My business colleague, Judith Kelliher – or Judy to me – is in the midst of a creative project that has me terribly excited on her behalf.
About six months ago, after reading Unbroken, the nonfiction World War II survival story of Olympian Louis Zemperini, whose Air Force plane crashed in the Pacific, Judy realized she knew very little about her brother Bobby’s service in Vietnam. She got the idea to interview him and write something, the scope of which she knows not.
I met Judy back in 1985. We were both newbie journalists at the Springfield Morning Union, which evolved into what we now know as the Springfield Republican. Judy was an obit writer who did occasional sports writing as well. I was an intern in the Living department, typing up weddings and engagements, getting the opportunity here and there to write a feature story and gain a byline.
We eventually became great friends and professional journalists, working in the trade for over 10 years, Judy covering Amherst and later the legal system in Hampshire County. Now Judy works with me in my business, Beetle Press. She does a good deal of the client copy writing.
She is a solid interviewer, and she spins a good story.
So, I was excited, when, back in January, she began to interview Bobby on Saturday mornings about his time in Vietnam. (Bobby is pictured at the top of this post, on his way to his second tour in Vietnam in May 1970.) They have delved into the horrors he experienced, into the emotional wounds that still pain him and affect his life today.
The deal in the beginning was that Bobby would offer his time in exchange for pastry, so the first day, Judy and Bobby had danish together before diving in to the interview. But then the work got serious, more focused, and there was no room for baked goods.
Bobby has now walked Judy through his entry into the military and details on his two tours of service in the U.S. Army, stationed in Vietnam. He has told stories that made them both cry together—a box of Kleenex was always nearby—and, as is more characteristic of Bobby, he has also made Judy laugh.
Judy is now in the process of transcribing her many hours of recordings into notes that she will review with Bobby with a goal of filling in gaps. (She didn’t want to interrupt him with follow-up questions in the initial interviews, especially when the memories turned deep and often painful.)
Once the second round of interviews is complete, Judy will painstakingly turn them into a written product, word by word. All the planning is what occupies many of her Saturday mornings now, in addition to her research on Vietnam and that unpopular war in general.
Recently, Judy covered an assignment for The Republican, for whom she still writes often. She was able to take photos for the paper and be present when a woman whose brother was killed in the Vietnam War received letters that he had written to a friend in East Longmeadow. The letters were found among the personal effects of the friend who had died last year. Thanks to the efforts of the chairman of the East Longmeadow Historical Commission, the two handwritten letters on Army-issue stationery were returned to the sister.
Judy has much material to work with, and soon, it will begin to shape itself as she begins telling the tale, starting with Bobby in high school. She does know that that’s where the story begins.
What she doesn’t know is how long the story will be or what kind of audience it might have. She will write it first. It may be memoir length, or perhaps shorter. It may be something Bobby will want to publish and sell, or it may be a piece that is solely for Bobby, or Bobby and his family.
Judy is letting Bobby decide the book’s eventual shape and fate. She is giving him this gift of his own story. That’s the kind of person she is. A compassionate giver.
I absolutely cannot wait to read Judy’s work. I know and love Bobby and want to know him in more depth and understand that part of his life, and I want to see Judy succeed in this major creative endeavor.
Judy has always been at the top in terms of my support systems, and I look forward to encouraging her, helping her edit and shape and prodding her when she needs that.
I am fired up to give to the giver.
I am confident she will deliver a compelling work that will well satisfy whichever audience Bobby chooses.