Down the Basement Stairs and Into the Past


I started having “Do you remember me?” phone calls and catching up on lives. I learned about grandchildren, deaths, many divorces, successful careers and major surgeries. It was as if I had started reading a book at 18 and finished it 50 years later.

I found captain’s mast punishment papers (Report and Disposition of Offenses) for Mario, a Vietnam buddy who had violated Article 86, unauthorized absence. Twice. “I had forgotten what a troublemaker you were,” I said, laughing, when I reached him. He married a nurse, who changes her clothes in the garage when she comes home from work because of Covid-19. They have two children, neither a troublemaker.

I caught up with Chuck, the highly educated Navy pal who badgered me into going to college after my discharge. My debt to him is enormous. I tried to reach our former lieutenant, Alex, but he never picked up.

Trish and Walt’s letter in 1972 was about their upcoming wedding. “The bridesmaids’ gowns are going to be brown and white, so you guys will be wearing brown tuxes,” she wrote. They divorced a few years later. I found her through her mother’s obit, sadly, and Trish told me she had remarried, but divorced after 30 years and four children.

There was a letter from my mother, although it could have been from any of our mothers, written just 24 hours after I left for boot camp in 1970. She bizarrely wondered why she had not received a letter from me and asked me to call, writing down our phone number as if this teenager who had lived on the phone had actually forgotten it.

My departure was also her chance to declutter, but she found straightening my room too sad. “I have tried to clean out your clothes,” she wrote, “but find it extremely difficult. You will be happy to know that the dirt you accumulated, that I could not wait to clean up, is still there.” As I read the letter now as a parent, the pain over her youngest leaving home breaks my heart.

I found tons of letters from Susan. She had been impossible to locate until I found Ray’s letter, in which he offered to pick me up at the airport when I came home on leave in 1971. I got home some other way, but considering that he ended up as her boyfriend for a while, I wonder what he would have wanted to talk about had I taken his ride. He still lives in my hometown and was easy to find. Not surprisingly, he had Susan’s phone number.


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