Those Promises

1945 WAITING by Mary E. Latela

In January of the year I was born, my mother and father, who had spent a month after their wedding in NYC, said farewell, Dad returned to duty, and Mom boarded the train and went home. She was waiting. Before long, she realized she was waiting for me, that is, a baby who was coming. My father spent the next year and a half in the Aleutian Islands, another place where sometimes it’s dark all the time, and sometimes the sun never sets.

War News:

January, end of the Battle of the Bulge. Germany begins to lose hope.

February. Yalta conference with FDR, Churchill, & Stalin

US Marines land on Iwo Jima

March, Allies capture significant targets in Germany.

April, US and British troops see the liberation of the Camps.

FDR dies. Mussolini captured. Hitler dead.

May, Victory in Europe Day

End of July, Ultimatum to Japan.

August 6, Enola Gay B-20 Drops Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan

August 9, An atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

August 15, V-J Victory over Japan day. Sept. 2nd Japan surrenders.

World War II, the most devastating war in human history, is over.

One morning in September, Mom shuffled out of the bathroom and into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. There was noise everywhere… Initial fear gave way to absolute joy – the War was over. The treaties has been signed. Our families celebrated the end of the War.

Mom was still waiting. Though she wished otherwise, Mom was reminded by Dr. C that she was nearly ready to give birth. She whispered a few words of desperation. Her husband was bound to service until the end of the way plus six months, which would make it March at the earliest before he would be discharged. There were tears and some complaining, but as Grandpa said, “Remember, he is coming home! Get ready!”

Young returning husbands expected the wife to tend to the house, and to any children they might have, and also to attend to her own mother and father, who all lived there in that home on Woodward Avenue where Mom and her sister and brother had grown up. My Uncle Carl was my first babysitter. As the kid brother, he did not seem to mind helping, when he was not busy going to school or helping his father in the business.

When Dad came home, he spent a bit of time with Mom, but his first duty was to his OWN mother. He was out a great deal of the time. He had been in the service, as an infantryman, for a long time, and so had his brother Sal. Joe had been sent home after six months after the terrible loss of the five Dunne brothers, and the president’s decision that one son must remain home with the parents.

Dad, for whom Mom had longed when he was away, was head of the house, more or less, because it was Grandpa’s home. When he first arrived; Mom and Dad clung to one another …they had been missing one another so badly. However, they both had changed – he was physically unharmed by the War, but they say you do not have to catch a bullet or a grenade to be hurt deep inside. Mom had gone through her pregnancy, worked until she had to stay home, and her sister helped with preparing the nursery, a corner of the bedroom in which she and Dad would sleep. There was a borrowed crib – all her friends lived in the neighborhood, after all – and gifts of little dresses and underwear made up a full wardrobe. Those cloth diapers were a daily chore, in the days when you had to crank the washing machine, and use a washboard to scrub.  Then baby bottles with formula had to be boiled – or so people thought back then – so there was a dampness in the air all day. Mom was underweight to begin with, had nervous energy, and was exhausted .

I was born in October. The delivery went well; back then mothers were routinely under general anesthetic. The doctor pronounced me “beautiful.” Dad wanted me to have Mom’s name, so that’s how I received my name. Middle name after Dad’s mother. When I was born, Dad was still in the Aleutian Islands, on the farthest island from the US shore. It was the land of the midnight sun, but mostly darkness much of the time. After the first, bloody incursion by the enemy, Allies were sent there to stand guard in case of another incursion. The agreement for soldiers was the length of the war plus six months, so Dad returned in March 1946, when I was five months of age.

According to the Census, we were a family, though we barely knew each other. War is horrible, lonely, devastating. While I was cozily waiting, my Mom and all our loved ones, and people everywhere, were living their lives, but fear was a frequent caller. When my mother had to go to the hospital, the neighbor with the car, who had promised to drive them to the hospital, arrived within a few moments. I was born at 3:19 PM. The telegram was sent. Dad and his buddies were wildly thrilled. That telegram must have been very precious to him. Mom and I remained in the hospital for ten days, which was standard during that time period .

A flurry of weddings followed. Joe married Florence. Sal married Isobel (Betty). Tina and Al were married. Rose and Pete had a lovely wedding. Life started moving along far to quickly.

“The war to end all wars” morphed into grumbling, suppressed anger, rarely spilled out, people needing a reminder to be civil to one another … you remember it – the Cold War.

I thought about this when I heard that President Obama was placing a wreath at the memorial at Hiroshima. Literally before the ceremony ended, panels of wannabe “reporters” were preparing to discuss whether he should have apologized.

Considering the messy political scene here, the badly learned promises of equality, fraternity, civility, even compassion seems farther than ever out-of-reach. We can change. I, for one, don’t plan to waste any more time regretting or hiding the truth – we are all flawed, but if we forget, we will live in deception, and so will our children live.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, or do we?


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