Wednesday, December 21, 2005

My Mother, A Train Trip, Scarlett Fever and Her Marine

My mother recently found a letter she wrote to her mother during World War II. It was in it's original envelop, addressed to her mother's formal name as was proper then. The address included a PO box and the name of the town. No long hyphenated zip codes or complicated addresses. Just name, box number, town and state. She found the letter in a cedar chest that had belonged to my mother's sister. I guess it had been tucked away in the bottom of that chest for 60 years. It had been mailed from San Diago Califonia to Georgia in April 1944. The letter began 'Dearest Mother', in my mother's familiar handwriting. She then wrote 9 pages asking about people at home, particularly the two young daughters she had left in her mother and sister's care. Most of the letter she told her mother of her adventures on the train traveling to California and all that had happened since she'd gotten there. 'I just got out of the hospital .... I was quarantined for 21 days.' she writes, explaining that she couldn't write letters while she was in the hospital because the paper couldn't be sterilized. My father was a great storyteller. A real pro. He could make anything interesting and make you laugh at whatever he decided to weave into a story. He was of Irish decent - do you suppose that had anything to do with his storytelling? I remember him telling about that trip Mother made to San Diago. She had gone all the way out there to see him before he was shipped out to the South Pacific to fight the Japanese. He was a Marine and he was leaving for no one knew how long. Mother contracted Scarlett Fever on the train trip and was quarantined. He used to tell about bringing his buddies to see his beautiful wife. They would look through the windows of the hospital and he'd point out which one she was. All they could see were her feet. He pointed her out with great pride and his friends would say, 'Well, she has pretty feet.' Mother wrote in her letter that the doctors had new sulfa drugs that made Scarlett Fever not so bad. She writes about how expensive California is, 'Every time you eat out here it costs $1', and even that doesn't buy much food. She wrote about Balboa Park and all the animals she saw there that she'd never seen before. She wrote, 'It makes me feel more confident in Victory for the U.S. to see so many Servicemen taking a big part in the (church) service.' Especially since they were 'in a town with bar rooms and gambling places on every corner.' She also wrote that on the train ride the only people misbehaving were civilians, not Servicemen. It seemed her attitude was that our Servicemen were fine, upstanding, brave, strong and would save us from our enemies. My 25 year old father got furloughed to take my mother home on the train. A long cross-country train trip for a short furlough. My 21 year old mother would stay home with two young daughters while her husband and brothers and friends were off to war. When I read that yellowed letter, it struck me how young she was. How young they both were. That was my mother long before I was born. Her words made me think about the fact that they didn't know the outcome of the war then, it was uncertain. They didn't know what my father was going to have to live through before he got home again, or if he'd get home again. Some of their friends didn't come home and some came home broken with wounds that wouldn't heal for the rest of their lives. They didn't question the sacrifices they had to make. Our country had been attacked and the country had to be protected. We've never been called upon to make those kinds of sacrifices and can't really comprehend it. As I was reading the letter, Mother told me she and Daddy had destroyed the letters they had written to each other while he was gone to war. They were so young and, I suppose, wanted their communications to be theirs alone. Or perhaps to put those years behind them in some symbolic way. She seemed glad to have found that letter. It reminded her of things she'd forgotten. I was glad to read it. It gave me a glimpse of who my parents were in those years. And now she has her own blog - RuthLace - go figure.