I came across the most wonderful family heirloom not long ago, as my mother was going through some of my grandparents’ old keepsakes (they had plenty, it’s taken many years to get through them). Along with a 27-page, single-spaced memoir written by another soldier in his troop was this photo album from England and France, 1944.
If there’s one thing that I love about crochet and spinning, and all of these crafty endeavors – it’s that it connects me, connects us all, to history; to the work that women have been doing for an eternity. I view my grandparents’ generation, The Greatest Generation, as the link between modernity and old-fashioned times. My grandparents, for example, as children woke up to farms with no running water or electricity, and had outhouses. They died around the advent of computers. What an amazing time to be alive! And so all the things that connect me to them help me to reinforce this mental link I have to them – and to all my foremothers before me.
World War II definitely shaped that generation. Even as a young girl, I would watch my grandmother break down and cry as she recalled every boy up and down her street who went off to war and never came home. And even though they didn’t meet until after the war was over, WWII shaped my grandparents’ lives for many years to come.
If my grandfather were alive today, he would have loved blogging. He would be the guy who would have 500 friends on Facebook, knowing each of them as a close friend, and uploading pictures of times gone by that had already slipped out of memory. He would have had several blogs, I’m sure – one for family, one for personal memories, one for spiritual reflections…. I bet he would have been a pro at Photoshop, too. He believed that his documentations would keep our family spirit together through memories. He was right. And now I’m happy to share some of his memories with you.
My grandfather, like so many other men of the time, enlisted with the military during WWII. How I wish I had more information about this time of his life, what made him enroll, how he felt, and so on. But I can only guess that he, like so many others, felt it their patriotic duty.
My grandfather loved documenting things. There was always the latest video gadget at each birthday, holiday, and random special event, like planting the garden. We have a small storeroom of old video tracks dating back from the late 50s that need to be played on a projector to watch. And so, while I was thrilled to come across this bit of history, I was not at all surprised. I think that I may have inherited the gene from him that wants to record each bit of family history in some sort of way.
This album was so incredibly interesting to see. My grandfather never talked about the time he spent in Europe during the war. I don’t know if he would have if I ever asked him, but I always sort of “felt” that it was a topic that was off-limits. I don’t know if that was a true assessment or not, but I’ll never really know anyway, since he passed away long ago. All I can do is put together the bits of memories I have with stories told by family members – my mother, his sisters, anything I can find.
This lovely lady is featured heavily in this photo album and is definitely not my grandmother. Although there are unfortunately no names or any other words written in this album, I remember many stories told of a woman that my grandfather was – perhaps involved? – with. She was the original Sun-Maid Raisin lady, Lorraine Collett, or as my grandfather called her “the most beautiful woman in the world”. I remember this specifically, because when I was in my teens and just starting to wear makeup, he told me that he learned from her that all a woman needs to be beautiful is just a little lipstick, and that’s all. I’m surprised, looking back, that my grandmother didn’t have more to say about this “most beautiful woman in the world” comment…. I don’t know if this photograph is really her or not, but it does somewhat resemble the Wikipedia photo, here. What do you think? I don’t know what she would be doing in Europe, and I may be completely off base…. My, how I wish I had asked more questions when I was younger, before it become too late to ask questions.
The memoir that came with this is an incredibly detailed account of the ordinance that my grandfather joined later in the war: where they started for training, each city they relocated to, and what they did in each location. It’s an amazing piece of history, and mind boggling to think that it’s just one of millions of stories from such a pivotal period of time. Since the memoir was not written by my grandfather, and since he joined their ordinance as lieutenant later, he’s only mentioned a few times, but I learned that he started the first baseball league in their division (he was a ball game lover all through life) and he was a very fun-loving man, but one who could still be pious.
The stories I’m told of my grandfather tell that he led his men into Germany, but got lost in the forest on the way there. They wandered around for three days before finding their way out, and when they did, they found that the battle they were to have fought in had no survivors. To commemorate their survival, my grandfather’s entire troop met every year over those same few days up until and even after he passed away in the late 90s. My grandfather considered these men his brothers, even after 50 years. He was an amazing man, and I feel fortunate to be able to share in some of his memories of that time.
I love you, Papa. And I sure do miss you.