“What happened?” How hard it is to ask…and yet the answers explain so much

This account by a woman who goes by Woldoog describes what she learned after asking her Vietnam Vet father what happened to him.

He shared with me truths about war that no father is anxious to share with his daughter – truths about existing in a state of sustained fear, the horror of invoking death, what a person is capable of doing in order to preserve one’s life and the lives of others – all truths that set the course of his life, and mine, forever.

As far as I know, Woldoog didn’t record the conversation.  It was a talk that happened over a couple of log days. And a powerful one at that. Go and read it all.

But it makes me wonder about the tough conversations within families. Tough to get started, the ones that begin with uphill battles of soul, where the unspoken rules—the ones that say “We don’t talk about that”—are finally overcome by that long awaited question that finally (finally!) tumbles out. The “What happened?” question.

I asked my Grandpa that question. They were questions about how family members died. His two oldest boys: drowned. Before my Mom was born. And a conversation about how my grandmother died. It was a mystery. A stroke or heart failure that led to a fire, started by her still-lit cigarette. I asked my grandfather those “what happened” questions several years before the 99th birthday tape recorder showed up.* Unprompted by me, he recalled the events surrounding the drowining of his sons. I wanted to ask again about the fire. But I didn’t get the chance to record it. I did have the conversation, though.

*If you haven’t read my story. “How it all began,” I tell about the tape recorder.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 26, 2006 in • InterviewingPersonal History
1 CommentsPermalink

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Comments

Thanks for taking the time to read and share my story.  There were a number of factors in play that allowed me to ask my question that night - my dad and I were talking about current events, which we rarely do (he has, for the most part, disconnected himself from politics and accompanying topics, especially war); it was late and we were alone, with no possibility of interruption; my, and his, advancing age had helped me realize that time is precious and that if I didn’t ask soon, I might never get to; the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had re-thrust soldiering and PTSD into the spotlight for me; and, finally, I had recently, as I worked through personal issues of my own, come to realize just how powerful an impact his experiences had on me and my family.

My entire family knew bits and pieces of my dad’s story, but only as explanations of his troubled behavior.  It was rarely in the forefront, but most always in the background, a powerful force influencing the decisions and behaviors of everyone around.  My understanding of the power it wielded, and still wields, led me to see that it deserved to leave the shadows and to be spoken in plain words, as opposed to mumbled explanations, and in that way its power might lessen, even if only a little.

Because I was concerned he might be uncomfortable that I had shared his tale in a public forum, I was nervous about showing him what I had written.  But I quickly realized that it was his story, and if anyone deserved to see it in writing, he did.  He cried as he read it, and he thanked me and said that he was very proud of me.  That pride and gratitude is what will allow me to ask him to finish his story, for there is certainly more to tell.

Thank you again for your interest.  I hope that I have been helpful, and I am pleased to have been led to such an interesting website as yours. Best wishes, and peace be with you.

woldoog  on 05/30  at  04:33 PM

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