Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mail Call & A Special Memory

Mail call was - is one of the more important parts of the day. After a little while, it's kind of easy to fall into a Groundhog day sort of effect... only so many weights you can lift, trips to the old & understocked px, or visits to the same old chow hall.

There were never any shortages of volunteers to go pick up and sort the company mail.

Mail came in large, hideous yellow/orange sacks a little bit larger than sea bags. A cursory glance at the sacks would tell you how much mail there was for the company, how much of it was in boxes vs. letters, and therefore what your changes were of getting some mail. Mail would be divvied up between the platoons, and go from the Platoon Sergeants to the Squad Leaders... eventually. Woe be the day when mail was horribly mis-sorted, but on the rare occasions that it was, we usually figured out how to resolve the situation, chop-chop.

Know how ole pooch reacts when you so much as walk close enough to pass a draft of air over the crinkly bag of bacony goodness that is their treats? Well, it's the same way with Marines and the nylon straps of the mail bags. I swear I expected to see li'l tails wagging one night, sooner or later.

As the names were called out, there was almost always the accompanying good-natured banter. Care packages were almost always opened immediately, and the squad usually got a good look at what the individual received. Trading would usually commence immediately after mail call, so it was a good idea to know what kind of goods were going to go on the market, you know. If anyone got an excessive number of letters from a wife and/or girlfriend, there was some heckling. "Not fair, Sergeant, when all yer cousins are also your girlfriends, well, that just ain't fair to the rest of us, you know? Tell Bubba to share some of his letters or cousins or something!"

Photos were also proudly passed around, especially the ones of the kiddos or the significant others. Er, most of the pictures of the S.O. were passed around, that is. I know of a few occasions where some... uh... 'personal' photos were, quite understandably, NOT for public display. Made it all the more interesting when they were eventually discovered.

Yeah, a word of warning for all the ladies out there; think you're going to brighten up your man's day with some risque pics? You just might be brightening up a few more people's days than you expected... Oh yeah, by the way, Thanks!

Moving right along, there were also some DVDs. No, not those DVDs, but home video versions (and no, not those home movies, neither). That didn't stop the nervous silence when one Marine popped in a home movie to see his girlfriend with a few new friends out at a water park, hanging out, etc. There were alot of personal DVD players and laptops, so anyone who got a DVD always had a good chance of watching it right away. Any new-movie DVDs that came were usually put into the rotation of movie night, probably the squad's favorite was the Band of Brothers dics. Took us a long time to get through them all, with the tempo of patrols, but it was definitely worth it.

Somewhat related to Band of Brothers was the letter I got from Grandfather (mom's dad). He was a mechanic in WWII, and had only recently started to put down his thoughts to paper, humorous stories, bitter-sweet memories, and the like from his own days in the service. I had set his letter aside while handing out my Marines' letters, and had to put off reading it for a meeting afterwards. I had returned to my can late that night, prepped my gear for the morning patrol, and stepped out onto my 'porch' (an old wooden pallet) to read the letter and smoke a cigar.

Unfortunately, I don't have the letter anymore because it was packed into a box of stuff that was mailed off to my US address, and for all I know is still making the rounds of the postal system netherworld.

He wrote of family news and concerns for my safety. Many of my cousins are of age now to start families of their own. Some that I haven't seen since we were kids now have kids of that same age... A few of my uncles had served in the army, they had their own suggestions and advice, also greatly appreciated.

He wrote of the development of his writings, and how much he was enjoying the slow progress. I don't think writing was something that came particularly easy for him, but it was a growing hobby. The family, quite large and now located all over the states were enjoying the reading of Grandfather's letters and passing them around.

He wrote of suggestions and advice. Some of it was the general advice that all soldiers give and receive, the be carefuls, suggestions for boredom and grief, and some humorous stories.

I remember pausing while reading the letter, waiting for the sound of a jet taking off to finish screaming down the runway. It was amazing how quickly they could launch themselves into the sky and vanish from sight in the night sky. I thought about the inevitable day when Grandfather would be gone. I was thankful for the letters that he was starting to write, and wondered if I would one day write my own letters to a grandchild, with my own thoughts and memories.

Nodding to a few Marines on their way back from their patrol, I turned back to the letter. Grandfather had finished with the advice and started winding up his letter. He wrote how the weather was changing again, the winds were picking up and the rains were coming in. He and grandmother were debating about where exactly in the South to head to, to avoid the cold. I forget the exact words that he used, but the sense that I got was that it was a very clear picture in my head, my grey-haired grandfather, stooped over an old wooden desk, carefully writing down the words I was now reading, while the rain started to fall outside.

And as I was picturing this, late at night and reading by the faint scattered lights of the base, ever so slightly, and ever so softly, it began to rain.


Old NFO said...

Generations passing on the gouge will hopefully never end... To maintain those family connections is very special, and a reminder of the fact that they have been there also. Excellent post Murph, thanks!

Freddyboomboom said...


About the personal pictures... I remember being the barrack security petty officer (petty: small and insignificant, of little or no value) one time at NAS Memphis...

Which meant I got to make rounds of all the barracks and make sure the fire watches and "quarterdeck" watches were doing their job...

I got to one door in one barracks, that was standing open. I asked the guys inside the room how it was going, then being snide I asked if anyone had any nude pictures of their girlfriends. One guy said "no, but he's got nude pictures of his wife, wanna see 'em?" Kinda flabergasted me, but what could I say... "Sure!"

SpeakerTweaker said...

I was just about to ask just What In The Hell the advice was, what with you holding out on us an all.

Then I got to the end.

That one is yours, sir. Keep it. Thanks for sharing the rest.


DW said...

Great post, excellent writing.

Anonymous said...

Very moving, Sgt. Thank you for sharing.