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In search of Buddy

August 9, 2017


A person my mother called “Buddy” was a sort of faceless presence to me, a five-year-old, at bedtime with my mother perched on the edge of the bed to help me say my prayers.  Buddy was a mystery, but mother said he was an amy man.  A good one.  A first class private in the army who left for the war but did not return.  I was willing to leave his story untold because Buddy’s story had been eclipsed by a more compelling one.  After all, my father had recently gone — died of cancer — and he would not return either.  Both of these losses were significant for mother, but only the loss of my father made me weep in the darkness before I fell asleep.  I was merely fascinated with army men like Buddy.  That was to change, albeit many years later.

I have sought to “find” both men throughout my life and I ended up writing about them.  My way was collecting the information, organizing it.  Seeking the information I lacked.

I felt a deep connection with my father years later, after having turned 21 years old, when I was alone in a jail cell in Millington, Tennessee.  My father’s written words came to me and frightened me.  I feared his life, perhaps even some important mother’s love, had been wasted on me.  In the darkness of jail, disembodied voices taunted me like those of Otis Penty’s in my father’s story, “Night of the Pig.”  I feared I had entered a black country without a story to tell.

Ultimately I got out of jail and learned how to tell a story in the black country of Tennessee.  I wrote a biography of my father who was a writer and left reams of material for me to sift through, organize, and carefully read.

I never did finish learning about Buddy, who it turned out, was my mother’s little brother, the one who mysteriously vanished in the war.

Unlike father, I never did meet Buddy.  I didn’t even know his proper name for many years.  Buddy died four years before I was born.  Oh, the army said he died, but they started out telling my grandparents that he had gone missing in action.  I learned about Buddy from small clues, bits of information that my cousins and I sorted through in the dead of night when we stayed at our grandparent’s house on the edge of Kalispell, Montana.  We played with a Boy Scout flashlight, canteen, and photography equipment Buddy had left behind him.  Buddy left traces of his high school career:  some clothing, a rifle, his junior year annual.  He left a shotgun shell collection and a lot of fishing tackle.  We cousins found a photograph of him with an army unit.  We could tell which one was Buddy because someone had circled his head with a pencil and you could see the indentation if you looked at the picture at the correct angle.

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