ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

WWII: A Mother's Terrible Loss

Updated on February 17, 2012

As genealogists, we spend a fair bit of time digging up and poring over old documents and old photographs. But as this (real) story from my husband shows, we can find family history in odd things and in odd places.

Grandma - with Grandpa and my Mom
Grandma - with Grandpa and my Mom

Grandma's house

When Grandma died, I got the job of sorting out her house. We get that job once or twice in our lives. It's a sad duty. And like death itself, not a situation that many of us feel prepared to handle. But you just go do it, right?

It was a single-level, white stucco brick house. It was where she raised her 4 children. It was also where, in 1942, she had said goodbye to her only son going off to war against Japan.

It was the house from which she had sent her son letters. The same house where the last of those letters had been returned, unopened.

I visited that house much later, as a small boy, then as a young man. Some rooms in the house, like my Grandma's bedroom, were always off limits. Cool, dark and off-limits.

And now? Here I was an adult and moving about inside the house - unsupervised. It was like being inside a museum after hours. It felt illicit. I went inside her bedroom. I was inside her sanctum sanctorum. I was opening drawers, rummaging through cupboards.

My Uncle

I didn't know much about my uncle. Only that he had been the oldest and only boy. He was kind of the star of the family, good on the piano, a champion swimmer, with a quick sense of humor and always first in his class. A cousin told me once that he had swum all the way across our local lake, a feat that at the time seemed impossible.

I knew he had gone off to fight in the Second World War with all the hope and bravado of that entire generation. I have a photo of him leaning out of a rail carriage looking directly and impishly at the camera. Without a care in the world. He was christened "Edward Augustus" (now the names of my two oldest sons) - but they called him "Bill".

This is Bill: Not a care in the world but death would come soon enough
This is Bill: Not a care in the world but death would come soon enough

The cupboard

There was one old cupboard in Grandma's bedroom, a free standing "gentleman's wardrobe". It had been the most expensive piece of furniture they had owned - bought on lay-away when she was first married.

When news came that Bill had been killed in action - in Papua New Guinea - my Grandma became unhinged. She started to do strange things, like mowing the lawn at 3:00 am in the morning. My Mother told me later that she couldn't understand why Grandma couldn't find solace in the children who were left, like her.

It had been nearly 50 years since Bill's death, as I stood in front of the closet. I peered inside, just like Grandma would have done every single day. I could see a rack of my Grandma's dresses, I remembered the patterns. I also saw a suit. Not a suit really - the fabric was stiff and rough. I brought it out into the light.

Last photographs of Uncle Bill
Last photographs of Uncle Bill

History in my hand

What had been in Grandma's cupboard all these years?

It was a military uniform. Bill's old army uniform, with his lieutenants' bars still attached.

I felt in the pockets: a watch, a compass, some papers. I held it up. He must have been shorter than me. And much thinner. It felt like I was seeing him for the first time, meeting him, reaching across the decades, almost touching him.

Grandma had kept her dead son Bill's uniform for all those years. Right next to her own clothes. In plain sight - only to her. I suppose it was a way of staying close to him, of keeping him alive in her mind.

Clothes have a way of carrying something of the person with them, even after the person is gone, don't they?

Genealogy is about documents and old photographs. It's also about things and places, and stories.

Different ways of telling stories

There are different ways to tell our family stories - written memoirs, audio recordings, poems, HubPages, photo albums, video biographies (my specialty) are all great. It's less about how you do it and more about just getting a start. Stories need hosts - they need someone to carry them to be kept alive.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Sheila Berger profile image

      Sheila Berger 

      8 years ago

      Good story. I love old photos of family members, you are lucky to have come across it. So many pictures are discarded.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      8 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      What a sad but touching story that you've told so beautifully. And you're so right - genealogy isn't only about documents and old photos, but things, places and stories. Mostly the stories. I have no patience for those who call themselves "genealogists" or "family historians" who are satisfied to find a birth and death date, but never look for the stories "in the dash".

      Over two decades ago, I had to clean out my mother's house and I'm still piecing together the stories from the clues in the things she left behind.

    • Norah Casey profile image

      Norah Casey 

      8 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      Great hub! Welcome to HubPages :)

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)