“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

The Thrill is Gone

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My affair with coffee started in earnest during my working years. As an accountant, I was married to my desk. My computer and I could finish each other’s sentences. Week days were nothing but debits and credits and budgets, oh my!

To divert the monotony, I began to visit the break-room for coffee. One cup became two, two became three – you see where this is going? It used to be just a morning thing, then I decided why not drink coffee all day long? To make the infatuation even worse, my place of employment installed one of those fancy little machines where you could make whatever flavor you wanted! Mocha, Hazelnut, and Butter Pecan were my favorites! When I retired nearly five years ago, I’m sure the line item amount budgeted for coffee was significantly reduced.

Retirement came with considerable changes in routine, but the amount of coffee I drank was not one of them. I still spent hours on the computer, but instead of plugging numbers into spreadsheets, I would string words together to make a story or a poem. Coffee continued to be a reason to get up, take a break and refocus. My affair with coffee lived on!

Soon, I began to rely on coffee to co-author my writing. Some mornings, words awoke with the first cup and sometimes they didn’t appear until after the third. I was convinced there was a direct connection between the number of paragraphs on the page and the amount of coffee I consumed. I remember one chilly morning trying to come up with just the perfect word to fill the void in a poem I was working on. I struggled to find a compromise between the expected word and one with an abstract meaning. I lifted my cup and there it was, mingled in the black liquid magic! The perfect word! Would I have found it were it not for coffee?

Unfortunately, coffee and I will have to part ways! On a completely innocent visit to my doctor, he discovered the truth about my romance with caffeine. For assorted reasons, he suggested I drastically ease my fling with coffee or he wouldn’t allow it at all! Imagine my grief!

The good news is that we don’t have to break-up completely, coffee and me. We can still see each other two times a day. But now, when I go into the kitchen to drain the pot; when the last drop of motivation is in my cup, I wonder where I’ll find the words if they don’t show up before the cup is empty!

My response to today’s one-word prompt: Sympathy (because it is with great sympathy that I end my affair with coffee!)

A Rainbow Moon and a Deep Pink Sea

275770When I immerse myself in daydreams, what do I see? Beautiful visions! Creative words! Thoughts so endearing I am quite taken with myself! But can I turn those daydreams into writing? Almost never! Like the other day, for instance, I imagined the ocean wasn’t blue. It was maroon in the middle where it’s deep, gradually changing to rosy pink as it gets closer to shore, becoming lacy white fingers when it tickles the sand. The only other thoughts I had were of rainbow moons and puppies with white fur that sparkles. That’s it! That’s all I had! No way of tying the three together; just a rainbow moon, a deep pink sea and a puppy with white fur that sparkles! But stay tuned – I’ll keep working on it. You just never know what I might come up with!

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

“I Don’t Know You,” she said…

old woman & shadow of lady

Not one, not two, but three times! That’s how many attempts I made to interview a sweet little hospice patient for the life journal her family wanted written about their mother. The first time we met, I introduced myself and told her I wanted to ask her some questions so I could write a story about her life. She wasn’t exactly rude when she turned away from me, but she made it pretty clear that whatever she was focused on outside her nursing home window was exceedingly more important than I was!

I reported back to her family that my visit had not been productive. They assured me they would talk to her. They would remind her this was something they really wanted her to do.

On my second visit, I again introduced myself and asked if we could talk. “But I don’t know you”, she declared, “why would I want to talk to you?”

Third time’s a charm, right? Wrong! I even asked her daughter to be there too, thinking her mother would be more apt to talk if she wasn’t alone with a stranger, but it was just not going to happen!

After the third rejection, I asked the hospice nurse who visited her each day if she would casually ask some questions about her life and report back to me. Over the next month or so, the nurse gathered stories from her and I collected information and pictures from her family. I was able to write a nice narrative about her journey through life.

Several weeks after the hospice nurse delivered the completed journal to her, I received the most delightful note:

 “Dear Hospice Volunteer,

 Thank you for writing my stories and making my book.

 I will cherish it always. I read it over and over.”  

 I was told that for weeks after she received it, she carried the journal around with her daily and showed it to anyone willing to give her a moment of their time. She expressed a desire to meet “the lady who wrote my book”.

So, I made an appointment to “meet” her. Although it was my fourth time there, she did not remember me. “I don’t know you”, she said…again! I pointed to the journal she had proudly displayed on top of her dresser. “But I know you”, I told her, “I’m the one who wrote your book!” She looked at the journal, looked back at me and graced me with a smile I’ll never forget! “Oh, thank you, thank you!” she exclaimed. Her voice and posture were tired and weary, but her eyes and her smile were forever young!

 

Photo Credit: Bing search

A Purpose

We carelessly squander

and aimlessly ponder

the significance of life

as it passes us by.

With scant concentration

and meek motivation,

we search for fulfillment

but find nothing there.

What good are our choices,

our vision, our voices,

if we don’t use them;

but lock them away?

A purpose! That’s the key

to joy and sanity

or darkness swoops in

and the sun doesn’t shine!

That’s why I write…I’m a little afraid of the dark!

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My Night World

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Sometimes I can’t sleep at night. It’s nothing new. Back when I was working and raising my family, stress and worry about life’s everyday problems seemed to weigh on me like an anchor. When my daughter was a teenager, I rarely slept. After my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and failing fast, I would lie awake most nights. Then it was my husband’s snoring that kept me awake. But eventually my daughter grew up, my mother moved to heaven, I retired from my job and my husband suddenly stopped snoring! I had no excuse not to sleep! That’s when I discovered I simply choose to be awake. I enjoy being up in the middle of the night when all others in my world are sound asleep.

I love my house at night. It appears to be spotless and tidy! During the day, little things like crumbs on the counter top and scuffs on the floor bother me to distraction. They seem to scream “clean me” until I do just that! But at night I see no crumbs on the counter, no scuffs on the floor. There is no dust, nothing is out of place and my windows are squeaky-clean! The mundane tasks of the day don’t even whisper my name in the middle of the night.

I swear some nights the moon shines through the window over my front door brighter than the sun ever does, even on the most dazzling summer day, and the shadows it creates are just different somehow! More magical! More alive! The grandfather clock in the dining room that simply “tick-tock’s” during the day is a virtual symphony in the middle of the night! The noises of the house are special.  They are my friends, in the night, when we are alone!

I like to write in my night world. Words just come alive in my mind, kind of like those shadows and sounds do. I can come up with words that don’t even exist in my vocabulary during the day or when I am face to face with another person. People tend to intimidate me, but words don’t! They don’t judge. They are not harsh. They are not condescending. They do not disenchant me unless I want them to.

When I can no longer keep my eyes open, I turn off the lamp beside my chair and quietly make my way to the bedroom. Well, except for that night I ran smack into a chair! “Oh, excuse me” I mumbled, a bit bewildered! Once I realized I had just apologized to a solid, inanimate object, I knew it was way past time for me to go to bed!

Exhaustion takes over once or twice a week and I go to bed at a reasonable hour. So tired I have managed to become that I don’t wake up during the night at all. In the morning after such a night I am briefly disappointed that I didn’t get to visit my night world. Then it hits me! Tonight!  Yes, tonight I won’t need sleep! Tonight I have something to look forward to!