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Tony Grist

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Slaughterhouse 5. [May. 10th, 2007|12:16 pm]
Tony Grist

Kurt Vonnegut belonged to my parents generation. My parents were born in 1921. Mr Vonnegut was born in 1922. I wonder if my parents ever read Slaughterhouse 5? I doubt it. 

My father spent the war defusing German bombs- which was incredibly brave of him. I asked him once if he'd ever fired a gun. And he said, yes, he'd fired a Tommy gun- but only on a firing range.

My father and I went to a firing range once when I was a teenager. The man in charge said he'd knock me sensless if I pointed the gun at anyone- for which I hated and still hate him. He didn't say that to my father so my father thought he was within his rights to jiggle a hand-gun around like he was Wild Bill Hickock and the gun went off while he was doing it and the bullet bounced off the concrete roof. Afterwards we told one another what fun we'd had. 

But we never went back.

My mother was a driver during the war. She drove "B" list celebrities around for some ministry or other.  One of her "gentlemen" was Christopher Hassall. I believe he was a writer or publisher or something like that. 

My mother held onto her wartime uniform. It wound up in my dressing-up box. I used to go out on the streets wearing her WRAC jacket and cap with a toy six-shooter strapped to my waist.

I know my mother enjoyed her war. Pretty much. I don't know whether my father did and I can't ask him now because he's dead.

Mr Vonnegut is dead too but I'm grateful to him for writing about the war before he died because now- at long last (why didn't I read this book earlier?)- I know what it was really like.

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Comments:
From: manfalling
2007-05-10 12:39 pm (UTC)
I was thinking today about how good parents, and older family in general, are; because they tie you to a time when you didn't even exist, but they did. They were around then, existing, being themselves, checking everything out.

I suppose it works forwards, with children too. It's good to be around children and younger family because they ought to be around after you're gone, existing, checking things out.

It's nice to be connected to times and places in the past and the future.

The other day I was reading my diary for that day a year ago, and it made me feel connected, and weirdly less alone at that moment. I was keeping myself company through the diary. Wonder if it has part of my soul like Tom Riddle's diary? Hmm..
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-10 04:28 pm (UTC)
I think it's fun that you guys- God willing- will carry on having adventures on this silly old planet long after I'm dead.

I read my old diaries sometimes and get really upset at the person I used to be...
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[User Picture]From: dakegra
2007-05-10 01:07 pm (UTC)
The man in charge said he'd knock me sensless if I pointed the gun at anyone

I worked as a Range Officer for the rifle club at university, back when such things were still allowed. We told people much the same thing. Of course, with rifles it takes a bit more effort to be pointing it at someone, as you're lying on a board with it strapped to your arm. We joked that if we (as ROs) got shot by a rifle, we deserved it as we weren't paying enough attention.

Pistols are a different matter.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-10 04:32 pm (UTC)
It was the way he said it. And the fact that he didn't say it to my father. It made me want to shoot him.

That was the only time I've fired a hand gun. But I did learn to use a rifle when I was about twelve or thirteen. I was quite a good shot, as I remember.
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[User Picture]From: dakegra
2007-05-10 04:37 pm (UTC)
Good point - he should have at least made the point to both of you.

I enjoyed using the rifle, less so the pistol as it felt less controlled and controllable.

I was a fair shot with the rifle.
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[User Picture]From: greybeta
2007-05-10 02:11 pm (UTC)
Actually, I felt like Slaughterhouse Five rambled a bit. Vonnegut managed to tie it all together at the end though, so that was pretty cool.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-10 04:36 pm (UTC)
I like the way it rambles. It's like the two of you are sitting in armchairs drinking whisky and Mr Vonnegut is yarning away. The other writer I'm reading at the moment- Lord Byron- does exactly the same thing.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2007-05-11 12:37 pm (UTC)
Wonderful book and good to hear you're enjoying it. I think I read Slaughterhouse Five in my early teens. For a long time thereafter, Vonnegut was either my favorite author or a very close second, after Hesse.

A former employer of mine was a US Army "Ranger", in World War II. Some of the stories he could tell were real eye openers, casting much of what I thought I knew about that war - and warfare in general - in a very different light. He had always intended to write his memoirs, but died a few years ago without having got 'round to it. What a pity.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-12 10:29 am (UTC)
I should have read Slaughterhouse 5 in my teens. It might have saved me a lot of trouble. I find Vonnegut's attitude to life closesly parallels the one it's taken me fifty years to aquire. Maybe if I'd read him earlier it would have speeded up the process.

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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2007-05-11 04:00 pm (UTC)
My mom was born in 1921, dad in 1922. He's still living; she's long gone. Neither of them ever read Slaughterhouse Five, although Dad may have read some Vonnegut somewhere along the line. He doesn't do fiction much, barring Tolkien.

Dad was in officer training school during the war, and was due to go off and lead troops in the Pacific theater. If not for mom having told him to marry her right now or it was All Over, I would probably never have been born; over 75% of the guys he knew in the program died in the war. He married her, and in so doing got kicked out of the program, thereby ending up being a Marine Corps air traffic controller in Hawaii for the duration. When I was a kid he used his Ka-bar (service knife) for garden chores. I used to look at the emblem on it and ask him about his wartime experience, but up until a couple of months ago he would never say anything. I know a lot of WWII vets who are like that; nothing they want to think or talk about less than that experience.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-12 10:38 am (UTC)
Vonnegut is interesting on why vets don't like speaking about their wartime experiences. He says it's not so much because of the horror, the horror, but because civilians brought up on fictional heroics just aren't ready to hear about the absurdity of life in the services. He also makes the point that most wars are fought not by the grizzled likes of John Wayne and Lee Marvin but by children.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2007-05-13 12:06 am (UTC)
I think Vonnegut is exactly right. The very few stories Dad would ever tell were scandalous (and hilarious) tales of the goings-on that the fellows got up to on base when they were bored. He was 19 when he joined, and 23 when the war ended; almost everyone he knew was in the same age range. They acted like a bunch of college kids on the loose, which in the case of his unit is more or less what they were.

Also, of course, there's what seems to be a generational thing; to quote a friend's father, who *did* deal with the horror as a prison camp internee and who won't talk much about any aspect of his wartime experiences, "Why dwell on it? There's no need to go back there." I've noticed that a lot of men of that age group aren't quick to talk about anything except humorous reminiscences; the unpleasant stories, even those unrelated to war, are almost treated as being socially inappropriate to discuss.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-05-13 09:02 am (UTC)
My grandfather- who missed WWI by a whisker- always refused to talk about his childhood- using just that line. I wish I knew why. All I know for sure is that his father died around the time he was born and that my great grandmother (to whom he was greatly attached) brought up the family single-handed.
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