It was no cold-stormy-rainy-night with wind whistling through the trees. In fact, it wasn’t night or cold. It was just time to take a break from 1967, and get the heck out of Vietnam for a moment. I’ll make any excuse or write about any subject, however controversial, to delay getting into the nitty-gritty of combat for a while.
Let me, before I get any further, remind you My Life At The Limit is an R-rated-read because of Language and Violence. It is also rated R for Realism and Honesty. I hope you find, in these pages, that it’s entertaining, informative, and sometimes funny as well. It’s not a Politically Correct piece, but I’ll not use racy language and delve into controversy just because I can. I’m not trying to convince my readers that I’m fearless and edgy in my prose.
In the next few chapters on Vietnam, though, I’m not going to tell you we lost someone on the battlefield (what, can’t find him)? Instead, you’ll hear something like: “He caught a large piece of shrapnel in the gut and kept asking if he was going to die, lied to, then made us to promise that we tell his mom he loved her and bled out before the Medevac arrived.” That’s reality, and that’s what you’ll read in this book.
As I began writing this book, there was lots of news about the “Me Too Movement” as was the issue of “Racism.” An overwhelming 87 percent of African-Americans say Black people face lots of discrimination in the U.S. and 49 percent of white Americans agree!*
The February 2018 poll was conducted before the Roseanne tweet, which no doubt further inflamed the issue. I’m pissed at her (Roseanne) for two main reasons. First, I liked the show which I won’t be seeing again and Second, I’m disappointed, she does indeed sound like a racist. Thanks for flaming the fire, Rose.
Last subject first. By now, no doubt, you know that I’m from Mississippi. “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi,” said William Faulkner, the renowned writer from the state named after that river. Then LBJ (not my favorite President) opined “There’s America, There’s the South, then there’s Mississippi.”
In his book Tell About the South, Fred Hobson said, “The Southerner, more than any other American, has felt he has something to explain, to justify, to defend or affirm.” Guess he was mostly talking about white folk. John Grisham believes, “Suffering that has been self-inflicted by slavery, war, poverty, injustice, intolerance. Great conflict produces great art, and Mississippi has its share of both.” But Malcolm X said, “As far as I’m concerned, Mississippi is anywhere south of the Canadian border.”
On the plus side, Mississippi in the last few decades has attracted dozens of writers and aspiring ones, (including African Americans) from around the world, to Oxford and the Delta. The renown William Faulkner compiled his immense catalog of works in Oxford and he and John Grisham graduated from the University of Mississippi in the city, where a popular and respected course is offered on Creative Writing. There’s a writing club in Oxford, numbering several dozen, and an eclectic bookstore in the town, Square Books. Authors from the area, who established successful careers elsewhere, have returned to the Oxford area to live, and continue writing.
As for me, I can only speak about the people I know, who live in the state. My amazing brother Dale, age 81, cared for his invalid wife for twenty years and for many years, provided for the well-being of our elderly Momma and Daddy. He is a well-respected member of the community and continues to help people. Dale has lived in Mississippi his entire life and resides less than two miles from the old place, the house where he was born. All his children, grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren live within a few miles of him. Point: He’s a really good man, and no racist, who happens to live in Mississippi.
Many of my high school classmate friends happily reside in, and love, the Magnolia State. Although I have not seen or visited them for several years, they are among my most avid readers. I have rekindled my friendship with Loyd and Boyd Pearson, twins, from our high school days; they both still live in the area where they grew up: Hatley and Amory, Mississippi. With another classmate, Joe Howell, I have done the same. All have provided me with inspiration. I would not have remained friends with any of them, if thought they were racist.
I’m not writing, however, to someone or for someone. I’m writing honestly about myself, my feelings, and my life experiences.
Living in the über liberal state that California is, I do not advertise that I’m from the state of Mississippi. I’ve come to that conclusion after extensive travel, interacting with other races, religions, and nationalities and my experiences in the U.S. Army active duty, U. S. Air Force Civil Service, as a major market Disc Jockey, a University Lecturer, Newspaper Editor and many other adventures. “Hey there, I from Mississippi,” would need to be followed be with, “But don’t think for a second, I’m a racist.” It is a counterproductive and time-consuming effort. It’s best for me, initially, left unsaid.
Once I have known someone for a while, my Mississippi heritage is not an issue, and I’m not ashamed of it. If I met someone of Africa-American descent, for the first time, and desired to make an acquaintance, I would not consider blurting, “Nice to meet you, I’m Don from Miss-cippi.” If we became friends and after a while, he determined I was a decent guy and not a racist, fine.
Crunch all the data you wish, and Mississippi will be at the top or near the top as the most racist state in the U.S. (Thank goodness for Texas and Louisiana.) Mississippi is usually at number one as the poorest as well. (Thank goodness for West Virginia and Arkansas.) This is reality.
I, like many writers, may never be able to shake my conscience free of the place because in Mississippi, nothing is ever escaped.
As for people in Northern states, they are far from angelic on the issue of race, based on my experience and data that support it. (I’m looking at you, Detroit.) Although I’m unable to defend Mississippi’s stigma of racism — that many consider indefensible — doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of my past while living in the state from birth to age 17. Here is what I remember from my personal experiences there.
Growing up in the early to Mid-60s with segregation, race relations for me, and all the white people I knew was simple, there were no relations — good or bad. That made it easy for me.
Although it was not uncommon to hear the “N-word” in the community at large, I rarely heard it at home. I never heard my Daddy or my brother Dale say the “N-word,” and the few times I heard Momma use it was in the context of “He’s been working like an ‘N.’” Hardly meant as an insult, but of course, insensitive to express.
And I never heard her or anyone in my family put down Black people or warn me about “Colored” folk. Momma was a good Christian woman. Would she have advocated inviting Blacks to attend Hatley Missionary Baptist church? Of course not, nor would they have accepted.
My family was not part of any effort to punish Black folk, and although we had heard of people being in the Klan, our family and friends never considered joining such a group. Of course, one didn’t have to be a KKK member to be racist.
I never thought of our family or anyone we were close to being racists, but in the purest sense of the definition, who knows? And one can be a racist while thinking they are not, I suppose. None of our ancestors (in our family tree of several generations) were ever slave owners; we were, and had been farmers, including dirt-poor sharecroppers, many years ago.
Our genealogy, in fact, revealed that a distant relative (not living in Mississippi) served in the Union Navy. Continuing Slavery was of no benefit, whatsoever, to any of my relatives past, some of whom died fighting in the Confederate Army, and a few who made it home, returned to nothing.
That said, and the manner in which I’ve treated African-Americans at work,** play, and in my community leaves me without any White Guilt.
Unquestionably, African-Americans have suffered incalculably at the hand of Anglo-Saxons and some of their African brothers, who sold them into slavery. The vile behavior and language that exists still today toward Black’s sixty years past the sixties, I would never have considered saying or even have thoughts about some of the things I’ve heard — most certainly not now. Approaching the third decade of the 21st Century, such behavior is more disgraceful and abhorrent than ever.
The persecution of one’s ancestors, of course, does not provide license today for any unlawful or repulsive behavior against the mores of the society at large. That I grew up and came out of the Deep South in the early to Mid-60s with negligible animus toward African-Americans is noteworthy and a source of pride.
(My sometimes Editor — gorgeous wife Cheri — thought that last sentence was self-serving, self-righteous and unnecessary.) For the Record: I am and have for many years been a registered Independent.
Last-minute update: Recently, a NASCAR Cup driver uttered the N-word on his team radio. This was a young man who got his break, getting into racing, as part-Asian, through NASCAR’s diversity program! Insensitive behavior, slurs like this, especially from a young person, continues to astonish me. (Did he hear African-American artists who sometimes use such words in rap songs, and it just slipped out?) I’m not excusing his behavior if that were the case, and no, I’m not blaming rap for white people’s insensitive remarks.
Now for the “Me Too Moment.” I doubt you’ll hear of me caught up in that thing. First, I’m too insignificant, and Second, I never asked a girl/woman on a date more than once. Thirdly, I was brought up to respect and honor women, and do. Finally, I raised twin girls and taught them to recognize and stand up for themselves on the issue of sexual harassment.
You may remember from earlier chapters when I dated more than one lady at a time, and I may have been guilty of behavior like “leading women on.” That was in my very young years, and I never cheated on a partner when in a committed relationship or marriage. Also, note my apology to Mary in Chapter ten.
I’m wondering if this break was such a good idea. This chapter has been the most difficult to write so far. But the chapters ahead, on Vietnam, will be even more arduous.
Do you ever get tired of people telling you to “Have a nice day?” (No, thanks, I have other plans.) They don’t mean it, do they? If you really want me to have a nice day, then quit telling me to. Maybe I am getting a little edgy. Now that I’ve insulted many of my readers, back to Vietnam.
*Public Religion Research Institute, reported by CNN.
**My record as a USAF General Manager in promotion and hiring practices support that claim.