There is a bridge from Memphis to Vietnam- and only I could see it.
The Move: Life as a military child involved being uprooted at a moment's notice. One day you're in California; a couple weeks later it’s Memphis, Tennessee. Though I'd become used to moving, this time was different. My father was receiving training that would take him out of town for weeks or months at a time. Many of my friends’ fathers were already in Vietnam; I knew, at some point, he'd be with them.
This made the move that much more difficult. I have to admit- my first few weeks in town had been a blur. I can't say I paid attention to much of anything. One day, when I was supposed to be at recess, I was standing in the hallways. One of the teachers confronted me- demanding, "What's with you? Got your head in the clouds?" To this, my teacher popped out of the classroom, looked at the teacher and said, "Yes, he does. There you are Charles, I've got a special assignment for you."
The Project: She walked me into the room, toward the back- where she kept the butcher paper which she dispensed off of a large roll. "See this wall? It's the only blank spot I've got. We're going to be studying weather systems next week and I need an artist to draw the clouds."
She showed me a graphic and said, “Think you can draw this?” I told her that I didn’t know if I was capable. She said, “Well- today you’ve got a challenge then. You’re my cloud expert… and I’m going to help you make something spectacular.”
For the next five days I spent the entire recess using pastel chalk to draw the cloud formations. I began with the low level nimbostratus and stratocumulus… graduating to the altocumulus and altostratus. By the end of the week I was on tiptoe, finishing with the cirrus and cirrostratus. My crowning achievement was the cumulonimbus- the large thunder cloud; my teacher said I’d managed to take something fearful and turn it into a thing of beauty. I had to admit; I’d really surprised myself.
The Guest: Toward the end of the day I was treated to a surprise. The teacher was starting to unveil my masterpiece. Just as she was about to do so, everyone looked to the doorway. It was my father, dressed in his Air Force uniform- he entered the classroom saying, “I’ve come to look at my son’s clouds.” You’d have thought the President of the United States entered the room- my classmates were awestruck.
I was able to explain the different clouds, their altitudes and what they were associated with. My father smiled and when the teacher asked if there were any questions, someone asked my dad, “are you a soldier?” He said that he was. When someone asked if he was going to war, he said, “very soon.”
My teacher told me this day had been her favorite in all of teaching. She gave me a hug and searched her purse for a tissue. I decided she was about as nice a person as I’d ever met.
Separation: The day may father went to war the sky was clear. I asked what he’d be doing in Vietnam and if people would be shooting at him. He told me he was going to be flying so high that it would be difficult. He got on his knee and whispered, “I’ve got you to send me some clouds. I’ll fly so high above them that no one will see me.” I’d hoped for storm clouds. I’d heard pilots say that while everyone was being pelted by rain they’d be amid nothing but blue skies and a pillow below them.
The following days dragged. I felt powerless- I couldn’t send a cloud but then I remembered that I could draw them. I’d lie on the back lawn and stare at the clouds- I concentrated to see if they seemed to move any quicker. This was going to be a very long year.
The Map: One day I was looking through my father’s collection of National Geographic magazines. I found a world map and discovered how far away Vietnam was. I folded the map at his city, Phan Rang and brought it over until it was next to Memphis. I taped this new map together and cut it so that it was small enough to fit in my pocket. I later drew a bridge.
In my mind I could see a bridge that connected these two cities. Whenever we drove near the Mississippi River I’d imagine my father on the other side; I imagined that he had binoculars and could see me. I’d wave and he’d wave back. When the clouds were high I assumed we were looking at the same clouds. When the clouds rolled in the days passed more quickly.
Over the years I’ve built many bridges… each one viewable only to me. Bridges to San Antonio and Charleston… Phoenix and Sacramento… Denver and Alpine... in my mind these bridges have spanned as far as South America and as near as one town away.
There is a bridge from Memphis to Vietnam. And one day my father crossed it.
I originally posted this to ActiveRain years ago. My daughter and nephew later filmed it using several family members in a single afternoon. It was a good way to document the back story of thousands of families who put their lives on hold to serve our country.