I know most folks were pretty sour about the cold, rainy Memorial Day weekend. I wasn’t one of them. I was pretty content in full rain gear happily weeding in the vegetable garden. There is something about a gray day to bring out the beauty in a garden.
I carefully transplanted some starts of beets a few weeks ago. They have finally taken hold and have nice, new sturdy leaves. I gave them a quick scratch and pushed them into the soil a little more securely.
Let me say once and for all: raising food is not a money or time-saving activity. No wonder beets are about a dollar each at the market.
People only garden for the pure joy of the process since the product can cause lots of disappointment and aggravation. To wit: I planted an entire flat of San Marzano paste tomatoes and the very next day about four remained. There was no forensic evidence whatsoever.
Most of the irises are ready to pop. They are so short-lived. I love how stately they are in a perennial border. No wonder Georgia O’Keefe used them so often in her work.
Since it is Memorial Day, I thought I would include this letter from my friend Ken. It puts war into perspective for me. Perhaps for you, too, if you lived through the Vietnam War.
“Greetings” a simple word that changed my life. This was the first word of my draft notice, that letter that we hoped would never come but did for far too many of us teenagers back in the late 1960s and early 70s. I was 18, out of high school a few months and working. Came home one afternoon and found a draft notice in the mail. It started with “Greetings,” and it gave me 30 days to report and was signed by President Nixon.
After basic training, radio operator training, two leaves home and a stop in Alaska, I found myself on a flight to Vietnam with about 180 other nervous, frightened teenagers. After landing I was put in a barracks with a group who had finished their one-year tour and were going home. I remember they stayed away from us new guys, wanted nothing to do with us and I didn’t understand. I remember looking at them and they weren’t kids anymore — their eyes, the way they walked. A couple of months later I understood war will do that to a kid.
My coming home story starts in late December 1971, on a medevac flight nine months into my Vietnam tour. Another soldier and I were on the road in a jeep when we were involved in a fire fight. I woke up maybe six days later in a hospital bed in Danang, everything hazy, not remembering what happened. My left shoulder and arm were in a cast, my left lung had been punctured, stitches here and there, bit through my tongue, three or four teeth missing, blurred vision, headaches — which lasted for months — from a severe concussion (before it was called traumatic brain injury). I asked about my sergeant who was with me and I was told he had died.
At this point I needed help. I was lost. Half-dead, my sergeant dead, my unit, the guys I had gotten close to, gone. I never saw them again. I needed help. Slow down, what’s happening? I didn’t get that help for almost 30 years. I was lost but this is a story about coming home.
A few days later we (myself and other wounded soldiers) were put on a hospital transport and flown to Guam. We spent a night in Guam and the next morning we were loaded on a military hospital transport jet. These jets had no insulation, no windows, just webbing hanging from the sides and roof. Our stretchers were attached to this webbing.
After a long, noisy flight we landed in Hawaii for a two-hour refueling stop. Off again, this time to a base in California. Another long, noisy flight. Some of us were in pain. Our meds were starting to wear off; some were moaning, a few were crying.
Those of us going to the East Coast were put on another plane, no stopping, no rest, off again. By this time we were delirious, out of it, in and out of consciousness. Finally we landed in Washington, D.C., finally taken to a hospital, nightmare night, borrowed a dime to call home, my family had no idea I was home, had been wounded. Bright lights, noise, people. It seemed like a few days earlier I’d been in combat, a war. Stop. This isn’t real. I need to slow down. I didn’t get to slow down for 35 years.
The next morning another flight to Boston, picked up in an unheated bus on a cold January morning, taken to Chelsea Naval Hospital, put off the bus on a loading dock and left alone and forgotten. Home. Thanks, America.
Ken K., Chilmark