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First Kiss

Our house on Ring Street stood right next to the alley, and from the porch of our upper flat I could see my Grandma Markowski in her long black coat, her head covered in a cotton scarf, as she made her way from her house on Burleigh Street to our house – walking in the alley.  Grandma was a babushka, a peasant woman from Ukraine who came to the United States with my Grandpa; he had left his home to find a better life for himself and his children.

The alley was lined on either side with garages.  My dad rented a garage down the alley to keep our car out of the weather.  When I was a child, we children played outside for hours, close to home when we were little, and farther away as we grew.  From the front porch or the small back porch outside our kitchen door at the back, my mother could keep an eye on me as I played.

I have a memory from those times, when I was very young.  I am in the bath tub, and Mom is helping me with my bath.  As she runs a washcloth over me, and without looking at me, Mom says: “I saw you hit a little girl when you were playing today.” 

“That wasn’t me – that was another little girl who looked just like me.”

I see Mom turn her head away, a smile coming to her face.  She liked to call me, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary”.

One of the favorite games of kids in my neighborhood those days was playing Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, our television heroes, whose show we watched faithfully every Saturday morning, one in a line-up of shows for children that aired – a new episode every week.  Randy Larson, a neighbor boy my age who lived in a flat around the corner on 12th street, played Roy Rogers to my Dale Evans.  And one day, as we played our parts, riding our bikes in place of horses – skinny, blond-haired Randy Larson leaned over from the seat of his bike and planted a kiss on my cheek!  We laughed!

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My mother always kept up to date on happenings in Milwaukee.  And she read the obituaries, faithfully, in The Milwaukee Journal.   If something or someone of note to me had had their name mentioned, she made sure to tell me.  And so, one day, I had the news from my mother that Randy Larson had been killed in Vietnam.

In 2015, Jeff and I traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet up with our good friends and traveling buddies from the U.K. – Pat and Tone.  While there, we visited the Vietnam Memorial.  I had long wanted to see the Memorial, the Vietnam War having made a mark on me as it had on all members of my generation.  I looked for Randy’s name on the register, and found his name engraved on the Memorial.

Just another working class kid, a kid who died serving in a War that was not declared a War, his name a memory on a wall.