The photo challenge is Rainbow Colors. This picture is not only colorful, but it reminds me of how her sweet ways could turn my days into gold at the end of a rainbow!
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:
Photo credit: Bing search
I love how poetry is subject to interpretation. All writing is, to a certain degree, but poetry often means different things to different people and can stretch far beyond what the writer imagined. Take last year’s poem Thanksgiving in Hannah’s Kitchen, for instance. It met with mixed reviews: some liked it, some did not. Some saw it as funny and some found it sensual. Here’s how I see Hannah. She is the oldest, probably lonely, and least hospitable member of her family. She has prepared more Thanksgiving dinners than she cares to remember. She has the timing of every dish down to a science and prefers to do it herself over the drama and chaos that comes with “help”. Time alone finds her reminiscing, but there comes a point during her familiar routine when she grows impatient with the turkey… and maybe with herself. Here again is Thanksgiving in Hannah’s Kitchen:
Aromas, spicy and strong,
emit themselves from the depths of Hannah’s kitchen
where she busies herself with tasks no one will notice:
potatoes peeled, cranberries washed
and flour swept from the floor after making pies.
Many in her family have offered to help
but Hannah finds them useless
like the cold, dead turkey she pats dry.
She fills the bird with stuffing and rubs him with oil,
massaging the skin as if it were a former lover.
She reflects on by-gone days and early escapades
into the promises and promiscuity of youth.
She glances around the kitchen,
embarrassed by the direction her mind has gone;
just one more reason she is glad to be alone.
She tends to the turkey once again,
preening him like a groom before his wedding.
It startles her when his legs become untucked,
as if wanting to stand up, one last time, in the shallow pan.
Meticulously she binds them—tighter this time
then shoves the whole damn turkey into the oven.
Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate it!
Home feels best when you’ve been away from it for a while. The thought of returning home after a long trip is nearly as exciting as the trip itself. We just spent two beautiful weeks in Italy where we collected memories, stories and photos that will last us forever. I plan to share some of them, so stay tuned; but for now, I’m enjoying the familiar comforts of home… and doing laundry!
I took 3, 431 photos on my camera and over 200 photos on my cell phone while we were traveling. Needless to say, it will take some time to go through them all, but this one taken at night from a bridge in Venice is bound to be among my favorites.
I’m glad to be back! I missed you, blogging friends!
Echo the Footsteps – a haiku
Footsteps, now silent,
resonate as memories
across the old bridge
This bridge is gone now. It was a feature I dearly loved in my neighborhood, but because it was difficult to maintain, the political powers-that-be decided to remove it. I used to go there daily to observe nature, the changing seasons, and either the swift movement or sluggish ripple of the creek below. Dozens of photos like the one above – and my footsteps across this bridge – are cherished memories.
While touring Ireland a year ago, we had ample opportunity to sample a variety of liquid refreshment! Local pubs are the heart and soul of the Emerald Isle. Our favorite “pub” experience was at a corner bar in Galway; not so much for the beer, but for the sweetest little old man we encountered there. He was in town that day for a doctor’s appointment and had stopped by his favorite pub for a pint of Guinness before heading home. He clearly enjoyed telling us all about himself and even circled a spot on our map to show us where he was from. You can get a drink anywhere, but the people you share one with make the memories special!
Deep into ever-dimming light
where dampness dwells on the walls
of what seems a bottomless well,
sinks an old wooden bucket
attached by heavy rope
to a crank turned with ease
by his big strong hands.
Down, down in the murky shadows
the bucket magically fills
with water before he hauls it
out of the darkness and into the light.
The bucket arrives full of clean, clear water
glistening in the sun where the reflection
casts playful spots upon my face.
A ladle hangs, as it always does,
from a hook beside the crank
which he dutifully dips into the water.
Carefully, as though the contents were a prize,
he brings the tarnished ladle to my lips
for a sip of sparkling cold refreshment.
This is how I remember it… decades ago on Grandpa’s farm.