The Basque people hold a tradition: when spring doves return over the Pyrenees and light in the budding branches, this is a sign of the 'Guernika arbola', an oak tree in Guernica where the early Basque and the Castile met together in peace and established the first laws. This is the Basque heart, the Basque soul, a reminder to all future generations.
According to the dictionary of names, my surname means mighty in battle; my family name old Basque, the feminine connotation of 'beautiful spirit". It is in this way, children inherit the purpose of their father's father, from blood to blood, in acts of war and deeds of conquest, to establish the hope of worldly kingdoms. But after my generation that promise will be reflected no more through these eyes, no more will the call of the Pyrenees echo through my soul unless by a will greater than flesh and bone, in a hope more true than, this, my spirit. Even as I write this testament, I am aware that memory, like history, is subjective, and laced with myth. Nor always reflects the whole truth. Nevertheless, I will endeavor to be as honest as license will permit.
Born in Fort Benning Georgia on March 2, 1952, I survived by a miracle. It was a day dark, cold, and windy--or so they say--a difficult birth that nearly killed my mother. In those days, I suppose there was less medical knowledge available, or maybe because it was a military facility. Whatever the reason, the doctor had to make a decision. Better to sacrifice the infant, than lose the mother. Using a pair of forceps, he firmly clamped the head and yanked. The prevailing thought was that the head would separate from the body. My skull misshapen, black and blue, I cried my first breath. Maybe I knew what was coming, and just did not want to be born. Poor Jean, a young girl of nineteen, had to massage behind my ears daily. They were pinned against the sides of my head by the force of the metal forceps. I suppose that I must have been a sight--a bit alien--a bit horrifying to a new mother who had known only rejection in her life. I was her first born--or at least the one that survived--and she loved me, nursed me into the human race.
My father, the prodigy of my namesake, was somewhat of a smiling Jack, handsome and dashing in his Air Force uniform. At least this is how I remembered him from faded photos. He and my mother divorced before I was two. Packing her bags one night, and me like a papoose, she caught a train headed east. We were living in Oxnard California at the time. This was my father's home turf. Intended to be a transfer so that my mother might be close to a family she never had. It became instead, a purgatory trapping her in a dusty impoverished town of Spanish America between the vast expanse of open sea and a dry desert stretching endlessly into a blanket of smog. The worst part, she had evidence that her husband--yes, my father--was seeing another woman. It was just another betrayal in her life, just another history of pain.
I have only a vague recollection of the night we left. I was on a four-poster bed playing with a blue toy motorcycle with red wheels. My mother entered the room crying as she dressed me. I saw fear for the first time, fear in her eyes of an angry dark shadow snarling from the hallway. Then I began crying. A horn blasted from outside. Sweeping me up in her arms, she carried me into the night, sound of weeping and angry voices. I would later remember my blue motorcycle that had slipped from my consciousness that terrible night. I would never see it again, nor know the serenity of lost innocence. And it would be many years before I saw my father again.
Life was not easy for a young woman alone in the post World War days of the 1950's. True that Korea had raised its head, and that America struggled against the ever-expanding serpent of Communism. Nevertheless, it was a distant conflict; and except for those directly involved, it seemed just vaguely real. Reality to my mother was daily survival and her new baby to care for. She got a job with Southern Bell as an assistance operator: a beautiful voice, my mother, a sweet southern bell herself, dripping with the pleasantry of magnolia. Perhaps Southern Bell shared my bias when they hired her. However, she suffered from bad health and a poor diet. I believe that at least once she may have died had it not been for me.
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Distance Traveled: A Chronicle in TimeNon-Fiction
This is an autobiographical novel beginning in a small town in old south America. It records the life of a young man growing up in the shadow of the escalating Viet Nam war and eventually joining the United States Marine Corps to become a part of t...