Last Call for mail Call
I lifted the following excerpt out of “Military Madness-Support,” a detailed account of the support I received from family members and friends, while I was in the military, back in 1972-73. Not surprisingly, Pauline was my biggest supporter, primarily because she had perfected the role while Robert was in the service, but also because she couldn’t help but feel bad for me, because I was pretty miserable. I whined a lot, page after page, which I now have in my possession, but she was always there for me.
Here we go:
“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.
‘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 [Fort Leonard Wood], 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.’
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.
‘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.’
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.
‘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.’
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.
‘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.’
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.
‘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.’”