I Learned From PBS why my Mother Grieved so Much From the Years 1969-1972 (an Essay)
She Would Have Been
95, this coming June 2017. My mother. My mom. My best friend. Mary Dean (Lee) Avery June 2, 1922--August 19, 2010. The precious little lady who gave me birth. No other lady, including Virgin Mary, could do that. I don't mean to be sacrilegious, but there is an endless, unconditional, fathomless degree of love that only a child and a mom can share. A dad can help bring the birth about of his son or daughter, but the dad cannot give his child a birth into the world. God did not intentionally cheat dad's. God just has His own way of designing things in life.
I really need to brag on my mom who is now living an undescribably-peaceful presence in The Lord Jesus, who gave His sinless life for fallen mankind. My mom and yours was a lot like Jesus in that respect I'm sure. Every mom (and mine) had her own brand of suffering prior to, during, and after you and I were born. In my case, my mom did a lot of suffering before I came along and even more that I never knew about. Until last night. Sept. 26. From 8 to 10 p.m. In those two awful, painful hours I saw with my own two eyes the true suffering that caused my own blessed mother to endure a silent suffering because of me and the age that I was nearing, 18, in 1972, when I was to register for Uncle Sam and the Draft to head to The Vietnam War. Don't dare call the needless bloodshed by your own sons and daughters a "conflict." When innocent lives are taken--friend, this is war at its worst.
I really need to talk an honest talk from my heart about and to my mom. She deserves it. She didn't work for my love. And she never told me that she loved me through any contractual agreement of a forced series of hoops that she wante me to jump through. She lived what she talked. Pure love and even now, I am struggling for just the right words to share to you about a lady who I can never come near to a more-determined and yet silent endurance that I witnessed for myself so clearly from the years of 1969 through 1972, those toughest, bloodiest years of the Vietnam War.
In fact, October 15, 1969, was seen as a ground swelling of the Anti-War Moratorium that its founders held throughout our country. When a savage group of anti-war protesters, the S.D.S., (Students for a Democratic Society) ran wild in Chicago, Ill., 250 of these "protesters" were jailed, six were killed by the police and the Police Commissioner was shot and paralyzed for life all because the S.D.S. said on TV, "we're not letting the pigs call the shot--we are." It looked like it. Bloodshed is not a peaceful demonstration. The S.D.S. produced so much violence that the Black Panthers rose up to take up for the innocent citizens. The Panthers said that "the S.D.S. are nothing but cowards, opportunists and not for peace, but themselves." I learned from this documentary that when a member of the Black Panthers said something, traffic stopped and people listened. And if you still believe that anti-war groups such as the dangerous S.D.S. can be peaceful, yet proclaiming to be peaceful then twisted into violence for a meal and blood to wash it down, I will cease from writing altogether.
From last night, Sept. 25 and tonight, Sept. 26, I got so angry and so easily upset when I viewed a very honest viewpoint by unbiased reporters and film crews covering this PBS documentary: "The Vietnam War." The episodes never pulled punches. Never apologized for what they filmed. A series of older North Vietnamese citizens and soldiers were interviewed and they acted as shocked as our American G.I.s did when they sat foot on the jungle floor to fight through th Elephant Grass and swamps. Shocked is a mild adjective. Scared to death. Ready to open Hades' Front Door and the list goes on. This in-depth documentary allowed me, now at age 63, to really understand what was happening that I was never privy to that caused my own blessed mother so much untold grief. That's a fitting word; Grief. She had her share alight--from the time that her mom was laid to rest, my mom was three. She never understood why her mom, such a gentle soul, had to leave her. Many times I ask that silently to God Himself. Why did you allow such a good woman as my mom, and my daughter to join you in eternity? It's easy sometimes to be selfish for we mortals are all selfish. Even Rev. Billy Graham was selfish. He frequently used the term: "Seed of Adam" in his sermons. That "seed" being our own sinful characters. Even my own mama who gave her last crust of bread to a hobo when she was seven, told me that no matter how much we can give or do for someone else, we still have (ourselves) to govern.
What a truth that was. In 1969, I was 15, and even then, Vietnam was invading my classmates' talk and choices of music they played. Some were Pro-U.S. and some, although the White Minority, were Anti-War. Not a good percentage. But many times I did listen to the wiser classmates who knew the truth about Vietnam. Not all of the Anti-War knew their feet from their hands. All these cared about was getting high on free grass and riding on someone's coat tails. This is how it went down in my high school.
I would come home and talk about school, the War, and what I was thinking about in these few years to my mom who was the best listener next to Jesus. She was able to hear what I was trying to say and knew how to overlook the stumbling over my words when I got scared of what I was facing: Registering for The Draft on the second floor of our court house in Hamilton, Ala., when I was 18. I recall it well. My cousin, Donnie, drove me down to that appointment. He sat in his car so he could smoke. I went alone. I won't trouble you for the rest of that debacle of the reams of sheets of stupid set of information sheets that took me two hours to fill out. One of the all-time dumbest questions that I had to answer was: "Name six people who are NOT your family or friends who know your whereabouts at all times?" In my mind, I thought what idiot designed this asinine question? When I tried to get the Draft Board, the one past middle-aged woman with an ill temper, tell me what this question meant, she let me have it with her anger. I argued that I was NOT going to Levinworth for forgery for naming people that I didn't know. And she just huffed up and said, just put some names there. Again. She was one well-paid idiot.
In 1971, the Vietnam War grew worse. The Draft was on my trail. Mama knew it. But never made a big case about it. But I can tell you here right now, the one statement that she made to me, caused the heavy weight of worry about Vietnam suddenly melt away when she said, "son, I do not care if you fail a couple of years in high school," she explained. What a rebel my mama really was. "if you want to stay in school until you are in your twenties---this means that the Army cannot touch you." Now. Was she not the most shrewdest of mothers in the U.S.A?
Well, mama. I know the hard truth. The very hard truth about you and how you grieved with almost every God-given breath for me from that time, 1969 through 1972. I remember noticing the times when you were silent as if you were occupied mending socks or maybe working on a crossword puzzle. All of these days, weeks months and years, you were worrying about me. I was also worrying about you and having to face that time that is appointed for all of us the living, the time of death. I hurt with my cousin, Ronnie, who went by the Draft and fought the Viet Cong in Vietnam, but the Cong hid a land mine that he stepped on took half of his face off and that ended his time in Vietnam.
Mama, you and I, with dad, went to the local funeral home where I wish that I had stayed home for when I was young, I saw my dad's family members all pass away and mama, when you are young, death scares you. It did me. But when I viewed Ronnie, something spoke to me. It was a feeling that told me to just hold fast in what I had been told on how to live and not worry about the consequences. Oh, for each dollar that my dad had said that to me when I was a boy.
Yes, dad, I know that you worried too about my time in the Army that was trying to get me. I remember opening our mailbox at the side of our highway and seeing that bulky manila folder that said: "Important Federal Government Papers! Do Not Destroy." And I didn't. I even signed my own Draft Card and carried it until I was 22. Then I don't know where I put it.
But for all of the steps you took when you were grieving and worrying about me, thank you, mama. And thank you for (that) time when you told me if I failed in school, it didn't matter to you. Thank you too, for those silent prayers that you were praying all along those times when I was in school. You tried hard to keep a smile on your face, but somehow I knew what was on your mind.
In a way, I am glad that you and I didn't talk that much about Vietnam. I think that for both of us, talking about that awful place might have made us worse in our times of grieving. And now to close a piece that I should have written years ago, again, I want to repeat about my mom telling me to just do my best in school and if I failed, she wasn't worried--at least the Army couldn't have me.
Now. Was she not the most shrewdest of mothers in the U.S.A?
I think so. No. I know so.
Oh, yes, mama. I am glad that I didn't forget. The below set of words are for you:
Dear sweet mama, if I had tried to walk in your shoes
I would only crawled, then quickly died.
If I had told you that I was never scared
Then I would have told you a lie.
But dear sweet mama, I never saw you afraid or fear
I did see you not talk so much, but use your ears.
If I had wanted to give my years of life to give you more
I would have gladly said yes, to see you soar.
I know that this isn't many lines
But you always understood my heart
You suffered more and laughed less
And gave me life and you chose stress.
What a saint you are, my sweet mama
so young and beautiful now back to a girl.
Dancing and singing with your mother and
Telling her the same stories to get to laugh again.
I miss you, mama. This is the heart I speak
I will stop missing you when my bones no longer creak.
I will stand a moment to see your eyes
And breathe in that perfect breath, a land where
No giving person ever has to die.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery