Tag Archives: freedom

Honorable Mention: “For Ian”

For Ian

by Regenia Spoerndle         

The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the breeze warm, gentle and perfect. It was a take-your-kids-to-the-park-for-a-picnic kind of day, not a go-to-the-doctor-with-four-children-who-can’t-stand-waiting-rooms-any-more-than-you kind of day.  It was a summer day that begged changing goals, ambitions, and schedules into a book at the park and a nap. It was a perfect day. I didn’t know this was the day my son had died.

We drove to the doctor’s office. I read Doctor Seuss to children and People to me. They called my name. I shared a threatening look of discipline with the children, leaving them behind. I hoped the doctor would move quickly.

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There’s a problem with the stethoscope. We’ll get the doctor. A distant fear creeping toward me ready to grab my throat and shake every fiber of my being until I no longer recognized life. I didn’t want to know this was the day my son had died.

Sometimes it’s just a game of hide-and-seek. Let’s look again. A grimaced face, furrowed brows, and deep sadness in his eyes–unprofessional, but compassionate. A knock at the door. Your children miss you; here they are. Six people in a room made for one, crowded with dread so thick I wonder if we should slice it and hand out the pieces. It’s unspoken, yet the doctor and I know.

An announcement of an opportunity to check with an image, the innocence of childhood excited to see, a shout of celebration, a hidden painful glance from the doctor pretending to look at his shoes. We begin to walk to the room where it will be confirmed.

A quiet pronouncement, youthful giggling, questioning, not understanding. I’m sorry. My daughter stops, her sensitive spirit catching a shift, she looks at my face, reads it and cautions, What’s wrong Mom? I can’t. I don’t. How do you speak the words?

I say them somehow. I hear those awful, wretched words, and watch the world shift. The faces crumble, the tears form, the arms wrap around. It is the circle of life and death, and the sorrow that chases it. This is the day my son has died.

Regenia credits her love of writing to wonderful children’s literature that filled her childhood, a black metal Underwood typewriter with an unlimited supply of paper, and an inspiring high school English teacher who’s only comment on her essay was, “You really have talent as a writer”. Besides her love affair with the written word, Regenia enjoys adventures with her six children, husband of 25 years, foreign exchange students, and the family dog, Daisy. Regenia is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Akron and Notre Dame College of Ohio, where she teaches undergraduate English, Public Speaking and Newswriting classes. In addition, Regenia serves as a Local Coordinator for Academic Year in America (AYA), matching up high school aged foreign exchange students and host families.  Regenia attempts to chronicle her diverse, and sometimes crazy life, on her two blogs found at regeniaspoerndle.com and ayaexchangestudents.wordpress.com/.

Watch for another Honorable Mention story on Wednesday!

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, WordPress, Writing, Writing contest

Third Place Contest Winner

So It Happened Like This

by Mike Durr

  1. Covington

In every generation there is a vitality that did not exist in previous generations. This vitality, this burning heart fire is what makes us great or greedy, good or bad. For me the fire in my heart was not realized until I was in the fourth grade. Growing up in Covington, Kentucky in those days was no different than growing up in any other small town along the muddy brown Ohio River.   Only a mile across the river, Cincinnati was the home of those fantastic Royals, led by Oscar Robertson. And the home of America’s first professional baseball team, the Redlegs. The tall buildings and bright lights were just over the suspension bridge, which most people pointed to with pride, declaring it was the original model for the Brooklyn Bridge. Covington had then and still does a melancholy feeling. As if leftover ghosts from the Underground Railroad still existed in the damp, dark, hand-burrowed passages of the hidden tunnel—a tunnel dug in a desperate effort to gain freedom from slavery by escaping to the North. It was a secret tunnel dug ages ago, but all of us kids knew where it was and we knew the ghosts were there. The ghosts also walked the alleys and quiet places of the town at night. Sometimes in the heat of summer you could hear calliopes from riverboats and see reflections of spectral images gliding north toward precious freedom.

The summer after my tenth birthday I broke into the tunnel and explored. The cool, dripping, moss-covered passage, blanketed in darkness for nearly a century, called to me with a promise of freedom and I answered the call. I walked where no one had since the Civil War. With the mighty river coursing above, I moved fearlessly through the dark. After awhile I could feel the great desperation and fear of those who had dug the tunnel, and they bore into my spirit and stayed with me long and hard as I grew up. To me they seemed to offer a warning: “Look what had to be done for our freedom. Nothing less. What will you do for your freedom? Stay here, like those who were afraid to cross under the water, and you will never have it.” I was just a kid and the message was not quite clear. I was too simple to understand, too unaffected to know. As the years passed I never went back to the tunnel. But I felt the ghosts and their influence was great within me.

By the time I was nineteen I was desperate to get away. The ghosts of freedom had stoked high the fire in my heart. So on Christmas Eve, just two weeks after my birthday, I joined the Navy.  Three days later and for the first time in my life, I was aboard a jet, strapped in, scared and sweating despite the cold December snow outside the window. The plane gathered speed and left the runway, carrying me North above the dirty ice-caked river. Carrying me to freedom? In reality carrying me to the Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois. I still remember the fear on that freezing, dreary gray afternoon. I was more afraid than at any time in my life. Only the ghosts sustained me. “What are you willing to do for your freedom?”

Late December in Illinois was much the same as in Kentucky. Everything was hard frozen, dirty gray and cold. The Naval Training Center was a collection of sooty, peeling, white wooden buildings, leftover from the Second World War. Old steam-heated buildings, well past their prime, with skins of frost on their warped wood-framed windows. Cracked and peeling paint covered the doors and walls like the dermis of an old leper long since resigned to death. No spit- and-polish Navy Pride, just a winter way station on the road to Vietnam. Oddly enough I felt ghosts here also. Not spirits in desperation but of it. They carried a fear and stink of wars long ago fought. Salt spray and fiery North Atlantic combat. These were spirits of unforgiving conflict and loss. I could sense them, hear them in their anguish, but I was unable to understand the message. I couldn’t yet realize what I would do for my freedom. So I trained with 71 others and grieved the absence of my family and friends. I ate, worked, slept and even breathed Navy. If the training center was not a proud place, I was becoming a proud seaman. Like the ghosts of this place, I was headed for war.

My war was not to be a conflict of cruisers and battleships. No destroyers hunting submarines on the high seas of the North Atlantic. No cobalt-blue shipping lanes of the tropical Pacific. No dolphins riding my bow wave through the vast clear sea. I was headed for the dirty brown water and deep green jungles of Indochina. Headed for the sweltering heat where every insect knew the taste of human blood. A place where the desperation of the oppressed was matched by the desperation of the oppressor. A place where every day spent outside a body bag was counted as a good one. A place where every good day meant 24 hours less to spend in hell. But I did not know these things until later. I could not even have guessed what I would do for my freedom.

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Sam (the Marine in hat) and Mike in Phu Bai

A little levity before the serious work begins

Mike Durr is originally from Independence, Kentucky. He attended Holmes High School, University of La Verne, and University of Southern Mississippi.  A member of the Department of Defense for 21 years, Mike is also a former High School Science teacher and  Nuclear Security Training Supervisor. Currently, Mike lives as a pirate in either Florida or Bocas Del Toro, Panama.

Watch for the Honorable Mention stories next week!

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, WordPress, Writing, Writing contest