Monday, July 17, 2017

July 17: Widower, Sister's Birthday, Campfires

Howard W. Campbell, Jr., now discussed the uniforms of the American enlisted in World War Two:  Every other army in history, prosperous or not, has attempted to clothe even its lowliest soldiers so as to make them impressive to themselves and others as stylish experts in drinking and copulation and looting and sudden death.  The American Army, however, sends its enlisted men out to fight and die in a modified business suit quite evidently made for another man, a sterilized but unpressed gift from a nose-holding charity which passes out clothing to drunks in the slums.

When a dashingly-clad officer addresses such a frumpishly dressed bum, he scolds him, as an officer in any army must.  But the officer's contempt is not, as in other armies, avuncular theatricality.  It is a genuine expression of hatred for the poor, who have no one to blame for their misery but themselves.

A prison administrator dealing with captured American enlisted men for the first time should be warned:  Expect no brotherly love, even between brothers.  There will be no cohesion between the individuals.  Each will be a sulky child who often wishes he were dead.

Campbell told what the German experience with captured American enlisted men had been.  They were known everywhere to be the most self-pitying, least fraternal, and dirtiest of all prisoners of war, said Campbell.  They were incapable of concerted action on their own behalf.  They despised any leader from among their own number, refused to follow or even listen to him, on the grounds that he was no better than they were, that he should stop putting on airs.

And so on.  Billy Pilgrim went to sleep, woke up a widower in his empty home in Ilium.  His daughter Barbara was reproaching him for writing ridiculous letters to the newspapers.

Billy is in the prison hospital.  A German major is reading Nazi propaganda to the English prisoners, who don't hold a high opinion of their American compatriots.  Billy is still recovering from exhaustion, possibly a nervous breakdown.  And then Billy is home--his wife dead and his daughter worrying about his mental state.  So it goes.

Today would have been my sister Sally's 56th birthday.  She has been gone for almost two years now.  Billy is able to time travel to be with his wife, Valencia, again.  I don't have that power.  I have not had any close encounters of the Tralfamadorian kind.  Thus, I am not unstuck in time.

It seems a little unreal to me that my sister has been dead for two years already.  In fact, the whole last year of her life seems like some kind of horrible hallucination induced by strong narcotics.  I have tons of guilt about that time.  I should have visited her more in the hospital and nursing home.  I should have spent more time with her when she was well.  I should have . . . I should have . . . I should have . . .

Hindsight is a terrible thing.  It doesn't make you feel better about the choices you've made.  It always fills you with regret.  It's a fruitless exercise in self-punishment.  So, instead of spending the rest of this blog post beating myself up, I'm going to share one of my favorite memories of my sister.

Sally loved to go camping in her trailer.  Loved to sit in her lawn chair, watch her nieces and nephews swing on the playground or swim in the pool or lake.  Every weekend, from late May to early September, she lived at the local campground, barbecuing hotdogs and bratwurst, drinking Diet Coke, and sometimes hiking in the woods.  I think it was her favorite place to be.

My favorite memory is sitting around the campfire with her.  She loved that time of night, after the kids were in bed and the stars came out.  We would just watch the flames send sparks into the heavens and talk and laugh.  Sometimes, we would listen to Garrison Keillor on Saturday night, and we would laugh and roast marshmallows.

That is my favorite memory of my sister.  The memory that is most alive for me.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for the time he had with his sister.

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