Monday, May 5, 2014

Military Memories: Women in the War, the mothers who waited

I'm following the GeneaBloggers writing prompt for the month of May with short posts now and again on the topic of Military Memories, from Jennifer Holik. Must admit that I'm enjoying it and thinking about my own impressions of the time in history just before I was born at the start of the Baby Boom. Mom and I have talked a lot about the war years and I never tire of hearing her stories and descriptions of people and places. This time we are interested in women and their role in war, or at least as it was for Mom and Dad's families. The place is that small mountain town in Western Maryland called Frostburg.

Just to drive around Frostburg during the war years, assuming that you had a car and enough gas coupons which were both all but impossible to get because of rationing, and you'd notice the stars in windows indicating how many young people in the family were serving their country. Grandma Kelly had two stars in her window, one for Bernie and the other for Delbert.

Here are the Kelly women in the backyard posing before the boys went off to WWII. Grandma Kelly is second from the left and in no mood to smile.

Dad with Delbert on the left and Bernie on the right.

Grandma Kelly had three sons and three daughters and two of her three sons were going to war. Now I know Grandma and that top photo tells the story. She was real worried. Who wouldn't be? And I think that for the women at home in Frostburg the big burden was worry, just plain boldfaced worry. Would she ever see her two boys again?

My Mom was a young newlywed and happy because Dad was exempt from service due to an old injury. I'm kind of thinking that the fullness of fresh love drove out the ghosts that haunted Grandma Kelly and Grandmother Williams' dreams. And Mom's son wasn't born yet.

So what did the women contribute during the war? There will be stories posted to blogs that feature WACs of the US Army and WAVES of the US Navy, and the SPARS of the Coast Guard. And stories about women's sacrifices at home. But my thought today is of the mothers who waited.

Let me tell you a little story. One day I was at Grandma Kelly's house on West Main Street, and we came in from enjoying one of our favorite activities, sitting on the front porch swing watching traffic go by and waving to neighbors. On the left wall of the front hall was a beautiful fan from Asia displayed in a glass case. It was, and still is, the most lovely and ornately decorated fan I've ever seen. It held a sort of magic for me and I always paused to enjoy it. One day Grandma was talking about what I could have when she was gone. Now you had to know Grandma to understand how deeply she loved talking about a maudlin topic such as who would get what after she died or how so-and-so died. She had seen me admire the fan and warned me that Delbert would get that after she was gone. Delbert had given it to her.

Now that I think about this it all makes sense. Delbert had served in Europe in WWII and then served in Korea. Uncle Delbert told me how much he enjoyed that time in his life and entertained me well with stories about it. A young boy who came for food daily, a painting village people gave him, and each story filled with love and compassion for the Korean people in their war torn country. Of course he would bring his mother a treasure from a place he loved. I can imagine Delbert giving the fan to her when he got back from Korea. They laughed, they cried, Grandma loved it! The shadow of the heartache of having sons in the war was lifted. Her boys were back.

Oh, it was a beautiful fan and when Grandma Kelly passed on, Delbert came and took it. I remember noticing the place where it had been now marked by a bright spot on a field of floral wallpaper. Just like Grandma, my bright spot missing.

I think my cousin Kevin has the fan now, probably on a wall in his living room, given a place of honor. At least I hope so and that, as so many family treasures are, it's not in the attic catching dust.

Grandma surely wasn't alone in worrying about her boys. The mothers of Frostburg all bore the burden of that heartache. Mothers everywhere did. They waited and they worried.

If you'd like some idea of how beautiful that fan is, just click here. Pick the most elaborate then imagine it completely covered in landscape drawings. Now look at the price. Cousin Kevin, is a visit to Antiques Roadshow in your future?

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