They are both gone now. But before they were my grandparents, they were newlyweds separated for four years by World War II.
During that separation, they became first-time parents. My grandfather received word of my mother’s birth via a Courtesy telegram from the Red Cross, delivered on the fields of North Africa or Italy (I always forget my chronology and where he was at the time.)
DAUGHTER BORN. BOTH FINE.
I cannot look at that telegram without thinking and wondering what that must have been like, where he was at when he got the telegram, who he told, what he did. The daughter would be 4 before he would see her for the first time, aside from photos sent across the ocean.
In his eulogy, I told my grandfather’s mourners that he didn’t talk much about his Army days, but you knew that his military service was always something he remained quietly proud of. He was discharged from the Army on July 3, making the Fourth of July even more of a meaningful holiday to him.
I told them that, even at 91 years of age, “he would often say that he was planning to call his old Army officer and re-enlist. He wouldn’t mind going over and serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. You know, just to give the new guys a helping hand.” I think if he could have, he truly would. He was always, in so many ways, the soldier.
Earlier this year, I was staying overnight at my mother’s house when she handed me a box filled with old photographs and letters, mostly written from my grandmother to my grandfather while he was in the Army. We thought that, nearly a year after his death and six years after hers, that we had found everything we needed to find from their life together but we were wrong. For here, unexplicably, were these once-missing wartime letters. (They had been given to a brother, also a soldier, for safekeeping.)
They tell of shopping trips downtown (no surprise to those who knew my grandmother), of white shoes and hats and dresses purchased in anticipation of his arrival home, of picnics and visits with sisters, of movies seen and of gossip heard.
They tell the stories of the missing and the (still very much) missed.