Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


She kept them in her desk, I think, but I'm not at all sure if I'm the one who found them. One way or another, in the flurry of activities surrounding my mother's death and funeral, I don't remember exactly how it was they ended up in my laptop case, but they did. It's where they stayed for the last six weeks or so, until Sunday afternoon, when I needed the laptop, pulled the it out of the closet, and opened the case.

There they were, jammed in beneath the Dell. I'd forgotten about 'em.

No matter. It's entirely possible that no one has looked at those letters for years and years and years. I'm guessing we all have them. . .somewhere. I do, and I don't look at them, don't read, don't wax nostalgic, don't even need those letters and notes really. But neither do I throw them away. They document a life.

As do my mother's, the ones I just discovered.
Our baby is definitely the darlingest baby I’ve ever seen (they all say that, you say?) No, honey, it’s the truth. All the nurses say that she’s the main attraction in the nursery!"
That was written 71 years ago yesterday, January 14, 1943, my mother having just the day before delivered her first born, my sister, a gorgeous baby she tells her absent, Navy husband belongs very much to him too--note the line scratched in beneath "Our."
Thick black hair, kinda short, (one nurse tried to curl it), big blue eyes, cute little round head, soft white, fat cheeks—oh, hon, I’m so proud of her. You will be too, I know. I’m so anxious to have you see her!!!!!!!
He wasn't yet deployed to the South Pacific, but it wouldn't be long and he'd be gone. Wherever the Navy had him placed right then, he wasn't in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, when his loving wife gave birth to what must have been a beautiful baby girl. By the way, I counted the exclamation points--I didn't make them up.
Your dad was here yesterday afternoon, and he said he was so glad and thankful that it was all over (he can’t be any more thankful than I am :). He said your mother was a little worried that I might have a long labor because it was overdue but I fooled ‘em.
"Your dad" was the preacher, and "your mother" would be gone in less than a year when she would die of some lingering illness.  During the war, the two of them put five stars in the front window of the parsonage in Oostburg, Wisconsin, one for each of their five kids serving in the armed forces. The nation was at war. 
10:00 water broke, and we left for the hospital immediately. I had three cramps on the way and after my enema then the real ones started! By 1:09, Judy came into the world. Was it ever wonderful when I heard her cry! 
It's fun to try, but I don't know that I'm capable of imagining the level of emotion she must have put into this letter in my hands, or what sheer incredulity my father must have felt when he read this note, somewhere far away.  "Yesterday I gave her a little practice at nursing, but she just laid there and slept—lazy bones, huh?" :)  Flush with birth, a newborn in her arms, my mother didn't need a computer to start pounding out emoticons.  I'm not interpolating.  If you can, just imagine him reading those words.

There's more, but not everything is meant to be shared with the world. The upshot is obvious--"everything's fine, shipshape, in fact, except you're not here. So please come home."  

That's it in a nutshell--and then this little postscript from the baby:
P.S. Hey, daddy—why don’t you shine around now so we can get a look at you? Mommy has your picture standing on her dresser, but says you’re so much nicer than the picture. I love you too.  Judy Mae
Yesterday, on NPR, a man spoke about finding his family history in logs created by slavery overseers, along with a note about this great-great grandpa finally being granted his freedom:   "I felt grounded," he said. "I felt like, 'Wow, why didn't I know this all of my life?' This is what I needed. I needed this to help me in difficult times. I needed to hear that they survived and that I could survive as well."

I don't know that I'm the one to pour over my own kept letters, but I know I'm blessed to read my mother's, because even though there is nothing so awful as slavery in my Dutch Calvinist past, and even though what Mom did when she wrote that letter is what literally millions of women were doing back then--and some yet today--telling deployed husbands their mutual joy, there's something so very grounded here and therefore humbling, something that not only puts us in our places, but gives us a story, an identity, a humanity.  

When I read these letters, I also know their lives are gone, both of them now residents in whatever heavenly world exists; and I feel both proud and humbled, proud of their love, and humbled to know that I'm not alone, none of us are. 

You feel it in the psalms too--we're all somehow alike.

Reading these letters is an exercise in humility that I can't help but think is good for the soul.


A farmer friend, MV said...

Amazing similarity!! Saturday we will celebrate my sister's birthday. She was born January 19, 1943 also named Judy. However; my Dad was home on the farm. He being the oldest son was exempt from military service to produce food for the war effort.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post....So sad that today it would most likely be DELETED. Never to be seen again. This generation will never know what they might've missed.