My mom in zeroing in on 92 years old and readying this week to enter an assisted living residence. The time has come and she is ready. The beauty of independence has given way to danger and hardship and so, healthy and happy in the tenth decade of her life, it is time for a new adventure. If we are to enjoy life, we must always see it that way.
Mom was the only girl among five children of immigrant first generation Americans. My beloved grandparents were simple people, could barely read, never drove, had few possessions in their fifth floor walk-up in the Bronx. But they loved the Statue of Liberty. Not as a picture on a postcard but as the first triumphant symbol of hope when their steerage ship sailed into New York harbor delivering them from despotism.
My mother too was and is a woman of simple tastes and modest intellect. She knows virtually nothing of history, literature or science but she recalls Pearl Harbor as if it were yesterday. It was the day her oldest brother, king of the household, would prepare to enlist in the Air Force. America was under attack: he would run toward the crossfire hurricane.
For five years, Mack was off to war, learning to fly bombers, taking to the air again and again as anti-aircraft fire hailed all around him. In his absence, his sister, my mother, carried an American flag pennant in her pocket. She was a dazzler, a siren the G.I.s on leave would flock to but as she danced and kissed and took the Paramount by storm, she clutched the flag and wrote to Mack every single day.
Mack returned a decorated colonel but he would speak not a word about the war. One day, years later, he handed me his gas mask, turned and left. He mumbled something about America’s greatness. I couldn’t make it out but I understood it perfectly.
Mack lived to 91, a successful father and businessman but it was the war for America that shaped him and influenced his entire life. At 70, on a commercial flight back from Europe to New York, he suffered a heart attack. The jet made an emergency landing and he was treated at a military hospital in Goose Bay, accorded the full honors of an active officer.
Mom and Mack, wildly different as they were, remained close until his final days. Although they were siblings, they had little in common…or so I thought until recently.
Now I know they are my bridge to the country I adore.Email This Post