Kevin O'Hara: A mother's nudge from afar
PITTSFIELD — During this most unwelcome quarantine, I've had time to rummage through boxes of mementos collected over the years. These boxes, stored away in the dusty nooks of our attic, include old correspondence, memorial cards, and favorite Eagle clippings. I've also sifted through our family photos, and was left with one lingering question: Was it just me, or did every parent take 10 times more photos of their first child, than all the others combined?
As I delved elbow-deep through one such carton, a single Ektachrome slide fell to the floor. Odd that, for it was neither in its yellow Kodak case, or filed away with my other transparencies. I held it up to the light and my heart did a drop-kick. It
was a disintegrating image of my mother that I took on April 5, 1970, the day I returned home from Vietnam.
On that memorable Sunday a half-century ago, my oldest brother Mike had picked me up at Logan Airport at noon, following an exhausting 24-hour flight from Cam Ranh Bay. By the time we arrived at his apartment in Newton Corner, I was
shivering in my Air Force summer blues. But I nearly self-combusted when I walked into a surprise family gathering.
My parents, of course, were overjoyed to see me home safe. Especially Mom, who was all dressed up for my homecoming. Never had she looked so radiant, so at ease, so pleased to have her rapscallion back in her midst. While I was away, her
twice-weekly letters had been a tonic to my well-being. Looking back, I don't believe she ever uttered a prayer that difficult year without my name attached to it.
Despite being jet-lagged and feeling out of sorts, both physically and mentally, I put on a happy face, and regaled the family with my far-flung adventures in Saigon, Hong Kong and Sydney, while dishing out small souvenirs of wooden boomerangs and little jade statuettes. I also showed off my new Nikon camera, and took snaps of the whole gang throughout the day.
A TAD OFF
Although I'd put my best foot forward, Mom noticed something was amiss. That I was a tad off. Maybe it was the way I fidgeted at the dinner table, or how tears accompanied my laughter. She didn't address it then, but would do so following my
discharge a year later, offering both love and guidance during my bumpy reentry into civilian life.
One thing the entire family did notice that first day, however, was that buck Sgt. O'Hara was bone-tired and longed for his old bed. So saying our farewells to Mike and his wife, Nancy, Dad nosed his `63 Chevy down the Mass Turnpike. There I shared the back seat with the three young ones, who excitedly filled me in on their small triumphs during my absence. I tried to respond to their lively chatter in kind, but found myself emptier than a seashell, the year along the South China Sea having taken its insidious toll.
As Dad motored west down the peaceful, timber-lined highway, it was hard to believe that in a single day I had gone from the inhospitable, napalm-scorched mountains of Cam Ranh, to the dreamy, snow-cloaked Berkshire Hills of home. I'd doze off, but would wake with frightful starts, thinking of friends, American and Vietnamese alike, still left behind in harm's way. Meanwhile, the young ones took turns curling up to me, as if it was I, and I alone, who could protect them from the unknown cruelties of the world. Dad, in turn, smoked his pipe contentedly behind the wheel, while Mom smiled back at me at every passing exit. A smile that never
failed to strengthen me.
Now, on this Mother's Day, I ask myself: Of all the photos I've taken over the long years, why did this particular one drop unexpectedly at my feet? During this most fretful time, I'd like to believe it was my mom's gentle nudge from some far-off enchanted place, assuring me once again that all will be fine.
Kevin O'Hara is a longtime Eagle contributor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTO CAPTION: Lella Kelly O'Hara, April, 1970
PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin O'Hara
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