Maybe sometimes in our lives we have used the clichés, “Hindsight is 20/20,” or “If I only knew then what I know now.” How true. This brings me to my essay entitled, “Lessons Learned.”
I’ve been trying to remember back to when I was a child in the late 40’s, early 50’s. As we grow older we tend to do this more often. I recall coming from a struggling family. My father working two jobs to provide for his family as there were 6 children and also many uncles who came to live with us after they had returned from the service. These uncles were my mother’s brothers and one by one as they came home on furlough or after having completed their tours in the military they would show up at our door.
I would be a bit shy around them really not knowing them. They would dump out their big green duffle bag and there would be an array of clothing and items of interest to a curious child. One time I remember seeing chopsticks and black velvet slippers similar to mittens with room for your big toe and the rest of your toes together. Also a tea set that when you held the cups up to the light there magically appeared a face in the bottom of the cup. There were satin pillow covers with fringe that said ‘‘Mother” on the front or some symbol that I did not recognize. There was always something for us children to look at including pictures of men in uniform and people and places I did not recognize. We would then have something to eat and be told to go to bed while the grown-ups stayed up talking well into the night.
After a while my uncles would leave. I assume to start their lives or perhaps return to their service. One in particular, the youngest, stayed and lived with my family until his death which occurred many years later. I was fond of this uncle as he was like a second father to us. My mother and he would have their “go-around” at times because of his drinking problem. Looking back now I can understand why. What had these men lived through while they were at war? Who did they have to comfort them when they returned home? Who would understand? Shell-shock some people would say. Not PTSD as it is known today. I don’t even know if there was help for veterans back in that time. Simply they would be type cast as alcoholics as many turned to the bottle for escape from the trauma and demons. It was their coping mechanism.
This particular uncle had been a POW. The Germans had captured him in the basement of a church. I know my parents did not hear from him for quite some time. We lived in Pennsylvania and as the story goes, someone living in New York had telephoned my mother telling her that her brother was alive and that he had been captured. How the word got to the New Yorkers I do not know. I wish I could have spoken to my uncle about these events. Every December he would sit at the kitchen table crying and reliving what happened to him. I remember him saying he would never eat cabbage or sauerkraut and he kept to his word. Other than the December breakdowns I never heard him talk about the war. It’s so sad for me not to have been able to talk to him, knowing what I know today about war and its consequences and about the POWs/MIAs. He’s gone and so are my parents: no one to tell what really happened. I guess that is just how life is sometimes. It was a different era: it was a different time. I was young and did not fully understand. But all in all and most importantly as I now think back I pray that he knew… that he was loved.
©Copyright November 15, 2010 by Janet Rattay