Thursday, November 10, 2005

Late Night Memories

I remember watching the news as a young girl ... footage of American soldiers dying in rice patties and in the jungles of Vietnam. The networks brought the war into our living rooms. Except at my house, Mama refused to allow the TV on during dinner when Daddy worked second shift. As much as I was fascinated with the war, it scared Mama to death. Not but two or three years older than myself, boys I'd grown up with, went to school with, were coming home broken, busted up, or in body bags.

One night after his late shift, Daddy arrived home tired and moaned to Mama loud enough for me to hear. "I want to relax tonight, clear my head, and fall asleep to the TV." I heard him tip-toe into the livingroom, which was right next to my bedroom, then turn on the TV to find his usual late night Western movie. I slid out of bed in time to watch him toe off one shoe and then the other and groan with delight. He'd stood on his feet all day at the Plant 5 Chemical Division of the Akron based Goodyear Tire and Rubber company. A job that over time, broke him physically.

"What you doin' up, Sissy?" he whispered.

"Just wanna kiss you goodnight, Daddy."

He'd hug me, then point to the kitchen counter. "There's a candy bar in my lunchbucket, don't let yer Mama see."

"Thanks, Daddy ... goodnight."

"'Night, Darlin'."

I knew Daddy always brought something home for me or my sister; whoever was up got first dibs. Mama would pack his lunch and throw in a candy bar which he never ate, just so he could bring it home to one of us.

Finally, I heard him flop back down on our L-shaped couch after finding an old movie, something with Jimmy Stewart. (No such thing as a remote control in those days.) Though the sound was turned low, the music and words of the film soothed me and the glow from the TV served as my nightlight.

This particular evening, the news broke in to report the latest casualties from a place called Khe Sanh. A Marine base had been hit. A shattering barrage of shells, mortars and rockets slammed into the base. Eighteen Marines were killed instantly, forty were wounded. I heard Daddy's heavy sigh and my mama's bleak response, "When will it end?"

The news had interrupted all programs. There were only a handful of channels back in 1968. In a tone I'd not heard before, Daddy declared to my mama he was thankful his oldest children were girls, and that hopefully by the time my little brother was eighteen, the war would be over--which it was. My daddy was a Korean war veteran, he'd seen enough and turned off the TV.

Now and again, I like to lay in bed and think of those nights ... laying awake and waiting for the sound of that front door opening. My mama's heavy footsteps from somewhere in the house padding down the hall to greet him. The sounds of their voices, the dull gray light from the old RCA TV set, and the smell of leftovers being reheated for his dinner ... all remind me of security. And even in the midst of war, I felt secure.

It would be 35 years later before I felt that secure again. Laying in bed now, watching Michael sleep, the TV turned down as I'm flipping through over a hundred channels, a war overseas still goes on. But the peace I felt as a young girl, has now come back to me ... and I'm thankful for that ... even in the late hours of the night and early mornings.

I think tonight, I'll flip to the channel that plays old Westerns ... maybe I'll find an old favorite of Daddy's, The Man From Laramie. Jimmy Stewart just puts me to sleep.

Blessings to you and yours.

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