My mother stuttered as a kid. I’m not sure if she was born that way or if there were any circumstances to traumatize her, causing a stutter to develop. Either way, it was devastating to her.
At one point in grammar school, my mother was forced to stand in front of the class and read her book report to everyone. She stuttered and couldn’t pronounce some of the words and her teacher made fun of her. Called her names.
Laughed at her.
Told her she was stupid.
Made her feel smaller than the dust on the floors in her school.
My mom stood there shaking with fear and cried. In front of everyone. Hung her head as she walked back to her seat. She never forgot how she felt that day.
My grandmother went to the school and complained to the principal. Nothing was ever done.
Needless to say, my mom taught herself not to stutter. She made sure no one would ever make fun or belittle her again. When I heard her story, I saw triumph. (Okay, maybe it’s in my mind, but if that was me, I’d be triumphant.) She was the bravest person I ever met. Even to this day. She didn’t have any role models or people to help her. She had to do it on her own. And, she did.
Yet, for all her bravery, she was shy. Quiet. Humble even.
She quit high school and went to work at the General Electric factory. She made Bazookas for the war effort. And loved every minute of it.
Those years were the best times for her. She had a good job, met lots of service men, had plenty of girl friends and danced as often as she could to the Big Bands when they played at Pleasure Beach Ballroom. It was a heady time for her wartime generation, not knowing what each day would bring or who would come home from the battlefields.
Some of the boys she liked never made it home. When she talked about them during our late night kitchen table talks, I could feel a sadness, a wistfulness about her. As if the dances or her war efforts weren’t enough to keep those sad memories silent.
During the sixties, the Vietnam Conflict made the nightly news. So did the body counts. And, the peace marches. We watched it unfold on television.
I had no idea where Vietnam was. Saigon or Hanoi. The Mekong River delta.
Or Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot and Phnom Penh.
I didn’t care either.
I was too young. Too innocent to know. I wanted to date boys. Go steady. Go to the drive-in movies on a double date with my boyfriend Butchie. Feel what it was like to be in love. I wasn’t interested in a war the politicians and generals called a conflict. I was interested in romance.
Until it came into my own life. Some of my friends didn’t make it home. I went to funerals with closed caskets.
I wasn’t old enough to legally drink, but I was old enough to know death.
My cousin joined the navy, just like his dad. And, just like his dad and mine, he came home.
I watched the Sunday afternoon war movies with my dad when I was a kid. I learned there wasn’t anything good or fun about war. For those in its midst, war was a scary, dying time, especially for the guys in the trenches. My father and his brothers, like most of their generation that went to war, never quite recovered.
One fought with General Patton and my dad went to New Guinea. He came home with a Purple Heart for being wounded in battle. He would never talk about his time in the war. Except to say he ‘got skinny in New Guinea.’
For many, especially those deep in the bowels of the onslaught of guns and tanks and other machines of war, it was a reality they’d rather not live in — the pounding of the bombs, the enemy troops entering their cities and towns. The guns firing from the ground and fighter planes zig-zagging through the atmosphere, lighting the night sky.
There’s nothing exhilarating about war, no matter what you call it. It stays with you for all time. The memories might fade, but the feelings don’t.
People die or come home maimed, missing body parts. The few that come back physically unscathed have deeper wounds inside. The kind that almost never heal. Or, if they do, there’s always that pesky scar tissue that pulls and itches.
Power mad leaders continue to think they can twist and bend life to their demands. Ego takes control. They think that by grabbing land and power, they become more than the small men they secretly know they are.
They need power to silence that smallness within, especially the voices deep inside that tell them they have no power.
They need to feel large and mighty, potent and virile. After all, isn’t that what war is ultimately about?
Yet, men who wage war for power and land are small boys who don’t know how to heal the places inside where they stutter with fear.