The cardboard box in the basement was dank and soft with humidity. I almost threw it out — just one more bit of trash to remove after my mother’s death. Instead, I opened it — and entered another world: The world of a woman who left her family and everything that was familiar in her New England home to create a new family in the nomadic world of WW II postings which sent her husband into a succession of army bases and hospitals.
I pried the damp musty letters apart and spread them on the floor to dry. A week later, I began sorting them, first by year, then by month, then by day. In the end, I realized I had a complete record of the exchanges between my parents and grandparents from the time my parents married in 1942 to the day in 1945 my father reentered civilian life.
With her family half a continent away, my mother relied on letters to describe her new home and new life. Phone calls were too expensive for any but the most critical news. A letter from home was precious to her, an experience to be savored with a cup of tea and little treat. But, as she discovered, it was too much of a good thing when several letters arrived the same day and each couldn’t be properly savored.
Every letter had to count. If there was no big event, say, the progress of the war or a presidential election – or a baby on the way, there were always little events of the day. Everything had to count.
So come with me now to the world before the internet, Skype, Twitter, or Facebook. Come back to a world at war, with its underlying fear of what might come the next day. Experience days of silence – no news at all. Is everything ok back home? You either had to pay for a call or wait for a letter to arrive at last.
This blog will be a three-year journey. On the days when no letter was sent or arrived, I’ll share war news, the top ten songs, radio shows, the weather, and small town news wherever my parents were posted.
Tomorrow: The wedding ceremony, September 11, 1942. Yes, that day. In 1942, terror and uncertainty were a constant. Getting married, committing oneself to a future with another person, was a supremely hopeful act.