It was days after FDR declared the U.S. would do the inevitable and enter The Great War. My mother’s older brother rushed to the Air Force recruitment office, signed up for officer training and shipped out to fight the emperor’s forces in the Pacific. For five years he would be in the clouds, face in an oxygen mask, flying bombing missions over tiny Japanese islands. He would come home a decorated Captain aside his cousins, all hailed for their courage as American paratroopers.
Everyday he was overseas, my mother Lee would send her dear brother a hand-written letter enclosed with a stick of Wrigley’s gum. She was dirt poor and uneducated but knew enough that her oldest sibling was in harm’s way, flying through hail storms of anti-aircraft fire, determined to do his part to save the free world. Months would go by without any word from the front, from her flyboy brother but her letters and her sticks of gum would never miss a day.
In New York, where she lived, she would meet the GIs who returned home or were on leave and would dance with them and pray for them when they received orders to return to battle. For awhile, she was deeply in love with a Marine from the First Division, even thought of marrying him, until a bullet in the brain ended his life at 21.
After the war, she would go on to marry, have children, always the glamour girl the men adored. Always the siren who, in turn, loved the wild and wooley men. Always a kind and generous spirit, she loved the Saturday nights, the cocktail parties, summer dances, the big bands and then rock when that first blast of American Bandstand made its debut on black and white TV.
Attractive and alluring, always the center of attention at clubs and soirees, she nevertheless never felt superior, never arrogant, never cold nor mean. Just a young girl, well past her youth, immersed in the magic of it all when her peers had long since succumbed to the pragmatic, the ordinary, the go-through-the-motions, routine of it all.
No, she would stay young and electric forever.
Or so I thought. This week, I spent a day in the ER with her, now 91, kind and gentle as ever but in a second, a blink of any eye, suddenly an old lady, her mind playing tricks on her, visions of her childhood suddenly reaching out to taunt her…..or perhaps to call her back to where she started on her journey.
It is torture to see one who lived for the wild nights, who extended the ride in the fast lane far beyond the norm, lying helpless in a hospital bed, free falling back into when she was young.
This time I am not sure where the fall will end. All I know is that a candle is sputtering. And that I love her.Email This Post