I have thought about the support system that seemed to develop on its own, while I was in the military, and then I started to look through my old correspondence. My friend Janet gave a party, and told everyone who planned on coming that he or she had to have sent at least one letter to me in order to gain admittance to the party. If you had sent two, you got a drink besides, and even a postcard would get you entry and ice.
I got letters from friends from all corners of my life: huge immediate and extended family support, high school friends, new college buddies, and fellow workers at Sunrize (sic) Market. There were letters from people I either barely knew, or people I met after I entered the military, who then became very close to me in a short period of time.
The one individual who stands head and shoulders above the multitude, is John-Bryan Davis, the kid with two first names. No one would know who was being discussed if you said John is bringing the gin; it was always “John-Bryan.” (OK, bad example, because if it was gin, then we would automatically know who was involved.) If his surname was mentioned at all, it was only in the form of an initial, as in, “JBD is passed out on the couch again.”
Not that John-Bryan drank back in those days, it was more of a guzzle. Of course, he was on his best behavior until we were are so bamboozled, that it didn't matter anymore. He was as much a part of the family as anyone could possibly be who had not exchanged vows.
When I left for Fort Leonard Wood, on January tenth, John-Bryan was still back in New Jersey with my brother Eric, completing the twelve week training course for incoming peace corps volunteers. I have always marveled at the juxtaposing of Eric and John-Bryan's path, and my path, at this crucial juncture in time. They were en route to Korea in the Peace Corps, and I was on my way to Korea in the army. Peace Corps and army made for curious bedfellows.
John-Bryan, Eric and I drew naturally together, as in the yin and the yang, they representing all that is right with the civilized world, and me representing all that was anything but right. I kept wondering how gullible Markie ended up in the army. My friend Kat once referred to me as Winnie the Pooh, as in it was like Winnie the Pooh getting drafted into the infantry.
John-Bryan occupied a huge role in this setting. He had made a gallant effort, and put up the grand struggle to adapt to a harsh climate, but struggle is what he did. There was just too much. There were too many contradictions to his world, and they combined to defeat his valiant efforts to adjust. Maybe this influenced his role in the effort to keep me in the loop, as he mounted a campaign on the home front for the establishment of the SUPPORT system.
SUPPORT stood for “Send us poor people our rightful tidings.” It's possible that I imagined the existence of this acronym, but if I did, it was only based on the volume of tangible evidence. For instance, John-Bryan used to send me comics.
So, what's the big deal? Weren't there comics in the Stars and Stripes? Sure, but not Snuffy Smith, and not Peanuts. Everyone knows, at least John-Bryan did, that comics from home evoke so much more of everything. It was how you were draped over Papa's footstool in the living room while reading “Blondie”, that you remembered.
It was not even being allowed to read the comics until after Papa was done, for obvious reasons. How I ached for someone to say (there were three older brothers, for starters), “Keep your grimy little claws off those comics, Clowny. Papa hasn't had a chance to read them.”
Comics meant the weekly squabble with JT, who had a penchant for seeing Charlie Brown flop flat on his back, as Lucy pulled the football away, again and again. Poor Charlie Brown. Wait a second, is that Markie on his back, with Drill Sergeant Fletcher holding the football? It's all so blurry now, but not then. My comics were hooch comics. It was like trying to hide the fruitcake when the fragrance would waft enticingly, exactly where it pleased. The rustle of newspaper, coming on the heels of mail call, had nothing to do with The Stars and Stripes, and everything to do with home.
Along with comics, John-Bryan sent sports clippings, newsy articles, theater reviews from his drama productions and letters, letters, letters. Who was this guy I had never met, and why was he being so nice to me? Did I ask those questions? Hell, no. I charged forward to the front of the line in mail call and accepted my due. Another notch on the six shooter of life.
John-Bryan fueled my reputation for being the Man when it came to stepping forward [again] in response to my name being yelled. Actually, after the first mail call, the company clerk was on a first-name basis with me, and I have all of my SUPPORT crew to thank.
I heard from everybody about John-Bryan. He and Eric had arrived back in La Puente for a one day sojourn, before embarking for The Land of the Morning Calm. I remember a tape JT sent me later, emptily telling me she hadn't seen Eric for a year. She dismissed that one day in January with a pre-emptory wave. “That was when Grandpa died, and there was so much going on, I never even got to say anything but hi.”
Of course, Mama told me about John-Bryan, and how he and Eric had been in the training center together, and had become close friends in New Jersey. I could identify. I had a fiercely treasured collection of friendships that enveloped me, as I went from Fort Leonard Wood to Fort Dix. I doubled that number as I went from New Jersey to Korea, breaking away from yet a second set of brothers. When John-Bryan went with Papa and most of the remaining tribe down to Baja in March of that winter, it was as natural as if he had always been included.
Every single person who went on that jaunt to Baja in March, gave me feedback on John-Bryan. The accounts of the trip and the humorous anecdotes that accompanied them, kept me and my hooch brothers in stitches. Any questions I had about who this guy was, and why was he so nice, dissolved, replaced by the thought that I liked this guy, and he made me feel as though I had somehow earned his attention. I felt very comfortable being included in John-Bryan's circle, even though I had never met him. I was one of the gang, though the gang was seven thousand miles away.
When I had first left home, the letters to me contained a constant dialogue about the send-off party we had all attended, the party they had just come from and talk about the big party they were planning when I got home. However, over time the tenor of the letters began to evolve, from folksy, newsy, cheerful missives, to a more serious bent involving friendships, relationships, life changes, and the future. Being separated by thousands of miles intensified the emotions being bandied back and forth across the miles, like a supersonic Ping-Pong ball.
The intensity of my correspondents, for the most part, was astounding. Talking is the most common form of communication, but there are many avenues in which to get sidetracked. Through mishearing, misunderstanding, or impulsive responses to offhand or thoughtless comments, people often struggle with emotional dialogue, because the heart and the head are not necessarily always aligned.
Therefore, when I switched to communicating through letters, I found that words took on a new meaning, and that once they were on paper, they didn't change unless someone erased and then replaced them. Unlike spoken communication, in letters there were no interruptions. There were no hasty asides, thrown out in the heat of passion or in response to a telling point.
Not only that, but there was almost always a delay between the time the words were written and the time the letter was sent, in case I wanted to back the truck up, and revise something before placing it irretrievably in the olive drab mailbox in the day room. Just as we came to the day room to send out our letters, we came here for mail call.
Mail call was the center of our universe at Ascom; all plans, all splurges, drunken or otherwise, revolved around the mid-afternoon arrival of the mail orderly from Seoul. It was ritualistic that we swung by the orderly room to check the mail, after leaving the barn, en route to the hooch, via the day room.
At the day room we could purchase any of four types of American labeled beer for a dime apiece: Hamms, Black Label, Falstaff and Micholob. They might not have lined up as the four that I would have selected, but I didn't see anyone boycotting the machine that dispensed the beer as regularly as the dimes which flowed through it. It cost the same to buy a twelve ounce Micholob, as it did to make a phone call.
I remember coming in from the barn one humid August afternoon, not quite drenched from the downpour, but not far from it. The temperature was in the mid-eighties, and the rain, which should have felt refreshing, just felt like rivulets of sweat, coursing down into the most uncomfortable and unwelcome of places.
It was a Tuesday, so the promise of the weekend was still too distant to even contemplate. We had an office inspection on the immediate horizon, Eric wasn't due for another week and the movie theater was closed for remodeling, which meant a fresh coat of olive drab paint.
I had been in-country for eight weeks, and I was already so tired of being seven thousand miles away from home, that I could have cried at the sound of a Red-Tail, as it passed overhead, on its way back to the World. There was nothing immediately forthcoming in the way of any relief, from either the rain, or from Korea.
I had just received a care package/letter from Mama, several letters from my girl and at least three other assorted letters from family members, so I was not expecting anything. In fact, as I came in through the door, I thought the mail pouch, lying dejectedly on the back counter, was empty. I started to leave, but the mail clerk was just coming out the side door, and he waved me back in.
“Your lucky day. There was only one piece of mail delivered to the company and it's addressed to you.” I stepped up to grab the letter, and as I did so, the clerk mentioned to me that whoever had sent the letter was lucky enough to get it through on a day when no one else had been able to.
I looked at the neatly blocked printing on the outside of the envelop, unfamiliar at first glance, and noted that the name on the outside was O'Neill. This was an unexpected delight, on a day devoid of anything resembling light, and I clutched my letter in my right hand, as I waltzed through the day room door, two dimes extended toward the beer machine.
On my final leg of the journey back to the hooch, I once again examined the envelope, addressed in red ink, and mentally checked off the possible candidates, until I got to Kevin. It wasn't Kevin's handwriting, but I was willing to bet that he was the author.
I thought back to that letter I'd received in February, just after his sixth birthday, and it made me chuckle again. I remembered how he had dictated to JT that the “Dune Buggy Rat” model that he had been given “wiped out, but we fixed it. Eleven pieces are [scattered] around the house.” I could picture Kevin, his blond curls spilling out in every direction, concentrating on his Hot Wheel collection. He asked the most quaint questions, much to the amusement of my bunk mates, one being, “Does the army serve garbage for food?”
Back in February, I was still at Fort Leonard Wood. I could picture us sitting around in the doorless barracks room, me perched up on my ledge, while we went around the circle on that one. Opem opined that the question merited serious consideration, but Kyle said no, that he had seen the garbage officially get dumped out back of the mess hall, in its designated place, so we could officially rule that out.
Lon, of course, was the one who came up with the most appropriate response. “Tell your little bro, that it's not garbage when they serve it to us, only after we turn our plates upside down above the big silver receiving tray, otherwise known as the garbage bucket.” That seemed to be the best response to what was obviously a perceptive and revealing question.
Another of Kevin's questions which drew an enthusiastic response was the adroitly fashioned inquiry, “Is the Captain nice to you?” Again, all assembled were anxious to put their two cents' worth in. Dwight commented the the Captain had been nice to him in the sense that the Captain had not run him over with a Sherman tank yet, but otherwise, he wasn't sure that he could definitively say that the Captain had indeed, been nice to him.
I mentioned that the Captain had been nice enough to allow me to clean out his fish tank, including cleaning all the slime off of the gravel at the bottom of the tank. Dave chimed in the the Captain was especially nice while napping in his Captain's chair, cleverly positioned in front of his Captain's desk, where he pretended to be a real live Captain, instead of a pencil neck.
Now as I opened the letter and confirmed that the signature was “Kevin,” I turned my attention to the contents of his message. I could picture the scene at home, with JT and him, sprawled out on the living room floor, JT using a pee-chee folder to work on. Kevin and she would have lain head to head, Kevin supporting his chin with his two hands, while he followed JT's red pen hypnotically.
In the background, a rerun from the Rowan and Martin Laugh-in would have been on, which was always one of Papa's favorite shows. The sight of that guy on his tricycle, telling us he knows, sees and hears nothing, as he slowly tips sideways, made us crack up every time. Mama would be sitting in her chair, just outside the door to her bedroom, and Laura might be brushing Mama's hair, or even cracking pecans for the banana bread she was about to bake for tomorrow's lunch desserts.
At six years of age, Kevin was a product of the 'hood. He chilled with his friend Michael, and according to Papa, the two of them washed my car with mud, to ensure that it didn't feel left out. He rode his Sting-Ray bike with vigor, and chased poor Pierro around the cement until she simply stopped, and dropped herself to the ground, in the shade on that same cement, to sleep.
When JT had tried to get him to talk into the microphone of the tape player she was using to make a voice tape for me, he refused, running away while protesting that it was all so dumb. Such keen awareness of the power of the media at such a young age.
Kevin had posed more provocative questions in this current letter, hinting already at that razor sharp, lawyer-in-making persona, the first of which was, “Are you using any guns?” Actually, we had had to go out on the firing range one time, while in-country, to brush up on our mechanics, but that was it. One shining pinprick of light about Korea was that there was no work detail harassment, and no KP, or that kind of nonsense.
So Kevin's question inevitably produced positive thoughts, as we recognized that our situations were universally improving. His next question was certainly innocent enough: Was the weather nice? Let's see now, Kevin didn't specify through whose eyes we should be examining for the quality of niceness when discussing weather.
In winter, either in FLW or in Korea, for the resident polar bears, the weather was very nice; for a group of guys from LA visiting FLW during January and February, the weather left a lot to be desired. The temperature had dipped to fifteen below, the night we bivouacked. My mummy sleeping bag probably would have even been adequate protection from the cold, had it not been for the broken zipper, which refused to cooperate in the common goal of keeping out the cold.
My tent mate, a black kid from the inner LA city, and one of the gentlest, warmest human beings I ever met, named Howard McDowell, commiserated with me. He offered me his field jacket liner to add to mine, and extra woolies and socks, anything to help a brother out. Was the weather nice? Certainly, nice and frigid, just the way we like it-up in Alaska.
Kevin's final inquiry involved whether or not we got to play with grenades, an explosive question, if ever there was one. Before we could even address it, I read the last line of the letter aloud, leaving us all to ponder the mysteries of small boys' minds. Concluding his letter, Keven had asked JT to write, “Well, I guess I'll go out and play with my toy soldiers I got for my birthday.”
For some reason, the juxtaposing of soldiers playing with grenades, alongside the thought of Kevin playing with soldiers, made me feel very eerie. This was certainly a very peculiar world, when these types of militaristic images vied for attention in a small boy's mind. But from six year old Kevin's eyes, with older brother far off in some distant land, playing soldier, it must have seen quite appropriate for him to embrace the concept of soldiery, in an ongoing effort to supply an unending wave of support to me.
Kevin's lively letter, was one of many times, when a single contribution, through timing and circumstance, made far more impact than its appearance may have suggested. Because everyone on the home front presented a unified force, any single ray of support, was apt to extend its light, at any given instant, to help guide me on the path to back home. I felt their support to the marrow of my bones.
Laura was ten, almost eleven, when I left for Fort Leonard Wood and making her way through middle school. Though she was perky and cheerful around Fellowship Street, socially she was more of a tanager than a peacock. She produced beautiful music and did not seek the limelight. She wrote in one of her many letters, “I am doing pretty well in band; I am third chair, first section, which means I am the third best out of twenty-three or twenty-four clarinets.” Not being musically inclined myself, I was impressed. If Laura were ahead of seven-eighths of the rest of the clarinets, I'd say there was a lot of dust eating going on amongst those seven-eighths available clarinets.
She started “newspapers” for me, the first one of which was postmarked only seventeen days after I departed for Missouri. Whether the date, January 27th, just happened to coincide with the completion of her first publishing effort, or whether the death of Grandpa prompted this completion, or both, I didn't know, but I do know it arrived with a tsunami wave of well-wishes and support.
I was very tickled to be able to show my barracks mates my stack, and pass around the puns and the home made newspapers. These consisted of pages of jokes and puns, mixed with newsy sorts of home-baked trivia, that could only have come from the official house Miss. Laura included up-to-date newsflashes on the neighboring kids, the family pets, even the neighbors' pets. She wrote of birthday parties, and included a full-page account of the March Baja trip.
To me this was so cool. Laura talked about all of the various components of the weekend, which began by her getting out of school at half day, along with Tom, so that they could get down to Ensenada by dark. The excursion included a trip to a restaurant, always exciting in our household. She was allowed to stay up as late as she wanted, which obviously made her feel gown up, and she retired at midnight.
I felt as though I were there, sharing in the Friday night burritos, that I knew Papa had made. He was amazing when we camped. He bustled about the camp area, lighting the Colemann stove, already getting a kettle of cold water on to heat up to do the dishes. It was so different from when we were at home. Papa was so cool about doing the stuff he usually made us do, like the dishes. Secretly, I just think he wanted to make sure that the dishes were done properly
The one connection that I was unable to make at the
time, and had to wait until years down the line, was the fact that, while Laura and the rest of the gang were heading south to Baja, I was heading east to New Jersey. I find it ironic, that with all of the talk during that period, about heading north to start a commune, that on St. Patrick's Day, 1972, our family was heading out all right, in more than one direction, but North was still on the back burner.
Laura wrote one letter on a background of paper shaded with different colored crayons, so that the message was a bright and cheerful one. Her efforts were so genuine and so heartfelt, that they never failed to boost my day, and I know it sounds funny, but it brightened up the days of the guys around me, who did not have the support system in place that I did.
It was funny how different manifestations of the concept of brother came into play while in the military. Guys formed bonds for a multitude of reasons, and then my siblings became your siblings, and your cousin became my cousin, and we all shared parents, and the benefits that naturally sprung forth from said parents.
My younger brother Tom had gained fame within our family, because he had been christened with a string of nicknames that began as an offshoot of his name, Thomas Francis. Noel, (who else?) was the only one possessing the power to alter Tom's name, but the original name went like this: Thomas Francis, Scott, Key, (Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner) Luke, Leek, Owen, Alvin, Murphy, Durphy, Martin, Poochie, Tomurgalar, Gronk, Lorg Torg O'Neill, Amen. Owen and Martin were almost certainly the first names of two of Noel's friends, Murphy may have referred to Father Murphy, a priest at the school Noel attended, and Poochie may have referred to my Uncle George, who had gone by the name Poochie since he was a kid.
I got into the act, at one point, and attempted to insert two additional nicknames into the mix, but Noel nixed it. Now I will be the first to admit that my offerings were fairly pedantic, and reflected little of the panache that Noel displayed, so I guess in the long run Noel was forced to preserve his status as the bestower of names. The younger kids went along with me, because they liked the rhythm presented by, “Martin Spartan, Poochie Moochie,” but it was all in vain. The reason I bring this up is that Tom was just a kid when I went in, but he did a lot of growing up.
In the first year I was gone he had made a two inch thick booklet for me of that magical season of the Lakers, ('72-'73) where they won thirty-three games in a row. He cut out the clippings from every game, pasted them on to construction paper, added color commentary in the form of written assessment on each game, and bound them together with twine. I have no idea how long it took him, but it made its way around the hooch, whether you were a sports fan or not.
Tom probably changed more than anyone else, because he was fourteen when I went in, and sixteen when I came out. He went from sending me sports clippings to discussing issues of integrating into his new high school. At one point, about twelve weeks after he started at Bishop Amat, after having gone to Fairgrove Elementary, the local public school, he wrote the following words in a four page letter that was as different in format than anything else he had ever sent.
“I guess one thing that I am very happy about is that when I started at Bishop Amat, it was like being able to start all over in the way I liked. I can change my image completely if I like, because I didn't know a single person when I started, and vice-versa. It's like changing from a class clown to a person who knows how to handle the situation. Also, learning how to cope and communicate with my teachers can help...
A little about what you said about taking it easy. In a lot of the things I do, mainly about talking with people, I usually keep it cool until I know where my head's at. I can see how people wouldn't accept me, even if I proved I was capable of handling he situation. I don't like it to seem to people that I'm growing up in a day, because I've put some heavy thinking into the world of today, although I cannot express myself very well.”
Tom's letters changed in tone, reflecting the changes in himself. The amazing thing is that the distance between us, served as a conduit for sharpened communication, and for being able to set aside the normal restrictions or boundaries the need to go beyond just the newsy sort of approach to letter writing, was very strong. So we developed not only the ability to communicate well on paper, but, to a certain extent, this exchange of ideas was to lead to a lifelong feeling within myself, that Tom and I would always be on a certain wavelength, even if the letters stopped.
Matt was fifteen when I went in, and already in the arena as far as keeping his head together. He maintained his sanity partially through the help of Brother Noel, who used me as an example for Matt, when Matt was feeling that the world (read that as Mama) would simply not stop hassling him.
In his letters, Matt would talk about my scene, and how, if he had to do it, he didn't think he could. Therefore, when Noel would throw my situation in his face, Matt would back off and realize that one man's ceiling was another man's floor. The stuff that was bugging him was trivial, compared with the stuff I was dealing with.
I remember my thought process when I first went in, and how I had come to the conclusion that I had it a heck of a lot easier than Papa, who had spent time in the South Pacific. His time did not include taking in the vacation package. Just as Matt helped me get through a rough time with his words of encouragement, I was able to lend a little support to him by being where I was, doing some unpleasant business, hating every second of it, but plodding on, one second at a time. At one point he wrote,
...Noel was here and he said to me that Mom wanted me to get my hair cut or I couldn't go to the apartment on Wednesday night...he said that Mom was all bent out of shape at me for wanting to be older than I am but not taking the responsibility like getting my hair cut or working or something else...
But we got talking and I guess I was really down and I was telling Noel that I didn't like going to school...but he said, look at Mark, when he found out that he had to go to the army he took advantage of it...and he is really doing well...Of course, he doesn't like it, but he is not sitting down and quitting, he is doing something with it...
Well, I got my hair cut really short and...things are going better because of what Noel said to me about you...I don't really know how to say it, but in any case, you know you always have all of us here and if you can't cope or whatever comes up you know we are behind you and you always have us to turn to in any situation.”
For a guy who didn't really know how to say it, I thought he he did pretty damn well. He always has had a way with words, you know.
Jean sent me updates on the college scene, filling me in on classes, program cards, and the news of my friends. If I got the handwriting right, she also let Kevin dictate his letters to her, so that he could add something to the community envelope being mailed off to the apple (APO, which was Army Post Office).
She wrote one night while baking cookies for me which she was going to add to an outgoing package; that's what I mean by support. She told me about watching The Smothers Brothers on the Flip Wilson show, and it made me feel as though I were back in the living room on Fellowship Street, chilling in front of the tube. It made me think of the film festivals we used to enjoy, back in the days before VHS machines. Every night for a week, the TV station would broadcast a W.C. Fields or Mae West film, and all of my friends would gather at the house for the occasion. It was what we did: gather, enjoy and do it again. Doug Maloney even went outside when he smoked his Marlboros, so as not to chance annoying the parents.
JT talked about our commune. The funny thing is that all of these years, I had remembered this ongoing dialogue. What I had forgotten was how detailed the plan was. She had been listening to a tape that I had sent, and it was obvious that I was skeptical. I questioned us building houses. What did we know about that? She said it would take time. We had our whole lives. I asked about being out in a remote area, and having to run miles of piping. I asked her about schooling, about work. She had the answers and she was so convincing. The tapes were so much more effective for this kind of communication.
Microphone users (including me) had universally felt discomfort at the thought of talking into a mic, and it was reflected in the tapes. However, that was more when they were simply sharing newsy, unimportant kinds of trivia. When given a subject upon which she really wanted to expound, JT had used it as a soapbox, and delivered an inflamed defense of the whole plan, forgetting completely that she was supposed to be embarrassed by talking into a mic. Now, as I listened to her plans, spoken thirty-seven years ago, they were uncannily accurate.
Jean wrote about hanging out with her beau, Dave, and how they went on a picnic and flew kites, played on the swings and got dizzy on the merry-go-round. I enjoyed hearing about the stuff I was missing, because it made me feel that I would be able to regain my rightful spot in the lineup of life, without missing a beat when I returned from the shadows again. As she spoke, she began to drift into a more pensive mood, wondering what the future would hold. As her frame of reference ebbed and flowed, she went from pondering one heavy life decision to the next. Quit her job at the library? Consider a life commitment to Dave? Change schools?
Thus we examined our options for the immediate future and shared our views with one another from seven thousand miles' distance. Even now, when I listen to her voice, I am moved by her ability to look with such clarity at the issues. By no means did she claim to have the answers, but doggone it, she had all of the facts right at her fingertips.
Brother Brian (twenty-six years old when I went in) sent me Laker clippings while I was at Fort Leonard Wood, spring training clippings of the Dodgers while I was at Fort Dix, and regular season clippings all summer long (not a baseball season to be remembered by the fans for very long). He was rock solid when it came to support. In terms of sheer volume, his letters ranked third behind my girl and my mom. His letters were a combination of news from Manchester Avenue, the hotbed of all commune discussion, and support for both me and my girl, who struggled at times to keep things together. He hosted many gatherings where my plight was discussed and I always got an infusion of correspondence out of these gatherings. At one point he wrote,
“Your letter, received yesterday, was so fantastically outasite! Picture the typical situation, if you will (this is a Wednesday at the apartment that I'm referring to): Brian comes straggling in from school and nearly everyone is here: Noel and Sharon, Nancy, Janet (just arrived on the scene), Joanie, and John Bryan from San Diego. What is everyone standing around doing? They are all reading letters from Markie, and saying, 'Hurry up and open your letter, we haven't got all day!...Wait a shake, Jack, hold on...What IS this? Gimme a chance.'
Outasite. Later, Dave, Jean and Matt showed up...By the way we are anxious to get preparations underway for the all-time most classic party of them all when Markie gets back.” Wow. For a guy unaccustomed to getting attention, by virtue of my placement dead center in the family structure, this was good stuff.
Brian had to go to court for me more than once to settle little logistical challenges for me, but he took up the gauntlet and appealed to the judge for justice for me, who was “defending his [beloved] country while on hostile shores.” He wrote me all of the sordid details, including a copy of the transcript of the dialogue in the courtroom, which he recreated from memory.
In the end it added up to a brilliant defense by Brian, and a dismissing of the case of the judge. Evidently I had been cited by the CHP for a smog violation on my '64 Nova, and Brian had gotten the whole thing tossed out, including the fifty to five hundred dollar fine that accompanied the citation. Now that's what I call support.
Mama was a veritable gold mine of goodies, sending a non-stop stream of creature comforts. I asked her early on to send me some civvies, and then commented when they arrived, that they made me temporarily feel as though I were back in “the World.” She had sent me off in the first place with this black, fuzzy Russian hat, designed to keep my ears warm. Predictably, the first (and only) time I went to a base club, I left the hat behind. She replaced it for me once while I was at FLW, and she had to replace it again after I arrived in Korea. She sent fruitcake, fudge, brownies, fruitcake, avocados (!) Sunday funnies, newspaper clippings, fruitcake and anything else that she could find.
Mama sent candy, suckers, fudge and other sweets to Eric, either directly to Kwangju in the early days, or then later on, to me, through the APO. To me she sent chips, pretzels, cookies and lots of reading material. When she sent the avocados, we had to break out the company safe to store them in, they were considered so precious.
Besides the cookies, fudge, or other baked goods, a package might have a crossword puzzle book, a box of raisins, ten packs of Kool Aid (again for Eric, for whom potable water was at times an issue) a medicine bottle with aspirin or throat lozenges, and always a letter.
During the period when Brian was in Guadalajara, Eric in Kwangju, and I was in Seoul, Mama did what a lot of moms did, and put a piece of carbon between each piece of paper when she typed out her letters. Whoever got the third copy had hard times, but I would rather have gotten the third copy than no copy at all.
Besides, it's easy to second guess how I may or may not have felt back then, as I sit here today, and try to decipher the carbon-smeared words. If this letter had been word processed today, and printed off with a nice laser printer, each copy would have been as pristine as the next. It's easy to see how from today's technological perspective, a smeared carbon copy might seem annoying.
There was hardly a letter that went back or forth that did not include some reference to a pending package, a package that had recently arrived, or the bane of our existence, a package that was missing. Oh...my...God... Looking back and reading the letters, it was an ongoing soap opera, especially when the missing package actually finally turned up, having been sent overland instead of by Air Mail.
All of the edible contents were enveloped in mold except for...the fruitcake, which was wrapped up in cloth and waxed paper. I'm sorry, but fruitcake was immensely popular, for the simple reason that it bellowed out not only the word “Home,” but rammed it home with a fragrance universally associated with homecomings and family. All of you who snickered when you saw that fruitcake not only made the list, but multiple times, better laugh out of the other side of your mouth, because Mama knew what she was doing.