World War II may seem shrouded in the mists of time to some these days, but I well remember its onset and its conclusion. At age four and a half I huddled with the rest of the family by the Philco to listen to FDR tell the nation of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Later I cheered as the bells of the Friends Church in Scotts Mills, OR, tolled victory on V-E Day, May 8, 1945.
My father, Albert George Burgess, served as the oldest enlisted man on the USS Foote during this period. I've written two stories about him and his service to our country. One, "Foote Notes from My Father," appears in the recently published Silver Boomer Book, The Harsh and The Heart. It's about my dad telling me why he chose to join the Navy at an age when he would have been overlooked by the draft.
The story that appears in Fighting the Fear, to be published on Veteran's Day, November 11, 2011, concerns my dad's visit to me at Children's Hospital in 1941, where I'd been hospitalized with double pneumonia, when penicillin was not available on the home front. It's also about hope. It's called "Daddy and Raggedy Ann."
I've been spared from the tragedy of losing a loved one to war. My dad survived his duty stint. So did my first and second husbands, who both served during the Korean conflict before I met them.
One of my favorite poets, Amy Lowell, wasn't so fortunate. I admired her poem, "Patterns," so much I once named a program for women recovering from dual addictions after it. This poem commemorated the death of her fiance in WWI...and it's worth reading to the end.
I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.
My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.
And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.
I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon --
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.
Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
"Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se'nnight."
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
"Any answer, Madam," said my footman.
"No," I told him.
"See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer."
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.
In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, "It shall be as you have said."
Now he is dead.
In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?
From Men, Women and Ghosts By Amy Lowell
I hope all my friends who have a loved one overseas find comfort from Fighting Fear. And from the hope that daffodils bring us each spring...for peace on earth.
Here's the link to the Fighting Fear website with more information: