“The Back Door”

Volume 8 | Spring 2018

by Sheryl Fuller

Fifty years ago, when I was eight years old, my grandmother died and our home life changed. My parents seemed lost without my grandmother’s guidance. I had many philosophical questions that never seemed to be answered in the material world, so I turned to prayer and discovered my spirituality.

Later that year, my world changed further as my older sister maneuvered deeper into her teen years and was at home less. She spent her Friday nights at the community center across town, at a chaperoned dance party for teenagers called The Back Door. There, she made a lot of new friends who lived outside of our school district.

Vietnam dominated the news. Mostly unaware of geography, I only knew it was very far away, and there was a ‘draft’ ordering young men to go fight there. My older brother was issued a government draft card, with a number we prayed would never be called. Some young men burned their cards, and my parents even considered moving to Canada. My school held a sit-in to protest the war.

On Friday nights, my sister would put on her groovy looking orange dress and go across town to hang out with her new friends. One night that summer, she came home in distress; one of the young men from The Back Door was being drafted. His number had been called.

Of all the teenagers at The Back Door, I wondered if I had ever met that guy when I tagged along to drop off or pick up my sister?  Though I didn’t know who he was, the news hit very close to home, and each night I prayed for him, and his safety.

The following summer, some my sister’s new friends invited my sister and I to go to a music festival named Woodstock. My mother said no. My sister didn’t really care; she wasn’t into music at all. But I begged, and promised to behave. Even when my sister’s friends  assured my mother they would ‘watch me,’ her answer stayed firm. “I would never allow a nine year old to travel across the country with a bunch of hippies,” she said.

I protested! I was almost ten!

I retreated to my bedroom with my albums. On the news I heard about the huge musical showcase, which acted as a prelude to the counts and names of the young men who died in Vietnam that day. They held a “love-in” in California, race riots flared in Chicago, humanity protested the war, and mankind stepped onto the moon.

Some of my brother’s friends enlisted instead of waiting to be drafted. Though he considered it, my brother waited. Through it all, I continued to pray for “the boy from The Back Door.” To our relief, the war ended before my brother’s number was called.

After the war, I continued my prayers. I had become so accustom to praying for this unknown young man, it became part of me. Years turned to decades and still, I prayed he wasn’t among the dead, missing or captured.

My siblings and I married and started our own families. We live in close proximity to each other, about an hour away from where we grew up. A lot of people from my old neighborhood moved to this area too.

My spouse and I have many musician friends and acquaintances. One very close friend is a little older than I am. He  grew up in my old town, but attended a different high school. We have been close for a few years, laugh a lot, and have many things in common beyond our passion for music.

Last Veterans Day, he noticed the old POW/MIA bracelet I was wearing. The engraved copper cuff inspired a conversation we never had before. He told me he had been drafted but was never sent to Vietnam. He said he felt lucky to have served his time in the Army with a desk job, in San Diego, California. I know a lot of veterans; some of them will talk about their experiences, but I find most of them won’t – unless you are a veteran, too. I didn’t pry. I just tried to be a compassionate listener.

Another afternoon, while talking about music with my friend, he mentioned a well known band he saw once, when they were first starting out, at a place named The Back Door. I was so surprised that he would know of the place!

And then it suddenly dawned on me.

I was filled with tears of gratitude for prayers answered.

He was safe.