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Archive for the ‘fathers’ Category

Australian soldiers in Vietnam

Australian soldiers in Vietnam

A long, long time ago when I was younger and my children were still in high school, my son fell in love with all things military. War was nothing new to me. I’d cut my teeth on WWII. My father went over the Kokoda Trial without a scratch – needless to say, he never said a word about it, except to my old Uncle Charlie, who’d been in the trenches in WWI.

With the star-struck son, it was different. I saw every Vietnam war movie ever made. I got to know the kinds of choppers used in Vietnam, and also in Korea — even what kinds of choppers the police were currently using to search for marihuana plantations in the hills in the northern rivers. I learned about post-traumatic stress disorder and what (and what not) to do about it. My son’s passion lasted around four years and fizzled out, thank heavens, before he was old enough to join the army. While it was still at tornado force, I bought him one Christmas a memoir by Colonel David H Hackworth (US Army), co-written with Julie Sherman and called About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior.

 About Face

Hackworth was famous, and one of the most decorated soldiers who ever lived. Some people credited him with being the model for Colonel Kurtz, the role played by Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now; others more reliably credited him with being the model for the gung ho commander of the helicopter unit immortalized in the movie by Robert Duvall. Hackworth did command a helicopter unit in Vietnam at one stage. His journey from all-American warrior (he lied about his age to get into the post-WWII occupying forces in Berlin at 15) to his public rejection of the Vietnam War in 1971 makes fascinating reading.

Young Hackworth

Older Hackworth

 

 

 

Unlike my son, I never fell in love with the military, but I did fall somewhat in love with Hackworth, and my little story “Remains to be Seen”, which was lucky enough to win the Ulitarra-Scheaffer Pen short story Award way back in 1993, is a kind of tribute to the man, although it is not about him. My formatting will always leave something to be desired, but the story (set half in the northern rivers, half in Vietnam) is now up on the web.

Remains cover khaki

It’s FREE in three formats at Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454352 and it should be free on Amazon KDP, but so far they’re insisting on charging 99c for it. If you’ve got a dollar to spare, that’s at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LNDWRM2

NB This is a good place to encourage anyone who likes the work to put up a review. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a contender for the Pulitzer Prize. Just 50 words will do, and (hopefully) a reasonable number of stars 🙂

Hackworth spent some of his later years in Australia, living in Brisbane and later in the country not far from here – another reason for my fascination, perhaps,  though I suspect the real reason is that I just have a penchant for warriors. He died at the age of 74. The cause of his death is cited in some reports as bladder cancer, one of the many forms of cancer occurring with increasing frequency among Vietnam veterans exposed to the defoliants called Agents Orange and Blue.

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 The Kid

As 2013 draws to a close I find myself thinking more and more about my neighbour Ron, who passed away in October of this year after a long battle with cancer. We lived across from one another for over 13 years and, although we were never in and out of one another’s places (we would’ve hated that), we were there for one another. He was a single parent. When he first moved in, he had a boy who’d just started high school — a wild boy.

A number of years ago, when Ron was still well and I didn’t even know he had cancer, I went over to his place one day for coffee, and he told me his story, how he’d been given less than five years to live and how he’d decided he couldn’t die because no one else would be able to raise his son, whom he called ‘the kid’.

Ron was a born storyteller. The whole story rolled off his tongue and when I came home I simply wrote it down, just the way he’d told it to me. I’ve never done that before or since; I’m not that kind of writer. Later, when I wanted to enter the story in a fiction competition based around the subject of cancer, I added an extra frisson by having the narrator say she’d been on her way to commit suicide and the story of Ron’s courage had stopped her. The story ended up being short-listed in the Cancer Council of Victoria’s short story competition and included in an exhibition of art, poetry and stories, fiction and non-fiction, that toured country Victoria in (I think) 2009.

Ron was stoked to see his story in print. He was one of those unsung heroes who live and die unnoticed by the world, known only to a few friends and family. As his illness progressed, I saw a bit more of him, making him a baked dinner on Sundays when I made my own, but leaving him in peace to eat it in his own time. He had a miniature fox terrier named Bella, and even when things became difficult for him and he was on heavy doses of morphine, we would still see him walking Bella, growing thinner and thinner every week. He used to say, “She’s been so good for me. I wouldn’t get out and walk if it wasn’t for her.”

If you haven’t already done so, you can read Ron’s story FREE at http://www.derekhaines.ch/vandal/2013/11/short-story-the-kid-by-danielle-de-valera/

Remember, though, I’m a fiction writer: I was never a widow, nor am I contemplating suicide. (I left that behind with my youth.) The great part about the story is the real-life ending. Although given only five years to live, Ron lived to see his son all grown up with a kid of his own who promises to be every bit as much a tiger as he was. Life goes on.

The best of everything to you all for the New Year. May we be safe and well in 2014. (Wealth is good, but health is even better.)

Danielle

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Girl looking out window

It’s strange the way things pan out in life. My career as a writer almost didn’t happen.

I was in 3rd grade in primary school, slowly getting on top of things, when we were sent home one day with instructions to write our first composition.

I trudged home, very unhappy. My career as an even halfway-coping schoolkid was over. I knew I’d never be able to write a composition.

My mother was in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal. Unusual for him, my father was also home; there’d been very few ships in port that day. When he saw me slumped in misery at the kitchen table, he asked me what was wrong.

I said, “We have to write a composition about trees, and I can’t write compositions.” and I began to cry.

My father put down his newspaper and said, “It’s okay. Whatever the subject is, you just talk about it.”

“Talk about it?” I wailed.

“Yeah,” he said, “like how they’re green and leafy and they give people shade. Do you like trees?”

Of course I liked trees. I practically lived in the loquat tree up the back.

“Have a go,” said my father, returning to his paper.

I sat there, chewing the end of my pencil, and tried to write as if I was talking about trees. That half-page took me the best part of an hour.

“How’d it go?” said my father, who must’ve been watching my progress from behind his paper. He read through what I’d written. “Not bad,” he said. “But it needs something.” And he dictated a line about leaves dancing when the wind blew; something quite poetic. “Slip that in somewhere,” he said.

I rewrote the piece, placing the line he’d dictated where, I hoped, a teacher was least likely to notice the extra zing it put into my dreary effort.

 

By the time the English teacher came into the room carrying our exercise books three days later, I very much regretted using the line my father had written. Now, it was all too late, as she began to deal with each composition in turn, from worst to best — a tried and tested form of torture even when your conscience is clear, and mine certainly wasn’t. Eventually, there were no exercise books left but mine. I was convinced she’d saved mine ‘til last because she intended to expose me before the whole class. Why had I let my father talk me into adding that line about leaves in the breeze?

To my surprise, she pronounced my composition the best, and read it out to the class. I felt no elation, though it was the first time I’d ever come first in anything. How, I asked myself, was I going to continue this run? My father was leaving in a few days for a job at sea. What on earth was I going to do?

Inevitably, we were given a new subject to write about. I trudged home and sat at the kitchen table. Nothing came. I felt like the girl in the fairy tale who was supposed to spin straw into gold. Or else.

In desperation, I decided I’d pretend to be my father. Clearly, I had no talent for writing, but he did. Okay, Dad, I said to myself, what have you got to say about pets? And I began to write.

I was stunned when that composition also came first. Around me, there were boys in tears, boys who hadn’t been able to get even four lines onto the pages of their exercise books.

I knew how they felt.

It was pure chance my father had been home that day.

 

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