Hello readers, hope you’re well I have a fantastic guest post today with Mary and her brilliant book. I hope you’re enjoying these insights into different authors and their books because they’ve all be wonderful – please leave a lovely comment below and see the links below to follow Mary’s social media platforms below!
My memoir, Fighter Pilot’s Daughter: Growing Up in the Sixties and the Cold War (Rowman and Littlefield), came out in hardback two years ago and was reissued in paperback eight months ago. I structured the “plot” of my family’s life chronologically, with the focus alternating between the larger picture of the Cold War, the more intimate dramas of our gypsy household, and the private convolutions of my own psychological development. These were very different stories, and each demanded its own kind of research.
For the larger picture of the Cold War, I had lots of books and articles at my disposal. Studying histories of the Cold War as a professor had given me a lot of background material for the book. Spending time with the wars of the twentieth century wasn’t pleasant. Those are bloody stories for anybody, but for me they brought back memories of hard times at home. With the names—Eisenhower, Kennedy, Diem—and the places—Vietnam, Moscow, Havana—came recollections of base housing, where we waited for Dad to come home and hoped he was okay. Apart from the emotional edginess, though, this kind of research was relatively straightforward.
For the stories of my own family, the sources were more complicated. First of all, my father had never told us anything. Like other military dads then and now, he was committed to a code of secrecy about the missions he was involved in. He took those secrets to his grave. And he chose not share with my sisters and me those episodes he could relate: they were too violent or frightening in some other way that might shock our young (and girlish) ears. I have reason to think he did tell these stories to my boy cousins and perhaps to my mother; but she too was very circumspect and kept them to herself if she knew them.
What I did have from my Dad was a substantial collection of letters he wrote. And a lot of military records ended up in my mother’s files after my Dad passed away. Those provided a crucial map of the very complicated chronology of his career and definitive, if cryptic, indications of where he went and what the missions were.
But much was missing nevertheless. My Dad was a good letter writer, but he would go for long periods of time without communicating anything. During his first tour in Vietnam, for example, there was a six-month period when we didn’t hear from him at all. My sisters and I had nightmares and my mother worried constantly. Eventually we heard from the Red Cross that he was alright. It was still a while before we heard from him directly. I describe the effects of all this on my psyche in the book, but for the purpose of building the narrative it meant I had to try to sort out the speculative from the factual in family rumors (still circulating) about where Dad was and what he was doing those months he was in the dark.
My mother, of course, was another resource for the story of our family. She was a great story-teller. A striking character herself, she gave dramatic accounts of my Dad, his friends, the extended family, and my sisters and me as kids. But she was unreliable. She loved the story more than anything, and the truth sometimes suffered from this.I interviewed her over a period of several months—this was a few years before I wrote the memoir—and learned a great deal about our early years that I hadn’t known before. Much of it turned out to be accurate. When I checked on her versions of the larger history and her tales of my Dad’s work, however, I saw that in some instances she’d picked and chosen scenes and dialogues for their effectiveness in her story rather than as they had actually happened. I tried to make that in itself part of her portrait in Fighter Pilot’s Daughter—without dishonoring her memory.
For the convolutions of my own psychological development, I had my girl-diaries, journals, and letters to consult. They brought back some of the crucial details of daily life in our household and in the scattered rooms and apartments I called home after leaving my parents’ care. The smells of particular kinds of paint or the odd placement of windows—these details can really bring life to a memoir, and I was grateful to my younger self for having kept a record of them.
But the greater pool of information lay in my memory banks. These in some cases were wide open, but in others not so much. For the harder memories, I had to sit with whatever I could clearly recall and wait for more to come. Sometimes it took days of going back and waiting. It was like courting somebody or, I imagine, being a therapist hoping a patient would come to see something crucial. Memories of my mother’s anger at me when I came home from college in Paris during a time when I was breaking away from the family ethics and beliefs came slow and with difficulty. What was even harder to get back was the recollection that finally emerged of her actually fearing me. She didn’t understand what influences I’d been exposed to in Paris and was frightened to know what they might mean. In the end, it was all much ado about nothing, but it was a hard picture to look at: my own mother, afraid of me.
Living in memory as continuously as I did during the writing of Fighter Pilot’s Daughter introduced a rich practice in my life. The more I remembered, the more I remembered; and writing was an important vehicle for drawing it out. The whole experience of going into the deep past of my youth has given the self-portrait I carry around with me a lot more dimension than before. On the other hand, all this the research—into the histories, letters, journals, interviews, and my own mind—not only made the book possible, but it worked like a kind of self-therapy: and a lead to several new understandings of myself as a fighter pilot’s daughter.
So there you go readers, a fantastic guest post from Mary and her fantastic book! you can use the links below to see more about the author and follow her booktastic journey!
Links for Mary Lawlor’s Fighter Pilot’s Daughter: Growing Up in the Sixties and the Cold War