Tag Archives: Vietnam

Second Hand Smoke

tellabration november 2017Good Evening. 

My name is Connie Kinsey.  I’m a writer who lives in a converted barn in West Virginia. I’ve been there 32 years now.

I’ve put down deep roots in that old barn, but I grew up a nomadic military brat.  I went to something like 5 different elementary schools.  You get used to people coming and going when you’re a brat.

One of the people who came and went a lot was my dad.  As an officer in the Marine Corps, he did four tours of Vietnam.  Of course he had PTSD.  He died almost two years ago and I’m still mourning him.

This story is about Vietnam.  Sort of.  The narrator could be me, but is not.  The Marine captain in the story could be my dad, but he’s not.  Fruitcake, the young marine in the story, is an amalgamation of teenage Marines I met at the skating rink.  This story is fiction.  Never happened.

But it could have.

I’ve titled it “Second Hand Smoke.”

Second Hand Smoke

Damn.  I like men.  I have always liked men.  I was a certified daddy’s girl.  My daddy was the best man of all, he was pretty tickled with me, and I just assumed that most men were more likely than not to be like him.

My mama tells a story about the time I was three years-old and hospitalized for bronchitis.  I can’t remember, but to hear her tell it I couldn’t wait for visiting hours to be over because that’s when the Corpsmen would sit inside my oxygen tent and play Pocahontas Indian Princess with me.  In those days, even parents had to observe visiting hours.  Mama shakes her head now when she remembers how it never ever entered her head to fuss about that.

So anyway, I like men a lot.  That whole Indian princess thing must have stuck with me even if the memory of the hospital didn’t.  Now, I’m not anymore Indian than I am anything else, but I look more Indian than I do anything else.  Everybody thinks my green eyes come from my mama’s Irish people, but the only kin I have with green eyes come from my daddy’s side – the same side that produced the genuine, 100-proof, Cherokee grandma.  Of course, nobody talked about Mawmaw being Cherokee until Indian got to be cool sometime in the late sixties.

A couple of years later, I was fourteen looking twenty and living in a town with forty thousand Marines — most of them still teenagers and either fretting about going to ‘Nam or about what happened there.

Skating at the rink was all the rage.  I was on the speed skating team and taking all sorts of lessons.  For dance, I was partnered up with somebody the right size, finally, to get on with learning to do lifts.  It was 1972 and a lot of those guys had seen some horrible things.  Some of them drank, and a lot of them took up karate so as to feel like they had some control, but almost all of them smoked weed.

A lot of the kids in my junior high smoked pot.  I stuck to cigarettes.  I was an officer’s daughter and the teacher’s pet.  I was supposed to be too smart to fry my egg-head, but I liked the kick of a nicotine rush.  Both of my parents come from mostly poor white trash, but the Corps made my dad an “officer and a gentleman.”  He said that a lot.

I was just me.  I wasn’t all that different from the other girls in that time and place even if I was an Indian princess who skated with the Macs.

It was the summer my dad quit smoking.  It was quite a summer, but I remember that night best.  A lot of stuff when I was young – well, I don’t have complete memories of it.  I haven’t blocked it out or anything, but most things I remember in snippets – freeze frames – not video.  Except for this — I remember this night.

That song Indian Nation, was popular and I was pretty impressed with my newfound Indian blood.  Between the leather headband and the turquoise jewelry, the Macs took to calling me Pocahontas which was just fine with me.   I’d recently decided my parents were morons for having named me what they did.

It was hot.

Hurricane season had just set in and breathing was like trying to grow gills.  The old man had given up on trying to cool the rink.  There were these huge hangar fans that just roared.  The Jackson Five were Rockin’ Robin at a volume guaranteed to blow ear drums when I decided I needed fresh air and a cigarette.

Back then that wasn’t a contradiction.

Between the heat, the noise, and my sunburn, I was ready to jump out of my skin.

Of course, we weren’t supposed to go outside with our skates on, but mine weren’t rentals and I knew the guy at the door.

I skated over to the door, toed to a coast and rolled into the dark.  Walked on my toe stops to the guard rail and sat down.  There was a guy about ten feet down in the shadows.

About all I could see was the glow of his cigarette.  I could hear him banging his skates against the edge of the sidewalk.  It set my teeth on edge.

The cigarette glow reminded me of my dad.  I fished around in my bag for cigarettes, but didn’t find any.  I was already irritated.  I clomped over and sat down next to him.

“If Tim catches you banging those skates, he’ll have a fit.  He’ll have to repack your bearings and he hates repacking.  Besides, you’re not supposed to be out here with rentals.  Can I bum a cigarette?”

He quit clanging his skates.

“I’m not afraid of Tim.  You old enough to smoke?”

“You old enough to kill?”

He dragged a cigarette out of his shirt pocket and handed it to me.  In the flash of his Zippo, I saw his face for the first time.

He was simply beautiful.

I was astonished.  Even though a fan of men, I had never regarded one as beautiful.  I hadn’t even considered men could be beautiful.  Handsome, rugged, cute, smart, tall, short, old, young — all of those I knew.  But beautiful.  I was already having trouble breathing, when I noticed he was Indian.  I’d never seen him around before.

And I knew all the guys at least by sight.

“What nation?” I said.  It was a line I’d heard in a movie.  I thought it sounded cool and knowing and older — Indian.  Like I really was one.

He looked at me.

My eyes were adjusting so I could see pretty well by then.

He was still beautiful, but details were coming into focus.  His skin was perfect.  He could have been the Cherokee Nation Noxema poster child.

I had never seen a man with skin like that.  Like marble, there were no pores and not even the trace of razor stubble.  I’ve seen baby butts less delicate than his skin.

Of course, he was dark.  The North Carolina sun turns even the very fair dark.

Years later, I saw Michelangelo’s David and commented that ol’ Mick got it wrong.  The image of that man that night burned into my brain with the flash of a Zippo.

“I’m Lakota, white girl.”

“Don’t call me white girl.  What’s your name?”

“Fruitcake.”

“Fruitcake?”

“Yeah.  My buddies call me Fruitcake.”

“And you let them?”

“I kind of like it.”

I couldn’t think of a response.

Fruitcake?  I was already hopelessly in love with this guy and trying to turn the name Fruitcake into something cool.

Stalling for time, I took a long drag on the cigarette and about fell off the guard rail I got so dizzy.

Sometimes the kick will kick you.

Fruitcake laughed for real.

Fruitcake, white girl.  When I rotated stateside, I took to drinking rum.

My wisdom teeth were bothering me and Grandmother told me to chew on cloves.  My buddies said I smelled like fruitcake.”

“So.  How are your teeth, now?” How are your teeth?  I could have died.  I took another drag on the cigarette.

“The base dentist took them out.  Now, I’m just another dumb Mac.”

“I don’t think you’re dumb.”  Good grief, Charlie Brown.

He laughed again.   We both took drags on our cigarettes.

“Stateside, huh?  Just back from ‘Nam?”

“Couple months.  I finished thirty days with the family and shipped here a month ago.”

“Yeah, I haven’t seen you here before.”

“It’s my first time on skates.”

It was my turn to laugh.

“Is that why you’re out here?  I could show you how, you know.”

“Naw.  It doesn’t seem that difficult.  All that noise gets to me after awhile.”

I scrubbed my cigarette out.  My breathing was starting to get somewhere near normal.

“Well, I’d like to skate with you sometime.”

“We’ll see, white girl.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“OK.  So, what’s your name?”

Oh god.  No.

“The guys here call me Pocahontas.”

He about fell off the rail laughing.

Big, hearty, deep belly laughs.

“I haven’t laughed like that since R&R in Tokyo.  We were all down at the . . . ”

“How come everybody that’s been to ‘Nam doesn’t talk about anything but R&R?”

“Maybe because nobody asks.”

“Nuts, I didn’t ask you about R&R in Tokyo either.”

He licked his index finger, made a sizzling sound and drew a line in the air.

“One for you, little sister.”

“So.  What’s it like in Viet Nam?”

He didn’t say anything for a long time.

I could hear David Cassidy singing I think I love you.

I reached over and fished another cigarette out of his pocket.

This time, I got close enough to smell him.

I used to think Corps regulations required English Leather aftershave.  It’s the only thing my father ever wore and still wears.   Fruitcake, though, smelled all of Ivory soap and cloves.  I couldn’t detect any rum.

While trying to grip a filter, I felt the beat of his heart.  He leaned sideways, bumped into my shoulder, and stretched to drag the Zippo out of his Levi’s.  My heart pounded and my hands got sweaty.

Lighting my cigarette, he said, “What’s it like? Well, your feet and back are always wet.”

Before I could say anything, he jumps up all of a sudden forgetting he’s on skates.

Arms windmilling, he finally gets control.

It takes me way too long to realize my dad is standing there.  I toss the cigarette behind me hoping he didn’t see it, but knowing he did.

“Captain!  Sir!”

“At ease, Marine.  We’re not in uniform.”

“Sir!  Yessir!  Sir!  I mean . . . Thank you, Sir.”

“Hi, Daddy.”  Jeez.

And the guys wonder why I don’t tell them my real name.  It was the first time my dad had ever picked me up from the rink.  Usually my mom did it.

“She’s fourteen, you know.”

“Sir!”

“She’s too young.”

I could have just died.   “I’ll go get my shoes.”

“See you at the car, Punkin.”

Punkin!  Good grief.

I turned to look at Fruitcake, but he wouldn’t meet my eyes.

I clomped back inside and started pawing through shoes looking for mine.  By the time I got to the car, I was furious.  “Daddy!”

We drove in silence for a while.

There’s this desolate stretch of scrub pine between the skating rink and where we live.  It feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere – No Man’s Land – Jacksonville’s very own DMZ.

Here’s where my memory starts freeze-framing.  I can’t remember what provoked me or if I just got lost in thought or what, but I heard myself say, “Daddy, can I have a cigarette?”

“No.  You’re too young to smoke.”

“How old do you have to be?”  My heart was thundering.

“A lot older than you are now.”

“Daddy, did you kill people in Vietnam?”

The car slowed and pulled to a stop on the shoulder.

He lit a cigarette and started to hand it to me.  Then he pulled it back and took a drag off of it.  I don’t think he noticed the kick.  He threw it out the window.  And then he threw the pack of Pall Malls after it.

“Yes.”

I couldn’t think of a thing to say.  We drove the rest of the way home in silence.

Of course, he told Mama.  She grounded me for four weeks.

There was no sign of Fruitcake when I got to go skating again.

There was a constant rotation of men and I always kept an eye out for Fruitcake, but I never saw him again.

I read this story for the Athens, Ohio Tellabration Celebration at Athens Uncorked on November 19, 2017.

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Filed under January 2009, November 2017

My daddy has died.

MarinedaddyConrad Lee Kinsey, 77, died on March 13, 2016, suddenly and peacefully at home.

He was a proud Marine Corps Captain having served his country with four tours of Vietnam. Subsequently, he was disabled from the Marine Corps but went on to develop careers with H&R Block and the Huntington City Mission. He was thrilled to be a part of the Mission’s important work and retired as their Business Manager.

Conrad’s younger years were full of hardship and he frequently said the Marine Corps took him as a poor boy and turned him into an officer and a gentleman. The Marine Corps remained an important part of his identity and Semper Fi served as his password for many applications.

He was a gadget geek with a particular love for computers. He also loved gardening and raised a bodacious vegetable garden each year. He read history with a particular interest in the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, a man for whom he had no respect.

Upon retiring, at the request of his daughter, he began putting his experiences in writing and self-published on Amazon, The Expendables, a memoir of Vietnam wherein he tells the story of the 13 men under his command who died in a fierce battle.   When their bodies were recovered just a few years ago, he went to the funerals.

He loved his wife of 58 years, his family and his dog, Dolleigh who preceded him in death by a month, and had a particular love for his grandson, Jeremy, whom he considered his crowning achievement.  When Jeremy was young, Conrad and he would go to Jolly Pirate Donuts each Saturday morning where Conrad would partake of an apple fritter while Jeremy always tried something different.

He was known among his family and friends for his intellect and sense of humor. He was a gentleman and a gentle person who often served as the calm in the center of the storm. His sister, Irene, referred to him as her rock.  His other siblings express similar sentiments.

He had a strong faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and made several trips to participate in Promise Keepers events as well as taught Sunday school and Bible study.

Conrad would want to be remembered as a man who loved his God, his country and his family. He would want all to know II Corinthians 6:14-18:

For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them     and walk among them, and I will be their God,     and they will be my people.”

He is survived by his wife, Lou Ellen Kinsey, his brothers and sisters, Thomas Kinsey (Catherine), William Simpson (Marsha), Jeanne Boulton (Richard), Linda Lester, his daughter, Connie Kinsey, his son, Douglas Kinsey (Kathy), his grandson, Jeremy Leinen and his step-grandchildren, Jessica Thompson (Tony), Kevin LeMaster, Jr. (Jennifer), and Joshua LeMaster (Mereanda). He is also survived by loving nieces and nephews and eight great-grand children.  He was preceded in death by his parents, Warren and Emma, his brother Jerry (Eunice), his sisters Irene Mooney and Kathy Davis (Alfred), brother-in-law Jere Mooney, and his son, Conrad Lee Kinsey, Jr.

Visitation is from 6 to 8 pm at Fellowship Baptist Church on Thursday, March 17. The funeral will also be held at the church on Friday, March 18, at 11 a.m.  Burial with military honors will be at Ridgelawn Memorial Park following the church service.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Ellen Kinsey, 379 Pauley Branch Road, Ona, WV 25545

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Filed under January 2009, March 2016

Bright, Glittery Things

I’m sitting here sipping Dollar Store wine (another story for another time) and listening to The Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions. This is one of the great albums of all time. I never get tired of it.

Earlier I was playing on Facebook and sorting out the china cabinet when I was provoked to post a picture of my handiwork and, later, a promise/threat to blog about the china my daddy gave me.

I don’t make idle promises or threats.

china cabinetWhen I was 12, I was a hormonal mess and my father got posted to Iwakuni, Japan. We found out later that he was really slipping in and out of Vietnam in the waning days of that gawdawful war. Like I said, I was a hormonal mess and my father’s leaving, though by no means the first, hit me hard. This was his fourth tour to ‘Nam and I was old enough to understand.

Just before my 13th birthday, I got a priceless letter from him in response to my birthday list he’d asked for. I can’t find that letter and it’s driving me crazy. It’s a gem and highlights all the fine points of my daddy, particularly his sense of humor.

Ichinan any event, I got a catalogue of Noritake china and Sanyo stemware and was told to pick out patterns. As he was in Japan, not really, I was getting china for my birthday.

I’ve been odd since birth. I was ecstatic! I like shiny, bright things and I like food and I love my daddy.

I picked out a pattern with the coordinating stemware that would have been at home in an Andy Warhol painting. It was the 70s. I don’t know if he lied or not, but Daddy said that the pattern was discontinued so he winged it. I received a disappointing and understated set of china for 12 with coordinating stemware. Disappointing in its elegance, it was from my dad and I loved it nonetheless.

stemwareI carried that china from one posting to another and from one apartment and house to another, finally unpacking it and using it for the first time roughly 30 years after I opened it.

In the intervening years my tastes changed and the beauty of it just takes my breath. It’s basic white china with a smoked rim. The glassware is a smoky black.

The serendipity of it all is that without my thinking about it, I decorated this room in a black, brown, white, beige scheme when The Ex and I finally caved and hired a professional to finish the barn. I had to whine and carry on, beg and plead, but I convinced The Ex that after 30 years, I needed and deserved a china cabinet to put the china in. As we were so far over budget by that time, he just threw up his and hands and nodded yes.

The china cabinet and china slid into this room like it should have always been here. It takes my breath, it does, it does.

dragonwareAlso in the cabinet are some pieces that mean something to me for other reasons. Chief are some moriage dragonware that just make me swoon. DragonMan and I discovered the pattern in an antique store outside of Boston one summer. I’ve decided I need snack plates to prop in front of the dinner plates. I have my daddy’s china, Doug’s dragonware, and the wedding mementoes from The EX – all three good men and the love of my life at one time or another.

precious momentsLove is a funny thing. I still love all three of them. Vietnam changed Daddy, change took The Ex and death Doug. But all three of them glitter and glow in a china cabinet from the J. C. Penney.

Good men abound and I’ve been blessed more than my share.

 

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Filed under November 2013

My Favorite Veteran(s)

parents

Marine Corps Veterans - Daddy and his Good Officer's Wife

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Filed under November 2009

McNamara’s Tears

When I wrote the About section, I mentioned Kate Long’s Root Hog.  I had the pleasure of seeing Kate perform at the Appalachian Women’s Alliance’s Ironweed Festival.  The gathering was a blessing in so many respects, but it was especially memorable because I heard her perform McNamara’s Tears, a memoir piece about the Vietnam War.  Although she’s an icon in these parts, meeting and hearing her at the festival was my first exposure to her music.

1966 Brat (with brat being the operative word)

1966 Brat
(brat being the operative word)

The Vietnam War haunts me still.  My father, a career Marine, did four tours in that hell hole.  He still defends the US’s participation in that mess and can’t fathom my anti-war stance.  Hearing McNamara’s Tears was painful, yet cathartic.  The song arrived when I was just beginning to sort out my thoughts and feelings over what I had experienced as a military brat surrounded by other brats whose dads were gone, maimed or dying.  I sat and listened to Kate while the tears rolled down my face. 

I’ve got family members and friends tied up in the current mess.  My mind worries and my heart aches.  Not too long ago Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale released the Road to Escondido.  Aside from my Great Fandom of All Things Clapton, I had to have the album for another reason – the title.  I used to live in Escondido during my nomadic brat years.  When this War is Over is one of my favorite cuts losing out as #1 in my personal hit parade to Ride the River (I do love a good guitar shuffle).

When this war is over, it will be a better day.

 
 

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Filed under August 2008