Papa used to do his Irish jig in the kitchen just after coming in from the early morning sunrise when he, Uncle Slim, and Uncle Eason would take their hand-woven fishing nets and seine for mullet just as the waning night sky, tips of orange, yellow and fiery red, would streak across the horizon. His gnarled hands and muscle-ripped, ageing arms casting the nets far and wide, hauling the flapping fish onto the shore.
They would gut, clean and fillet the fish and enter the kitchen laughing, smelling of salt, blood, and tracking in sand. Papa reaching out for Mama’s hand, she resisting, insisting he get cleaned up. Now her work began along with Aunt Doodle and Aunt Geraldine. Grease began to sizzle in the blackened iron skillet, aromas filled the room: cheese grits, hush puppies, fresh fried mullet and Mama’s hand-tossed biscuits. Papa ready to say the blessing.
Everyone gathered around that breakfast table, that place so filled with love and God’s grace, we paused in awe of all harmony in life. Yet an ending would come soon one winter night after that morning of fried fish, grits, and devotion. An ocean of grief would swallow us up, and we’d drown in our sorrow, flapping on that shore, gasping for breath, entangled in life’s net of loss.
The sun slides down the Serengeti sky leaving in its wake pinks and blues and purples before an adamant night takes over. The dark is so dark that even the trees lack silhouettes. The Serengeti is not silent. Off in the distance the howl of hyenas, the call of jackals, and the periodic deep grunt and occasional roar of a lion are a reminder that the night is theirs. They rule. Unintimidated, night bugs chitter or hum. The slow ripple of the canvas wall as a large animal makes its way along the edge of the tent is an unnecessary reminder that we are not alone, nor as safe as we’d like to think. A canvas tent cannot defeat a leopard’s claws. Sleep comes slowly.
Soon it is morning and time to meet the sun. We are brave in the shy light of the dawn as we make our way to the breakfast tent. Along with the clatter of plates and flatware is awed chatter as we recount the sounds we heard and the ripple we saw and learn that it was a leopard walking past our tents. Dawn and daylight are welcomed. The sun rises, light fills the plains and the green of the tall grass is tinged with gold. We pile into our vehicles and continue our drive through this wild, magnificent country.
One hot lazy afternoon in Viet Nam an Army spotter plane flew over our fire base. The light plane was clearly marked with a large U.S. Army white star. Usually these small planes were on a fix-and-find mission to locate and spot the enemy. This one was not spotting, but littering. Hundreds of leaflets were falling from the sky about the size of money. Black Market US dollars? or MPC (Military Payment Currency)? or Dongs (the worthless South Vietnamese money)? Had we won the best fire base contest? Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to honor us with an award ceremony?
Several troopers scrambled to collect what they thought were our contest winnings. The leaflets turned out to be a big disappointment at first. These were Chieu Hoi leaflets, meant for the enemy and written in their language. We knew enough Vietnamese lingo to know that Chieu Hoi meant “Give up!” or “Surrender!”
But then suddenly we all got the same crazy idea that these leaflets could be our ticket home. We troopers ran and gathered up armfuls of paper, more valuable than money to us in this manic moment. We ran straight to our First Sergeant yelling “Chieu Hoi! Chieu Hoi! We quit now and wanna go home.”
Every First Sergeant was called Top by us troopers. Authoritatively citing Army regs, the Geneva Convention, and the Military Justice Code, Top informed us, “You guys are off your nuts. We can’t surrender to ourselves. The leaflets were for the enemy, you jerks, not us.”
We were crestfallen. And to add to our misery, Top shouted, “Fall out now, troopers, and police up all that Chieu Hoi mess.”
Returning home is completely free to build a new, happy life with your loved ones. In all cases, returning volunteers will be warmly welcomed according to the Chieu Hoi policy. ST 2013 You can use this leaflet as a pass. Without a passport or leaflet, you will still be warmly welcomed.
Jerry Noland, Susan Harrison, and Andy Mohr – members of OLLI’s interest group Community of Readers and Writers – share three vivid memories under 500 words. You are welcome to take part in this Vivid Memories Project – to create layers of meaning and weave images in a limited form under 500 words. We find this compression brings out the best in our writing. Join the fun. All OLLI members are eligible. Send your vivid memories (under 500 words, please) for group feedback and editing tips to firstname.lastname@example.org –Liesse Chable
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