Father’s Day 2024

A longing thirty years on from the death of my father. Photo by Gloria Smith.

“I am looking at a photograph of my dad taken around 1991, give or take three years. He would have been in his late 60’s, maybe 70 years old. There wasn’t much after that. Pancreatic cancer got him and killed him quick a few months after his 71st birthday. He died in February of 1994.”

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Scooter?

People ask: why do you go by the name Scooter? I mean, you’re an old man, not a dog or Barbie’s younger sister’s friend!

Photo of my baby self most likely by (Uncle) Jerry Martin.

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An Education

I wrote this essay to express the depth of gratitude I feel for my alma mater creating a course of study for something so new that there was no degree plan, and the decade or so I lived and learned in Little D. 

“A woman I had never met knocked on my front door. She gave me the name of a young bass player and asked if I knew where he was. I did. He happened to be taking a nap in my spare bedroom.

That moment would prove to be the fateful coincidence completing the long arc of my tertiary education.”

Image courtesy University of North Texas.

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Fairweather

This short story is fiction but contains many actual events. Retelling this story with a “gauze over the lens” helps me process the death of a dear friend. The featured image is a cartoon I drew in the 1970s.

“Big Tony radiated excitement when blue-skying. “Band management,” he said. “We both like music and musicians; it’ll be fun.” “

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Come The Revolution

I intended to become a writer upon entering the service. It was even part of my motivation to enlist. So, when I came across interesting people and conversations, I wrote them down. This memoir is about my earliest days in the Navy squadron that was my first assignment, and the changes I went through after meeting my militant roommate. The only fictionalized name is Janaszek because I didn’t remember it at the time.

What you see here is a bit of a rewrite. The original was published in the 2018 edition of Ageless Authors Anthology.

The photo of me was taken near my barracks at NAS Atsugi in the Fall of 1969 using my camera. I don’t remember which one of my new friends snapped the picture.

“Hill spoke: “Smitty, come the revolution, you’re gonna have to go up against the wall.”

I looked at him askance before inspecting an empty locker. “Well, you wake up cheery,” I said.”

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Noms de Guerre

Published in the 2019 edition of Ageless Authors Anthology. This memoir is all about transit; from civilian to sailor, from teenager to man, and from voiceless cog to celebrant of attainable freedom. Photograph of the USS Sanctuary off the coast of Da Nang, 1969, by William P Jones, MD.

“One thing I knew: Ferguson was on to something. All of us lined up at morning muster had signed away our lives. No exaggeration. The Navy now owned us physically, and even mentally.”

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Caught in a Storm

I like birds and birding. My wife and I maintain a lot of feeders in the back yard which allows us to observe each species’ different ways. We are also able to develop relationships with family units that make our yard their home. This is important to me. I have always felt a deep but respectful connection with creatures in the wild. In this short story, I experiment with magical realism via a small gray bird.

The photograph is of a Brown Shrike. It was taken by Dr. Callyn Yorke at the Son Tran Mountain wildlife preserve on a rainy day in Da Nang, 2017. (http://avconline.avc.edu/cyorke/Vietnam2017.html)

“Taking a sip of coffee, my gaze lands on a bird feeder hanging in the shadows of an Ashe juniper. A chickadee swoops in, grabs a sunflower seed, and hustles back into the foliage. There’s no telling how often I have seen that little ritual, but this time it brings a blurry, long-ago memory into focus.”

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Duck Power

This memoir is about my stunted attempts at political activism while in the service. The drawing is my version of the G.I.’s Against Fascism logo.

“A lot of history went down between my enlisting in the Navy Air Reserve in March of 1968 and arriving in San Diego in September of 1969 to find out where on Earth I would be stationed.”

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The Giddy Elation of a Close Call

This memoir focuses on the feeling of close calls in a combat zone. They were relatively rare, as I was in a situation where I did not go looking for trouble; I just waited for it to come to me. And it did. However, I was in no way a combat soldier and did not live the constant terror of being hung out to dry while being in the field. Compassion and respect for those that did. The photo at the left is the scene looking west from my barracks at Da Nang Air Base. Rockets came at us from just beyond the nearby hills. Photo by Scooter Smith.

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The Most Amazing Thing I Have Ever Seen

I have described this scene to dozens of people over the last 50 years. No pictures of it. My pocket-sized Minox camera used 8mm film. It would not have done this scene justice even if I could have found the presence of mind to go get it. Hopefully, this memoir will remind us how nature can surprise with not only awe-inspiring beauty and majesty but take us somewhere beyond as well.

The photo is by James Smeaton via Pexels.com. (https://www.pexels.com/photo/awe-beautiful-eyes-beautiful-girl-big-eyes-2709127/)

“Look at this,” I say, trying to speak loudly enough for the entire shop to hear. What comes out is a reverent whisper.

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Convolutions of Fate

In this memoir, I recount the somewhat crazy end of my tour of active duty in the Navy. I hope it also conveys the conflicted emotions that often accompany personal gains and losses. The photo at left was taken by my friend, Aviation Machinist Mate Third Class Doug Honspberger, as we were going ashore at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

“Knowing how capricious and potentially ponderous military justice could be, I began to succumb to the cold weight of helplessness. Then the memory of a funny, system-defying friend forced its way to the forefront of my consciousness. While having a muted chuckle about his antics, I remembered who I was and what I had learned about how the military works.”

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Solemn Mysteries

Published in the 2019 edition of Ageless Authors Anthology. This memoir is about fulfilling the trust a broken veteran put in me, and how I needed to trust someone as well. The photo is of a certificate I received after undergoing the Order of Neptune ritual while crossing the equator between Singapore and the Sunda Strait aboard the USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14).

“Welcome back,” I said.

His eyes reddened, and he gave me a strained smile. “Thanks, I guess.”

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Figment of Reality

I guess everyone needs to express their existential unease at least once. This is mine, and it’s been in process for over 16 years now. I think I knew what I wanted to say, but it took a long time for me to learn to say it. Also, this quick note: although I had a few very real, very vivid scenes to start with, this story is just that, a story. 

The photo, by an anonymous VQ-1 airman looking west from the barracks next to mine at Da Nang Air Base, shows an illumination shell (center), flares shot by individual Marines, a Cobra gunship in action (far left), and a diving F-100 Super Sabre (Upper right: I saw orange-flamed Sabres fire blue-flamed rockets around that mountain pass many times.) It was nights like these that inspired this story. There were many of them in late April and early May of 1970.

“Like a soft winter wheat carpeting my inner prairie of history and belief, Figment Of Reality became part of all I knew. A tectonic animator of perception, it grew to enable my need to challenge the steep topography hidden in the human terrain. Trekking these hazardous slopes, I encountered reasons enough to write about the arbitrary nature of existence, the catastrophe that is war, and, since I brought it up, wheat.”

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Beginnings: An Impression of a Julie Beth Wileman Painting

This essay/memoir is about the memories my sister’s painting evoked. To see “Beginnings” and more of her work, visit https://www.juliewileman.com/

Many of the works are for sale, and she takes commissions.

“One of my comrades says something about how times like this make our efforts and separation from loved ones worth it. Transfixed, I can only nod in agreement.”

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