George Mercer gave permission to Tom Schneider post these stories.
I can't make this brief but if I don't try to say it, well, ....
Fifty years ago this month (February 1968) my life was on a bit of a tumble.
I'd arrived in Vietnam in April 1967. I was stationed in Di An with the Second Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. Sometime in the late summer or autumn 1967, my team was divided and I was left behind to be the brigade's public information team. I'll confess that I didn't exactly warm to the task. I did what I could, but was literally in over my head. Looking back, I'd have to admit that my situation was better than a lot of others. Most of us were in over our heads. I went on a variety of missions and tried to put out a brigade newspaper.
The worst part of my job was telling a battle-fatigued medic that he didn't have what it took to be a battalion reporter (as if I knew what that was) while he begged me not to send him back to his old job.
A couple of days before Christmas I went to Division Forward headquarters in Lai Khe for the Bob Hope Show. I was glad to be there, but I was not impressed with Mr. Hope, who I thought was nasty to his staff and kind of rude. On the way back to Di An, I watched drunken soldiers thr.owing c-ration cans at Vietnamese lining the road -- there was no question the goal was to hurt those on the receiving end of the cans.ed
Some time after Christmas I received a letter from my mother saying her mother, my grandmother, in whose house we grew up in had died. It wasn't really a surprise, she was 87 or and had been in decline for some time. My mother was quite worked up because she'd contacted the Red Cross for help telling me about the death, but she'd been told they'd only get involved in the death or parents, siblings and children. She'd explained she was only wanting help in letting me know of my grandmother's death, not assistance in bringing me home. They wouldn't talk to her. She never forgave the Red Cross.
In mid-January a friend, Duane, suggested we take a R&R trip to Hong Kong. We applied and were put on orders for (what I recall was a 5 day vacation). I remember loving Hong Kong, buying a suit and a good camera.and seeing and enjoying "The Fearless Vampire Killers" My recollection was that the movie had Chinese dubbed into it with English subtitles. It was still funny though. I celebrated my 24th birthday there.
At the end of January came the Tet Offensive when all hell broke loose. I had trouble connecting with the rest of the brigade and finally gave up. I called friends stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base and was told something like, "Love to talk to you George, but we're being shot at right now." The person on the other end successfully made contact with me last year after nearly fifty years. Thanks Mike. In early February, my lieutenant was killed and my sergeant wounded in a rocket attack on Lai Khe.
I made the mistake of later telling my captain that I still didn't hate the Viet Cong. I shouldn't have said it. He was very unhappy. So was I. I'll leave it at that.
Toward the end of February, I was on orders to return home on or about March 1. So was Duane. We went to the hospital to visit my wounded sergeant, Dick, and then headed to the club for a beer. While there, another PIO specialist came in with two infantry buddies of his and demanded I buy them drinks. I told them to "fuck off" and Duane and I left. Like we needed a bully.
That night we were sleeping on cots in the Division Public Information Office, when the guy I'd told to pound sand, pulled me out of my cot and started punching the crap out me, calling me a coward who had embarrassed him in front of his friends. I fought back until the other guys separated us and threw him out of the office. I was distraught and the other guys told me not to worry about it. Good luck with that.
The next morning I left on a bus for An Hoa, out-processing and a flight home. The next day, Duane and Dick caught up with me and we three flew out of Bien Hoa Airport for California. We parted company in Oakland mostly because they wanted to hurry home to their wives. Can't say as I blamed them. I was discharged on February 29 and, on my own, I decided to see San Francisco.
That night, in Frisco, I made wrong turn, had a knife pulled on me and my wallet and glasses stolen. A kindly optometrist and a glasses store replaced my glasses the next day and I decided I 'd had enough. I called home and flew to Philadelphia the next day -- the in-flight film was "Wait UNtil Dark." In Philly. I messed up my father's filming of my return by coming through the wrong door and up the wrong stairwell.
The night my mother and my aunt hosted a homecoming gathering for me. Over the next month or so I visited friends and family. .
In April MLK was murdered and all hell broke lose again. On the way back from a visit with friends in southern Maryland, I was pulled over twice (once by police and once by national guard) and searched with a gun to my back.
I won't bother describing the rest of 1968, but it wasn't a fun year.
That's the Classics Comics version.
A long-time friend said recently, "I wish I could remember things like you do." I said, "No you don't. It has it's downside."
A number of weeks ago I sat down to write a letter. I ran out of stationery. Over the ensuing weeks, I looked in every store I chanced to be shopping in for some old-fashioned writing paper. None was to be found -- anywhere. I know I could probably find some on the internet from a specialty business of some kind and have it shipped to me, but it turned into a matter of principle -- an innocent crusade..
Today, I stopped in a professional card shop -- more than a few aisles of greeting cards. I asked the clerk, if they had any writing paper. She looked at me as if I'd just been returned to earth after an alien kidnapping. She asked the other clerk. "We used to carry some, but we haven't for a while. I'm sorry" At least she didn't say "Sorry about that" -- which I hate.
How can I be the last letter writer in America. I don't do it often at all, but I didn't think I would be the last holdout. there I was asking for something no one needed anymore. Why not just ask for a buggy whip? Talk about depressed.
Then miracle or miracles, I was going through a box of other things and there was the remnants of some old stationery. It doesn't match or even Quixotically contrast with what I started the letter on, so I'll probably start over.
I guess I'm just that old.
In the face of seemingly endless tragic and difficult news, I'll go ahead with my own personal highlights.
Sometimes good things happen and bright lights shine when you're not expecting them.
On Wednesday afternoon, walking along Baltimore's North Avenue I saw a bright light approaching me. It was my friend Madeline McConnell. I haven't seen Maddie for seems like a good long while. I didn't even know she was still in Baltimore and, there she was, smiling at me and walking toward me. We hugged, talked and laughed for a few minutes, but we were both on our way to other things and had to go our own way. I don't have words to say how happy I was to see her.
Let me add, we are more than fifty years between our ages. We met on the dance floor. She was a college student. I was an old guy. We became friends. Not too many years ago, she won a Halloween costume contest dressed as me. (That's the second time someone was George Mercer in a contest. Could be a thing...?) It was a real treat for me.
A few minutes later, I found a man playing a large (to me) conga drum. I listened for a while and when he took a short break, I played my belly and thighs -- not nearly as musical as he was, but it was my attempt at percussive music. Without looking at me or smiling, he mimicked one of my "rhythms." I tried another rhythm. He drummed it back to me. We took turns drumming, without comment. I followed one of my solos with a vocal "rap-a-tap-a-tap." He didn't look up, but said, "You cheated." We laughed, him not as much as I did. I walked on to catch my bus. He continued his drumming.
Generally speaking, when I travel anywhere I tend to take along a book (or two) and/or a magazine (or two) so I can read while waiting for my next link. Over the past months, when visiting Baltimore's Penn Station, I've usually left my reading material in my bag and concentrated on watching the people coming and going.
Back in the summer, I was sitting in the concourse. Across the way was a family. The father was sitting by himself, looking at his cell phone. The mother was with a also looking at a cell phone with her younger son, perhaps 4 or 5, paying close attention to what she was showing him. A few feet away sat an older son, maybe 8 or 10 years old, looking around watching people and generally observing. Every couple of minutes, he'd jump up and say, "Mom...." Each time she'd look up with a kind of frustration, bordering on anger. "Not now! Can't you see I'm busy?" And then she went back to the cell phone and her younger son. The father never looked up.
I've been that boy.
Eventually he gave up and started watching people. And then he realized I was watching. All of a sudden, he put on a pair of sunglasses. I could tell he was still studying his surroundings and its inhabitants. And then I realized he realized I was still watching him. He reached up and with a finger pulled his sunglasses down enough to give me the eye. He then pushed the glasses back up and went back to watching, but now he was including me in his observations. When he'd discover something or someone of particular interest he'd nod toward me and then back to whatever had caught his interest. Then back to me. Every once in a while he'd pull his glasses down to make sure I knew he was watching me. Occasionally, he'd smile, but mostly it was all deadpan. The targets of interest were usually quite worthy. Once when I missed what he was looking at he gave me a shrug like, "Why aren't you looking?" I have no idea how long this went on, but it was a pleasant enough way to spend the day.
Then came the announcement for their train. The father jumped up and started gathering everyone together. The mother took the younger boy by the hand and dragged him toward the door to the tracks. Both parents told the boy to hurry up. Just as he got to the door, he turned to me pulled his sunglasses down a tad, and then pointed at me with both hands. I pointed back as he disappeared through the door.
And then I smiled to myself. It was a fine late summer day in Penn Station.
My brothers and I started helping with the laundry probably in junior high school or earlier. We weren't allowed to wash our clothes because our washing machine was an old wringer washer and my mother thought it was too dangerous for us to use. But we hung the clothes out to dry, and later when we bought a drier, we loaded and unloaded it. We learned to iron our shirts and trousers too. It took some doing but we talked our mother out of the need to iron our underwear.
In the 1980s, I was living in a small town in rural Maryland and doing my wash at a local laundromat. As happened more often than I care to admit, I was lamenting the fact that I'd ruined another shirt by having the collar button pull off and was asking the laundromat lady if the button could be sewed back on. She said, the tear was too big, then she stared me right in the eye and said, "Always zip all zippers and unbutton all buttons. Always!" I've followed her advice very carefully over the years and the only buttons I've lost have been when I forgot to unbutton or just plain missed a buttoned button.
I still marvel at the fact that no one ever told me that before ... or after And when I've mentioned it to others, they tend to look at me in disbelief.
The laundromat lady and I became friends and we often talked about music and the people we knew in common.
Zip all zippers and unbutton all buttons. Just sayin'.
I went for an unplanned walk this morning. I was out of V8 juice and my regular dealer did not have what I needed. I went in search of an alternate connection.
While walking, I noticed several things. I was once again reminded about how many people do not clean up after their dog-walking and how many smokers just throw their cigarette butts on the ground. I also couldn't believe how many disposable gloves and masks I passed on my way. Folks: It doesn't do the public or you much good if after you use protective gloves or a mask you just chuck it (them) on the ground. Even I can figure that out.
On the way back to my residence a woman in a van stopped at a traffic light offered me a reusable bag to carry my score, I said thanks, but I've only a short way to go. We smiled and waved as she drove away.
I'm reminded of several stories that I've shared here before. Repeating myself has never been an overwhelming concern for me. Sorry.
When I was maybe 8 or 10 years old, we were riding with my father's parents toward the South Jersey beach of choice -- probably Stone Harbor. We were on the Buckshutem Road, near Bridgeton, NJ. I was riding shotgun and after some snack or another, I casually opened the wing vent, and tossed a napkin out the window.
Without a word, my grandfather turned that big old Packard around and drove back to my napkin. I was told by both grandparents, "We don't litter. Pick it up!" I did and placed it in a bag until it could be properly disposed of. Lesson learned.
Many years later, in the Army, we often performed what was called "police call" -- basically picking up trash. Trust me when I say that soldiers picking up trash did not treat kindly other soldiers who would just flip their cigarette for the rest of us to "police up." Smokers, as I was then, all learned to field strip a cigarette, scatter the un-smoked tobacco, and put the filter in your pocket for later disposal. It became even more important in Vietnam, when you didn't want those shooting at you to know you'd been there.
In the late 1970s I was invited to travel out to southeastern Ohio to judge some fiddle contests I did so, even though my knowledge and understanding of fiddle music was limited. It was blind judging. The judges never saw the contestants who were announced only by number. I was pleased that the fiddler I thought was best won each year I was a judge.
One year, at the after-the-festival party at a friend's home, I was talking with some musicians and I noticed an attractive young woman standing next to me -- rather close. I started talking with her and all of sudden we were holding hands, then we started a little (what the British call) snogging. It wasn't long before we were in the back yard where the moon and stars watched her have her way with me.
In the afterglow of our connection, she quietly said, "Do you know why I chose you?" Uncharacteristically wise, I said, "No." She said, "I watched you for two days. Every cigarette you smoked, you tore up the butt and put the filter in your pocket. I decided a man that thoughtful has got to be good in the sack." Once again, I was smart enough to not make a joke. I did say, "Want to do it again." She smiled and said, "No, that was just what I needed" and wandered off into the evening.
I do not tell that story to brag about a conquest. If anything, she was in charge. I tell it because it's worth knowing that if you respect nature, you might just reap some unexpected benefits.
I've often spoken of being taught a basic rock'n'roll jitterbug and slow dance box step in sixth grade gym class and how it allowed me to dance with girls even when I couldn't figure out how to talk to them. Those lessons served me well. I even won some jitterbug and twist contests in the 1960s.
Another element of learning to dance was visits by my older cousin, Lois (Lois Ann or Lisa as she later wanted to be called). She was about 10 years older than me and I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I'd ever see. She loved dancing and wanted to practice. My older brother wasn't up for it, but I was game. We jitterbugged occasionally and she taught me some good things about dancing WITH my partner.
This photo was probably taken in 1957 or thereabout. I think we were in the living room of my grandmother's house -- the house I grew up in.
I'm going to wander a bit here. It's kind of what I do. Sorry. Not sorry.
I was born in 1944. I was raised and came of age when the dominant path for raising boys was what I'll call "learn to be a little man." Boys were told early on that they had to be tough and strong and not show any weakness, never cry. never show the pain. Never admit that you're unsure of yourself -- even to yourself. Never make a mistake and if you are stupid or weak enough to make one, never admit it. Walk it off. Be a man. Even "Stop acting like a girl!"
As much as I despise Donald Trump and everything about him, there is a part of me that winces when I realize that regardless of everything else and unlike many others, he seems to have followed that path right into genuine, absolute, untreated emotional and social pathology. Never show weakness. Never admit a mistake. Never admit to failure and if you are trapped at least find a way to blame someone else.
But this is not about Donald Trump. It's about me and men in general. I don't know if it applies to men across the board, but if it doesn't, I'll apologize later for my mistake in a most unmanly way.
I believe that "be a man" pathway has caused inordinate amount of pressure and pain -- to men of all ages and of various social and economic groups. Not all men, but more than enough for me to raise my concerns.
To make matters worse, I often get upset when I see women adopt and adapt those "masculine" traits of get tough and aggressive and show no pain and never let them know you're wounded [Monty Python's "It's just a flesh wound"].
Our sports, our military, our politics, our way of loving are all tainted by the "be a man" pathway. "Soldier on!" "Grow a pair!" "Play while hurt!" "Walk it off!" "What doesn't kill us makes us strong!" "Defeat (or failure) is not an option!" "There is no substitute for victory!" "Death before dishonor!" "Don't tread on me!" "Life is tough, get tougher!" What bullshit.
Those "memes" (I've come to hate that word) often don't help, and from my perspective, often injure, wound or damage -- physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. Often, the result is isolation, from family, friends, the community ... from the self.
I began to realize something was wrong with me by the time I'd entered high school. My guess it was just depression (I say "just" as if it's not a problem -- it is). By the time I'd failed out of my second college, I'd begun to feel like the cartoon character who walks around under a dark cloud. But the rules were "Never show it. It will only make you look bad or weak."
Oddly, Army basic training was a respite. There were specific chores and goals and limits that I recognized early on could help me keep things manageable. But at Fort Monroe, where I was kind of left alone to make it up as I went along, even supervising others, the dark cloud again took over
When I came home on leave before heading off to a journalist refresher course and then Vietnam, I brought with me some short articles and papers I'd written and some photographs I'd taken. One of those papers was a short impressionistic essay on my mental state that I'd typed up one evening in the office, As I was showing those items off to my family, one relative came across that essay and remarked, "Wow! Don't you think that's kind of whiney? That's an awful lot of 'poor little me."
To this day, I'm still shocked at that response. Being faithful to the "Be a man" path, I sucked it up and said something like, "Yeah. Probably." I assure you no one ever saw that piece of sub-par literature again. (It eventually disappeared to goodness knows where.)
In Vietnam, that testosterone-driven sense of "manliness" was mandatory (both via the chain of command and from your buddies in the swamp or jungle) and more than a few suffered from it while there and in the decades following. Never let them know you are frightened or overwhelmed or even tired. The Veterans Hospitals are filled with people from Vietnam and later military misadventures, who, desperate to adhere to the "suck it up" model, couldn't ... or could, but later suffered because of it.
I'd love to say that over the years I rose above it all. I have not -- Even with a marginal, though occasionally successful knack for self-therapy. In fact, I have too often retreated into the "Be a man" pose -- often loathing (that's probably too strong) myself privately, while pretending to the world that I'm unscathed and master of it all. For many of us, men and women, we've learned to keep it to ourselves. I am not suggesting that we should all go out onto the street corners (especially not in a time of social isolation and social distancing), and weep and moan. That would be awful and probably not help much. I dread the thought.
But I will advocate for a more humane approach to masculinity and femininity, to adulthood and genuine humanity. Emotions are real. They are essential to being human. We somehow must learn to not abuse or misuse them. I know I have to and I'm still learning ... I hope.
I have, indeed, wandered and, to be honest, I'm not sure if I've said anything worthwhile.
I've been trying to write about my Vietnam and Army experiences so many years ago To be honest, I'm not even sure why I am or to what end. At any rate, this vignette came to me last night.
In January 1967, I was sent to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, for an 8-week refresher military journalism course prior to heading to Asia.
As part of our training, we were required to watch "escape and evasion" movies of a 1940s vintage, giving us hints on techniques to escape should we be captured. One of the techniques presented was "if captured and being marched to a new location by the enemy, stretch out the line on a curve to the enemy guards couldn't see you when you jumped out of the line." The actors portraying captured Americans would whisper, "Stretch out the line. I think I can make it." The others would stretch out the line and when not visible to the guards at the front and rear of the column, the escapee would get away. After watching several films, we were being marched back to the barracks in a column of twos. All of a sudden, we began to hear those at the end of the column whisper, "Stretch out the line. I think I can make it." We did and one-by-one and two-by-two, we'd "escape" the columns and head back to the barracks on our own.
When the column turned the corner to arrive at our barracks, there were only maybe six men (out of maybe 30) in the columns. The rest had all "escaped" and were sitting on the steps of the barracks and laughing. The sergeant who had been in charge of the "march" was embarrassed and genuinely furious. Interestingly, all the "escapees" had actually gone right back to the barracks, arriving well before what was left of the column.
We later had another marching incident.
After 8 weeks of training, our combined detachments of about 30 or so enlisted men and 20 officers were put on an airplane to begin our flight to Oakland, California, where we were to board a World War II troopship that would carry us to Vietnam.
On the journey, we had a brief stopover in St. Louis to transfer to another plane. It was maybe 6 or 7 a.m. The Major in charge began to march us in a column of twos across the tarmac. It was early and he wasn't quite tuned in - neither were we. At one point he gave an order "column half right" and then immediately corrected himself to order a "column half left." As the well-trained public information specialists we were, we all did something different. We looked like the "Keystone Cops" or a flock of chickens scrambling around. It took several minutes to get us re-formed and marching to the terminal.
I still laugh at the image
My mother learned to wear a safety belt in the 1980s because her grandchildren told her to "buckle up" every time she got in the car with them. She didn't like being told what to do by small children, but she eventually realized they were right and they were trying to help and protect her. She later laughed at her at her not liking to learn.
The same thing happened in regard to using a microwave oven -- even though she and her sister had one, they didn't use it, because (they thought) "We already have ways to cook that work just fine. What do we need another way to cook for?" That was made more difficult because microwave technology was just "too new and tech-y" and they had no real understanding of how it worked. And they'd heard stories of microwaves blowing up or catching fire.
When they finally used their microwave, my mother put a cup of water in, closed the door, pushed the right buttons and ran to join her sister hiding at the other end of the kitchen. It worked and they were able to declare victory. Again, they laughed heartily when they told the story and how they had too work up the courage to learn something new.
Among the many reasons we loved them was that they, my mother especially, enjoyed laughing at their misunderstandings and mistakes. It made life much more bearable and pleasant.
I told you that to tell you this.
In the early 1990s, I was at a square dance in southeastern Pennsylvania. In one square that night, my partner and I were the only adults in the square. Not only were the other dancers young, they were a mixed-up racial and ethnic jumble. They were laughing and talking and just interested in having a good time in a safe environment.
I commented to the woman I was dancing with how wonderful it was to see that these children had something so valuable to teach us and they were teaching us by example. Then I went on to say that I'd kind of given up hope of changing adults, but I had great hope in children like those eventually changing the world. The dance began and that ended the conversation. I thought no more about it.
The next day, I received an email from the woman I'd been dancing with. She was not happy. She'd been thinking about what I said and thought I was dead wrong. We had to work and work hard to change minds and attitudes of everyone, regardless of age, custom or habit. Racism was such an an active evil that we couldn't leave it to the children and the future. We had to confront it now!
Of course she was right, but (there's always a but...) I hadn't been talking about not working to change stuck-in-the-mud attitudes, beliefs, customs and habits. I merely was saying that learning from the children who seemed to know instinctively how to love, like, help and enjoy each other without the B.S. of previous generations was the path to a better future.
When I think of my exchange with her, I almost always jump to my mother and the safety belts and microwave. If people are convinced that what they have works well enough for them and for the world around them there is no urgency to change, there is little need or requirement to adapt a new technology or behavior or attitude or belief or habit.
It's all the more difficult because people also don't like being told they are wrong or that their parents are wrong or that a chosen and cherished authority may be wrong.
So much of our nation and the world is broken. They have been broken for a long, long time and it is so difficult and uncomfortable to change or learn something new or, worse, un-learn something we're comfortable with. But our world needs repair. Our nation needs fixing and renewal. And there is so much work to be done. And only so much of that work can be done by governments or institutions or, most importantly, by others. There is much in our culture that we can draw on to assist, but we are also going to have to step out of our comfort zones, our customs, attitudes and habits. All of us and not just the children. All of us.
In the run up to Father's Day, I thought I'd share this story.
In the mid-1980s, I was romantically involved with a woman with 7-year old son (names withheld to protect the innocent). As I tend to do, I tried to treat the boy as if he was my own. It was fun. We enjoyed each other's company.
My partner and I took her son on a Brandywne Friends of Old Time Music train ride and picnic -- we used to have them in those days. While picnicking, I had to use the port-a-pot. As there was a line, I decided the woods would do just fine. As I headed off into the woods, the boy asked where I was going, I said I had to pee. He asked if he could come along. I said sure and away we went into the woods.
When we were far enough into the woods, I found a likely spot, said, "This will do" and went about my business. The boy decided he had to go too and there we stood side-by-side micturating. And then I realized he was so happy to be there with me doing male-bonding stuff in the woods that he had turned to face me and was grinning up at me. At that point I realized he was (as the late Gamble Rogers would say) "irrigating my trousers." I quietly said, "Please face away from me when peeing." When he figured out what I was telling him, he did so. We finished out business, zipped up and headed back to the picnic. At least one of us was rather damp. When his mother saw us, she noticed the dampness on my right trouser leg immediately. "What happened to you?" I simply said, "It's kind of hard to explain" and left it at that.
Several months later, the mother and I severed our rather stormy relationship. I'm sure the boy has grown up to be a fine young man and is probably a good parent. I hope he remembers this incident with a smile and a laugh.
I was just reminded of a moment from my Vietnam misadventure many years ago.
A soldier had come into our office to deliver some photographs and, talking with my sergeant, started waxing poetically about how well some Vietnamese people spoke English.
"Some of them Vietnam people talk English really good!" he said.
My sergeant quickly glanced in my direction and without a smile said, "They sure do. Some of them talk English even gooder than some Americans."
The visitor agreed with gusto.
I had to get up and go outside to keep from losing it altogether.
I've been cooped up too long.
I went to Bel Air, MD, Monday. Among other delights, I had an Einstein Brothers sesame seed bagel - a rare treat. Then I stopped in the local Barnes and Noble.
I then decided to visit the Sprouts farm market nearby. As I was carrying my goodies to the market, two young women walked in front me to shop in a tea shop. One was complaining about a guy who apparently had made unwanted advances. The other woman asked, "Was he cute?" "Oh, he was okay, but he was old -- probably 24." I laughed and said "I hate those guys too." They looked at me as if I'd just coughed on them I quickly apologized and kept on moving.
After I shopped at the Sprouts store, I sat on a bench outside reading one of the books I bought at B&N. A woman came up asked if she could sit down. I put down my book and moved my bags. She took a good look at my book, which is about women's orgasms. She said, somewhat huffily, "Why are you reading that trash?" I thought her question was rather forward. I responded, "Well, I look at it as a kind of continuing education. I don't often have the opportunity to do my part these days, but it probably pays to stay current. You just never know when you're going to be asked to assist." She was not amused and, like the song says, "Got up and walked away."
It took forever for my cab to get there. As luck would have it, my driver was a kind of combination of James Joyce and William Faulkner. Most of you know something about my propensity to talk. I can't help myself. I swear, I was not able to get a word in for 20 miles. I didn't mind. He was pleasant enough, but by the end of the trip I knew where his grandmother lived, all about his acid reflux condition, and the fact at his mother had been one of the first customers when the Arctic Circle opened in 1972. Oh, yeah I also about his honeymoon.
As i exited cab, he grabbed my hand to shake it. Now I have to quarantine all over again.
My mother, Betty Devine Mercer and her twin sister, Peggy Devine Brown, were born on September 1, 1917. They were born at home with doctor in attendance. My mother was born first. Shortly after her birth, my grandmother started to get out of bed. The doctor said, "Where are you going, Carolean?" Carolean said. "There's a lot to be done. I better get to it" or something like that. The doctor said, "Get back on the bed. You're going to have another baby." She did and she did. And so the adventure began.
The twins were together until my mother got married (I think in 1938 -- but I'm not good on specifics). They were adventurous and sometimes mischievous. Sometimes they bickered (Oh! how they bickered), but they were very much aware of their bond, They moved back together in 1965, when my aunt was recently widowed and had a teenage son. Pete was already in the Army. I had just joined the Army. In little more than 7 months, To would be married. The togetherness had its bumps, but they found ways to make it work. My aunt and our cousin, my mother, my grandmother, and a maniacal Dalmation. Over the years, Tom and I came and went as life and necessity required. So did our cousin, Bob.
Betty and Peggy died in March 1993 on the same day in bedrooms next to each other. Timing being essential, my mother died first. And after the "Storm of the century," they were buried together with more than two feet of snow surrounding the grave. As it was my aunt's plot, she insisted that she be on top. Mom's response, was, "I don't care. I just don't want to be left on the front step."
Looking back, there aren't enough words to talk about them. They both believed that kindness and generosity, helping and hard work, laughter and tears were essential to life. They were so very different from each other, but in the long run, that didn't make a whole lot of difference.
They are missed ... but what a gift----
Thinking about the twins. My mother was divorced by 1947 -- a single mother with three rapscallions to make life so much easier. She discovered by 1950 that she could not take care of her family and still live on the farm -- no matter how much of the fields were least to neighbors. In October 1950 we moved in with my mother's mother in the row house my mother had grown up in. In, I think 1976, I received my first "Dear George" letter from my father -- not my first "Dear George" letter, just the first one from my father. He decided in, I think, 1987, that he wanted to be closer to his grandchildren, demanded a divorce from my stepmother, and moved back to Delaware.
Shortly after his return, I was visiting Betty and Peggy for dinner or maybe just to visit. Peggy absolutely hated my father. She asked, "What in the world would make Bob Mercer want to come back to Delaware?" she asked. Sometimes my mouth goes faster than my brain. I said, "I don't know how to explain this, but I think he just realized he'd married the wrong twin and came back here to be close to you!" Mom literally spit her food out laughing. Peggy became as torqued up as I'd ever seen her. "That son of a bitch. I dare him to ever come knocking at my door. I'll kill him. That son of bitch. I'll get a knife or a gun or maybe just strangle him." It went on for several minutes. Mom turned to me and said, "Why do you do this to her?" I couldn't answer. Mom tried to calm her, "Sis! He made that up. He's joking. He's not coming to see you." Finally, Peggy calmed down. But every once in a while, you could hear her say, not quite under her breath, "That son of a bitch. I dare him."
Sometimes, I'm just not a nice person.
Sometimes small conversations turnout to be memorable.
It was a long time ago and one of my closest friends was soon to get married. I was going to be in the wedding party. The groom's parents wanted to have a small informal party to celebrate the upcoming nuptials. The party took place in a rural setting. There were the groom and his family, the bride, and some of her family, and a number of friends.
It was a jovial and all-around delightful party. I was engaged in a pleasant conversation with the groom's mother. We'd been friends for some time. Let's just say she was a live wire. She was smart and quick. There were times I just couldn't keep up.
At one point she said how happy she was that her son had finally found a "nice girl" to marry When I asked exactly what that meant, she said, "Well, he's had his chance to sow some wild oats and now he's found a girl who is chaste. I avoided any mention of the bride. I asked, "Are you saying that men should go out and learn what it's all about sexually and then find an innocent girl to spend the rest of their lives with - practicing what they've learned with all those "not-so-nice girls?" "She said, "yes." I should have left it alone, but those of you who know me, know how impossible that would have been for me. "So, guys should just go out and have as much sex as possible until they learn enough to get married?" Again she agreed. "I just can't accept that. I guess you'd think it odd that I have spent the night in bed with several different women and not had sex with them." "That can't be true." "Well, it is." And then, just as the room got almost absolutely silent, she said, "What are you, queer? I believe I heard a number of gasps. I answered meekly, "No I'm not" or something like that. I may have said something else, but I can't remember. It took a few seconds, but conversations started again. I don't think "Mom" and I were the only nervous people in the room.
The party regained momentum and as near as I can tell, everyone had a good time. The groom and I are still very close friends. "Mom" and I remained friends for the rest of her long and rather adventurous life. I enjoyed a number of animated conversations with her and I hope she enjoyed my end. But that particular conversation never came up again.
Like I said, it was a long time ago
Some of you know that I sometimes have to fight depression - with varying degrees of success. The song that follows was an attempt to fight back. I'm not sure why, but I felt a need to share.
I have written some songs. I do not believe I am "humble-bragging" when I say that although I've written some songs, I don't think of myself as a songwriter. I number among my friends folks who are real (often) professional songwriters. I am not in their league and there is no other way to say that and still be honest. Some of what I've written can stand beside some of their songs. Others can't. I can live with that.
In my never-endingly incomplete song collection this is in the "Fragments, False Starts, Failures, Incompletes and Ideas" section. It's there because I've never felt comfortable with it. I've killed and resurrected this song oh so-o-o-o many times. The killings last longer than the resurrections. I truly believe its biggest problem is over-reach, trying to do/say too much, but ... This is one of the two versions that my cluttered brain can locate. I prefer this one. The song had its germination in Edgar Lee Masters, "Spoon River Anthology" in the poem "Lucinda Matlock" which ends with:
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness, Anger, discontent and drooping hopes? Degenerate sons and daughters, Life is too strong for you --- It takes life to love Life.Which I adapted for the refrain:
"When things get to where you cannot take them, Then maybe it's just time to give. You've got to live life to love life. You've got to love life to live."Alas, I am no Edgar Lee Masters. Hell, I'm not even a Henry Gibson. The last verse is a "steal" from a speech made by the late Ben Hooks (1995-2010), former Executive Director of the NAACP. I heard the speech on radio and was so impressed I wrote to Mr. Hooks for a copy.
I MET AN OLD WOMAN (IT TAKES LIFE TO LOVE LIFE) by George Mercer
I met an old woman, all worn and bent, Who'd lived through the hardest of times. She'd buried a husband, lost children too, And lived through depression and war She tended her garden and kept to her chores And she sang her way through each day. She talked of the laughter and love that had brightened her path And looked toward what the next had in store. When things get to where you cannot take them, Then maybe it's just time to give. You've got to live life to love life. You've got to love life to live. "I cannot bear young people like you, Who talk only of saddened despair. You know nothing of life, 'cause you're unwilling to live. Your failures are all that you see. You think the world should play by your rules, As if there were no other dreams. And that's selfish and cruel and thoughtless and small, And will keep you from being the one you want to be." When things get to where you cannot take them, Then maybe it's just time to give. You've got to live life to love life. You've got to love life to live. You owe all you are to the trials and sufferings of Those who have gone on before Both the good and the bad and those in between Have made the world where you live So indebt those who follow as you're indebted to others And share the best that you have; And learn how to love, to sing and to laugh, But mostly learn how to give. When things get to where you cannot take them, Then maybe it's just time to give. You've got to live life to love life. You've got to love life to live. You've got to live life to love life. You've got to love life to live.