Wednesday, July 23, 2008


There is nothing I love more than a package arriving in the mail or on a truck. Letters are different. Letters can be bad news, a bill that is twice as high as it should be, a summons, an overdue tax bill, and always, that school notification that says...Notice of Failing Grades. Nothing takes the joy out of a family dinner more than one perpetrator sitting there with failing grades, avoiding your gaze, aware that he is guilty as charged.

A package is always good news. It's a gift or an order or a surprise. This package was a surprise, a box from California that bore the return address of my nephew, Jon. I wasn't sure what it could be, so I took it to my son's house and together, we opened the box.

Inside was a collection of paraphernalia from many, many years ago. It was letters and mementos gathered in Jon's parent's home, after his father and mother had passed away. Jon's father was my brother, Bud, and the letters were sent to him in France, where he was serving in the military during and after World War II. It is hard to believe that World War II was more than 60 years ago. The letters were yellowed and crackling with age, but still legible. It is like stepping back in the past to read them.

What a brat I was at the age of 14. In one letter, I am angry at my sister, Hilda, for asking me to carry out the garbage. I was writing the letter at the time and I told Bud that she ought to know that my writing was far more important than the garbage. I was so incensed that I wrote a poem telling Bud about Hilda's faults. I accused her of "howling," and otherwise voiced my chagrin.

She should have walloped me, but I managed to grow to adulthood without being walloped by anyone. Mom and Pop were gentle souls and, other than Helma who was like a dimuitive Mohammed Ali when out of Mom's eyesight, the rest of my family was nonviolent. So my stubborn, rebellious 14-year-old attitude was unchecked and I am not sure Bud enjoyed my three page letter outlining Hilda's faults.

That isn't all. In another letter, I describe my teachers in detail, the plump ones, the skinny ones, the big-nosed one, and the one with no nose at all. I seem to be obsessed with my teacher's appearances. There was Horsebeak and Flintface and his wife, Stoneface. No wonder I didn't learn too much in high school.

There were pictures from the past, pictures of golden-haired children and others much younger than they appear today. My son said, "That can't be Uncle Deed!" I said, "It is!" He said, "It can't be, Mom! It doesn't look a thing like Uncle Deed!" But it was, and he didn't understand that 60 years take their toll, change the face, and often make away with the hair. Deed had hair that could be described as either light brown or dark blonde. He was the fairest among the twelve children, and looked a great deal like the picture that someone in the family has of Great Grandpa Marryin' Alec, nose and all.

We were at war throughout my early teen years. It was what I call a "real war," a war fought in retaliation of vicious attacks and a monster dictator marching through Europe and England and reaching for domination of the entire world. It was a crazy, patriotic time, but there was no division, no rightwing, no leftwing, no name-calling, no vicious rumors. FDR, our President, was a strong, steady man....even though he had to use a wheelchair. He literally reeked strength and I don't know if we would have won that war without him. He gave "Fireside Chats" over the radio and we would gather around it to listen to him. A New Englander, he had a twang that was even worse than Kennedy's, an aristocratic manner of speech that comedians loved to imitate.

He led us to victory, but died before it was totally achieved, leaving his duties to Harry Truman, who was a feisty, determined man who followed a schedule of a morning walk and a devotion to duty that could not be ignored. He made the decision to drop the atomic bomb in Japan. Right or wrong? Who could know? But it did save American lives.

I put the letters back in the box and sat for awhile, thinking of those wartime years, the patriotism, the rationing, the waiting for letters from abroad....the v-mail that soldiers often used. Oh, what a jubilation went through our home when the mailman delivered a letter from overseas. What a joy it was to hear from Deed or Bud or Joe or Hubert. There were the nightmare times, when we wondered what agonies they might be going through. We could only imagine them, because our lives went on as before. I went to every movie that was propaganda for the war, bawling like a baby when the five brothers drowned on a ship or when Robert Mitchum was shot as his men fought around him. The Japanese leaders were so villainous, one wanted to leap onto the screen to attack them. We were sure that they would try to send submarines into our harbors. Good thing they were placed in internment camps and put away, we thought.

Then, years later, I visited San Antonio, Texas. I wanted to see the San Antonio zoo, because I have made it a point to visit every zoo in each city I have visited, trying to find the municipality with the finest zoo. Beside the San Antonio zoo is a quarry, formed from a mine that was no longer in use. A Japanese man made this quarry his life's work, and if you visit in the Springtime, it is like walking through Eden, with flowers cascading down the sides of the quarry and splashing their colors into the slate-like shale.

During the War, this Japanese man was hauled off to an Internment Camp, along with his family, and the Japanese Garden was then called the Chinese Garden. It wasn't until the war was over that his family returned to the Garden, but by that time, the humiliated and shamed Japanese man with his obvious love of flowers had died.

So, the box that came in the mail contained more than just paper. It was crowded with memories of a very young girl growing up in a country fraught with war. It was remembrance of brothers shipped over the ocean and a sister marrying a sailor in San Francisco. It was filled with joys and sorrows and the exultant shouts of the crowds clustered on the streets on the day that the war ended. Years of struggle, of deprivation, of jubilation....crammed into one Box, returning some 63 years later to make it all seem real again.