‘Hero Mama’ already ranks among ’05s best
Back in the winter of 1968, there was a snowstorm in the town where we were living, one of the biggest in decades. My brother and I were at an aunt’s house then, and the next morning, my father walked through knee-deep snow to bring us home. That afternoon, he and Mom pulled our beds and theirs into the dining room, to conserve fuel. It was fun for a few days, playing on our blankets so near the kitchen, while Dad watched Walter Cronkite on the television brought in from the living room.That is my first memory of the Vietnam War: seeing footage of battles on TV while my mother made dinner a few feet away.Because I was a child myself, it never occurred to me that other kids had daddies who were overseas. I’m not really sure I ever knew anyone whose father was in Vietnam, because kids didn’t talk about that. I’m glad Karen Spears Zacharias has, though. Her new memoir “Hero Mama” (c.2005, William Morrow) is about her soldier father and her mother’s heroism in the aftermath of loss.In July of 1966, Staff Sergeant David Spears was killed in Vietnam. He was survived by his wife, Shelby, and his children, Frankie, Karen, and Linda. Only a few weeks before his death, Shelby had moved her family from Hawaii to a mobile home in Tennessee, in anticipation of Spears’ return. There was family in the South; both David and Shelby grew up there. That was where they might raise their children. Instead, that’s where Shelby buried her husband.From that time forward, David Spears’ family keenly felt the loss of husband and father. Karen writes of several household moves, where the wheels were put on the house and someone dragged it to the next trailer park. She writes of her brother’s brushes with trouble, alcoholism, and drug abuse, and of how her sister taught herself to be quiet and stay out of the way. Zacharias tells how she dealt with the loss that nobody talked about, the support she got from church members, the search for the man her father was, and the realization that he wasn’t the only hero in the family.Shelby Spears had a ninth-grade education when she was widowed. She eventually graduated from college, bought two houses, and raised her children. “Hero Mama” is a book about growing up without a father, but more than anything, it’s a 384-page love letter to family and a mother who did her best, as bewildered by the death of the man she adored as her children were by the loss of the father they remembered. Author Zacharias is a first-class storyteller, and parts of this book will make you laugh. As for the rest of this book, I defy you not to cry when you read it.A few weeks ago, I opened a blank page on which I will record my list of Best Books of 2005. “Hero Mama” is the first book on it. VT
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