in the South from 1920 to the early sixties.

It is really hard to know for us where the racism issue was. For one thing we had little contact with blacks but we had much affinity with them. Anybody who says that “class” doesn’t exist in the American society of our upbringing or now for that matter is at best out to lunch or worse, disingenuous. For us, the informal class system was probably the land owners, the Landlords, who were usually one and the same; the merchants or maybe any of those that “lived in the better sections of town.” And, then there was us: the proud poor. After them, came maybe the white trash of the White Line and, sadly, of course, were African Americans.

The one thing we knew for sure was that the bottom of the food chain were the blacks. But, honestly, we didn’t think about it. When we do think about those times, we realize that there was something that united those of us on the bottom or close to it. Poverty. When you are poor at any level, you are poor. I will have to say this though: we never used the “n” word or talked disparaging about those that might be considered lower than us.

Our world view probably left a lot to be desired but in a sense, we were part of a survival generation, attempting to make life work for us without lots of cogitating our navel very much. I guess we knew a little about world events and things like women getting the vote, flappers, and the biggie, prohibition. Outlawing alcohol brought on the era of the bootlegger and we had family on my Mom’s side who were right at the forefront of making sure the “drink” was readily available. We never called it moonshine or anything for that matter but those who did, called it “white” whisky."

One advantage to being poor if there is such a thing is that the survival mode plays itself out as the big world events escape you because you either have been denied participation or simply didn’t know they were going on. Take the crash of 29, didn’t do anything to us as we were as poor as you could be anyway. For those above us, it meant people were having strokes, jumping off buildings, and other sorts of acts of desperate people. It was the beginning of the Depression—no run on banks for us.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Recently I went to a book signing of a young author (Finding Nouf: Zoƫ Ferraris, ISBN: 0618873880) and when she was talking about her book, someone asked her, "Did you ever consider writing a memoir as opposed to fiction?" Her comments were very revealing: something like, "I tried but discovered it was too hard, mainly because of my issue with the facts. I wasn't sure what I remembered, if it was correct, how others saw it, so I gave up and decided to make my book fiction." Extremely honest!

A Friend of mine, whom I'm encouraging to write her own terrific memoir (A friend has already given her a great title, Do you think God will ever set you free and let you fly?) sent me these comments: I just read an article by Abigail Thomas entitled "Everyone Has A Story To Tell" - are you familiar with her? She said to write a memoir, just cultivate the habit of listening to yourself.

Also, that writing is the way she grounds herself, what keeps her sane (maybe that's how you feel??) She says sometimes all you have to do is open a jar - the smell of Noxzema takes her back to 1957. I understand smells, fragrances, bringing back memories. I bought myself a gardenia plant last week - the smell reminds me of growing up - we had a gardenia bush in our yard - magnolias are the same for me. Funny, what one remembers.

Back to the author's comments: A memoir is not a place to get revenge or to appear angelic or to cast oneself as victim. A memoir should not be self-serving, even accidentally. We're all full of contradiction and conflict - we have evolved out of many different selves. A memoir is one way to explore how you became the person you are. It's a story about how you got here from there.

I've thought a lot about this - guess there are things that I know my grandchildren need to know, but maybe many things they don't need to know - and, I don't know how one can write and not express feelings - old wounds, loves, hurts, the happy times (it's all in there together) - and, how do you leave certain things out?? I admire you and others who write - it's a complicated venture.