Sunday, October 24, 2010

What's your name?

I walked into the assisted living home to find a dozen or so of the residents singing "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover." I was going to skirt the room and take the stairs at the far end to the second floor where my mother's room was. But I paused to look at the faces just in case she was part of the group.

She was.

She wasn't expecting me; I hadn't called to say I was coming, and she wouldn't have remembered if I had. This I'd discovered on other visits when I had called before making the hour-and-a-half drive.

She always had that spark of recognition when I knocked and then entered her room.

"Hi, Ruthie," she'd exclaim, and I always felt relieved, knowing I was still in her shadowy memory bank.

Today I went over and knelt on the floor beside her chair. She smiled and said hello. But she'd spoken politely as she might do to a stranger. Then she gave me a quizzical look. 

"You look like my daughter, " she said, searching my face.

"Because I am, Mom," I said. "I'm Ruthie."

She chuckled and clasped my hand, but I could see she wasn't sure. We listened to the music for a while.  A lively woman was taking the residents on a European "tour," telling a fanciful story and singing songs from each country.

My mother joined in on "Loch Lomond," a song she and my father sang on car trips. Although she doesn't remember the trips—or my father, anymore—she didn't miss a word. "For me and my true love will never meet again..."

Then she said, "You look like my daughter."

"Mom, it's me. Ruthie."

"What's your first name?" she asked.

"Ruth," I said, shaking my head to myself. She'd slipped mentally since my last visit.

"No, what's your first name?" she repeated. 

And it came to me. Since birth I've gone by my middle name, but I carry my paternal grandmother's name as my nearly forgotten first.

"Lillian," I said.

"It is you," She said. And she laughed, and held her arms out for a hug.

Click to read: The Scent of a Mother 
Click to read: Citrus-scented Love

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to forget. ~Kevin Arnold

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thirty-nine men~

They were men in 1967, albeit young and untested, until the dense and steamy jungles of Vietnam became an exam they dared not fail.  Now they call themselves the "Boys of '67." They met as a group in 2008 for the first time in forty-one years as graduates of the class of 5-'67 at the Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. From that reunion emerged the desire to honor their missing classmates in a permanent way.

The "boys" placed a new monument at the Marine Museum in Triangle, Virginia, in honor of their thirty-nine classmates who died in Vietnam. This monument was a gift from those who never forgot--never could forget and never will--their friends who didn't return home. Dedicated in a ceremony on October 16, it speaks to the power of the loyalty that is often generated in the worst of times.

Families of the deceased were invited. Many came--brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, and one ninety-five-year-old mother who's lived forty-three years past the death of her son. All were moved to realize that those who knew their loved ones only briefly remembered them still. The men whose names were engraved on the monument were as present as any of the men who bowed their heads as the names were read.

From the Vietnam War--any war, really--came turmoil, hate, division, fear… and much death. And yet the men who faced it together forged bonds that rose above the ugliness.  Along with the horrors of the war lodged in unwanted memories, these men share a respect and love for each other that no other relationship can rival. They talk, but it isn't usually to recount battlefield stories. They leave most of those memories pressed like a thorny rose between the pages of a closed book--a mere shadow of reality, and not to be examined often.

Just because it's over doesn't mean they forget. Just because it's been forty-three years doesn't mean the hurt has faded.  There are too many names carved in cold, black granite.

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