“I Was More Than That,” she said . . .

war bride

I have the unique privilege of meeting hospice patients for the purpose of writing their life story, so I’ve heard some pretty amazing tales!  I’ve learned about lives well lived, about accomplishments and regrets, and about the way certain events can shape a person’s life forever. It’s been awhile since I last shared a hospice story, so here’s one about a woman who grew up in London during the bombing blitz of WWII. At 18, she became a war bride, but when I met her at the age of 90, she was quick to point out that’s not all she was!

She was born in London in 1928. Her father was a letterpress operator for a London newspaper, the Daily Herald, and her mother was a teacher at a school for girls. She was 12 years old when German warplanes began bombing the city every night for 57 consecutive nights in attacks that continued until May 1941. During the bombings her family took shelter in the basement of a nearby warehouse. She recalls how very loud it was, even underground, and how they tried to drown out the noise by singing and dancing to Glen Miller while bombs were being dropped above them. She remembers the strange color of the sky and the smell of smoke as they walked home each morning through the war-torn city. When the Blitz ended, much of London was destroyed or damaged and 375,000 citizens were left homeless.

She had two sisters and one brother. They, along with her parents, survived the bombings but their home did not. She was 15 before they found a permanent home, having moved from place to place for several years. The best part about having their own home again was being able to take a bath, but she remembers the day her mother drew a 5-inch line around the inside of the bath tub because that’s all the water they were allowed to use due to government restrictions. There were also rations on food, clothing and shoes. She, her sisters and her mother all shared the only five dresses they owned.

When she was 17, dancing was still a favorite pastime just as it had been in that warehouse basement, so one night her sisters snuck her into a dance hall where American GI’s often spent their free time and money. She met her future husband there, dancing the Jitterbug and drinking “bitters”. She soon found out that marrying her young soldier was not going to be easy. American servicemen were met with numerous obstacles if they wanted to marry while overseas. After finally being granted permission from his Commanding Officer (and her parents), they were married in 1946. They enjoyed a two-week honeymoon before he was sent to Paris. Once he knew when he could return to the States, he applied for her to be sent to America as a War Bride. She was summoned to the American Embassy in London for an interview, then put on a waiting list with thousands of other English brides.

Eleven months later, it was finally time to say goodbye to her family and her home. Until then, life in London was all she had ever known. It took over two weeks to sail from Southampton to New York. She remembers being impressed by the skyscrapers, never having seen such tall buildings before.  She also remembers when she got off the ship there was no one to greet her. She was to have been met by her husband’s parents, but her ship, The S.S. Argentina, was several days late. She lived in Boston with her new in-laws, who were strangers to her, for three months while she waited for her husband to come home.

The American GI and his War Bride were married for 32 years and had three sons. He became a car salesman after his discharge from the Army and she was a cook in an elementary school for 14 years. They moved to the Mid-West and opened their own restaurant in 1968. Ten years later, he passed away. She sold the restaurant and opened a pastry shop in a small suburb where her pies and cakes were in high demand. The boys were busy and popular. Her two oldest sons graduated from college and the youngest one joined the Army, like his father.

She was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2015 and was placed on hospice services in 2017. I met her because her family wanted me to document her life story in a journal. They provided me with decades of photos, and I collected memories from her to include in the book. The first time she and I talked, I told her I heard she was a War Bride. “Well, I was more than that!” she said, so I decided not to talk about it further unless she brought it up. I let her tell me she was a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She was an avid reader, a school board member, a devout Christian, and a bird watcher. She loved to travel, to cook and to watch old movies. She and her husband danced together for nearly 30 years. It didn’t take long, however, before she was telling me about the air-raids in London and what it was like to leave home all by herself. Was she brought to America as a War Bride? Yes, she was! But she was SO much more than that!

Here are more of my hospice stories, if you care to read them:

“I Don’t Know You,” she said . . .

“It’s Who I Was,” he said . . .

Write a Positive Page

When Illness Comes (Poem)

Photo credit: Bing search

Foto Friday #15

IMG_1330 (2)

I’m taking a break from travel writing to talk about the weather!

Several weeks ago, it rained for six days in a row where I live. The ground was completely saturated and squished in minor protest beneath my feet. Temporary puddles thought they had found a permanent home. After a week, there was a pause for a day of sunshine… then it rained again. It even briefly snowed! I feared we were going from summer straight into winter with only a short-lived Fall.

More than rain fell during that period of time. Autumn leaves came down too, some prematurely forced from the trees while they were still green. Others were dead and ready to fall anyway, the progression of life returning to the ground from which it came.

We’ve had no new moisture for a couple of days, but a distinct chill lingers in the air. I’ve noticed colorful leaves now float in the puddles that remain, replacing the dull, monotonous leaves from a few weeks ago. Today I caught them swimming in a reflection of beautiful blue sky. Maybe there will be a Fall after all!

A Quiet Morning

drip (2)

The faucet at the kitchen sink is dripping again. Hmm, I thought we fixed that! It’s amazing how loud it sounds as I lounge in my favorite chair with my morning coffee. Just as I take a sip, the automatic ice-maker deposits its latest round of fresh ice into the freezer’s dispenser. The sudden racket startles me and coffee dribbles down the front of my pretty pink shirt. Now I’m perturbed… even the clocks annoy me! We have two pendulum clocks; a grandfather clock in the dining room and a mantle clock over the fireplace. Usually the pendulums swing at the same pace, but this morning one is out of sync, so the normal “tick-tock” in unison now resonates “tick-tick-tock-tock” instead. How can that be, I ask you? They both show exactly the same time! I take a deep breath – and another sip of coffee. Tap-tap-tappity-tap-tap! Are you kidding me? The obnoxious woodpecker is causing commotion again today. He thinks it’s funny – I know he does – to drill like a jackhammer on the gutters of our house rather than one of the dozen trees in our backyard. I march out onto the deck, flinging my arms like a mad woman to shoo him away. I settle back into my chair, slip my shoes off, put my feet up and grab my cup of coffee; which unfortunately has gotten cold, but I drink it anyway. A faint clank and a whoosh of air tells me the air conditioner has kicked on and there will be a bit of white noise until the temperature inside the house has met its goal. I reach down and pull a light-weight blanket over my bare feet (they get cold when the air is on). A contented sigh escapes me as I begin to relax. Beep, beep, beep! The dryer down the hall indicates the clothes that have long been tumbling are finally dry. If it wasn’t so quiet in here, I might have missed the signal. Wait, what? It’s not quiet in here! It’s chaos! I might as well get up and fold the laundry… and change my shirt!

Playing with words this morning, this is my response to RDP #68 Word Prompt – Play

Russian Nesting Dolls

dolls

Sometimes I feel like a set of Russian nesting dolls where different versions of myself are stacked inside one another.

The largest doll is the version of me my husband sees. It’s the most complete “me”—the loving, caring, stubborn, irrational, for-better-for-worse me. I don’t pretend with him. He sees it all!

The next doll represents the me my daughter sees; the one she once loved more than anyone else, then hated (ah, teenagers!) and then loved again. It is not without precedents that we occasionally struggle to understand each other, but that’s OK. We are the best of friends!

Then there’s the me my grandchildren see: the middle doll. It’s the best version of me because I have no flaws with them—not yet! Their eyes light up whenever they see me and that’s when I’m the happiest “me”.

The next to the last doll is the version of me my friends and acquaintances see. It’s the one you must peel away several layers to find; the one trying to put her best foot forward but is cautious not to venture too far.

Who is the real “me”? The one I am when no one else is looking? I’m the smallest nesting doll! The one tucked deep inside all the others; the one that only comes out when I deliberately take myself apart and search for “me”.

PS – The nesting dolls (also known as Matryoshka or Babushka dolls) were purchased on a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia.

This is my response to the “Ragtag Daily Prompt”: Precedent

On Father’s Day

Happy-Fathers-Day-2016-Images-2

On Father’s Day, I am thankful for the Dads who protect not only their daughters, but all the girls in the world by being men who are gallant and civil and respectful; Dads who take care of those whom they could easily suppress but wouldn’t dare—because they are Fathers! I am thankful for the Dads who set good examples for their sons by nurturing a willingness to help others, proving that love displays more strength than indifference does; Dads who walk the straight and narrow path of responsibility—because they are Fathers!

Out with the Old, In with the… Old?

IMG_8685 (3)

It’s not quite the new year and already the Christmas decorations are gone! I used to wait until New Year’s Day while everyone else was watching football to tackle the chore of putting things away. This year, however, I just couldn’t wait to get things back to normal. It took me two days to pack up the festive adornment that won’t come back out again until after next Thanksgiving.  As every Christmas item was taken down, the same old stuff went back in place. The house began to feel normal again. I like our standard arrangement of furniture now that the tree is gone, and I like the fireplace free of stockings and the mantle with its old candlesticks instead of the nativity scene. Everything co-ordinates again – the colors, the textures, the balance. It just all fits!

My philosophy on home décor used to be the same as that popular phrase about a new year: “out with the old, in with the new”. Decorating was my thing! I would peruse “Better Homes and Gardens” and “House Beautiful” magazines, and frequent interior design stores to keep current on the latest colors and styles. Every couple of years the house would get a fresh new look in paint color and accessories. Occasionally, I’d find a new piece of furniture for here or there. Trendy! I wanted to be trendy!

But somewhere along the way, I decided I liked what I had, so why change it? My house began to fit me like a well-worn pair of sweatpants instead of designer jeans. It was comfortable – it IS comfortable!  I suppose though, that after 15 years of dusting over, under and around the prominent candlesticks on the mantle, it might be time to replace them—almost!

My response to today’s one-word prompt: Almost