It’s interesting and pivotal, at this very specific time in my life and in history, for PBS to air the Ken Burns 10-part series on Vietnam.
Donna Woodward Friend SrPic 1965

“Before” – Senior Picture, 1965

Why was watching this series pivotal for me? Well, in 1965, when many of my school chums were being shipped off to fight an unwanted battle on Asian soil, I was fighting my own “Vietnam” battle of being a pregnant 17 year old on the streets to fend for myself, engaged to the wrong man, met the right one who was MIA in Vietnam, married the wrong man and gave birth of my son, Carl. The other layer of the story was my father was so insanely angry at me for getting pregnant he came looking for me with a gun to kill me. Yes. Kill me, my fiancé and my baby.
Early that 1965 magical insane summer, my fiancé, Ray, joined the Army. That bitter sweet last night with him before he left for Bootcamp, held all the images of a tearful teen 1965 movie…pain, love, hurt, joy and mixed messages of a future with a scrambled past. We talked about what would happen if I became pregnant but neither of us truly believing it could/would happen. We, obviously, were delusional.
It was during the months after Ray left, that I started questioning my choice of a future and husband. I had a good job working part-time as a Legal Secretary for two general practice lawyers and going to Georgia State University while living at home. I wanted more independence so my oldest brother co-signed on a loan for me to buy my first car, “George.” It was a black 1960 Karman Ghia convertible. It had no heat if you weren’t moving forward but I sure loved dropping that convertible top on those waning summer days! That’s when I realized I just wanted to be engaged and not married. After all, I was in college,  working and feeling alive.
It was one of those wonderful summer nights when I was driving “George” around with the top down with a friend that I met Dave. Dave was a 6′ 2″ drink of well water who had a loving spirit, was well educated and in the Army. He was the catalyst for my break up with Ray. My time with Dave helped me further realize how I was cutting myself short in a more mature way…like a real future with a career and Dave.
And, although both Dave and Ray were in the Army, only one went to Vietnam.
And, again, I lived yet another, more painful last night…but, this time with Dave. He filled my heart with a future and a terrible sadness of loss later multiplied by my yet unknown pregnancy. It was a during those months that I later had an older friend tell me I might be pregnant. It was such a shock to think I might be! That’s weird, I know, especially knowing I was was raised on a small farm but I truly never connected the dots because I lived in a teen haze of invincibility as most do/did.
My letters to Dave (which numbered many) went unanswered. I was glued to the news to see what was happening 10,000 miles from home.
In the meantime, my first gynecological visit was to find out I was seventeen and pregnant. My life started falling apart at the seams at that moment (and hasn’t stopped in the 50 plus years since).
As soon as I got home from the appointment, I called Ray at the Base and told him of our predicament. We secretly plotted an elopement. He was stationed in North Augusta, South Carolina where one only had to be eighteen to get married without  parental consent. I was one month short of eighteen.
So, armed with a “doctored” birth certificate,  I drove “George” to North Augusta, SC, picked up Ray at the Base and immediately headed to the JP’s office to get married. Well, my fraudulent birth certificate  didn’t pass the muster of the Judge’s secretary. I came home pregnant, sick and worried out of my mind as to what was going to happen next. Ray went back to Ranger training camp.
It was that next weekend when my “Vietnam” started.
The next morning after I came back from my visit to SC, I woke up with sick. Dad guessed I was pregnant and immediately flew into an “Incredible Hulk” kinda’ rage.
Because our failed marriage attempt, Ray had gotten leave again to go to Atlanta so we could plot our next elopement steps. Mom came into my room and sat on my bed next to me and proceeded to tell me Dad was convinced I was pregnant. I broke down and said I was and that Ray and I had tried to get married that weekend but had failed because the the parental consent thingie. We cried and hugged. She asked if I wanted to get an abortion. I told Mom from some outside source, in an out-of-body kinda way, “This child is meant to be born.”
Mom then.told me about Dad’s rage and to pack some things and not come back until she told me it was okay. She said for me to call her later and, if Dad answered the phone, to hang up. She knew Dad and his rages all too well. What she didn’t know was that Dad  was already blowing a gasket much like Vesuvius. When I called, she answered. She said she’d never seen Dad this crazy and that he’d  gone to his arsenal, gotten a gun or guns, and was hunting for me and Ray. He was going to kill us both. Well, all three of us.
We hid all night in “George” in a parking lot behind some buildings on Fourteenth Street. I’ll never forget how scared and cold we were.
With the help of some older “Hippy” types who I’d just met, Ray and I had a place to hide for a few days. Mom, in the meantime, got the parental consent  paper signed I needed for Ray and I to marry.
I drove to SC again; Ray and I married on his nineteenth birthday.
I was seventeen, alone, pregnant, living with those Hippy folks near 14th Street in a run down apartment and working for those lawyers. Those Hippy folks took me in with open arms, fed me, gave me a baby shower and helped me find an apartment I could afford.
And, in all fairness to my siblings, they were living their own stories, living in other cities and/or were caught up in their own lives, nightmares and futures. I know Mom fought hard to keep Dad from killing me. She told him he’d better leave town until he calmed down enough to be a father and grandfather. He headed West and stayed there until right before my son, Carl, was born.
How did I survive the first of My “Vietnam” years? I truly don’t know because my part time job working for two lawyers as a legal secretary typing petitions and handling a two man law office paid me an astonishing rate of $.75/hour. It took every penny to pay the $36.63 car payment and $65.00 rent in my Hippy-ville apartment overlooking Tenth Street near Piedmont Park where I walked my leashed rabbit down to the park after work.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Advertisements