Gammal kärlek rostar aldrig, or those long-ago regrets one seldom mentions

“Old love never rusts.” – Swedish Proverb

Hej!

Over time, I’ve learned that while everything we acknowledge we did probably impacted our lives forever, it’s best to say little or nothing about the other things that almost happened, because had they happened, we wouldn’t know the very people who sometimes ask to hear the story.

Göteborg (AKA Gothenburg)
Göteborg (AKA Gothenburg)

I seldom mention Sweden, not because I’ve ever been there, but because I almost went there during the Vietnam War. When I went to Europe about a year before the draft would catch up with me, my local draft board had to be convinced I was planning to return. I was when I filled out the paperwork for permission to leave the country. By the time the summer was over, I came very close to never coming back.

While on a summer church work project, the two Americans in our international group started dating the two Swedish girls in our group. Most people will say, “that figures” because dating a Swedish girl is supposed to be the epitome of dating. Frankly, I don’t know how it happened because even though you won’t believe this, I wasn’t paying much attention to the Swedish girls in our group because at the outset they stayed together and chattered in Swedish.

When it did happen, I was lost.

In time, she asked me what I would do when I went back to the States at the end of the summer.  I said that I had another semester of college to finish and then I’be probably be drafted unless I joined, say, the navy (which I ended up doing) before the draft put me in the army.

This began multiple conversations about the Vietnam War, my distaste for it, the fact I couldn’t (not then) file as a conscientious objector if my church had no formal anti-war statement, and how military service was one of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune we all had to put up with.

One day A___ said, “You would be safe in Sweden.” I knew that already because the newspapers constant printed stories about people who dodged the draft by going to Canada or Sweden. I said I was pretty nearly broke and couldn’t afford to go to Sweden, and that even if I could, I’be put in jail if I ever went back to the States.

She said, “well, you know the government will teach you Swedish and help you get a job. Before that happens, you can stay at my house. ” “What?” “My parents are fine with it.” “You asked your parents?” “I thought it best to make sure before I brought an American home with me because you know what we say about dating Americans.” (She never did tell me what they say, but I figured it would be unflattering.)

My parents didn’t support my anti-war beliefs and, I believe, my not coming back home was something that might have occurred to them. If they had, I would have gone home with her and would probably be writing this post in Swedish. As it was, when I borrowed the work project’s truck to drive A___ to a nearby city at the end of the project where she would catch the ferry back to Sweden, I seriously considered leaving the truck in the parking lot there and going to Göteborg with her.

As the sages say, you have to be at least a little mad to take such a leap of faith. I guess I wasn’t mad enough in those days, though several of the people at the work project were surprised to see me return. “What the hell’s wrong with you?” they asked. “I couldn’t take a step that meant never seeing my family again.”* They had to admit that made sense.

Who knows how it would have ended up. Everything and everyone I’ve known since that day in August, 1967, would have been vastly different. As it turned out, my parents would have passed away before amnesty was offered to those who went to Sweden, though they did take a vacation trip over there after my dad retired. I was happy for them, I thought, seeing the life I almost had without ever knowing how close I came to seeing it before they got there.

I’m glad I came home. I wasn’t glad then. I had trouble keeping my grades up during that last semester of college. My folks wondered why. I thought it best to tell them I had no idea or that it was bad karma or evil spirits. That seemed better than saying that when I fell asleep at night, I dreamt of A___ whispering “Gammal kärlek rostar aldrig.”

It’s easy to see now, of course, that if the wind or the clouds had been slightly different and I’d gotten on that ferry, my cool daughter and my two wonderful granddaughters wouldn’t exist, that I wouldn’t now be married to the person who is my soul mate, and that I would have missed a lot of memorable moments with my parents and two brothers.

Sometimes the gods keep us from doing what we want to do for a reason we think is capricious at the time.

Hej då,

Malcolm

  • Following up on an amnesty related comment, I actually would have been able to come home sooner than I expected. Gerald Ford offered conditional amnesty in 1974 with some legal strings attached that I wouldn’t have liked. Carter offered a pardon in 1977. My folks lived until 1986 and 1987. Knowing what I knew in 1967, I had to act on the assumption that amnesty would have never come or would come much later than it did.

 

 

 

 

Eagle Scout Goes to Hell

Olongapo as it was then

Everyone aboard every Navy ship that cruised between California and Vietnam in the late 1960s knew about liberty in Olongapo, Republic of the Philippines. The city stood just outside the main gate of the U. S. Naval base at Subic Bay, a regular port of call for Western Pacific (WESTPAC) ships.

Old salts called the town “hell” and promised Seaman Recruits coming on board the carrier USS Ranger out of bootcamp that anyone leaving the main gate of the base on liberty would be corrupted immediately by booze, drugs, girls, gambling and crime. They called the drainage ditch separating the base’s main gate from the town “the shit river,” though I saw it as the River Styx.

I crossed the shit river multiple times and found the world there to be everything the old salts described. As a former Eagle Scout, it crossed my mind on more than one occasion, “if only my Scout master could see me now.” Our Scout troop was sponsored by a church, so the Scout master was the least of my worries when I thought of how the deacons, elders and Sunday school teachers should they ever see a photo taken on Magsaysay Drive.

As a writer in training, I saw Magsaysay Drive and the Galaxy Bar and the touts and the constant ruckus in the streets as “research.” But I doubt my Scout master would have understood, or anybody else I knew, for that matter. Luckily, webcams and cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. There was no Facebook either in 1968. This meant that no pictures of me crossing the shit river appeared anywhere–and since a lot of time has gone by since then, I doubt they ever will.

Everyone who might know the Eagle Scout and paperboy who went to hell and then put his research into a novel called Garden of Heaven is long gone by now. So, I think I can safely post this excerpt without word getting back to the old neighborhood.

Excerpt from Garden of Heaven:

Standing on the bridge over the Shit River listening to the half-naked children in flimsy boats below shouting for a handful of centavos, the city in his face was—with more pride than apology—very much a city with its tattered underwear showing. If Magellan only knew what was here now. If Dad only knew David was here now.

Night was settling down over the hazy first lights of the bars and hourly rate hotels along Magsaysay Drive and the razor-sharp edges of Kalaklan Ridge like an old whore.

David dropped several 25-centavo coins over the railing, heard an explosion of whitewater, heard the laughter and the shouting, ‘Salamat, Joe, Salamat.’

He crossed Perimeter Road, ignored the hopeful greetings of the money changers behind their well-caged windows, then dodged a badly mixed throng of sailors, girls and honking multi-coloured jeepneys that swelled out into the Gordon Avenue intersection. He cut across the street, smiling, waiving at imagined friends in the distance, and moved with the deliberate intent of a man who had crossed this street hundreds of times.

‘Casual alertness, that’s the key to surviving Olongapo’s jungle of thieves, gangs, girls, high-strung Marines, bored Shore Patrol and Hard Hats, and drunk boatswain’s mates and snipes,’ Lowell had said.

“Hey Joe, cold beer cold beer cold beer, nice girls.”

Touts were everywhere below the slapdash smorgasbord of disheveled signs and awnings, leaning telephone polls, and the rag-tag assortment of buildings with upper floors stacked up in odd strata.

Assorted conversations flew past, barely audible in the close heat… ‘Hintayin mo aki,’ …‘Magandang amaga, Carlo, kumusta ang bagong sanggol?’… ‘Hey Joe’… ‘Tao po! Tao po!’… ‘Hoy, tulungan mo akong magdiskarga sa trak na ito, pwede ba?’… ‘Good food here, Joe!’…Galing akong Maynila. Nasaan ang Zambales Bank?’… ‘Balut, Balut!’… ‘Tayo na’t kumuha ng makakain’ ‘Magandang ideya, handa na ako sa napunan’… ‘Nagustuhan mo ba ang bago kong kamera?’

The sign for the Galaxy Bar was plainer than most. An unadorned interior stairway led to the second-floor club, a large room strewn with tables occupied by sailors, many with girls whose eyes caught the low light like predators or gods. David didn’t see anyone he knew. He had a small envelope in his back pocket for Maria.

Two girls who had bathed in perfume and spackled their faces with makeup were leaning against the bar watching a waitress organise a tray full of San Miguel beer bottles.

“Maria, tingnan mo itong malambing na lalaki.”

“Lamayo ka sa kanya, Adelaide.”

Assuming he’d actually heard her name in those quick Tagalog comments, Maria was the one wearing a red dress, thrusting herself forward to him as he approached, posing her sweet curves, allowing her long hair to seductively frame her face, smiling as though they were friends with a history. He could almost see himself in the high gloss of her lipstick.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Malcolm R. Campbell

USS Ranger (CVA-61)

Ranger - Wikipedia Photo

The USS Ranger has been decommissioned. The USS Ranger Foundation is working diligently to convert the aircraft carrier into a museum on the Columbia Driver near Portland, Oregon.  The effort requires multiple phases, the next being a comprehensive environmental site analysis of the propose mooring location.

The Foundation is seeking donations to help pay for its on-going work. If you would like to contribute to the $15 million dollar fund raising project to bring a historic ship to Oregon as a museum, please click on the link above. Once you’re there, you’ll find some handy PayPal buttons.