A Daughter Remembers the Father She Lost in Vietnam--And the Mother Who Held Her Family Together
By Karen Spears Zacharias
(William Morrow, Hardcover, 9780060721480, 384pp.)
Publication Date: January 2005
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I don't remember Mama crying when Granny Ruth died, but the day after she was buried, Mama gathered together all the pillows in the house and went into the room where her mother's foot-pedaled sewing machine stood silent. Taking a pair of black-handled scissors, she cut open the tops of Granny's pillows. Aunt Blanche asked Mama what in Jehoshaphat's name did she think she was doing, cutting up all the pillows like that. Mama answered something about finding a crown inside one of those pillows Granny Ruth had fashioned from chicken feathers.
"Sometimes," she explained, "when a person sleeps on a pillow for a long time the feathers will mold together to make a crown ..."
It's the 1960s and nine-year-old Karen Spears is living in a trailer in middle Georgia. Her father, David Spears, was killed in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam, and left behind three young children and a wife with a ninth-grade education. Hero Mama is the gritty, searing, and beautifully written story of what happened to this Southern family in the aftermath of a soldier's death.
At first the widow Spears appeared to fall apart -- turning herself into a beer-guzzling, good-time girl, while her children responded in kind. Eventually she recognized how much her children needed her and, with mule-headed tenacity, she earned her nursing degree and bought the family a real home fashioned from bricks, rising above her own flaws to forge a better life for her kids. Now Karen Spears Zacharias pays tribute to this woman of guts and determination -- her Hero Mama -- who battled overwhelming adversity to pull her family up and make them proud of her, and of themselves.
Hero Mama is also the story of the South, where a young girl grew up against an emotionally charged landscape of racism and bigotry, where the daughter of a fallen soldier had to face the stigma of a war nobody wanted, and where a family in crisis pulled together to achieve its own version of the American dream. It is a triumphant tale of reconciliation between a daughter and her father, a daughter and her nation, and a daughter and the people of Vietnam. It is a story for any daughter who has loved her father -- and for any daughter who has had to discover how deeply her mother really loves her.
"An important and triumphant work of literature, a must read for every American in another time of war."
"Touch[es] the hearts of families who have dealt with death, even if the death wasn't caused by war."
-Las Vegas Review-Journal
"Karen Spears Zacharias has written a dead-honest, raw-edged memoir . . . wonderfully told"
-Joseph L. Galloway, co-author of the New York Times bestseller WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE...AND YOUNG
-The Oregonian (Portland)
"One of the most original, heartbreaking and off-the-nose books about the Vietnam experience ever written . . . brilliant"
"A beautiful and important book . . . Hero Mama will stay with me always."
-Silas House, Author of Clay's Quilt and The Coal Tatoo