“For you, who is gentle on my mind, but too hot to handle at times. Please never change, because you are beautiful. Good luck and safe trip, and remember all of our good times. Love, Rick. 7/31/69, Hawaii.
P.S. Remember the steaks and ice cream, because they make you sweet (smile).”
Did you notice the date? It’s not a typo: 1969. Those words, written in red looping cursive script, were for my mother. They are on the back of a vinyl record which accompanied her back to the mainland from Hawaii, Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind”. She got rid of the ABBA and the classical albums long ago, but a precious few remained packed away until her recent move.
She’s given the albums to me.
She was recently over at my place and asked to listen to this and another record. Of course, I obliged. We sat at my dining room table while my son put lego together and we sipped tea and talked.
My Dad was her first sexual partner, but I knew she had men she loved when she lived in Hawaii that year. I knew she didn’t have sex with them but she once told me, laughing, there was a lot of other stuff to do. I didn’t realize until recently that Rick was black. My Mom, raised in a small town south of the mason-dixon line in a conservative religion, was a liberal non-confirming badass.
After a graduate degree, she went on a world tour. Not to the relative normalcy of Europe, but places like Nepal, India, Japan, and Russia. She ended her trip with a year-long stay in Hawaii. She literally sat on the dock of the bay listening to Otis Redding, saw Jimmy Hendrix in concert, and had at least two men very much in love with her.
At my dining room table, suddenly the dots connected for me.
“Hey Mom,” I asked, “was Rick one of the names you looked for when we visited the Vietnam memorial?”
More softly, I said, “did you find his name there?”
She nodded. Her face changed and she went to get tissues.
Liam became aware of the change in the atmosphere. Not wanting her to have to speak, I explained there was a war the US fought in Vietnam and that Grandma had several friends who went to fight. I talked about going to visit the memorial with her when I was in my teens, and explained it contained the names of every American soldier who died during the war.
I didn’t tell him I still remember her steeling herself before she looked for names. She cried at one discovery, then another, and she soon couldn’t look for more.
At the time, I had no real idea what it meant and what she was going through. I knew it would be difficult to have friends go off to war and die, of course. But to be in love with someone, to leave them and marry someone else, to perhaps always wonder “what if?” – god, I had no idea of those things as a teen.
“Hey Mom…did you know that’s what happened?”
We sat at my table, Liam putting his lego together, my Mom lost in her thoughts of Glen, and me realizing I still have so much to learn.