Friday, November 30, 2007

Ikey Lubin's and Letters from the Past

I finished Russo's Bridge of Sighs and like many of the characters in the book, I am drawn into Sara’s drawings of Ikey Lubin’s, the family grocery store that survives three generations of Lynches and their extended family. At first Bobby enters their lives, then Kayla, but, and this is Russo’s genius, it is you, the reader that is swept into the store as well and into the novel.

For me, it raises my consciousness of my family and the family business, which is no longer. It reminded me that somewhere in my home I had a few letters that my father wrote during WW II to his brother, my Uncle Phil. After finishing Russo’s novel, those letters called out to me, demanding that I locate them, which I did.

Reading them puts some of what I’ve already written in earlier posts in perspective. They actually exaggerate a sadness I feel concerning my immediate family, with my parents living out their lives in discord and unhappiness, sharing their pain with my sister and myself.

Now that I’ve located those letters and have read most, I will occasionally transcribe parts of them. The one that follows was written on August 12, 1945 when my dad was younger than my youngest son is now. It is particularly momentous as it was written only days after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 and the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days after. Until that time, his letters expressed the foreboding that he will be shipped off to Japan with his unit, the 3264 Signal Service that had recently become attached to the famous “Screaming Eagles” 101st Airborne Division.

The contents are also bittersweet as he laments about possibly being held in Germany as part of the occupational force and his desire to return home to his wife (“Penny”). Little did he know that upon his return my mother would “joke” that she had hoped his transport ship would sink.

In my last blog entry I made the connection between literature and family. For me, Russo offers a glimpse of family, although troubled at times, that holds together in spite of declining mill towns and changing ways of life. Hence, we are taken into Ikey Lubin’s, coming together “in the present to recall the past and share a vision of the future.”

Here are my father’s hopes and thoughts on Aug. 12, 1945, in a letter to his brother, Phil, from Wiesbaden, Germany:

“As you no doubt already know, I informed my sweetheart some very discouraging news – that is being stuck here as [part of the] occupational [force]. On the heals of that letter came the wonderful news that Japan is asking for surrender. As this wasn’t definite as yet, I can’t say that finally war is ended, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of a day or two.

The Atomic bombings, and Russia’s entry into the conflict just overwhelmed the Japanese, especially the Atom smasher, a deadly and destructive thing, which has great future development for the betterment of mankind, but what I fear is some nation to use it for a complete destruction of civilization. I hope that this fear never will materialize.

What I began to say concerning the news [staying here as part of the occupational force], which I hated to tell Penny, is this – the sudden ending of all hostilities can possibly bring me and hundreds of other guys back to homes sooner than is predicted. I’m sure that those who are the law makers at home aren’t going to leave us in these foreign lands against our will – especially as there are millions of other Joes who have never left the good old USA and faced a future of sudden death.

I fought for freedom, freedom for all peoples. Now that we have won victory over the oppressors, haven’t I the right to enjoy that freedom? The Army is composed of civilians. Is it not the democratic way that we all share the fruits of victory, especially those who fought for it and were fortunate enough to be sparred a hideous death?

I don’t want you to feel, Phil, that I’m preaching or insinuating directly at you – only my desire is so strong, the urge so great to be able to come home again – this is now it is with most of the soldiers. I feel if we all write our families, congressmen and such something will be done. How about it, Phil, will you write a note to our congressman expressing your views

Now here’s some big favor you can do for me, Phil – I’m going to miss Penny’s and mine anniversary – we will be married seven years this September 4th. God, how those years flew and how I love my sweetheart. Will you buy a big bouquet of flowers, spend what you think will fill an order of a large one, but beautiful and then in the evening take her to dinner at that Swedish restaurant and musical show afterwards? I know this is a tall request and maybe puts you in a sort of embarrassing position, but I hope not. I want it to be all a surprise for Penny and I’d leave that to you as how to do it.

Have the flowers delivered in the morning of that day with an enclose card which simply says [unfortunately, and ironically, this portion of the letter was destroyed when it was sliced open]. The amount of money this involves I know won’t be cheap – and I can’t at present send anything to cover it, but I will repay you fully Phil, not only in money, but with my sincerest appreciation and many thanks. Do you think you can do this for me and for Penny? The main thing Phil – keep it a surprise somehow. Let me know your answer and details.

So, Phil, this is all for now. I hope everyone is well and of course yourself and that the business is beginning an upward surge. Give my regards to everyone.

Love, Robert”