The history behind “Hearts and Minds”

THE STORY IN BRIEF
Abe, Ruth, Paulo, and Ben are sitting around outside a candy store, bickering about politics and playing cards, when they are interrupted by an irritating stranger.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
Let me start by saying I love “Hearts and Minds,” the fourth story in The History of Soul 2065. It’s one of my favorite stories to read out loud because, well, it’s just so much fun to do the characters. And it’s one of the few where I came up with the punchline before I wrote the story.

But what really inspired this story was an experience I had while working as an editor at PC Magazine, back in the 1980s. I was being shown a new genealogy program that had been developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly known as the LDS or Mormon Church), and noticed that one of the people in the onscreen family tree had a baptism date later than his date of death.

“You’ve got a mistake there,” I said to the demonstrator, trying to be helpful.

“That’s not a mistake,” said the woman. “He was baptized by proxy after his death.”

I smiled, thinking it a joke. “And what if he doesn’t want to be baptized?” I asked.

“He can always refuse it,” she said. She was absolutely serious.

I later found out that the LDS folks were posthumously baptizing people into their church en masse (including a large number of  Holocaust victims). Once this was discovered, there were, as you can imagine, protests. Finally, in 1995, the LDS church created rules against inappropriate retrospective baptisms. (Apparently, those rules didn’t stick.) I had to write something about this weird (to me) phenomenon, and the result was “Hearts and Minds.”

It appeared in Weird Tales #336 in 2004.

I don’t remember how or when I found this small cadre of slightly crazy lefties, but when I did, I knew I was home.

Hearts and Minds

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
Abe (whom we have already met in “Sabbath Wine” and “Lost Connections”), is loosely based on my grandfather, or on what I imagine my grandfather was like (although he was never as stout as Abe eventually became, and probably not quite as rambunctious).

Ben, whom we meet for the first time here and who is the narrator of the tale, is a combination of several people, depending on which story he appears in and whether he’s an adult or a child. Here he is somewhat based on someone I worked with back in the 1980s named Mark; a very laid-back, sweet guy who worked in the art department. One day, Mark asked if I’d meet him for lunch, and it was obvious that there was something he wanted to talk about — he was unusually quiet and solemn — but by the end of the meal, he had never actually told me what he wanted to say. I didn’t push him. I wish I had, just a little.

To this day, I wonder what he was afraid to tell me. That he was gay? (I knew that already.) That he had AIDS? This was when many AIDS patients were isolated and blamed for their illness. Did I say anything during lunch that would have discouraged him from confiding in me, or did he simply decide not to say anything? I’ll never know.

I’ve always regretted that I wasn’t insightful enough at the time to realize that he was ill and what he was going through. Mark left work soon after, for reasons that were never said out loud. He died shortly after that. I attended his memorial and sewed a square in his name for the AIDS quilt. But that wasn’t nearly enough.

All the other characters in “Hearts and Minds” are completely fictional.

NOTES ON THE HISTORY
There isn’t any specific moment in history referenced here. All four of the main characters — Abe, Ruth, Paolo, and Ben — represent fighters for justice from various times and places.

THE SONGS
I thought it would be nice to let you sample the songs or artists that are mentioned in the story.

Moonglow / Benny Goodman Quartet

Minnie the Moocher / Cab Calloway

Union Maid / The Almanac Singers
(I couldn’t find a YouTube video of Woody Guthrie singing the song, but this is a version by the Almanac Singers, a group co-founded by Guthrie and which also included Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and a bunch of other left-wing folkies of the time.)

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