My Parents, 1942
50th Wedding Anniversary, 1991
50th Wedding Anniversary, 1991
Among the memories shared by a family or other closely knit group are the ones we celebrate joyfully, sending invitations, preparing a surprise party for a birthday or anniversary. Other, more somber occasions may be commemorated by a quiet pilgrimage, solitary reflection or a memorial service.
The first of August has significance for our family. On that day in 1918 my grandmother's younger brother, Lawrence, was killed during the Second Battle of the Marne. Ironically Lawrence, who was missing parts of two fingers on his right hand and wore thick glasses, was a machine gunner. His commanding officer, writing six weeks later to Lawrence's parents, described his death: "About 4 p.m. the Gemans attacked us, shelling very heavily as they came. As a general rule, a hole in the ground is as safe a place as one can select and, although we considered ourselves comparatively out of danger, three shells broke directly in the hole. Private Ross was killed instantly."
Word of his death did not reach his family for about two weeks. His younger brother was married, as planned, on August 8th. My mother, born 9 months after her uncle's death, grew up feeling that she was almost acquainted with him. The family apparently spoke of him fondly and often, as though perhaps he was merely living at a distance from home. His portrait, a slender man photographed in sober uniform, hung in the farmhouse parlor during my mother's growing up years--and mine.
My parents were married on August 1st in 1941. I don't recall seeing a photo of them together on that day, although surely someone must have recorded the event with a Kodak Brownie. There was no formal church service as my father was a professed Catholic and my mother a Protestant. Their vows were spoken at the Catholic rectory. I suppose there was a celebratory gathering and a cake. I can imagine that the mingling of the two families may have been a bit reserved, although my parents had dated, after the fashion of the times, for several years. I do know that they spent the weekend at Ausable Chasm in the Adirondacks.
I don't recall any fuss over their anniversay when my sisters and I were growing up. In later years, they usually planned an outing together. On their 50th anniversary we held a picnic on their lawn under the silver maple. In 2007 they had been married 66 years. My father was at the nursing home to have lunch with my mother. There was a cake and flowers. Three weeks later, mother passed away.
Sometimes, as years go by, we find that a day of remembrance has passed, almost without notice. Perhaps there is no one with us to share a particular memory, to recall an old sorrow, or to relive a happy event. The news commentators remind us of the anniversaries the world shares: Dunkirk, Pearl Harbor, the landing of the first spaceship on the moon.
Memories blend and merge, becoming a collage of faces, colors, sounds. Photographs curl and fade in old albums. In most families there are those of us who decipher the browned pages of diaries, ponder the identity of those forever caught in a blurred black and white photo. We collect the memories, handing them on to the next generation. "Lest we forget."