Updated: 05/06/2014 1:43 PM KSTP.com By: Jenna Jaynes
Photo: KSTP File Photo
He had a picture - just a single picture of her. That’s all that remained.
It was from a bygone era that no longer meant much to anyone except to him.
It was a vastly different era. Love was in very short supply. The country was at war.
This war was tearing the nation apart. Buildings, draft cards and American flags were burned. Schools were temporarily closed. Roads and access to buildings were blocked. Government buildings were burglarized. Parents and children became estranged as never before. Children left home and joined communes and embraced a rebellious, radical, sometimes violent lifestyle. Brothers stopped speaking to one another. The contemporary depiction of the police was “the pigs.” Service men were spat on, egged and called baby killers. Young Americans headed north of the border to avoid imprisonment. Protestors were beaten, imprisoned and shot to death while 58,282 families buried their loved ones – the casualties of this war. The country also witnessed the sunshine of hope for a brighter tomorrow eclipsed by the dark moons of assassination as the country also buried their most compassionate and loving leaders of the day.
In the midst of all this he found his deepest love in life. He was also nineteen and a draftee destined for Southeast Asia. While stationed overseas he met a fellow GI from his home state. They quickly became good friends.
Unlike most military friendships this one endured and was exceptional. They found themselves living in the same city after they were discharged from the military. They continued to remain the best of friends.
Now, many precious years later, he finds himself suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. His pal from his service days would often visit him at the VA hospital. It was during these visits that the relationship developed into a very profound closeness.
The disease had advanced to the point where he was unable to walk, get out of bed on his own power and had limited use of his hands and arms. The respiratory complications were beginning as he had just overcome a bout with pneumonia. He knew remaining days were short and felt now was the time to show his good buddy the picture.
He had met her through a family friend. He talked about his short visits back home during his training in which they began dating and how the spark was ignited. But it was during his 30 day leave over the Christmas holidays and before he went overseas that marked the high point in the relationship.
He spoke of the parties, the wonderful dances, the hayride, all the family and casual gatherings with friends. It was she who introduced him to Camelot. Because she still lived at home she had a curfew for which he was most grateful. It was that curfew that provided the most cherished memories of all. When they would arrive at her home the family would be asleep upstairs. They would put on music and embrace and hold one another while talking for hours before he would finally leave.
But like Camelot, there was an air of tragedy in loving her. He would be going away and because she was so beautiful and special he couldn’t expect her to wait for him. There was also the reality that he may not return. This impending gloom, while never discussed, was a constant and thus a serious source of awful frustration. He said; “when I looked at her as I boarded the airplane, I knew it was for the last time – I would never see her again.” And he never did.
He concluded by leaning forward in his wheelchair, placing a mostly crippled hand on his good buddy’s knee and with a warm smile said; “In an era filled with hatred – ‘Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels’, my very good friend.” At least I HAVE THE PICTURE.”
The reference to Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels is from the Joni Mitchell composition “Both Side Now” a 1968 hit record for Judy Collins.
“Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way
But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away
I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all”
That was the last time his dear friend visited. He had requested no more visits. He didn’t want his devoted companion to see him deteriorate into a human vegetable or watch him die.
He had no remaining family. He never married, his parents had passed and his only sibling, a brother, was killed in Vietnam.
On the day he was laid to rest the flag that draped his coffin was presented to his loving buddy at the grave site and, at his request, so was that picture.
Phil Malat is a blogger for KSTP.com.