I find the civilian attitudes strange nowadays, but in a good way. Not like when I was a kid. Not during the Vietnam war.

When we were little and living in the ‘hood, we began to have some problems. There were two military families in the ‘hood – ours and the one up the road. Us kids didn’t think too much about it, though our fathers being in Vietnam worried us. We knew daddy could die. After all, we watched the news every night and there they were: the lists of the dead, wounded, and somehow worst of all, “missing in action”. It was always there when he wasn’t at home, when he’d be gone for a long time – preying at the backs of our minds. I still have letters from my dad when he was over there, and in them I can see in his answers to my letters my worries. So often they start with “don’t worry, I’ll be all right . . .”. After all, we knew in a moment’s notice ‘this’ – our lives and everything else – could change, going from the sort of known (if rarely certain) to the completely unknown – going from being ‘poor’ to being poorer, going from having a dad (and all he represented) to not having one . . .

But this story doesn’t deal with Vietnam, or our childhood fear of him being lost in a war. It deals with something that went on in the ‘hood, at our house.

It seems that some people; unknowns to us, began to think it was a great fun to protest the war by terrorizing us kids and our mother. They didn’t succeed in scaring us kids, not at all. We didn’t know what was going on, nor did we care. If someone had come in we would have fought with them. But they scared my mom so bad that we going across the street to the neighbors house, who had become like a second family to us.

I remember those evenings. We’d get dressed in our PJ’s, and as twilight would come settling over the land, the blood stained horizon turning dark blue, we’d grab our pillows and go wandering across the sand, kicking up dust over the unpaved road. Usually it would be hot – after all, it was Georgia in the summer, and the air would hang thick before the evening breeze blew in. My mom would herd us along, blankets dragging in tow as she cast worried glances back at our house. I think one time a window was broken, but I’m not sure. They were cheap windows anyway. But I do know that they scared my mother and made her nervous.

So we’d go over to our friends where there were three boys – one of them my age, another one just a bit older, and a younger son as well. Their house seemed enormous to me. It was a brick house, which made it only seem bigger, and it had a big back yard, filled with country junk and the old pines. There was an old wellhouse standing there – nothing but the foundation where we could go play – but that was during the day. This was at night.

Their mother would bundle all of us kids into one big bed – five of us – in that one room right off the carport, adjoining the kitchen, and there they would leave us. There was no air conditioning, and only one thin sheet which we would throw aside. We’d all be sweating like pigs, but we didn’t care; it was a unique and novel experience for us all to be crowded in one bed, the lights on, giggling and laughing and having a good time. My mom would leave us alone to go talk to her friend; I don’t know where she slept, and it was no concern of mine. Of all the things I remember about that, it is that scene: all us kids piled into that bed, so hot, stuffy and humid, all of us just burning up with sweat – so hot it was miserable – but not minding, not minding at all. But it was almost a month and a half, maybe two, that my mom was too scared to sleep in her own home, all because of how people were harassing military families back then.

Strange how times change.

Eventually the prowlers and ‘peeping Toms’ stopped coming back – whoever they were. It might have been when my dad came home; I don’t know. I do know that in that neighborhood our neighbors were into helping one another – so no doubt some were keeping an eye on our place, but even still – it was uncomfortable, the idea of being singled out as a family – and as a kid – simply for something your father had done (or was doing) – off fighting a war. As if we had a choice. And yet . . . I guess in some senses, our family got punished for what he did. Over and over again.

And strange, how some things never change.

 

 

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