In yesterday’s Boston Globe, an article appeared about a soldier in his 20’s from here in Maynard, Mass. who died on the battlefield. We’ve been hearing more and more of these stories lately as the war in Iraq inches toward its third year, fighting for headlines with Michael Jackson, the murder of the day or, uh, blogging. Yep, life in America continues to be an odd mix of the bizarro and the mysterious, yet it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s not the 24-hour-fast-food-all-you-can-eat news channels or the now countless amounts of completely brainless reality television shows (Hi, Britney).
What keeps me interested are the stories of the everyday people who inhabit our country – past and present. The soldier in the article yesterday was a part of the first unit that went ashore at Normandy, France 61 years ago yesterday. The family lived over on Florida Rd., less than a half a mile away from the house where Stephanie & I now call home. In driving by it yesterday, 2 Florida Road looks to be a multi-family unit that’s undoubtedly been renovated since those days, but the original walls and wires are probably all still there. Multiple generations have since passed through it and each inhabitant has stared at the same walls & ceilings, dreamed their own dreams and suffered through their own heartbreak, albeit probably not as devastating as the day in 1944 when word came back to the mother at 2 Florida Rd. that her son was gone. The soldier’s sister, quoted in the article, speaking of her mother after the news:
“You could not even mention his name, ever, or she would break into sobs. She had loved to dance, but after Vincent died she never danced. And, you know, we did not have a Christmas tree again.”
That sentence really rings, doens’t it? So while one generation dealt with the ultimate heartbreak, the next inhabitants of the house may have been realizing their dreams. Maybe it was their first house? Maybe they were just passing through and renting for a year? Regardless, they all flipped the same wall switches and all had their own stories to tell – their own cherished memories, documented through keepsakes and pictures on the mantle. That’s America.
It was late autumn of last year when Stephanie & I were in the throes of a kitchen renovation, perfecting our own dreams, I suppose, when we found the book pictured above. The plumber needed to get into our attic to run a vent up through the roof and when he came back down, he held “The Love Book” in his hand. Being fully Americanized, I immeadiately thought it was some kind of anitique porn that might fetch many dollars on EBay or something. In opening its extremely brittle pages, however, I discovered it was merely a set of short love stories with a military slant (i.e., absent husbands returning from service, etc). The monthly issues were clearly targeted towards women whose husbands were off serving in the war. It made me wonder again about the lives of the previous owners of this house. Did they have a son or husband in the war?
The ads are quite fascinating, too. Of course, there were several encouragements to buy war bonds, but there were also ads for picture framing services “for your young soldier” and things like that. More curiously, there seem to be an extraordinary amount of medical ads, particiularly for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. We can only wonder…..
Anyway, the plumber said there’s a whole stack of them up there in the attic, in good condition. I haven’t made the climb to fetch them yet and I’m not terribly anxious to do so. It does leave me wondering what else is up there, but I’ll get to that enventually. While we continue to renovate the house to make it “ours” and bring it up to date, I take great pride in leaving parts of its past intact. I’ve kept a series of old coffee cans in the basement, each lined up perfectly on a shelf and filled with different size screws, nails, odds, ends and small tools. Each can is painted beige and has written labels of what’s contained in them. It’s both practical and romantic. Newspapers from the 1930’s fill some of the space in the basement where insulation should be. Those are staying.
I’m starting to ramble now, but I think my point is this: there is nothing more sad or beautiful than generations changing hands. We are here, we laugh, we cry, we love and then we move on and we pass the baton to the next set, who do exactly the same. That’s the way it’s been forever. The faces keep changing and the world keeps changing, but in the end we’re all made up of tissue and nerves, seeking trust, information and comfort from those who came before us and hoping we can do the same for those who come after us.
I hope that soldier’s family remembered yesterday.