Lisa Lopez Snyder
Moira’s dad is missing
The news came to us kids at St. Peter’s Catholic School like roiling water over our heads. It festered in my mind, at my desk, down the hallways and into the cafeteria at lunch, imagining someone’s dad far away in Vietnam, dodging bullets, hunkering in ditches, muddy boots cutting through waist-high elephant grass. Later at home, Mom was frying pork chops and onions for dinner. Mexican rice bubbled in bouillon and tomatoes on the stove.
Walter Cronkite gave the latest tally on The CBS Evening News. Shots of men with ragged faces crawling over dirt flashed on the screen. Dirty hands pulling bodies across muddy trenches. An arm throwing a hand grenade from a bunker. Men ducking when the blasts shook the ground.
You didn’t have to look far to see the real thing. Crouching in rice paddies among battered faces and helmets, field reporter Dan Rather gave us all the details.
Little brother playing on the swings outside. Time for dinner, Mom yells out the window.
The records say Air Force pilot Colonel Brendan Patrick Foley was shot down over Laos during a photo reconnaissance mission in 1968. His body was never found. An Irish-born man raised in New Jersey, Brendan had met his wife Betty, another New York college student, on a blind date in 1952. They married four years later and went on tours of duty in Europe, California, Troy, N.Y., and finally to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, where they settled down in our neighboring town just outside of Dayton. There were five kids in all, Moira the second oldest.
When I watched the evening news, I wondered if Moira and her four siblings dared watch, too. I imagined if they didn’t—that perhaps their mother switched on the TV late at night as she folded socks and underwear while the children slept. Did she scan the footage for even a glimpse of his face, the frame of his chin below a helmet?
Dad puts the paper down. Smells good, he says.
Four dead in Ohio
I can’t remember how the topic changed from studying India in fifth-grade social studies class that day, but something had triggered Miss Zak’s memory. Did it begin with a lesson from our textbook, perhaps, or when someone muttered My Lai? We ran across campus, Miss Zak said, covering our mouths from the tear gas, looking for friends. Her colorful bracelets jangled wildly when she spoke. As she talked, we pictured the ghostly figures of National Guardsmen chasing down Kent State students carrying posters—and beating them. We fingered our MIA bracelets as we listened to her stories. What would it be like to have to drop your books to wipe the sting from your eyes?
I looked over at Moira. She and I were trying out for girls’ softball after school.
On the school bus, shouting
“Humphrey, Humphrey, he’s our man! Nixon goes in the garbage can!”
“Say Goodnight, Dick!”
Dan Rowan and Dick Martin’s Laugh-In made us forget the awful scenes. With heavily dark-lined eyes, Goldie Hawn danced in her teeny bikini on the TV. She pressed an index finger to a bright dot on her face. Ruth Buzzy hit the old man on the park bench with her purse.
Time for bed, Mom says.
None of us, including Moira and I, made the cut. The softball coach saw our disappointment. Lessee…we do need some cheerleaders for the boys’ junior football team, he said. We were girls who wanted to play some kind of sports that fall—anything—since track practice was a whole two seasons away. We rolled our eyes and consented to practicing splits and jumps. The eighth grade cheerleaders coached us. Smile more, one of them urged me. Our mothers made our uniforms, a navy blue and gold cotton tunic flap that slipped over our heads, and over our white school Peter Pan-collared shirts and navy shorts. They sewed a big yellow varsity-like P on the front.
She was our Jackie Kennedy
I watched as the Foleys entered the church, making their way up the aisle to their usual far right-hand pews. Mrs. Foley wore a cotton dress, genuflecting before she entered the pew. The children followed, sentries on 24-hour duty. I’m sure we all watched from behind our bowed heads when the priest began the service with “Let us pray.” She was our Jackie Kennedy, only she had no resolution. She had nothing to steer her onward except to make sure the kids were fed and dressed and sent out the door to school.
Quiet, Mom says to little brother, when the service begins.
About the Author: Lisa Lopez Snyder lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio, where she is at work on a novel and a collection of essays. Her work has been featured in The Raleigh Review, The Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, The Scrambler, and other publications. Her essay, “In Transit,” won The Chattahoochee Review’s 2011 Lamar York Prize for Nonfiction. A 2015 Carl Sandburg Writer-in-Residence, she received her MFA in fiction at the University of South Carolina.