Authors recall traumatic, nostalgic memories

by Tyler Tichelaar

The Lost Road Home: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Psychological Effects of War on Veterans and their Families

by Milly Balzarini

PTSD-cover-websiteMany books have been written about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and many veterans have recounted their stories, but Milly Balzarini has written The Lost Road Home to tell the story from the family’s point of view; her book will help many families recognize that a loved one suffers from PTSD, and feel they are not alone in how the disorder has affected their families.
Honesty is the great strength of The Lost Road Home. Balzarini is completely honest in explaining her reason for writing the book. She allows her husband to describe his own Vietnam War experiences. Then she tells her story as the wife of a Vietnam veteran, focusing particularly on her husband’s PTSD and how she and her children coped with it for thirty years before they realized what caused her husband’s anger and irrational behavior.
Beyond telling her own family’s story, Balzarini interviewed more than a dozen veterans, and while giving them anonymity, she does make clear these are neighbors and friends, people who live here in Upper Michigan. I admired the veterans’ honesty and willingness to tell their stories. One veteran told Balzarini, “I don’t really like to talk about this. It really bothers me. But if this book helps someone else…”
Besides stories from Vietnam veterans, Balzarini interviewed veterans from Iraq, Korea and World War II. She also includes interviews with wives, mothers and children about their experiences around a loved one with PTSD. As Balzarini explains, “everything is a crisis with PTSD, whether it is dealing with traffic, opening the mail or answering a telephone. Somehow it is all connected with the war and survival.” Family members begin to live in fear of setting off the veteran’s anger, which makes them develop secondary PTSD.
Beyond raising awareness of PTSD, Balzarini provides arguments for how to help the situation. She tells the story of Noah, a veteran of the war in Iraq who committed suicide because he suffered from PTSD. Noah’s mother is advocating that a “Noah’s Clause” be added to military contracts to make it mandatory that all combat infantry troops undergo assessment and be treated for PTSD before they return home. Soldiers would receive treatment immediately after their service ended, thus saving many families from undergoing such extreme trauma with a returning vet, or losing a brother, husband, son, daughter or father to suicide.
Balzarini also reveals how the government fails to provide adequate funding for veterans; she discusses the future cost of psychological treatments for veterans returning from Iraq, and how PTSD makes many veterans unable to function, hold down jobs or keep stable marriages.
Every year between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans are homeless because PTSD makes them unable to cope in society. The cost to the government of providing for the veterans returning from Iraq makes it more difficult for Vietnam veterans to get the treatment they need. And no government funding exists to provide counseling to family members so they can understand their loved ones’ PTSD or cope with their own secondary PTSD.
The Lost Road Home stands out among books about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because it is written for both veterans and their families. Balzarini has succeeded in opening up communication in veterans’ families and restoring hope and understanding where before there was confusion and despair. The Lost Road Home should help many former soldiers return home at last.

 

Still Sits the Schoolhouse by the Road

By Frank R. Bartol

515t-U-GZaL._SL500_SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Frank Bartol set out to write a long narrative about his childhood in Traunik during the Great Depression. While he admits it’s unlikely he’ll ever finish that work, he has published part of the finished work as Still Sits the Schoolhouse by the Road. It’s a loss that we won’t have his complete memoir, but this book provides several tastes of life in Traunik in the 1930s—it’s both a nostalgic and educational look at the schooldays of the past.
The author writes with pride about the Traunik schoolhouse, which still stands across the street from where he lives; he was even instrumental in preserving its belfry so that whenever the bell rings—now for the Head Start center established inside—he is reminded of his preservation efforts as well as the call of the school bell in his childhood.
Bartol also writes to recapture a time soon to disappear from living memory, and in hopes that younger generations will be interested in knowing what school was like in the 1930s.
The differences are plenty—primarily the lack of outside communication and stimulation, and the students lack of awareness they were missing anything, since they had never dreamed of the technology today’s children would have. It was, in many ways, a harder time than today, but it could be enjoyable as well.
Bartol points out that for many of his classmates, school was like a vacation compared to the work they did outside of school milking cows, collecting stones from farm fields, collecting wood and multiple other chores. But school was no Disneyland. The school playground consisted of one source of amusement—a merry-go-round that looked like a seesaw—a sixteen-foot plank attached in its center by a bolt to a two-foot high post. A person could sit on each end and someone would push it in circles from near the center—then the riders would enjoy the speed as the “centrifugal force threatened to rip them from their perch.” No seatbelts or bars to hold onto made being ripped from the perch likely, but not something the author remembers ever happening.
The schoolhouse itself consisted of two rooms—the Little Room and the Big Room—so named not for their sizes but because the smaller kids—up to the fourth grade—were in the small room, while the fifth to eighth-graders were in the big room. Over the schoolhouse ruled two teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Kehoe. Mrs. Kehoe taught the Little Room, Mr. Kehoe the Big Room. Mrs. Kehoe’s teaching methods were predictable and formal, her handwriting precise, while Mr. Kehoe was almost the opposite, a “ham at heart,” especially when school plays were performed.
The reader will relish the affection the author feels for this couple and his appreciation for their humane and friendly treatment of the children in a way that more modern schools would not permit.
While the children listened to radios at home, news was not available every minute at the click of a mouse. Mr. Kehoe was the daily news as he regularly instructed the students on current events. His handwriting left something to be desired and he was not above abbreviating in a way many teenagers would appreciate from their text messaging. For example, “B4 u go 2 your desk” would not be uncommon for Mr. Kehoe to write on the blackboard. Nevertheless, Mr. Kehoe was the CNN of the day to his students.
Bartol has captured a time and place readers will appreciate even if it is before their time. The book reflects not just school life, but a sense of community, a friendliness and long-term relationship between students and teachers. That the Traunik schoolhouse still stands is an advantageous reminder to Bartol and the reader, of the way we were.

—Tyler Tichelaar

Editor’s Note: Tichelaar is the author of The Marquette Trilogy. All books reviewed in this column are available in local and online bookstores.

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