I know something of war. I’m convinced my awareness of it began in utero—in November, 1942 when my parents conceived me and America had been fighting in World War II for nearly one year. Bob, my mother’s beloved older brother was already in it—he was one of Patton’s warriors in Operation Torch, the November, 1942 British-United States invasion against Germany’s stronghold in French North Africa, my country’s first official military action in the European Theater of the war. By then, Bob had been in the Army for a year, stationed at various training facilities on the east coast of the United States. My father’s dear older brother Bill had enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan. Although at the time I was conceived Bill was still stateside, in California, actually, among my parent’s other male friends and relations of draft age, most were in military training camps or fighting overseas, or expected to be at any moment. “War” was at the front of everyone’s mind then, in their conversations, their dreams; it defined every facet of their lives. It was as much a part of my mother as her blood type, and through our interdependence was transferred to me. I’m sure of it.
November, 1942 was momentous for my parents in another way since it was the month Dad turned eighteen, and therefore, became eligible for the draft. My parents had been married for two months almost to the day. And if my calculations are correct, considering the 280-day gestation period for humans, Mom’s egg and Dad’s sperm that united and made me blossomed a mere six days before Dad’s eighteenth birthday and 57 days after they had tied the knot. Needless to say, Mom’s anxiety went through the roof, and to elevate her disquiet still further, her seventeen-year-old brother Bussy, seriously ill since the age of ten with a respiratory ailment, took a turn for the worse and died on January 5, 1943. A sad sidebar to his death is that more than likely, penicillin would have saved him, but it occurred before the drug was available to the general public. My grandmother, my mother, and Bob never got over losing Bussy.
For an achingly long period of time after Bob’s deployment to Africa, letters between American servicemen abroad and their families back home were few and far between. This was a family of prolific letter writers. (I know without question the source of my writing gene.) Having grown accustomed to receiving a letter, and sometimes two letters per day from Bob, my grandparents and all who knew and also corresponded with him grew frantic with fear for him during the lengthy communication blackout. The worst of it for my grandparents was that they had no reliable means of informing Bob either of his brother’s failing health, or of his passing. Following my grandmother’s death in 2001, among hundreds of old letters, cards, newspaper clippings, photographs, and other print material spanning the years of the Great Depression and World War II, found in an old chest tucked at the back of a closet of her house, was the following letter. At the time of her passing, Dean, her youngest, was her only living offspring. She was eight months shy of her 100th birthday and had outlived her husband and seven of her children, including Bob and my mother:
Peebles, Ohio Jan. 10, 1943
It is with a sad and aching heart [but] I am going to write to you. I have studied and thought what is best to do. But this is the only way I can see. Son poor little Bussy left us on Jan. 5 at Cora’s house. [Cora was my grandmother’s sister who lived in town close to the doctor and hospital] I am so lonesome & nervous. I was constantly by his side for 3 weeks. He passed away just 3 weeks from the day he took bad. He & I was sitting at the table eating our dinner on Dec. 15, when I just happened to look at him & seen something was wrong with him. His face & head was jerking awful. I ran around to him & asked what was wrong. He coulden’t talk. It only lasted a short time. When he got over it he said, “Oh Mom. It is just this old disease getting the best of me.” We had the Dr. He [the doctor] said he could do nothing. He [Bussy] had 5 of those spells then took an awful headache. We took him to the hospital. They said there was a clot on his brain. It was on the right side but made his left arm & leg useless. He woulden’t stay in the hospital. I took him to Cora’s as they told me it would be allright since they could do nothing. Said all I could do was keep his head packed in Ice, rest & quiet. We were at Cora’s a week, and the last few days he seemed so much better. I thought he was going to get well, and could soon take him home [to their farm], as I wrote and told you. Don’t know if you ever got the letter or not. But the suffering I guess was to much for his heart & then you know what a condition he was in any way. Son he took it all so patient. Just prayed all the time almost. He wanted Herman [Tolle, the preacher]. He told him he was ready to go. Oh son how he prayed for all you boys. It would wring your heart. The last words I heard him say was,“Tell them all to meet me.” His mind was so on Sim [Workman, their friend who was also in the Army fighting in North Africa] somehow. Said “Mommy, I feel sorry for Sim. He diden’t have a Mother to tell him about Jesus like I have.” Although you know Sim has a good mother. He [Bussy] would put his arms around me and say “I love you Mommy.” I don’t know whether I can ever stand this or not, but Son put your trust in Jesus. Ask him every day to take care of you. Bussy would say “Mommy, don’t worry about Bob. He is coming back.” But the Lord can cut us all off any time. So don’t forget to pray if it is only to yourself. Poor little Bussy is in a better home but I miss him so. He was always here with me. I can never stay here alone anymore. Well Son I can’t write more but can only say put your trust in God and we will all be living on for happier days some where. Answer if you can. With so much love, Mother.
P.S. This is Mon. morning. I forgot to say the rest of us is well. Son I hope you are well. Try and not to grieve to much only live to meet Bussy. I feel a little better this morn(ing). Some think I shoulden’t of let you know. But I coulden’t of lived a lie & write to you like everything was allright, and then probably some one else would of said something about it when they would write to you. All we can say is Gods will must be done. By by. XOXOXO
Bussy’s heroic seventeen years of life is a centerpiece of GUARDIANS AND OTHER ANGELS (http://goo.gl/imUwKO), my novel that is a blend of fact and fiction, populated by my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my parents and the people of their circles, as well as one main fictional character. It is set primarily during the years of the First World War, the Great Depression, and the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II. An additional key feature of the novel is the transcription of dozens of my family’s old letters, of the tenor of the one above. The letters chronicle, in exceedingly intense intimacy, the hearts and minds of a community of deep country people far removed from mainstream life at the time. While they were poor and unsophisticated, eking out a living from the soil, they fell in love, got married, and raised children; they endured illness, death, and every conceivable loss, and yet they celebrated life so profoundly as to warm your heart or break it. It was these people and their counterparts across the nation first called upon to put the lives of their boys on the line and to save the world during World War II. I gave Bussy life once again in my novella for young readers titled ROOSTER TALE (http://goo.gl/vNq32g).
My father was drafted into the Navy in mid-1943. He was given a medical discharge while still in boot camp, however, a consequence of a severe problem with his stomach. It was a condition that plagued him all the 89 years of his life. He didn’t make it home in time to witness my birth, but arrived soon thereafter. Following my mother’s death on June 29, 1992, Dad was the one remaining constant of love and strength for my sisters and me until his death on March 29, 2014. Had she lived, the day my father died would have been my mother’s 91st birthday.
From the instant of my conception to the present day, “War” has been my consistent reality, as it has been for everyone else, to one degree or another—far too many of us in the thick of it, and others like me, witnessing it via the media. Today it is quite possible we are in peril of yet another war—and if it comes to pass this time and under the present circumstances, it might be the final one for reasons too frightening to contemplate. If that is the case, where will future generations find reserves of old letters, CDs, computer hard drives, and flash drives among the carnage and charred remains of our planet to tell them about us? The elephant in the room is whether or not there would be future generations. GOD HELP US!
Best-selling author, blogger, award-winning artist and interior designer Linda Lee Greene is on social media at the following:
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