Published in the The Wisconsin State Journal on March 28, 2011 as “Unwelcome voices just won’t fade.”
The Voices That Won’t Fade
by Karl Garson
I associate November 22, 1963 with Pensacola, Florida and March 16, 2011 with Dodgeville, Wisconsin. While the two seem separated by time and distance, they are not.
On the evening of November 22, 1963 I stopped for gas in Pensacola. I’d been at the officers club at Naval Air Station Pensacola watching the interminable and eventually intolerable television coverage of President Kennedy’s assassination and the guys I was with decided to go to Pensacola Beach to rid themselves of the bad news.
On the afternoon of March 16, 2011 I stopped for groceries in Dodgeville. I was on my way back to the farm after two weeks away and the science projects in my fridge needed freshening.
At the station in Pensacola I asked the guy to fill it. He started. I said, “Terrible thing about the president today.” He said, “(pejorative term for ‘black’)- lover got what he deserved.” I said, “Stop.” We exchanged hard looks. I paid him 23 cents, found another station and joined my friends at a bar on the beach.
While the associate scanned my groceries in Dodgeville I remarked on her St. Patrick’s Day hat and asked if she was Irish. “No,” she said, and proceeded with a series of anecdotes capped by “My dad told me an Irishman is just a black man turned inside out.” OMG! Definitely not LOL.
Two weeks before Dodgeville, my wife, Peggy, and I were sitting on chairs in the Nakashima Reading Room at the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan, the Met. The chairs, from the studio of George Nakashima, were among seven around a table scattered with books. Peggy picked up a book containing photos of Nakashima’s art. She said, “This reminds me of Boise.” Turns out one Christmastime while I was teaching at Boise State she took a part-time job in a bookstore. A customer came in and asked for a book about his father’s hobby, woodworking. Peggy showed him the Nakashima. He said, “I couldn’t give this. My dad fought the (pejorative term for ‘Japanese’) in the Pacific.”
The irony is that the Nakashima Foundation for Peace works to fulfill the artist’s dream to build an Altar for Peace for all the continents. The irony deepens during the current tsunami-related crisis in Japan when you consider the distinct possibility that any number of veterans who fought in the Pacific during WWII have said, “They got what they deserved.”
There’s a quiet space by Frank Lloyd Wright at the Met, the living room from the Frances W. Little house, originally built in Wayzata, Minnesota in 1912. Like the Nakashima Room, it offers a respite from the Met’s large, noisy galleries.
The quiet respite I find at Dane County Regional Airport, in Madison, Wisconsin especially on Friday nights while Peggy is inbound, is under the yellow, black and silver Corben that hangs from the ceiling at the south end of the lobby. I look up past the aircraft to lighting fixtures that replicate the look and feel of Wright’s Prairie Style and I do what John Lennon suggests. I imagine. Then the Corben transports me to 1962 when I first landed in Madison in a Cessna I’d flown from Milwaukee. The airfield was Truax then and not long after those cross-country flights to Truax I sat on Pensacola Beach talking to a friend. The bars had closed. With November 23 ascendant we watched the surf and wondered what had happened to our world.
Three years later we were flying in Vietnam where he found out one April night by flying from the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk and disappearing into the universe. I found out by coming home and working to put the dark years behind me. Then, just when I think I have, perhaps while sitting at the Met with the woman I love or buying groceries in Dodgeville, something happens to remind me that they are still alive and bad, still ready and waiting in the dark places time seems unable to enlighten.
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Commentary on “The Voice That Won’t Fade” can be found here: