Friday, August 10, 2007

I am lost in the 30s and 40s

Shhh ... don't break the spell.

Last night, my mother and I stayed up far too late, talking about her early life. My father is a natural-born storyteller, but my mother rarely goes back in time. Last night, she did.

And wow, the stories. Born in 1930, she and her parents went to live with her grandparents after the Great Flood of 35, then later lived with them during the end of World War II. She was 11 when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and like those who remember where they were when Kennedy was shot or when the Challenger exploded, she remembers vividly playing with her cousins when all of the adults ran and huddled around the giant radio.

Bastrop's Camp Swift was right by where she lived, so she saw her mother, her grandmother, her other relatives, all take in boarders, mostly the soldier's wives. Her "rich" grandmother also took in boarders; it wasn't about money, it was about doing your part for the war effort.

My grandfather, who had been crippled in an automobile accident years previously, could not go to war. He wound up in charge of the German POWs at Camp Swift. He hated it, because he -- like most everyone at that time -- hated the Germans. But he acknowledged to his wife that they were extremely artistic. Some of the POWs died, and the others build a cemetary for them, with whatever rocks and objects they could find.

What happened to that cemetary, I wonder. The land used for the POW camp came from farmers and was returned to them after the War. Did they simply allow grass to grow over that area? Is it now covered with tract housing?

I can't assimilate that world with the one we live in now. A world where after an attack on our soil by terrorists, the president instructs everyone to show their patrotism by going shopping. A war where the only Americans it touches are the soldiers and their families. Fill up your gas tank. Go about your business. This doesn't affect us.

Meanwhile, back in the world my mother's memories produced, my grandfather is carpooling with so many other men, they are sitting on each other's laps, because gas is so limited. My mother and her baby brother are dragging their little wagon around, collecting for the war effort. Her friends' mothers are living without their husbands, because they've all signed up for duty. The young wives of the soldiers ("I think one was real young -- I remember she still wore bobby socks,") gave my great-grandmother their ration coupons so that she could cook for them all.

Here we are. Just another day in paradise.


juffie said...

And what's so astonishing about it is the positive attitude, even light hearts, with which all this was faced ... listen to XM Radio Channel 4 (40's music), watch the movies from the 30's and 40's, it's not just "escapism", it's a rugged attitude to dealing with what life hands you. Love songs about lost love are still light - the lyrics showing its possible to move on. Some difference from today's "Oh gawd my fingernail broke" "Oh my gawd they didn't have any Peach Snapple" and "The cleaner broke my button! Life is over!" orientation.

Comrade Kevin said...

I have nothing but respect for my grandparents, who braved the Depression and a World War with the utmost sense of stoicism and even optimism.

I sense a major recession coming down the pike, so I think we would be wise to learn from the examples of our elders.