The Simple Things

 

bluebirdI spent several hours this morning doing the sort of work around the farm that always needs to be done at this time of year. Putting the non-weatherproof porch furniture away. Checking the gutters. (They’re full of leaves. I know. I checked.) Picking up the bits of paper, plastic, Styrofoam cups, beer-bottles, McDonald’s wrappers, and other detritus of early twenty-first century life, that are blown or get thrown into the field either by nature or by the kindness of strangers (I’d really like to get my hands around the throat of that slob who dumped a dirty, used, queen-sized mattress over the fence). And generally battening down the hatches for what’s coming. Winter, I mean. Not, just this once, the election.

For most of this work, which isn’t strenuous, and which frees my mind to wander, I thought about the wonderful “Gratitude” post by @iwe, which was the first thing I read this morning. What a magnificent and wise piece of writing.

Then, having contemplated the meat of the post for a bit, and as it tends to, more so as I get older, and after singing Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition to myself several times, my mind wandered off in another direction. We’re a singing sort of family. I have my mother to thank for that. So I started to think about Mum, and the songs she loved (of which that was one).

mum-2My mother was born in 1928. She grew up in Birmingham, England, a steel city very much like Pittsburgh. Of course, it was a primary target for German bombers during the war.

Granny and Grandpa, who were reasonably, but not lavishly, well off, had a reinforced concrete bunker built under the floor of the living room, with an escape tunnel to the outside, in case the house was flattened on top of it and they couldn’t get out that way. My mother and her brother slept down there every night during the bombings, while Grandpa went off to his night job as an air-raid warden, and Granny waited at home to see if he would come home in one piece.

As a kid, I thought this must have been a terribly exciting time. Opening the trapdoor every night, going down the wooden steps into the tiny space that couldn’t really be called a ‘room,’ sleeping in the metal bunk bed, reading with a torch, and eating rations out of a tin can for your meal. Very Famous Five

It was many, many years later that I realized my mother hadn’t thought of it this way, and that some of her experiences had perhaps scarred her for life and contributed to some of her later expressed fears, obsessions and manias.

When I first learned the story of how, one morning, Mum and her brother had climbed up the stairs and into the light, only to find that the house across the road had been bombed, that there was nothing left, and that all the people in it were dead, I thought, like the young narrator of Hope and Glory (great movie, BTW, particularly the scene-stealing Grandpa role), and with the obliviousness of the young, that it must have been a heck of a lark, and a spine-tingling time. When I heard about the poor food that she ate, and the very strict rationing, I don’t think I really believed it, or understood what it meant at all. How could she possibly have eaten bits of meat that she had to pick the maggots out of first? What did she mean, that they kept every bit of “dripping” and fat that they could because there was no butter? And no eggs? Or sugar? WTH? Impossible.

suitsNot to mention clothes. A friend of the family is getting married? Ask around and see if there’s a dress she can borrow, or see if someone can find her a piece of parachute silk so she can make one. Going to a wedding, with nothing to wear? Maybe you could make yourself an elegant outfit by taking apart and cutting down one of Father’s old suits and sticking a feather in one of his fedoras or homburgs, and putting it on your head. And, if you could gather enough ration books from your neighbors and friends, and they contributed their weekly sweets allotment, perhaps there could be a tiny cake before the happy couple went off on their honeymoon. Oh. Wait. What? No honeymoon? The groom is off, back to the war, instead. The honeymoon will have to wait.

I came to realize, much later in life, that living this way really had affected my mother, and that she never really got over some of it.

My Dad always knew. He loved her till the day he died, living as he did every day of his life by his regimental motto, Loyaute M’Oblige (Loyalty Binds Me—pretty much the equivalent of Semper Fi.  Dad would have made a splendid US Marine.  Mr She says so, and he would know). But Mum made my father’s life extremely difficult sometimes. And mine. And those of my siblings. Thank goodness we weathered the storm, and came out on the other side of it (mostly) intact. And, perhaps, a little wiser and kinder than we were going in.

One thing she always loved, and taught us to love, was music. Mum loved just about any sort of music. Well, truth be told, she wasn’t terribly fond of classical music. We had an LP of the Boston Pops playing the ‘good bits’ of several longer works. It was called Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music. That was about as far as she was willing to go in that direction.

Mostly, though, she loved songs that you could sing along with. Like, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.

And, she especially loved this one:

 

Honestly, I must have heard this song a thousand times (so many times that I grew sick of it) in my life. And heard, and seen, the story of “The Forces’ Sweetheart” who spent her early twenties practically living with the troops, on stage in the European Theater, on stage in Burma, wherever there were troops, there she was. On stage. In front of thousands of troops.  Singing.

But today, when I thought about this song, I imagined Vera Lynn singing it to just one person–to a frightened thirteen year old girl who was hearing it for the first time on the wireless, or who was putting the borrowed 78 record on the old wind-up gramophone; a little girl who lugged her ugly gas mask with her everywhere she went, in case of a gas attack; who sometimes didn’t have enough to eat, or nice clothes to wear; who was watching the country, and the way of life she loved so much, blowing up and burning down all around her; and who spent every night sleeping in a concrete box because that was the best thing her parents could think of to do to keep her safe.

And I thought, “no wonder my mother loved this song so much.” Because it described everything, and the only things, that my mother wanted.  Everything, and the only things, she dreamed of. No more war. The birds to sing. The flowers to bloom. Enough food to eat. Her own bedroom back.  Her own life back.

chocolateMy granddaughter is eight now, and fortunate to live in safety and security, in a land of plenty. I think that, with a few additions (her family; her stuffed animals; her teachers; her cat), everything on Vera Lynn’s list* would make my granddaughter’s “top ten” countdown of “things I love.”

Because, in spite of the rigors of modern life, under it all, we haven’t changed all that much in seventy four years, have we? Lord knows, I hope not. I’m not sure I want to know us if we have.

May the land of plenty my granddaughter lives in not only survive, but prosper, and may its people find each other again, in love and fellowship, whatever happens on Tuesday. Because I will not believe that any of them wants anything other than the best for themselves and their children, now, and forever.  And those things, those simple things, have not changed, and do not change.

The bluebirds are gone for this year (I saw them congregating on the fence posts recently, prior to taking off, a bit late this year). I’m trusting that they’ll be back in the Spring.

* * * * *

The best posts on Ricochet usually aren’t the angry or the snarky posts that provoke fights or more snark, no matter how occasionally amusing or cathartic those may be. They are almost always the posts that make us think, make us reflect, that reveal a truth hitherto unknown or unrecognized (sometimes willfully so), or that lead us to our own meditations, musings and insights about our own lives or place in the world, no matter how small each of those insights may be.

Thank you, iWe, for such a post today! I’m grateful . . . . 

Has there been a Ricochet post that has led you to a valuable insight, no matter how great or small?  If so, and if you’d like to, please share.

*Go Vera Lynn! 99 years young and still with us. And, may God bless her, and all those entertainers who spend, and spent, years of their own lives, often putting themselves in harm’s way, entertaining the troops.

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There are 18 comments.

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  1. AUMom Member
    AUMom
    @AUMom

    You are two for two this week, She! Thank you. It is hard to understand the fears of others when we have known only safety.

    • #1
  2. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    She: The birds to sing. The flowers to bloom. Enough food to eat. Her own bedroom back. Her own life back.

     May the land of plenty my granddaughter lives in not only survive, but prosper, and may its people find each other again, in love and fellowship, whatever happens on Tuesday.

    ” The best posts on Ricochet usually aren’t the angry or the snarky posts”

    Precisely, my friend.  Your story about the struggle for survival and happiness . . . the price our ancestors paid  . . . . and their making our good lives possible . .

    This is why we come to Ricochet.

    • #2
  3. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Great post She. Your mother was amazing. Our generation has had a hard time living up to them.

    • #3
  4. JLocked Inactive
    JLocked
    @CrazyHorse

    She, you are a treasure. God Bless you.

    • #4
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    My older aunts were known to sing this one (minus the Brit accent):

    Grandpap was an air raid warden, which mainly consisted of checking up on people to make sure they were complying with the blackout regulations. As Dad has been known to point out, that particular small village in Ohio was never successfully hit by the Luftwaffe even once. There were challenges though. The village was so small that people had to fill more than one role. Thus it was that the veterinarian, the village drunk, and the foremost proponent of the 2nd Amendment were all the same guy. He didn’t believe in blackouts, though from the stories I’ve heard he probably had his own personal ones on a regular basis.

    Thank you for the story, She, and the music and the link to iWe’s post (which I missed).

    • #5
  6. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Oh, good Lord, what a beautiful story. So full of hope. I would have liked to have known your mother and father.

    I am sure you are familiar with Eisenhower’s Guildhall speech, June 12, 1945. I was going to pull an excerpt from it, but readers who are so inclined should read the entire speech.

    Thank you for this inspiring interlude from the day’s decisions.

     

    • #6
  7. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    She : Has there been a Ricochet post that has led you to a valuable insight, …

    Well, this one by you, for one! I always love reading about your remarkable family. My mom was also born in 1928, and while she spent the war in the safety of the USA, the Depression had a permanent impact on her. She went to great lengths to be thrifty all her life, even when she no longer needed to be. I always felt like she couldn’t get used to the idea that everything was fine now.

    • #7
  8. St. Salieri / Eric Cook Member
    St. Salieri / Eric Cook
    @

    Thank you.  Again.

    • #8
  9. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Wow. It is so hard to simultaneously keep things in perspective, and still drive to make the most of one’s own opportunities.

    What a beautiful post.

    And thank you so much for the very kind words.

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Thank you, She. You should think of collecting these various OPs and write a book–seriously! Your writing and family story come together in a poetic and beautiful song.

    • #10
  11. Pugshot Member
    Pugshot
    @Pugshot

    @She:  The best posts on Ricochet usually aren’t the angry or the snarky posts that provoke fights or more snark, no matter how occasionally amusing or cathartic those may be. They are almost always the posts that make us think, make us reflect, that reveal a truth hitherto unknown or unrecognized (sometimes willfully so), or that lead us to our own meditations, musings and insights about our own lives or place in the world, no matter how small each of those insights may be.

    How true, how true! Thanks for a wonderful post. It did remind me of Hope & Glory. We need to be reminded every so often of all that we share and have in common – and we will need such reminders even more after the election tomorrow. Thanks!

    • #11
  12. She Member
    She
    @She

    Thanks, everyone, for all the lovely comments.

    Mum was a rare breed.  I count myself fortunate that I am the oldest of the three siblings.  Since there is seven years between each of us, I knew a somewhat different Mum to my sister, and a very different Mum to my brother, as she found more things difficult about life, as she aged.  (Shameless self promotion alert:  I wrote about her last years here.)

    I still remember, to a great extent, the Mum who up-sticksed in 1950, when she was 22 and had just married my father, and set off for West Africa, and a life in the colonies.  It must have taken great courage to do so.

    @percival, thanks for the story about your Grandpap.  Love Gracie Fields.  And delighted to know that a certain small village slightly to the west of me was ready for the invasion.  Semper paratus, as they say.  Hope they’ve still got the manual somewhere, you never know when it might come in useful.

    And thank you, @susanquinn.  I am blessed indeed when it comes to family stories, on all sides.  And as far as telling them on Ricochet goes, I haven’t even scratched the surface . . . .

    • #12
  13. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    She,

    I have been out of touch for a few days. I saw your post on Michael. I am so sorry that I never got to meet him. I wonderful young man. Your tribute to him was very moving and says a great deal about your good character too.

    Thanks for Michael and for this post on your mum and Vera Lynn. It is wonderful to remember & honor the brave and good people. It makes us realize how lucky we are to have all the things we do. Yet, maybe we realize that we are missing something that the gloriously good generation of your mum & dad had in spades. Their spirit comes right through those old photos and cheers us even today.

    Here’s to you and yours sweet She.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #13
  14. She Member
    She
    @She

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks.  I sometimes forget that there’s a[t least one] Ricochet member who’s actually met us all.

    Also, thanks for the Vera Lynn video.  She would have been been in her mid 40s at the time.  It’s clips like that that remind me, in a world of the painted ‘pop-tart-du-jour’ who can’t make an impression without a group of backup singers, reverb chambers and layered tracks (and many of whom you really don’t want to hear in what passes for “live” performance), that some ladies could just stand up on stage without vocal, or even physical, augmentation, and just belt it out.

    Here’s another one, from the concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings.  She was 77.  Perfect stage presence.  Most of her voice.  A well-lived in, and happy, face.  Amazing.

    I know you’ve written a couple of of posts about your family over the years. I love them.  Please could we have some more?

    • #14
  15. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    This touching, beautiful post requires another “Love”.  “Like” doesn’t suffice.

    • #15
  16. She Member
    She
    @She

    Trink (View Comment):
    This touching, beautiful post requires another “Love”. “Like” doesn’t suffice.

    Thank you, Trink!

    • #16
  17. JLock Inactive
    JLock
    @CrazyHorse

    So the consensus is people on Rico are growing tired of my effusive praise of their unimpeachable brilliance. In accordance with that and the intense beauty of this writing:

    BOOOOOOO!!!!

    • #17
  18. She Member
    She
    @She

    JLock (View Comment):
    So the consensus is people on Rico are growing tired of my effusive praise of their unimpeachable brilliance. In accordance with that and the intense beauty of this writing:

    BOOOOOOO!!!!

    Huh?  I never get tired of anyone’s effusive praise.  More, please!!!

    • #18
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