Anytime we embark on a one-book reading program, I ask myself what I think the community will get out of the title we select. In the case of The Things They Carried, I hoped that multiple generations would have a common ground to begin sharing their own stories. As a member of the steering committee, even before The Big Read events begin, my hopes have already been fulfilled.
Every Thursday morning, my son and I have breakfast with my dad. As our work unfolded, I talked with my dad about the book and our plans in the community. Until one morning, when, instead of my chattering about my daily concerns, my dad started talking. He told me about the kids from his neighborhood. Like recalling a list of friends from school, he told me who went to Vietnam and who didn’t come back. And about a certain field exercise with his platoon that, had it been in combat, would have meant that he wouldn’t have come home.
His stories surprised me, academically and emotionally. The Vietnam War had been a school topic to me, but I cried for a long time after dropping my son off at school. How could I never have known any of this about my dad? About the friends that populated his childhood memories, but won’t ever be around to tell their stories. And about the day the leaves parted in front of him revealing a machine gun that forced him to face his mortality on a moment’s notice.
And how is it that I never realized that my dad was once a scared kid facing down a world of violence?