Monday, November 24, 2014

A Story of Reunion--44 Years After Vietnam

They were born and raised on opposite sides of the country, one in a coal camp in West Virginia, the other in his Native American community near the coast of Oregon. Their upbringing was similar, however--large extended family close buy, little money, simple living in poorly built homes, hard work, grandmothers who quilted and put up food in root cellars.

At eighteen each joined the U.S. Marin Corps. At nineteen both found themselves in Vietnam. The two became close friends; They went out on patrol together, faced danger together and got into all kinds of comical scrapes, most of their own making. They went down tunnels, went on search-and-destroy missions, shared the condition called "jungle rot" that sent one to the hospital.

In early February 1971 one of them got orders that he was to pack his things, turn in his weapons and get on the bus. His deployment was over and it was time to go home. He had only minutes to get ready, and there was no time to say goodbye to his friend. As he rode away on the bus, he realized he didn't even know his buddy's name--they used nicknames for everyone, and all he knew his friend as was "Indian."

Fast forward 44 years to this thing we call the Internet, and to the thing on the Internet called Facebook. One day I received a friend request from a man I did not know, and I was going to delete the request when I saw a message from this same man. The message said, "I think your husband served with my father in Vietnam. Ask him if he remembers a man they called Indian."

 And so my husband Larry and his old friend Reyn Leno of the Grand Ronde tribe were re-united. They talked on the telephone and communicated online and then last week, Reyn Leno came to West Virginia.

He spent three days with us, and it was as if the two of them just picked up the conversation where they had left off 44 years earlier.

We had an amazing time; lots of conversation, catching up on families and laughing as they told of some of their misadventures in Vietnam. Reyn brought Larry a warrior's medal, made by a member of his tribe from shells and beads in the colors of the Vietnam medal.

Two of my sons joined us for dinner one evening, and more stories flowed between all four of these veterans.

Reyn signing the visitor's book in the Governor's office
at the WV State Capitol

Larry and Reyn toured the West Virginia Capitol building and state museum, and traveled down to Olcott to see the place where Larry grew up.
In the Capitol Rotunda

Through the gates to the airplane. Goodbye, Reyn!
It was hard to say goodbye, but it was only au revoir, really. This coming summer we will visit the Grande Ronde reservation at Reyn's invitation, to meet his family, see his part of the country and take part in the tribe's annual Veterans Memorial Pow Wow. I can't wait to go, and I know Larry can't wait to see his friend again. The two of them shared the worst life has to offer, and now, they're sharing the best.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

So Quiet for So Long

I've been anything but quiet, really--this has been a whirlwind month of storytelling, storytelling workshops, booth work, painting, and company. I'll have much to tell you in the next few days as I try to catch up.

Tonight it's the night before deer season, so the whole county is a-bustle with activity: men in camouflage sighting in their guns, stores filled with hunters and trucks loaded with camping supplies. At my house my husband is ready to go out tomorrow with my oldest son and his son, hoping for a deer or two to put in the freezer. Venison supplies a goodly portion of the meat we eat so I hope the hunt is successful, even though I must admit my innards cringe at the thought of the deer. But this is the way of this world in which we live, and for us it's economics, not sport.

The night is rainy and very dark; no moon lights up the raindrops and the wet leaves. The fires are warm, the music is playing on the radio, and I am in my flannel gown and glad to be home once again after one more storytelling trip. It is good to snuggle in to the comfort of home, and I am looking forward to a few days of home things as we prepare for Thanksgiving and more company. It is a good time of year, and a good life, and I am grateful and thankful for the blessings I enjoy, even as this time of year is tinged with the sadness of remembrance. Still, the generosity of land, the love of family and friends, and the sweetness of memories are more than enough to brighten my spirits.

More soon on all that has transpired in the last 2 or 3 weeks. Some commonplace, some absolutely astounding and wonderful things have filled my hours and I cannot wait to share.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Storytelling and More Storytelling

It's a busy time of year for storytellers, and I'm no exception. I am happy to say that I shook off that bad cold at last; huge doses of Vitamin C laced with echinacea seemed to do the trick--or maybe it had just run its course. Sadly, poor ol Larry is now down with it and he's dragging around like a whipped puppy. He much really feel bad because he's usually not one to let a little cold get him down. I know it certainly took its toll on me.

But today I feel like myself again, and just in time too, as I'll be leaving in the morning to travel to western Kentucky and the Kentucky Storytelling Association's annual conference. I'll be traveling with my friend, storyteller Jo Ann Dadisman and I know we'll have a fine time together. I can't wait to see all my Kentucky storytelling friends again!

So you can imagine I've been busy as a bee getting things in shape for me to leave. But first I had a few things to get out of the way: I had a full day of storytelling at the Ritchie County Middle School on Monday, four sessions with the 7th graders. What a delight that was. They were such good listeners and we chatted between stories about their experiences and they shared a story or two. They loved the old ballads--imagine that! They asked for more, totally surprised me. But then, so many of the ballads are about murder and mayhem and that's right up their alley. I'd cleared the songs with their school first because some schools have strict rules about what kinds of material can be presented. I loved the hugs, but best of all was the shouted, "Your stories rock!" from several students as I walked down the hall. And then there was the boy who was overheard by his teacher saying, "I thought it was gonna be boring but it was awesome!" Such things make me so glad I am in this profession.

I spent Tuesday voting and running errands for the most part. Sometimes it feels like we have to spend so much time on the road, but eBay packages have to be mailed, groceries and feed much be bought, and the van must be checked out when it decides to just not start for no reason at all. We figured that it was corroded battery terminals, but we'll see. All seems to be well for now.

Then Wednesday I worked on packing more eBay, pricing things for my booths, attending a meeting to recap the ghost walk of last month, and restocking the Ravenswood booth. Seems like the more I put in there, the more it needs--which means that things are selling, and that's good. I also talked with Jo Ann about the concert and workshop we've been planning in conjunction with the Fairmont University Frank and Jane Gabor WV Folklife Center. Susan Gordon, a well-known storytelling in the Washington DC Metro area, is coming to perform and present a workshop on telling the old tales. We've called it Grimm and Beyond, and I am so excited about being able to have this opportunity to explore old stories in depth with a master of hte craft.

Today I had a pretty ambitious to-do list so I had to hit the floor rolling. I was determined to de-clutter my kitchen; so often when I bring in new merchandise for the booths, it gets unpacked and put on the tables, counter, etc and I was beginning to feel crazy in there. The kitchen is now 95% back to normal. I still have to tackle the living room, and the log room is full of furniture projects we're working on. I need a building for this stuff! It feels like I work just as hard trying to keep it all contained as I do actually selling it. I hope that next spring I can afford to buy a large storage building that we can use for painting and repair work as well as storage, and then I can keep this mess out of the house. I had no idea when I started reselling that it would take off like this, or that I would enjoy it so much. It's become almost a full-time job in itself, which I don't mind except for it taking over our house. With the holidays coming, however, I've got to get things cleared out. So that's my project for the coming week.

More storytelling is coming too--I'll be telling stories for a class at the University of Charleston on Monday, and then at Philippi Elementary School on Wednesday. The concert and workshop are next week too, November 14 and 15, and on the 20th I'll be telling as part of Tellabration in Athens, Ohio, and on the 22nd in Beckley as part of their Tellabration event. I'm glad I got my Fall cold out of the way already!

I think that pretty much catches up where I've been and what I've been up to lately. I hope you've been keeping well, warm and dry as the weather begins its turn to winter.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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