July 1: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

July 1, 2021

I was not the local celebrity riding the circuit on a tour bus. The twenty Vietnam vets and four of their wives were. Of course, we all thought the big star of the day’s road trip was the 90-year-old Korean veteran with his son along for escort. Our trip leader and bus driver represented the post 9/11 era and I was odd duck in between the Gulf War and Vietnam. A wife, not a soldier.

If ever I think I can’t do this, I look at the women before me. I call the Vietnam-era wives the long-haulers. They’ve been through stuff that would make Rambo quake in his combat boots. Every last one of them deserves a medal of honor. Even the ones who tap out.

But I’m not writing woes today.

Our trip to White Pine was about healing and respect with dignity. We all boarded the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center tour bus in Houghton and drove to White Pine 90 minutes away. The Vet Center in Houghton is across the lift bridge from where I live in Hancock. A ten minute drive from my home on Roberts Street.

White Pine, like most towns on the map in “copper country,” is a former company town built around a mine, one of the last to operate in our area. The place looks like something out of a dystopian novel after post-industrial decline, and yet, it is where we went. In a former mine administrative building or warehouse or large equipment depot, is an unlikely operation. Three men create and maintain replicas of the Vietnam Memorial known as The Wall. In an obscure corner of Upper Michigan, a region often left off of contemporary maps or mislabeled as Canada, a small organization houses The Moving Wall and its collected memorabilia.

Considering that the half-sized replica has toured all fifty states since before I graduated high school, I was surprised to find out how close such a solemn piece of history and healing is to my home. When our Vet Center arranged the tour, I signed on to go. When I lost Vet Center services, I asked to be included nonetheless. Then my services were reinstated. Point is, bears couldn’t keep me away.

And we did see a huge black bear but that was at lunch after our tour.

Most of my favorite Vietnam vets came for the ride. They came to seek what only each of them sought privately. They came out of curiosity. They came to support one another. The wives came to understand. They have carried a massive burden for forty-something years or more and they wanted to glimpse who they were in all of this. Dignity. Yes, we could agree that no matter the pain and folly, we all wanted to feel a sense of human dignity faced with participation in a great indignity that still reverberates throughout the world.

Vietnam vets rebelled. Vilified, gaslighted, and discarded, these soldiers started motorcycle gangs, turned to addictions, and demanded recognition for PTSD and moral injury. It’s hard to reconcile the men with canes, limps, and walkers disembarking our bus to the bad boys of their younger years. Yet, inside the warehouse of The Moving Wall, posters, photos, and bumper stickers on the wall capture the essence of their experiences. I watched as our group sucked breath at the enlarged photos that took them back to the place they try to forget.

Home changed while you were away.

The industry of the place didn’t keep them in dark thoughts, though. They expressed curiosity for the home-grown process to recreate plates of names through screen-printing and endless rubbing with a wet chemical compound. I hung out with one of my Ojibwe writers, and our most recent widower. I listened. We swapped jokes. I chose to ignore the sexist pin-ups. They pointed to familiar objects, told me childhood stories, but none spoke of Vietnam. All watched as the process enfolded.

That’s when I spotted an old photo that looked familiar.

A group of soldiers in uniform posed for a photo. When you know combat soldiers, you understand the body language. This is not a before ‘Nam photo. It oozes attitude and hides pain. You can tell it’s post-service. Behind the men, peeking over a shoulder and resting her hand as if to comfort and protect, is a woman who could have been my best friend. Kate wore her hair like that in the mid-seventies. Not only was she support for her Vietnam veteran, but she supported his friends, too. It wasn’t her, but it could have been any of my Vietnam-era Warrior Sisters.

It’s a rare photo that catches an invisible role. I’m captivated. It could be me. It is every veteran spouse.

We are a part of something bigger than ourselves.

I move on and catch one of my Warrior Sisters drawn to the photo. She stands before it a long time. I watch the screen-printing and glance back to my friend. Finally, she raises her phone. She snaps a shot of the same photo I saved, too. I catch up with her in the “saloon” to sign the guest book. It’s set up like an in-country bar with posters, jukebox, and memorabilia. She startles and says, “This is back in time. I wonder if the jukebox works.”

Next, my writer friend walks in and startles. “They got the lights right,” he says. I look up and notice the lights are covered with a fabric I don’t recognize.

Another Warrior Sister walks in and says, “Oh, my.”

I sit with them. Then I startle. I spot a poster for a rodeo where four generations of my family rode, including me. Although I didn’t ride bulls like my father, grandfather and great-grandfather did in Salinas. I also see a burlap sack with a bull head and the message, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.” No kidding, that is the first piece of writing advice anyone ever gave me when I was but a teen, writing for the local newspaper. We left the time capsule, comforted to find the sun shining, the year 2021.

Goats might have been licked here.

We lingered only because it’s slow, boarding a bus with bad knees, back surgeries, and bullet holes. Our rucksacks shared. We share the pain. We share the jokes. We share touches and hugs from behind. We head to lunch and break bread while the biggest black bear we’ve ever seen munches outside (they feed bears at the Konteka). We ask the waitress if the bowling alley is open. She explains the difficulties of COVID rules, like having to wipe down the balls afterward. <Insert Warrior Sister dirty joke here.> We howl with laughter, making the men blush (that’s how we get back at ’em for the pin-ups).

The bus ride home feels too short. Our spirits are high, our bellies full, and we are all connected, everyone of us in this small group on a VA bus. I share my search for a Finnish Tree Wizard. I get ideas where to find one. The 90-year-old roles his eyes. He’s a Finn. We hug and laugh at the Vet Center parking lot. One of the vets shares eggs with us “gals.” They’re from his pet chickens. He won’t accept money for them. I make a mental note to send him some books I think he’d like to read.

We slip into obscurity, no longer on the celeb VA bus. Until we share the next bear sighting.

Not a place to eat outside. You’d lose a hamburger.

July 1, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about “the old photograph.” What is captivating about it? Where did it come from? How does it incite a story? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by July 6, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

The Old Photograph by Charli Mills

She found him in the 1979 yearbook. The bottom row. The old photo wasn’t vintage. Some would argue it was modern. He played football. Four years. He sat shirtless, his blonde hair long, wavy. The football team had fathers who’d served in Korea, grandfathers in WWII. A few had older brothers, younger uncles, or cousins who’d served in ‘Nam. The ones no one spoke of, or to. The dispersed ones. She thought the photograph ancient because he looked so young. So guiltless. So pre-Grenada. Head hits, concussive blasts, and one knee-shattering jump. He never wore his hair long again.


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  1. robertawrites235681907

    This sounds like a very poignant place for the Vets to visit, Charli. I would appreciate it for the history. I have been doing a lot of research on WW1 and the more I learn about wars, the more terrible and pointless they seem. Your piece has a ring of truth about it.

    • Charli Mills

      I saw a poster that showed one soldier holding another on the ground with the word “Why?” written as if in blood. I didn’t share it because I wanted to focus on the healing experience and the camaraderie. I don’t know, Robbie. I don’t know what the point is of any war. What has surprised you, so far, in your research?

      • robertawrites235681907

        Hi Charli, there are many things that surprise me about war, but the biggest shock for me is how young men are kidded up about war by their friends and governments. They go into war experiences with their eyes completely closed to the realities; the horror of death, destruction and injury, never mind the horrific conditions. They are also ignorant about the devastating mental health effects of seeing so much horror and being constantly in a position where you could be killed, or your buddy next to you. Governments have know about PTSD for many, many years and yet they purposely mislead the youth and make war sound glamourous and heroic. War is always selfish and our young men the price for all this greed and quest for power among the leaders. I understand that we need to defend our freedom and that is how many wars come about, but the initiator is always being greedy and grabbing. Sorry a long rant. I just despite the people who move our men and sons around like pieces on a chessboard with no real emotion or feelings about the cost of their war games.

      • Charli Mills

        Rant away, Robbie. If profiteers of war had to pay the actual cost, there’d be no profit. I hear you. From a literature class long ago, I remember reading the poems of a young British soldier from WWI. One poem addressed what he saw as selling the lie of honor to young men. I’ve also read contemporary research that explains male brains are not fully hardwired until about the age of 25. That means even training for war can greatly impact young men. Thank you for sharing what your research has led you to think.

      • suespitulnik

        I have always felt they depend on the young because they are the ones that still feel invincible, the “It will never happen to me,” attitude. Currently in the U.S. if you don’t include women in the conversation someone is sure to let you know about it.
        Thanks for sharing ladies.

  2. Rebecca Glaessner Author

    What an adventure back in time. You sunk us deep into a history that touches the souls of so many still among us, then you pulled us back out with those simple words. The sun shining, 2021. Old B&W photos carry the feeling that there was less colour back then. That now is when life and time exists instead. Where our presence needs to be. I gain ever more insight into your world and the world of veterans with each week’s prompt. Your writing enriches our community.

    I’m hesitant about this prompt however, I’ve never felt confident writing about the past. I have a few ideas and the day is only half-through Down Under, so I’m sure I’ll be back with a piece before long.

    What a joy also, to see a bear so close. It’s on my bucket list, that, and a squirrel.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, Rebecca! I do hope one day you can visit and I will show you squirrels and bears.

      It has been the result of meeting my Warrior Sisters to understand who I am in all of this. They have given me a history. As for an old photograph, I’d love to see how you could use that in a futuristic story. What you share about “less color back then” is an intriguing idea to play with. I wonder, would people who travel into space carry something like a photograph?

      Sometimes, writing something completely out of our comfort zone or genre can have pleasantly surprising results!

      Until we can share a bear sighting. Here’s to bucket lists and dreams.

      • Rebecca Glaessner Author

        I eagerly await the day I can visit! Squirrels and bears a plenty I’m sure. Hopefully more of the former…

        I’m glad you’ve found a path to discover yourself and understand where you place amongst others on similar paths to you. Finding our kin and community in life is invaluable.

      • Charli Mills

        Finding kin, community and rare animal sightings is indeed of great value.

      • Charli Mills

        Look at you go…following the prompt into your genre.

      • Jules

        I’m not sure why but I couldn’t leave a comment at your post –

        I visited your post via the link at Carrot Ranch, but when I got to the comment box – I couldn’t leave a comment. Even went back to the ‘add yours’… and clicked on that – and nothing happened.

        I enjoyed your piece. It reminded me of how families could be separated in ‘space’ and how difficult family reunions could be when you are stationed on a Star-Ship.

      • Rebecca Glaessner Author

        Thanks Jules! I found your response about this on your own post and replied there. I really appreciate you stopping by.

  3. denmaniacs4

    Evocative post, Charli. The Moving Wall, something I was totally unaware of. An incredible journey…

    • Charli Mills

      It makes me want to go watch Hair. Thanks, Bill.

  4. floridaborne

    The whole attitude of this piece seems to be eliciting a theme of “life sucks, then you die” (That’s how I wrote mine. Then I saw yours).

    All those soldiers going to war to fight for their country — all arriving back home with mental and/or physical wounds. I wonder if they would have bothered if they’d known what their country was going to look like in 2021.

    • Doug Jacquier

      And, more importantly, how we would have treated them if they refused to go.

      • Charli Mills

        That’s an interesting point, Doug. Those who refused were charged criminally.

      • Doug Jacquier

        I know. Same thing happened here.

    • Charli Mills

      There’s a saying in the Army, “Embrace the suck.” I think many who went to Vietnam did not want to go. Someone like the Hub would serve his country again. But he didn’t want his kids to serve.

      • floridaborne

        I can still see an image of my only boy friend in high school. His whole body seemed to smile. When he returned from Vietnam, it felt as if that part of him died. I saw him only once post-Vietnam and imagine he wouldn’t want his kids to serve, either.

      • Charli Mills

        I’ve been researching Wild Bill Hicock’s life and over the years, I’ve collected photos of him from historical records. I can separate the photos before and after the Civil War because he was an entirely different person afterward. It’s as you describe your high school boyfriend.

  5. Norah

    Your flash is so sad, Charli. A lifetime in so few words. A life so full of promise, ripped to shreds.
    Such a meaningful bus trip. I’m sure it meant different things to all who travelled. We owe so much to our service men and women. They gave the best years and the promise of their lives.

    • Charli Mills

      It was a meaningful trip for all on the bus, Norah. I’m just doing a lot of processing. It seems we collectively and over generations continue to process and question the value of war versus the worth of those who go.

      • Norah

        We do. I’ve have just listened to an amazing audiobook memoir of a Holocaust survivor centenarian called ‘The Happiest Man On Earth. It is an amazing story of love, hope and humanity. The question he asks is ‘Why?’ He tells us all to be kind, that happiness is a choice and that he chooses to be happy every day. What lessons in living from someone who dared to survive.

      • Charli Mills

        That sounds like a powerful book to listen to on Audio, Norah.

      • Norah

        And here’s my story: https://norahcolvin.com/2021/07/07/photographs-tell-stories-flashfiction/

        Photographs and Stories
        Nothing would dampen Megan’s curiosity. The slightest hand or foothold was irresistible. If none existed, she made one.
        Mary gasped. Megan was atop bucket, on stool, on chair, on table, stretching for a box on the top shelf. Mary didn’t breathe as, in slow motion, Megan swiped the box and tumbled in a mess of wood and plastic. Mary, in fast-forward, grabbed arms and legs before she hit; but the box bounced, spewing its contents across the floor.
        Megan plucked out an old photograph.
        “Who’s dat, Mum?”
        Mary trembled. Could it be her? The one in his poem? Who?

      • Charli Mills

        Megan is an engineering child — “…atop bucket, on stool, on chair, on table…” My curious mom-mind wants to know –how do younglings construct such ladders so swiftly? Nice twist of a found photograph, too.

    • Charli Mills

      Indeed you have, I hear you C.

  6. joanne the geek

    While I’m no stranger to poor mental health and PTSD, I can’t even imagine how terrifying being in a military combat situation would be. I honestly don’t know how anyone could survive during it or after. I know I would go straight into shock and be no use to anyone. I feel so bad for the veterans especially over in America. Considering they have served their country and put their lives and mental health on the line they deserve to have far better treatment.

    When I was a kid, a daughter of family friends went out with an American Vietnam veteran. Apparently he would wake up in the middle of the night screaming all the time. In my twenties I met a man who was ex-New Zealand Army and had served in Vietnam. He wrote a book about his experiences and alluded to some quite dark moments there, including some atrocities he encountered. Unfortunately once the book came out the media and several Members of Parliament hounded him for more details and facts about his account. To me he seemed like someone who wasn’t trying to sensationalise the conflict, but tell his account of what happened there for his own peace of mind. I really thought he deserved better.

    At the moment it’s winter here and starting to bite (currently it’s 1° Celsius). I’m trying to fight off a depression and so at the moment I’m seeing everything through a dark filter. It sounded like an interesting journey you took. I would really love to see bears too. We don’t have anything like that here. I remember listening to a radio interview of someone who worked where you could meet bears close up. There’s also places you can see wolves. If I ever get to America it’s those sort of things I would love to go to. Anyway take care Charli.

    • Charli Mills

      Joanne, it always amazes me how interconnected our world is. I wonder at how we can be better to one another, or maybe we are when we take in each other’s wounded. I’m sorry your friend wasn’t able to share his story without it being sensationalized.

      A good friend, one of my Warrior Sisters suffers seasonal depression. She thinks even her mother and grandmother did, too. That dark filter can be hard to move through. If I could, I’d send you sunshine and wolf howls. I need to take you camping where you can listen to wolves and catch sight of a bear. We will do these things when you get to America. You have a place to stay!

      • joanne the geek

        That sounds wonderful ??

  7. tnkerr

    I never had to walk through those jungles. My boat and my shipmates kept me safe. I know a lot of the names on that wall though. Poignant

    • Charli Mills

      I can’t imagine how it must have felt in, over, or surrounding those jungles. May we honor the names on the wall. May we find some healing. My friend Rich would have enjoyed talking to you. He was Navy, too.

    • tnkerr

      R&R on Lockhart Street

      He finished his drink and beckoned to Meihui.
      “You want another, Danny?” she smiled.
      “No, baby, I’m gonna go home. I’ll see you later.”
      She rose up on her toes, and leaned over the bar
      to give him a quick kiss on the lips.
      He dropped
      a handful of coloured bills on the bar.
      She pushed them back and quickly moved away.
      Outside, standing on the pavement in the light rain
      Dan snapped a quick shot of a fire engine
      Lights flashing.
      Now, fifty years later,
      it was the closest thing to a photo of her that he had.

    • Doug Jacquier

      IMHO the best piece of yours I’ve ever read. I hung on every word. Brilliant.

    • Charli Mills

      Perfect memory to use for inspiration, Joanne!

    • Liz H

      Beautiful bittersweet memory, but more of the sweet as a final taste!

  8. bowmanauthor/bowmaneditor

    Truly inspiring for me. Lost my oldest brother to Agent Orange, shrapnel infection from Dang Nang, 1969, on 9/11/2020. Fitting date for an Army Commendation Medal recipient, plus, plus, plus, plus other medals for bravery. I submitted a fictional short. Hope it was received.

    • Charli Mills

      As with every Vietnam veteran we lose to agent orange, we witness a slow death. I’m so sorry for the recent loss of your brother. That is a fitting date and worth recognition for his bravery. Families who stand by are brave, too. I learned yesterday that there is an Agent Orange memorial too. I don’t know the name.

      Yes, I received your story. Thank you.

      • bowmanauthor/bowmaneditor

        Thank you, Charli. Your kind words are so helpful. Yes, it was a long slow death, but hope kept surfacing. It was pneumonia that took him in the end. I know many Veterans, an Army Journalist myself, and pneumonia seems to be the last stage of Agent Orange seemingly after the cancer has been eradicated? It happens quickly. At 10 a.m., he went into Intensive Care, the doctor hoping for a turnaround with oxygen. By 5 p.m., the same doctor said a ventilator was needed, but once ventilated, he would never come off of it. He would only suffer. He left the choice up to his wife and my younger brother, who were there. After removing life support, he only lasted 6 minutes. We did know by the strength in his hands that his wife and my brother were with him. Love… It helps. Happy 4th of July to all Veterans. That includes my 96-year old mother from WWII and myself.

      • Charli Mills

        The pneumonia stage is familiar. He was with loved ones and not alone. You are immersed in this culture. I think of it as a community of sorts. Oh, definitely, Happy Fourth of July and Welcome Home to all Veterans and the ones who help carry their load.

    • suespitulnik

      Thank you to you and your family for your service. I’m sorry for your loss. There are other veterans and their family members that hang out at the Ranch. Welcome to the group. We get it.

      • bowmanauthor/bowmaneditor

        Thank you so much Sue. I’m so glad I have come back to the Ranch after a long absence. Sometimes the sadness memories bring the deepest soul searching and healing. Yes, it is time for us all to heal through love, kindness, and understanding.

  9. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    That sounds like a powerful day Charli. Lots of processing going on.

    Here’s some fiction:

    Arrested Development

    There was he and his brother, practically twins, astride their motorcycles, grinning widely. Ten years ago. Same old pictures; did any of them smile anymore?
    “Will you ever update these photos?”
    She ignored the edge in his voice.
    “Your brother misses you.”
    “Right.” But he went to his room.
    “Hey, Bro. How about a picture of the two of us?”
    The selfie showed his own face fuller but much the same, his hair thinning at the temples. His brother’s skin was tight and shiny, his open eyes vacant and unseeing. The breathing tube showed, the feeding tube did not.

    • Reena Saxena

      Yesterday, I was on a webinar with a paediatrician-past life therapist. He says his interest in the subject was evoked, when he saw one twin suffer from cancer, and lose all resemblance with the other. He reached a conclusion that the souls are different, and one probably had a different Karma behind. The rest is history. He has done 7000 cases, and recently wrote a book “Metaphors of the Soul”.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        That sounds interesting. Thank you for sharing.
        I may go back to the longer draft of this flash which showed more his anger and frustration with his mother being stuck in time and in denial even as she attends to the care of the son in a vegetative state.

      • Reena Saxena

        That came through. It just reminded me of something else.

      • Charli Mills

        What an interesting webinar that must have been, Reena!

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks for sharing the link! I appreciate how Dr. Sharma is advocating for this as a complementary form of therapy. Many criticize the VA for their “try drugs first” approach. Those who don’t often don’t know about alternatives.

      • Reena Saxena

        In fact, he does not take cases who want PLR for curiosity. It is only if something is troubling you. A recurring dream is treated as a problem, only if it causes distress.

    • Doug Jacquier

      Cut and pasted from my comment on your blog: Stunningly evocative, D. A mother’s anguish having effectively ‘lost’ one of her twins and the other twin’s battle with survivor guilt, all wrapped up with the possibility of him having ‘pulled the plug’ on his brother’s pointless existence. For once, I think the 99 word limit has not served you well here; I think there’s a far stronger and longer piece struggling to get out and I’d love to see it if and when you choose to do that. In it’s own way, your story has encouraged me in my first thoughts to go dark with this prompt.

    • Charli Mills

      This one went deep, D. Our fiction is always churning with bits of our life processing.

    • Liz H

      Very powerful piece, D. I think the brevity serves you well.
      I also think a longer piece would be just a poignant, but perhaps with slightly different notes.
      TUFF decisions?

    • Jules


      There is nothing fun about having to see folks with various tubes in hospitals. Too many relatives and a few friends…

      I would keep the happy reminders out all the time.

    • Doug Jacquier

      So very well done, Ms. Clever Clogs. You would almost swear that the man is scratching his ear. 🙂

      • Reena Saxena

        There are many such images and videos on the internet, which allude to mobile phones. Some of them look like a girl is holding a tiny booklet in her hand. I guess the insinuations lead to virality of a picture.

      • Doug Jacquier

        .. and don’t get me started on Photoshop. 🙂

      • Reena Saxena


    • Charli Mills

      So much thought from a single doctored photo about the reach of manipulation. Well done, Reena.

      • Reena Saxena

        Thank you!

    • Liz H

      Final twist and mic drop!
      Crafty, clever you!

  10. denmaniacs4

    Snap Judgements

    Missed spring cleaning by a few months this year.

    Other things on my mind, I guess.




    Stuff like that.

    During the heat dome, my fried brain couldn’t handle much but I started pawing through a few boxes of dusty memorabilia.

    Under duress.

    “Just do it, “she’d admonished. “Your office is a pigsty.”

    No argument from me.

    Two boxes in, I found my old wallet.

    1972 vintage.

    Thought I’d thrown it out.

    No money in it.

    An unpaid speeding ticket.

    Mick’s car.

    Oops! Forgot to mention it, buddy.

    And a snap of…what the hell was her name?


    • Doug Jacquier

      Top shelf again, Bill.

    • Charli Mills

      Bill, you distill emotion and imagery into a staccato of words that tells a full story.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Spring cleaning knows no season.
      An enjoyable trip down memory lane here.

  11. Michael B. Fishman

    “Every last one of them deserves a medal of honor. Even the ones who tap out.” Especially them 🙁 Yeah, there’s supposedly no ‘nevers’ in life, but this is an exception. No vet, their wives or families or pets, should ever be put into the situations that we put them into. How a person might feel about war and politics shouldn’t impact how we feel about fellow human beings.

    “Upper Michigan, a region often left off of contemporary maps or mislabeled as Canada…” Blame Canada for this! They think if they can get enough people to think northern parts of the country are actually Canada (and it starts with blatant mislabeling) that in a few years they’ll be able to move their southern border town to around Des Moines! And I think it’s been going on for a while because I think Minnesota is looking shorter on maps now than it was when I was younger.

    Say what you want about Vietnam, and I know a lot of people had a lot to say back then, the politics of war, and war itself, is separate from the soldiers. The soldiers were there because it was their job to be there because we told them it was their job to be there. And the way they were treated when they came back home in the early 70’s was inexcusable. And maybe the second most shameful time in the nation’s history.

    Hopefully the Moving Wall continues to keep moving for many more generations.

    • Charli Mills

      This exactly, Michael: “How a person might feel about war and politics shouldn’t impact how we feel about fellow human beings.” Human dignity has a huge impact. And it isn’t that difficult to give. Often, it’s just sitting with another’s story, listening, and giving space. We don’t have to fix anything or anyone. Just relate on that human to human level.

      I think about the Vietnam era and how some were out of the country, fighting in an unpopular war, and many were fighting at home for civil rights. Television was popular and the evening news brought the war into family living rooms every night. The atrocities of Vietnam have happened in every war, but this time civilians “back home” got to “see.” And soldiers couldn’t hide their moral injury the way previous eras could, adding to shame triggers. People behaved according to what they were perceiving. But it goes back to human dignity. Without it, there can be no healing. The Moving Wall helps.

      Ha! Yeah, I was thinking Minnesota was looking shorter these days, but then MN or MI are never quite sure what WI is up to. I’m going with your Canada conspiracy theory.

  12. Jules


    Your post reminds me of a bus trip I took to Washington, DC to see the Holocaust museum. The images and artifacts were so overwhelming that the gal I had go with had to sit out most of the tour.

    I’m glad you got to go. And be part of a healing group.

    I wrote on an imagined photo here:
    Imagining the Colors
    (Sebunku haibun)

    now out of my reach
    let birds feast

    Too the

    A friend tells me of her youth and shares photos in black and white of purple fingers and faces. The Mulberry tree in her yard wasn’t supposed to bear fruit, which is why her father planted it. Free sweets in the summer shade what more could a child want. All those happy siblings that shared hand me downs without complaining because that’s just the way it was. The love and support that poured continually made them all reach for the stars. That’s her parents’ success.

    © JP/dh

    Want to know what a Sebuku is… that info is at my post. 😀

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, it’s brave to sit with traumatic history, to reflect. As a group, it can be healing and helpful to have others to process with or simply share the experience. Especially if it feels overwhelming. I want to visit the Holocaust Museum one day. Thank you. I’m glad I got to go, too!

      What a beautiful photo you create with imagery, emotion, and the values of a family passed down.

  13. TanGental

    This is always tough. The older I get the more difficult I find it to comprehend what we put our youngsters through in times of war. Both my parents talked of war as an exciting time, emphasising the energy and fun but then I read my dads letters to my mum during his time away from 44 to 48 (45 to 48 as part of the peace keeping Force in Palestine pre Partition) and it paints a totally different impression of ennui followed by terror, on some sort of torturous ground hog day. They were fascinating but hard to read, to imagine both their reactions. In a sense my mothers life work was in saving him from the ‘him’ he might have been but for her unstinting love and empathy. To get him to forgive himself his fallibility and weaknesses.
    My silly piece is in a totally different direction: for some reason I can’t do sombre right now…

    ‘You a moment, Logan?’
    ‘You don’t know what I want.’
    ‘Let’s keep it that way.’
    ‘Yeah. Anyway, who’s that?’
    ‘Is that our leaving photo?’
    ‘Yep. I can’t remember who that boy is. Next to Snitch Peters.’
    ‘Gullible Poon.’
    ‘Not Gully. The other side.’
    ‘Kentish Gishpaster?’
    ‘No, that’s Kentish.’
    ‘Is it? I thought Kentish had one leg shorter that the other.’
    ‘He did, didn’t he? Always going in circles. No, the one with the squint. He set fire to Simple Sims pubes during double chemistry.’
    ‘Happy days. Why do you want to know?’
    ‘He still owes me a pound.’

    • Doug Jacquier

      Plus compound interest. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      In many ways, I think war is an exciting time. I still remember how connected I felt to fellow Americans after the Twin Towers collapses and that was but one event. I can’t imagine what WWII must have been like for your parents and others experiencing war falling from the sky for a period of years. It must have elevated everyone’s sense of survival and the relief of surviving. I can understand choosing to talk about it from that singular emotion. But you have had privy to the more private reflections. Those letters are raw, and real and of their moment. Your Mother, though I never knew her, is one of my heroes. I know her on a different level. She’s one of the long-haulers. She served: “…my mothers life work was in saving him from the ‘him’ he might have been but for her unstinting love and empathy.” That’s what these Vietnam veteran spouses do. They are her Warrior Sisters, too. And as weird as this might sound, you and your brother remind me of my kids. There’s a special group of people who comprise veteran families. Thank you for sharing their experiences and your writing which is an extension.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Love the names of these classmates.
      Hope Morgan gets his money back…

  14. Doug Jacquier

    ‘If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull’ is never going to be a problem for you, Charli. Deeply illuminating and uplifting account of your trip.
    These memories always make me wonder how many who were gung-ho supporters of wars at the time they were launched now have the courage, at least internally, to face the facts of the outcomes and reflect on what we have all done in the past in standing idly by while generations of men and women are sacrificed by politicians and warmonger corporations. And then perhaps reflect on the millions of non-combatants in those war-torn countries who have also paid the price and continue to do so.
    One more reflection; I often wonder whether the men who returned from WWII (as did my grandfather, father and uncles) coped better because there was a genuine cause for freedom from German and Japanese aggression that they fought for rather than oil or profits.

    Back with prompt post later.

    • Charli Mills

      Multi-layers of healing to be had and yet, how can any heal if those who made the decisions have no accountability? A good book to read is Tribe by Sebastion Junger. He was an embedded journalist to Iraq.

  15. Doug Jacquier

    The Goldfish Bowl

    Courtesy of the pandemic and brain plaque, I can’t touch him anymore, not that he would know who I was anyway. All I can do is wave to him through the nursing home window and watch him wave back, like he does to everybody. His manners remain intact.
    On his lap is an album of old photographs that he leafs through constantly. Whether the staff put it there in the hope of a spark or whether he clings to its importance without knowing why is anybody’s guess. To me, through the glass, he seems like a goldfish with Alzheimers.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s good he still clings to his manners. Loss of filters can be shocking to a family. Who knows where the mind goes. Perhaps the photo album is like the Tardis. I love the analogy of a family looking through the nursing home window as watching a goldfish.

      • Doug Jacquier

        Thanks, Charli, and the idea of of the ‘lost’ living in a potential time travelling Tardis is intriguing. Almost as intriguing as the ideas of Heaven/Hell or reincarnation (or the hillbilly version of reintarnation) ;-).

      • Charli Mills

        Reintarnation! Ha!

      • Liz H

        Photo album like the Tardis: bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. That’s so the memories can all fit in…

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, Liz, I like that expansion on the photo album as Tardis being bigger on the inside. Defintely.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Good one, Doug. Yep, a goldfish is not very cuddly or communicative, so a sad tale.

    • Doug Jacquier

      The interweb might be a challenge sometimes but your stories appear effortlessly poignant. Well done.

    • Charli Mills

      The linkback might have been delayed. I have to manually approve. And I appreciate that you shared your piece about wars, too. Thanks, C.!

  16. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Ev’ry Story Tells a Picture

    “Pal, how kin ya be Carrot Ranch’s historian? Ya ain’t even got any old photos.”
    “It’s livin’ history. Things is jist how they is at ever moment.”
    “Folks wanna see how things was.”
    “Folks kin read the archives.”
    “A picture’s worth a thousand words.”
    “Thet’d be 901 words too many.”
    “Yer prob’ly ‘barasssed ta show yer mug.”
    “We’re fictional characters Kid. Folks see us as they see us.”
    “Fiction, ey?
    Hey look here’s a old photo a you! An’ there in the background… Bigfoot!”
    “Kid, ya cain’t be makin’ stuff up.”
    “Sure I kin, 99 words at a time.”

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! It’s legit. Anything goes, appears, or disappears in 99 words. May you commune with the big shy guy this weekend!

    • Jules

      Kid and Pal you got it write. Jist 99 words at a time 😀

  17. Hugh W. Roberts

    What a moving trip to a wonderful location in White Pine, Charli. And how kind that you’re giving some books to the man on the bus who gave out eggs. Nice to see the men blush at the mention of those bowling balls too.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Hugh! I enjoy figuring out what books I think someone would like to read. Ha! My Warrior Sister looks like someone’s sweet grandmother, but the quips she comes up with!

  18. Anne Goodwin is bringing Matilda Windsor home

    Happy Fourth of July, Charli.

    Your posts are often poignant, but I found this one especially so. I can see exactly what you mean about that photograph – women’s emotional labour so often goes unacknowledged. And I love how you managed to get your own back on the men with your joke about the bowling balls.

    And a lovely personal 99-word story too. The tragedy of life. Here’s mine:

    The camera never lies

    Mary’s bedroom floor is awash with paper. She tucks a lock of russet hair behind her ear and plunges in.
    Her therapist said her childhood memories didn’t sound happy. Mary wades through school reports and twentieth-century diaries for the evidence to prove her wrong …


    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for noticing the photo. It speaks volumes. Ha! We can ignore so much but then it comes out in our own dark humor. There is healing in the excavation of your flash.

  19. nightlake

    This was deep and touching. You have taken us through these get-togethers, which are gratifying and certainly provide a healing touch. The flash at the end was very moving.

    On another note, there are debates in my country about how women should be trained and taken into combat roles (and not just confined to desk jobs). It is terrifying to think what would happen if they are taken as POWs.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s a difficult topic, Padmini. Some women want the choice to take such a risk. Some want the college scholarship they can get for joining. Our VA hospitals are full of posters for women combat veterans to get help from their in-service experiences of sexual assault. That’s from their own military, not as POWs. It’s all so ugly and complex but also reflects how women are treated outside military roles.

      Thank you for seeing the healing touch with our gathering.

    • Charli Mills

      Your story reminds me of the fear that taking a photograph of a person would steal their soul.

  20. Liz H

    Because we all melt down a little in this heat:

    How Important Is It?

    The attic is hot, dust motes knife-sharp and glittering in dim light through a window that wouldn’t budge in the humidity. She had to find that old photo, and prove her point. This rewriting of history to benefit Joseph had gone on far too long… [Continue ]

    • Charli Mills

      Stay cool, Liz! Oh, wait…you are cool!

      • Liz H

        (Leaning against her imaginary Corvette, snapping her fingers & squinting thru dark subshades)

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! I shouldn’t have honked!

  21. H.R.R. Gorman

    This sounds like a good outing with a surprising amount of affirmation. Maybe they should have an outing/museum for you wives – or perhaps they already do, and I just don’t know about it.

    • Charli Mills

      Without sounding morbid, we have the cemetery. We’ve started picnicking there and exploring other veteran markers, and simply hanging out in the beautiful Northwoods. It’s been surprisingly healing.

  22. pedometergeek

    An Old Photograph

    It was a formal portrait of a mother sitting with her children all around her, and the youngest one on her lap. One of them was a boy in knickers, copping a pose of nonchalance, his fist under his chin and a most serious look in his eyes.
    I first saw this photo when I was working on a family album of these children, their children, and grandchildren. This was my dad’s family: his mother, his brother, and his three sisters. I love the photo of my grandmother, my uncle, my aunts, and my dad when they were young.

    ~Nancy Brady, 2021

    The photograph will be posted on my blog along with the story.

    • Charli Mills

      Both flashes from a single photo are illuminating Nan.

  23. Carole Warren

    I started out having fun with this prompt quickly jumping into researching the historical details of the newspaper article. My dad’s old neighborhood has changed completely since my childhood days of visiting grandparents in the home he grew up in, a home and street that no longer exists. It wasn’t too long into my writing did I realize my piece sounded much like a sixth grade history paper with lists of historical facts.

    I am learning so much from Charli’s advice and from reading the many voices found at Carrot Ranch and deliberated with several different perspectives before the one below started to jell. Is there a way to share the photo with the text?

    American Revolutionary War Cemetery by Carole Warren

    My father and his brother volunteered. Proudly posing for the 1951 newspaper article, they dismantled the dilapidated cemetery wall. The ancient wall, built in 1887, needed to protect graves from being uprooted by local hogs. The new wall planned to safeguard a vintage burial ground with remains of Dutch pioneers along with heroes from early American wars. My grandfather trudged through blue-grey dust. Past the long-neglected graveyard for his daily shift at the local aluminum casting factory. Years later, I climbed. With cousins, I balanced atop the rebuilt wall and explored the colonial cemetery unaware of our historical connection.

    • Charli Mills

      Carole, you had my attention at “jumping into researching the historical details.” Ah, I love your inner historian and how you are using the 99-words to explore different perspectives. It’s so strange when places change and we can no longer point out where grandma and grandpa lived. Yet, we also played where we had no idea of our own connections. What an interesting story that emerged from your research and reflection! I love how we can all learn from one another here at the Ranch.

  24. pedometergeek

    An Old Photograph (Part 2)

    In this family photograph, Dad was probably nine or ten. When I said him I liked the knickers, he told me he hated wearing them. According to him, his mother didn’t want him to grow up. Long pants were a sign of being a young man and keeping him in knickers kept him a little boy.

    Personally, I think she was more pragmatic than that; she could cut down her older son’s pants when he outgrew them, converting them, saving money. I couldn’t argue with him since I wasn’t there. Besides, he was my father and I loved him.

    ~Nancy Brady, 2021

    • Charli Mills

      Interesting that your Dad felt she wanted to keep him a boy. I’m editing a book by a 93-year-old man and was startled when he referred to the young men going to trade school (they were 12 and 13). Today, I think of young men in their 20s.

    • Charli Mills

      Photos can bring up memories and emotions, giving us space to reflect and consider the impacts lost or gained. I never did see a photo of my Bumpa (my great-grandfather). I played bingo with him at Hazel Hawkins Nursing Home and have no idea what he looked like as a young man.

      • Robert Kirkendall

        If you did see a picture of him from when he was young it might be a surprise, and then you might see a resemblance to you or one of your siblings or cousins. It’s good to have had quality time with our elders.

      • Charli Mills

        I once came across a photo of my fourth-great-grandfather’s younger brother who died in the Civil War at the age of seventeen. My son at that age looked like him! It can be startling.

  25. Charli Mills

    Even the dog is smiling!

  26. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Anita!

  27. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Hugh!

  28. Charli Mills

    Thanks, TN!

  29. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Michael!


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