Tales from the Trail

Today is the last day of book tour appearances. Tomorrow at this time, we’ll be boarding the plane for home. I can tell you, I’m ready to be home. Ready to spend some time with my husband and with my dog. Ready to sit in my own chair. Ready to drink my own coffee. Ready for a television remote I have some hope of managing. (Last night, trying to watch NCIS Los Angeles, I wandered off the CABLE reservation into AIR where there were only three channels, none of them CBS.)

So now it’s time to hit some of the high points of this tour:

In Prescott, a woman approached the table so overwhelmed with emotion that when she opened her book for Bonnie and me to sign, the pages were already spattered with tears. My initial thought was that she was the mother of a soldier recently lost in Afghanistan, but I was wrong about that. She was still grieving for her father who never returned from Korea. I didn’t get her name, but if any of my Prescott fans know her, please have her contact me. She’s a gold star family, and I’d like to put her in touch with Michael Reagan. (See paragraph below!)

There’s been a certain magic to this tour. If you’ve already read the book, Second Watch, you know that my companion on this trip has been Bonnie Abney, a friend of nearly twenty years’ standing, who lost her fiancé, Doug Davis–a schoolmate of mine from Bisbee High School, during the Vietnam War. In the course of writing and promoting this book, I learned about a guy named Michael G. Reagan of Edmonds, WA, who has made the Fallen Heroes Project his life’s work. He draws lovingly rendered pencil portraits of fallen soldiers at NO CHARGE for Gold Star Families. He did one of Doug for Bonnie, and a copy of that portrait has accompanied us on this tour. (We didn’t risk carrying the framed one with us for obvious reasons!)

I picked up Doug’s framed photograph from Michael’s studio and took it to my house to await a time when Bonnie could come pick it up. As I carried it into the house from my garage, I had this incredible sense that I was bringing Doug Davis HOME!!

On tour we’ve met two Gold Star families whose loved ones perished overseas–one in Afghanistan in 2011 and the other MIA in Southeast Asia for nearly fifty years. I’m hoping we can locate the woman mentioned in the above paragraph, the one who lost her father in Korea, so Michael Reagan can help bring that soldier home as well.

In San Antonio we were setting up the display when a man in the front row looked at Michael Reagan’s portrait and said aloud, “Isn’t that Doug Davis?” He was someone who had been a year behind Doug at West Point and who had no idea Doug was part of this book! For him, that portrait instantly bridged the passage of 48 years!!!

On tour it has been my honor to talk with veterans who are still living with after affects of that war, either from the war itself or as a result of their treatment when they came “home,” where they found themselves stranded in a different kind of war zone. And it was a humbling experience in Nashville and in Bisbee to exchange hugs with two of the guys who were with Doug in the Central Highlands. These are the guys who spent months sleeping in the mud and the rain. These guys are our heroes. It was humbling to meet them and to hear them say that they thought I had done a good job of depicting their lost buddy.

On tour we’ve told the story of how Doug and three of his fellow second lieutenants in Vietnam conducted a form of psychological warfare by leaving a trail of Aces of Spades behind them on patrol because the Vietcong soldiers were known to be superstitious about that particular card. When all the decks of cards in their company were reduced to 51 cards, those four guys sat down and wrote a letter to the United States Playing Card Company in which they explained the situation. When that letter landed on the desk of the CEO, a man who had lost his son on the beaches of Normandy, he had his company print up decks of cards that contained nothing BUT Aces of Spades. Those special cards were sent, free of charge, to members of the US military serving in any theater of war. One of the photos we have on display features Doug and his fellow second lieutenants, standing together grinning and holding their Aces of Spades on the day they showed up during mail call.

Yesterday we were at Fort Knox, appearing in a library that was surprisingly open despite the federal shutdown. Seated in the front row was a young soldier in uniform who listened to every word of the presentation with rapt attention. When it was time for the signing, he showed me the tattoo on his arm. Guess what? It was an Ace of Spades. We took a photo, and you can see a copy of it posted on my facebook author page.

In Nashville, we got to see one of my friends, Janis Ian, and listen to her sing the song that’s the basis for her new children’s book, The Tiny Mouse. Then, at the end of the presentation, Janis and I sang her iconic song, At Seventeen, together. The fact that I’ve become friends with one of the artists I’ve admired most of my adult life is still an amazing blessing in my life.

It hasn’t all been sweetness and light, though. In Oklahoma City, there was a guy playing chess in the nearby coffee shop who persisted in talking during the presentation. I asked him to be quiet. He didn’t. The bookstore manager asked him to be quiet. He didn’t. I finally told him he was going to have to leave at which point he became belligerent. He left, but he took his own sweet time about doing it, packing up one chess piece at a time, while Bonnie and I and the people in the audience waited politely for him to make his stormy, scripture quoting exit.

For those of you who have read this blog for a long time, you know there’s always a song in my heart. And music didn’t fail me this time, either. I sent him on his way with a few lines from Patsy Cline. “If you’ve got leaving on your mind, tell me now, get it over.” And from the Everly Brothers, too. “Bye, bye, love.”

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but some of my mother’s wisdom bears repeating. “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken!”