It’s only natural that I find myself reminiscing and missing Mom today, since I can’t spend the day with her like I did when she was still here. I have plenty of good memories to keep me company today but I also have lots of questions. There are things I never thought to ask Mom about before but now I’m really curious to learn the stories she would have told, had I asked.
If I look at a history book, I learn that the Great Depression began in August of 1929 and lasted for ten years. Mom was born in August of 1929. So she was born into a time in U.S. history synonymous with uncertainty, scarcity and hardship. I wonder what those years were like for a child growing up at that time in history? I never thought to ask. Mom never talked about it, nor did my grandparents, uncle or aunt.
Then I realize World War II began in 1939 and didn’t end until September of 1945. The U.S. entered this war in December of 1941 right after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. This directly impacted every American citizen’s life in myriad ways. For my Mom and her siblings it meant that their dad was gone for the next four years. He was a naval medical officer and spent those years on an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific. Letters were the only contact they had with him. There was no face time, zoom time, phone time, anything at that time in history. (I know that is hard to imagine now) TVs were not in homes until the 1950’s, so not until five years after World War II ended. Radios and letters carried the news.
I’m trying to imagine what that would have been like. From ages twelve to sixteen, my Mom and her brother and sister (and countless other families as well) did not see their dad, relying solely on letters to connect them during this time. I have one of those letters, written from a dad to his daughter during this time apart – we found them when we went through Mom’s stuff after her death. No wonder she saved them. How rare and precious the words on that piece of paper! I find myself wondering how long it must have taken their letters to go back and forth. Being on a ship in the middle of the ocean during a global war, mail couldn’t have been a high priority or very reliable. But we found some letters that survived the war and time. Much more satisfying than an email or a text, I felt a connection to my Mom’s past as I held the letter in my hand.
How I wish I could talk with Mom now and gain her perspective on what we have watched take place in these last two years. Labeled “the global pandemic” – would it have filled with fear and paralyzed my Mom, who had spent all of her first sixteen years of life surviving the Great Depression and World War II? My Mom would face more trials and hardships throughout her life, most of which I only realized as an adult looking back, seeing then what a child could not see unless a parent burdened them with realities they did not need to carry as a child.
These were both personal trials and the trials specific to the historical period in which we live. Every era has its own challenges to overcome. The Korean and the Vietnam Wars would follow as would women’s rights and Civil Rights movements. Probably more daunting are the challenges of personal life that we all face in many forms as we strive to make marriages work, care for our families, whether that be children or aging parents or both, and contribute productively to our larger community. My Mom did all of these things. She did them well and she did them faithfully, with quiet dedication and perseverance. She did not give up on her family or her friends or her church or meals on wheels or on anything or anyone else that mattered to her.
She knew adversity and it did not scare her. Or if it did, I did not know it because it did not deter her from living her life daily in the service of those she loved. I, as one of her daughters, am fortunate to be a recipient of her love and of her legacy of facing fear and living life in the presence of adversity. I wrote these words to my Mom some time ago, but don’t think I ever sent the letter. Wish I’d asked more questions. Wish I’d spent more time. But Mom, here’s what I want to say to you,
“You gave me, you gave us, joy in spite of your pain. I look at you, Mom, and I know what courage is. Courage is loving in the face of hurt. I know disappointment and pain, and because of this, I am forced to make a choice every day – choose courage or give up. Like you I will not give up. Like you I will choose courage all over again every day. Thank you for leaving me this legacy. Forgive me for not recognizing this gift of yours sooner.”
I honor my Mom today with these words and reflections, even as I would give anything to be spending this day with her again, going to church with her, eating afterwards at her favorite restaurant. Today memories of her are keeping me company instead.
“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)
love you, Mom –
sincerely, Grace Day