Sunday, May 11, 2008

For Mother’s Day: Separating Sharon Gold and Phyllis Zimbler Miller

In honor of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and my parents Ruth and Albert Zimbler, I thought I’d reveal some of the differences between my fictional character Sharon Gold in MRS. LIEUTENANT and myself.

While Sharon Gold’s experiences as a new army officer’s wife in the spring of 1970 are based on my own, Sharon’s background is different than mine. Sharon was an anti-Vietnam War protester when she met Robert, an ROTC cadet at Michigan State. I was never an anti-Vietnam War protester. In fact, I was what might be called “an ostrich with her head in the sand.”

I met my future husband Mitch, an ROTC cadet at Michigan State, when we were both on the editorial staff of the State News. On our third date, as either the song “Duke of Earl” or “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (it’s been 41 years) played on the record player at a party in some student apartment, Mitch told me he was going to Vietnam. I was forewarned, but managed to totally disregard the warning.

In the novel Sharon at first refuses to marry Robert because he’s going to be part of the war machinery. In real life I wanted to get married before Mitch went into the army, but he was against it. Only after Mitch spent six miserable weeks at ROTC summer camp at Ft. Riley, Kansas, in the summer of 1968 did he change his mind. On one of his two phone calls to me in those six weeks he said, “You’re going to get your wish.”

We were married in September of 1969, one month before he was scheduled to report to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for Infantry Officers Basic. But that’s another story.

I do clearly remember seeing in the fall of 1969 the movie MEDIUM COOL about the violence following anti-war protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August of 1968. Mitch and I were on our way back to Chicago from MSU when the news of the violence blared from the radio.

This stuck in my mind because at that moment we were being pulled over as Mitch was speeding. He was going so fast that it would have been automatic jail time, except that the police officers in Michigan train at MSU. The police officer lowered the speed on the speeding ticket so Mitch wouldn’t have to go to jail.

And perhaps the biggest difference between Sharon and myself is that, because I grew up in Elgin, Illinois, I was accustomed to being the only Jew even in a large group of people. Instead, I gave Sharon the backstory of many of my AEPhi sorority sisters. They grew up in the Northern suburbs of Chicago with other Jews. For them the culture shock of the army would have been even stronger than it was for me.

P.S. The description in the book of Sharon’s attendance at two meetings of the Jewish Wives Club at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, is as authentic as memory allowed.

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