I found something. When my parents died a few years ago I was left boxes of recipes, photos and papers to sift through. I have browsed through everything but recently came across a file folder of old recipes and found a letter my father had written to his mother. The letter was dated Sept. 17, 1945, and scrawled on American Red Cross stationery, written in Tidworth, England. My father was a radio announcer and a writer, so I could hear his distinctive baritone voice as I read the letter. He was a frustrated Army Air Force Sergeant trying to get home to America after the war ended.
“Dear mother. I am mad as (bleep)! I should never have told you I was coming home because this redeployment deal is such a mess that it could stand a Senate investigation. My entire outfit was stranded in France, sitting around doing nothing! Then a bunch of us in the 450th Bomb Squad got flown out to England, staying in Warrington for over a week, doing nothing again. On Sept. 14, 1,000 men left on a train for Southampton. where we were to catch a ship home. Instead, 200 of us were sent on a 300-mile train ride to Liverpool to try and catch a beat-up old boat that may limp to New York in 14 days! Oh, but we missed the ship, so we are stuck for another two weeks!”
My father had plenty more to say, and then ended with, “Something is rotten when the great Army and Navy that transported men and equipment to invade the fortifications of Western Europe cannot even land their own men on their own shores in a reasonable time.” He was pretty steamed that he would miss my mother’s birthday. And reading the long-lost letter was like seeing a completely different side of my father. The lens that we view our parents through is often constricted to one-way … child to parent.
I also found a little booklet made out of the flimsy pages of cigarette packs, strung together with string. My father had received this from a friend who was a prisoner of war for two years. As a colonel, the man had the other prisoners write their names, rank, serial numbers and addresses on the pages of the flimsy cigarette pack paper. Not sure how, but it ended up in a folder of Christmas cookie recipes. Worthy of a WWII museum, it is a faded glimpse into the treacheries of war. And the hope of men.
I looked at a recipe for Christmas Day plum pudding and I saw my mother’s handwriting on the back of the index card saying “very long and hard day.” It sent a jolt through me, since I guess the recipe was written when I was a child, and I never recalled one holiday being “long and hard.” But then again, I never knew my father to say the “h-e-l-l” word in my entire life.
Our parents. Did we really know them? Maybe, or maybe not. They are far more complex than our memories. They taught us so much, and even after they are gone, the learning continues. One letter at a time.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor. Have a story or a comment? Email Judy at firstname.lastname@example.org.