Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday Morning Inspiration/A Soldier's Story

Today is Memorial Day here in the United States, a day to remember those who have fought for our country. It's a gorgeous day here in Chicago, and I will most likely spend most of my day outside. 

Rather than my typical Monday morning inspiration piece, I thought I would re-share a piece I wrote in 2011. If you have followed the blog for some time, you may have read it, but for some, it will be new.

As you read this piece, I hope that it will inspire you to reflect on your own loved ones who have perished, be it in a war, or any other senseless act of violence.  

Alfred Youngblood

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. The embroidered flap 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 bursting 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 almost 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 toward them 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 there 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 meticulously 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 the fresh wound. 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 the wound. I remember being amazed as I watched my hand heal. Today all that is left is a small, comma shaped scar.  

Many years later, I was working as a costume designer. For 
this particular show, I needed military pieces. While rummaging through a military surplus store, I came across a box full of the leg wraps that soldiers wore during WWI. There was one, completely blood soaked. I picked it up with my left hand and when I did, I saw the scar in my palm. At that moment, I was so overcome with emotion that all I could do was sit down on the floor. As I looked at the blood soaked legging, my memory immediately flashed back to the day I fell, and in that moment I knew that when grandfather picked me up and rushed me into the house, this was not the first time that he had seen skin pulled away from the body. His expertise in helping me heal had more than likely come at the expense of another's life.

Before he died, I tried to get my grandfather to talk about his experience during the war. He refused. Rather than speak, he would sit in his rocking chair and sing a song. Sadly, I didn't listen to the words of the song as I thought he was just trying to avoid talking to me. He was. But, had I listened, I think I may have learned something about his experience, and maybe even the soldier that he tried to save. 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 refused to come home and talk about the war as they wanted to leave it there, where it was. Regardless of their desire, the war came home, tucked inside their minds. There was no help for them. They were expected to just go on with their lives.  

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 also would have liked. But, we are connected, by a small comma shaped scar that I carry in the palm of my hand. A comma that reminds me to pause, to remember, to have compassion, and to respect a man who did the best that he could.  

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  1. Ah, Rhonda, such a touching and beautiful story, your tribute to your granddad. Thank you for taking the time to compose this.

  2. Thank you from the daughter and grand-daughter of veterans of both World Wars and a veteran myself. Both told the "funny" stories about leave in Paris, etc. But after I had been through Basic Training my dad started talking to me about the other parts. Seems he had not even told my mom about them and they were very close.
    And we are all from Texas too.
    Well written and said.

    1. Although it's a fictional story, I think War Horse depicts how horrible the war was. Thank you Lynne for serving 😊

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you Lori. Just a bit of my heart 😊

  4. Rhonda, thank you for sharing this story. My father lied about his age, as he graduated from high school early, so he entered the Army at the age of 16. WWI. He was a pilot and trained pilots. I was a very late in life baby, born at the beginning of WWII. At two months old my father was recalled and trained troops for WWII. He was in France again, and this time for almost five years. Coming out as a Lt. Col. He rarely spoke of either war. He died when I was 16. All his things ended up in my brother's attic. My brother, 14 years older than I, died two years ago and his house and things went to his son. This winter my nephew began to go through the army trunks in my brother's attic, and found medals and commendations galore of heroic accomplishments my father made in WWI, including being honored as having brought down the first German war plane of WWI. Can you imagine, at age 16 or 17? WOW. It'a a bit difficult to be proud of your father killing someone, but we were at war and he was honored for doing so. We have found albums of incredible pictures of war zones and the life he had to live. He did on occasion mention getting up in a tent in the morning and putting on frozen clothes. Wright Patterson Air Force Museum wants our albums, but we just aren't ready to give them up.
    Again thanks for sharing.

    1. It may we'll be that your family will want to hold on to these pieces as it's their history first. You have such a large extended family, and as time goes on, I think all of this will become all the more precious. There is a small museum in the small town that my grandfather came from. When I'm ready, I think I will give them the photograph, postcard, and my story.

  5. This is a great story. Thank you.

  6. Reading this gave me goose bumps...thank you, Rhonda.

  7. You gave me goosebumps! Thanks for this!

  8. Thank you for this touching tribute to your grandfather and to all of those who have fallen in humanity's senseless wars.

  9. My own grandfather wasn't an easy man to converse with. I was never privy to his past but I loved and looked up to him and as his granddaughter I probably had a better bond than the boys. Your grandfather sounds precious - cherish your memories as I do mine.