Condensed from “Chained Eagle”
Everett Alvarez, Jr.
and Anthony S. Pitch
I had only a moment to think of something to say. It was 1971, and I had been a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for seven long years since my Navy A-4-Skyhawk fighter-bomber was shot down-nightmare years of torture, putrid food and the aching loneliness of frequent solitary confinement in the infamous prison we had named the Hanoi Hilton.
To combat the monotony, my fellow prisoners had formed a Toastmasters Club. On this particular day I had been given just 30 seconds to prepare a five-minute speech on any personal experience in my life.
Instinctively, my mind whirled back to my family. The adversities we’d faced had shaped my character and given me backbone. My maternal grandmother had married at 13 in Mexico and come to the United States as a railroad man’s wife, shunting from one location to another and bedding down in boxcars or tumbledown shacks. My parents had had to drop out of school when they were still children and earn their living. From them I learned about grit, determination and resolve, qualities that enabled me to survive. More important, I learned about the pure, unquestioning love between parent and child that would surround me forever like a suit of armor.
How could I express all of that? How could I describe for these men the golden treasures given me decades ago by parents so poor? Suddenly I remembered one tiny moment of my childhood, and I knew what I was going to say.
By Sharon Stevens

Someone brought in a, shall we say, “vintage” Reader’s Digest from August 1990. Of course it’s not that old, but that’s not the point. The memory itself goes back so much farther than that. At first what caught my eye happened to be “Aunt Virginia’s Green Swimsuit.” I remember this, and remember it well…the Readers’ Digest, the swimsuit AND the story in the Reader’s Digest about the swimsuit. (You wouldn’t think of the this digest to have a swimsuit edition.) My aunt wore just such a piece of clothing when we traveled to East Texas for family celebrations at the lake. And my grandmother gave us a gift subscription to the Digest every year for Christmas. So maybe this is why this specific article resonated with me.

Funny how something will stick with you, and even funnier is what will trigger the senses and bring the memory back to life.

In this particular issue I didn’t remember the Prisoner of War story though. There was mention of a candy bar, and you would have thought that I would have picked up on that first thing for two reasons. One is that I love candy bars, and two is that chocolate brings up special thoughts that connect to my very soul, and not in the Valentine way you would think. In August 1990 it must have been my frame of mind at the time, could be that I didn’t want or didn’t need a reminder of a candy bar, or maybe war, or maybe even Prisoner of Wars. Who knows what directed my sight to the swimsuit. Hey, it could have been that war wasn’t on the preceding or the succeeding page of something that interested me. If it had of been next to “Word Power” I might have noticed as it included some mighty powerful definitions that just might come in handy someday. This edition had “Look-A-likes” such as effect and affect, and evanescent and effervescent to name just a couple.

Nope that wasn’t it. And I don’t know what it was.

So many times we become discouraged because our stories don’t seem to catch the right amount of interest. We wonder why someone would choose this over that, laughter over horror, or blood over heart. None of us can choose where our thoughts may lead in the reader’s mind, so we shouldn’t go chasing after it. It’s all right for our work to be passed over.

I am the world’s worst to take it personally. On the outside I know better, but on the inside my heart is crushed. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I still haven’t come up with the secret formula for someone to be swept away with the very words that will inspire and encourage them for eons of eternity. I just don’t have it in me, never have and never will.

But then again, just maybe someone will happen across a thought, a phrase, a moment and decide to read the rest of the story. Maybe they will carry this within for when the dark winds blow through their soul. Or could be they need a reminder of happy days, of fishes nibbling at their toes (now where did that come from?) Oh, right, the swimsuit.

I’ll just have to keep plugging away hoping simple words will transform the words on the page, on the computer, and just jump out and grab whoever happens to walk by. I hope they will carry my thoughts home with them to save for, not just a rainy day, but a good day too.

Maybe then my story will be considered the “Golden Treasure,” just as I wrote them to be.

Just a reminder, Mary Bagham who played “Scout” in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD will be here at WTAMU with the invitation of the Social Justice department on Wednesday February 13, 2013. Also “Anatomy of Grey” will be performed at the Sybil Harrington Fine Arts Theatre at WTAMU. Amarillo Little Theatre will be performing “25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee” this weekend and Gary Garner will be honored at the Faculty Grand Recital on Friday. Whew, so many stories!

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