Friday, January 15, 2010


I have always been amused by the tales I heard of the places where Mom and Pop lived with their brood before moving to the Farm. I have written about the lack of electricity, the ramshackle buildings, the leaks in the ceilingx and the snakes in the yards. Before I was born here in Michigan, and after Pop lost the farm he had bought, they rented places to house their growing family, which then numbered nine or ten children.

For a while, they lived in a place they called "The Deefendallar Place." Evidently, somewhere in Illinois, there is a family called The Deefendallars." Mom and Pop rented a home that the Deefendallars owned and, from what Mom told me, it was as bereft of comforts as all of the places they could afford. From the Deefendallar place, they moved to "The Holler." I don't think the Holler was any improvement, but it served them for a year or two until they moved into the house that burnt down.

I've never known what caused that fire, but I do know that the blaze was out of control. Mom got the kids together and got them outside to safety, but Pop was caught upstairs with either Homer or Bud, I'm not sure which. Anyway, he somehow snatched up the baby and made his way down the burning staircase, with flames licking at his clothing and roaring through the gray timbers of the house.

Along with the house, the fire took away all of their clothing and possessions. Years later, the U. S. Passport office insisted that I send them a family Bible or some document that would prove I was not born in either Canada or Mexico. Alas, any Bible or document had been lost in the fire and the only memento I have from my parents is an old gray pitcher with a tiny crack in its rim, so old I am afraid to even touch it. Here and there, there are a few photos of people in my family, scattered about where it is difficult to find them. Somewhere, in that maze of papers and pictures, I have a photo of Bud dressed in his Army uniform and ready for battle.

How different the world was when Bud, Deed, and Hubert went to war, leaving their families behind. By that time, I was almost reaching my teens and we lived in the place I have always called The Farm. Hubert was never sent any farther than Hawaii, which before it was made a state, was deemed a foreign country. Bud went on to be stationed in France, which was finally liberated from the Germans. What battles he fought, what bloodshed he saw, we never knew, for he kept it inside and never spoke of his experiences. Hubert, on the other hand, made much of his wartime battles as he was placed in a platoon that fought mosquitoes in Hawaii. Even today, that semi-tropical paradise is free of mosquitoes.

At that time, the city of Pontiac, Michigan, was a busy, thriving metropolis. It had a dime store that stretched for a city block, and many clothing stores, restaurants, hardware stores and other establishments offering everything you might need. Today, Pontiac is an impoverished wreck of a city, the dime store long gone, the other stores failing or empty. It is a ghost of its former self, a reminder of all that has gone wrong with our country.

Almost overnight, the automobile factories switched over to war vehicles and women began taking jobs as never before. The entire country united in an effort to defeat the Axis, which consisted of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Defeat them we did, and it was a joyous time when my brothers were finally home.

In my mind, I have often compared the War Then to the War Now. There was no ideological division then, everyone was happy that we had pulled out of Depression, and almost everyone cried like babies when Roosevelt died. We were apprehensive of Truman, but he proved to be a feisty, determined President who led us to the victory we claimed.

It was Truman who had the responsibility of deciding whether or not to use the atomic bomb. It must have caused him some sleepless nights, but he finally decided to use it, thus saving American lives. So the Enola Gay took off on its journey and the long war with Japan was over. The heartrending sight of horribly-burned Japanese citizens has haunted us for years, citizens that ignored the leaflets distributed by other planes before the bombs were released.

Today's war is a guerilla war, fighting Middle Eastern radicals that have made it their goal to destroy us. If financial destruction is what this meant, and some say it was, then they have accomplished their goal, for we flounder again in a huge recession that has cost us our jobs and our money. However, the American spirit is alive and well, albeit divided. One has to believe that if the fight for political power would cease and everyone join in to work toward victory, we could win this war as well. Instead, our politicians bicker and fight, Tea Parties attract dissidents, and name-calling never seems to cease.

When my brothers came home, our lives went on as though there had never been a war. Rows of little two or three-bedroom houses, with no similarity to the mini-mansions of today, housed almost every veteran and his family. Low-interest loans were available to veterans and this is how most of them afforded their first home.

Once again, we were all together again and the Farm was the meeting place every Sunday. It was there that we chatted, argued and sang together, with no talk of politics or of war. Bud and Hubert always loved little children and would tease and play with them for hours. I would run in the orchard with my nieces and nephews and not come in until dinnertime. Mom and the sisters and sisters-in-law would set the table and load it with food. Then, the fun really began. We did not eat quiet, formal meals, but constantly teased each other, tossing biscuits around, and joking about everything that had happened throughout the week. Pop, his head down as though he was avoiding all this horseplay, would concentrate on eating his food, his favorite "grease gravy" in a small bowl in front of him. I don't even know for sure what "grease gravy" was made of, be it pork chops or bacon or Heaven knows what, but I know that Pop wouldn't eat potatoes without it. Hubert always dug into the corn when it was ripe, chowing down several golden ears, while Bud liked biscuits as much as myself, busily smearing them with homemade butter.

When Pop was older and sick in the hospital, I went to visit him there. First, he was irritated and commanded me to fetch his clothes because he intended to walk out of this "hellhole." When I didn't move, he looked at me with that gleam in his eye and said, "Don't you hear me? Do what I say!" I was agonized, wanting to obey him and walk with him out of that hospital and back to the family home, but I didn't dare do it! I just sat there, tears rolling down my cheeks, sobbing for things I couldn't change, sobbing because I feared he would never come back home.

Then, he became quiet and thoughtful, looked at me as I sat beside his bed, and told me, "There's too many to leave behind!" I knew then, and he knew, too, that his days in the world were numbered. He knew that he would never again walk behind a plow in a field, the sun beating down on that battered old hat, the wind in his face, the horses pulling together.

As the years go by and memories of those golden days are all that I have, I can truthfully say I feel the same way. There's too many people to love and care about, too many to leave behind. All we can do is hope that someday....somewhere...we will be together again, a hope that is shared by everyone with people to love and laughter to share and memories to carry them onward. Too many to leave behind. Too many to ever forget!