My mother was the last of her generation, the only one who remembered events actually happening, rather than just hearing about them. In this blog, I plan to share with you not only the creative process behind my book, but also some of the many anecdotes from her full and amazing life.
I’ve selected this first one because it reveals so much about my mother, her insecurities, my father, and their relationship. The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred during my parents’ senior year of college. Within hours, my father had volunteered to serve in the Army Air Corps. Like so many young couples at that time, they wed just before he began basic training. Instead of attending classes at Harvard, my father learned to be a pilot. My mother left Emerson College behind to be with him, wherever he was assigned. Her sheltered childhood ended quickly when she became an army wife. The following is an excerpt from Forever Autumn, an unpublished manuscript we co-authored based on her journals.
The trip to Bennettsville, South Carolina was easy for me, but my luggage had a more difficult time. When I arrived, I was told that my suitcase had been sent elsewhere and might not arrive for several days. Without letting this bother me, as it surely would have before all my war-time travels began, I left the depot in search of both a home and a store where I could purchase clothes to wear until my valise could find me.
As I walked down Main Street, I passed the only restaurant in town, a drugstore, a grocery, a department store, and a hotel that was closed for the duration of the war. After several more blocks, I saw a house with rooms for rent. In just twenty minutes of arriving in town, I had found my new home.
When Leon called that evening, he said that one day a week, I could take the bus out to the airfield, spend an hour in the cadet day room, and have dinner with him. On the weekends, he could come to me.. Disappointed that we’d have to wait several days until the weekend before we could spend the night together, we settled for a brief visit the following afternoon.
We had dinner at the base with two of his army buddies who I had come to know well during their time assigned to a camp in Maine. As I looked at the meal before me, I lost my appetite. There were gnats everywhere. I could even see them crawling around in the whites of the eyes of all the cadets. I couldn’t take a bite without eating gnats as well. When I complained, Leon reprimanded me in front of our friends. I felt hurt and embarrassed. I knew he was right in that there was nothing to be done but accept the gnats. Nobody else seemed to mind them, so why should I? Was I really the spoiled girl he accused me of being?
While I felt guilty for complaining, I was hurt that Leon spoke harshly to me, that he embarrassed me by treating me like an ill-behaved child. Despite my feelings, however, I couldn’t express my hurt to Leon. Just as I’d always accepted it when my father reprimanded me, not only as a child, but right up to his death when I was in my fifties, I accepted it when Leon did the same. I felt that if I tried to speak, I would cry. So I swallowed my hurt, along with the gnats, and promised myself I would be better in the future and make Leon proud of me, rather than ashamed.