Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Morning Inspiration

A faded picture from so long ago. On the left is my grandfather, Alfred Youngblood and beside him a man who sadly no longer has a name. Two young men in their early twenties transported to a country that until then only existed in a school book. Standing on a street somewhere in France, their uniforms dirty and tattered, the picture captures their image, but not their thoughts. World War I, the war to end all wars, but now we know that it was just the warm up for future wars.
One of my most precious possessions, a postcard that my grandfather sent to my grandmother. Although it's old and faded, it's still so beautiful. There is a flap on the embroidery that opens and inside is a small card. The postcard was my grandfather's Christmas present to my grandmother that year. On the back of the card he wrote the date, December 3,1918, "To Elvera, From a Soldier Friend." At this time, they had not married.
His short note on the back of the postcard gives a hint of what he must have been feeling. He talks about being cold, he says that he wishes he could be with her at Christmas, but uses the words "I fear not." Cold, lonely and afraid, he then says that he has nothing to say. Hell was happening around him, but there was "nothing to say." The note ends with, " Be nice and think of S.B.B." I have no idea what this means, maybe a secret that they shared together and now will remain theirs alone.
The war took it's toll on Alfred. He came home and married Elvera but it wasn't long until alcohol became his friend. He always worked and worked hard, provided a home and all that his family needed, but he could not give the gift of himself. As the years continued on, he became an angry old man.
I always adored my grandparents. All my mother had to say was, "I'm taking you to your grandmother's house" and I would be at the car and ready to go. One day when I was just about four, she dropped me off for the afternoon. When we arrived, my grandparents were standing in the back at the end of the driveway. I jumped out of the car and ran down the driveway with the energy of a race horse. Their driveway was covered in crushed oyster shells. I tripped and went flying. As I rolled over, the first thing I saw was that the palm of my hand had completely peeled open. I sat their horrified looking at the inside of  my hand. My grandparents ran to me. Alfred said nothing but immediately picked me up and ran with me into the house. He took me into the bathroom, sat me down on the toilet and began taking things from the medicine cabinet. My grandmother held my hand palm side up while my grandfather picked the shells from my knees. He then stood me up, took me to the sink and began to work on my hand. My knees ached, but all I wanted to do was look at my hand. Alfred told my grandmother to hold my head as he picked the shells from my palm and then I remember screaming as he poured iodine into my hand. The skin was carefully folded back in place and my hand bandaged. Every day or so, my mother would bring me back and my grandfather would remove the bandages and redress my hand. I remember being amazed as I watched my hand heal. Today all that is left is a comma shaped scar.
Many years later, I was working as a costume designer. For the particular show that I was working on at the time, I needed military pieces. I came across a box full of the leg wraps that the soldiers wore during WWI. There was one, so blood soaked, I picked it up with my left hand and when I did so, I saw the scar in the palm of my hand. At that moment, I was so overcome with emotion that I sat down on the floor. As I looked at that blood soaked legging and the scar on my hand, I immediately went back to that day when I fell. What I realized at that moment was that what my grandfather saw, he had seen before.
Before he died, I tried to get my grandfather to talk about his experience during the war. He refused, rather he sat in his rocking chair and sang a song. Sadly, I didn't listen to the song as I felt that he was just trying to avoid talking to me. Had I listened, I think I may have learned something of his experience. Now, I will never know.
Alfred Youngblood grew up on a farm in east Texas, went to war, came home, married and continued to fight that war in his mind. I once read that the soldiers of WWI didn't come home and talk about the war because they wanted to leave it where it was. Regardless of their desire, the war came back with them. There was no help for them. They were expected to just go on with their life.
The dictionary describes a comma as a pause, a separation. My grandfather and I were never as close as I would have liked to have been, nor as close as I now believe he would have liked as well. But, we are connected, a small comma that I carry in the palm of my hand, a comma that reminds me to pause, to remember, to have compassion, to have respect for a man who did the best that he could.

Share this PostPin ThisShare on TumblrShare on Google PlusEmail This


  1. Oh, Rhonda, what a beautiful memory piece! Thank you for this. There is a marvelous British writer--Pat Barker--who wrote a trilogy about the effect of WWI on the British. I highly recommend the Regeneration trilogy--Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road.

  2. Beautiful post, Rhonda. It's filled with memories of love, family and deep appreciation for your love ones. Priceless..,

  3. How lovely this story was. This is the first time reading your blog so I had to go back to this post and I'm glad I did. I look forward to reading your blog on a regular basis now.

  4. What a great story. my grandfather also served in WWI in France. My mom said he never talked about it because it was too painful. I have a photo of him in his uniform. I wish I knew the stories but sadly he passed when I was 9. My mom never thought to ask.

    1. Thanks Susan :)
      If you have not seen the movie War Horse, I strongly recommend it. Or you can read the book. I read the book and then saw the movie. Wonderful story, and it gives you insight into what the soldiers experienced, but not in a horrible war movie kind of a way.