Sorting Through the Records

I wonder what my mother would be thinking about these times. When she was pregnant with me, and her husband was at war, she lived with her mother and father, a father she adored. He died two weeks before Christmas, 1943. I was born in April, 1944. My father was serving as a Captain in the Army and stationed in the Philippines. When the war ceased, he came to a country where the dignity of the office of the President was assumed.
Today is her birthday.


Sorting through the Records

“I’ll toss the ones I’ll never listen to,”
my mother says, “or give them to Grace
who’ll sell them at the Lutheran Home.”
I can see my mother dusting each record,
setting aside the ones she doesn’t remember,
finding ones that take her to the dance floor
where she jitterbugged, fox trotted, slow
danced with my father. “I can still see us.
Dancing to ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams.’
My dress had polka dots. I know that’s dumb.”
It was 1940. The war was waiting
for my father. He graduated, the next day
took a bus to boot camp, became the captain
of a black company and slogged through the mud
of France and Belgium, then into the jungle rot
of the Philippines. Through Basic, he ate, slept,
bathed with the white soldiers, used the whites only
toilets, drank from the fountains just for whites.
At the day’s end, he saluted his men,
then dismissed them to their sergeant. “I thought
that’s just the way it was,” he said only once,
his brow furrowed like the rows the tanks cut deep
in the camp dust. Every week, he wrote my mother
ending always with the same PS. “I know this war
will never end.” She waited. One New Year’s Eve
he sent her violets from France. She pinned them
on her coat, stood outside, listened to the clang
and clamor of midnight. Tonight she’ll play
Frank Sinatra singing “I Bought You Violets
for Your Furs.” Later in the week, she’ll go
to her line dance lesson with some friends.

First published in Harpur Palate, 2005
Collected in Broken Symmetry, Wayne State University Press

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10 thoughts on “Sorting Through the Records

  1. Amazing image, those violets. The Magician Ridl hides a flower anywhere he can, this one posed against the “clang and clamor of midnight trains.” A perfect imago mundi for that and this “century and moment of mania.” Gorgeous.


  2. I hesitated to respond to this latest of your offerings. There is no way I felt I could follow up to the poignancy you expressed. When I arrived at Westminster I only knew of your mom and dad through basketball and baseball experiences. In my four years I grew to have a mentor that helped me become a man and watch a woman support and love her husband as well as her “boys” on the teams. Those were shallow years for me, mainly concerned with continuing the Titans’ winning ways. Never did I delve into the back stories of my coach and his wife. I had no idea that your dad served in WWII and your mom held down the home front while undergoing her own struggles with a young family and the uncertainty of the future. This writing only makes me appreciate them and what they stood for even more. We were very fortunate, Jack. Just as we are now to know you.

    • Dave, dear good Dave,
      You became family. You are family.
      Your poignant and loving message will take up
      permanent residence in this heart.
      Know how grateful I am that you and Sandy
      have become a loving and joy-filled part of
      my days.
      Thank ye, so very very much.

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