This morning while putting up new paintings, a woman about my age stopped me and asked if I was “responsible” for this art. Pat proceeded to tell me about having only recently finished reading the correspondence between her parents, both of whom are now gone. “I got such an intimate sense of who they were as young people and how much they loved each other. They were married for sixty-four years,” she added.
This is not the first time I’ve heard such stories from sons and daughters of this generation. Letters found in shoe boxes, old suitcases are coming to light, long buried in closets and attics. Since coming to Amherst, I’ve had more and more people talk to me about the letters sent between parents during the war. Some were desperate enough to marry before the husband was shipped off.
A former high school alum stopped by this afternoon to introduce herself. I knew her sister, but Carol was six years younger which in high school is an eternity. Carol’s dad is still alive, sadly her mother passed away this past January. Carol told me her parents married before he was shipped to Italy: he nineteen years old, her mom seventeen. Could they legally drink then? I don’t know. And yet, who could fault them for rushing into adulthood when there was no guarantee they’d even experience it? Both Carol and Pat as well as many other people I’ve talked with, have tangible memories in the form of both photos and writings.
Sadly, I’m also witness to those of that special generation who have marvelous memories of those days, but seem lost in the present. An 88 year old women I’d met shortly after arriving at the library, returned today. “How wonderful to see someone painting here,” she said to me. “Well hello again,” I said, turning in my chair to face her. “I’ve never met you before,” she said looking me squarely in the eyes. Hers was not a mild personality, one easy to forget. She again told me of her time serving in the intelligence community, working overseas. She talked of the places overseas she lived during and after the war. Hers was a life of adventure which she has passed onto her two daughters, one of whom still lives abroad.
It hit me today, how far-reaching this project has become. At least in my presence, I’m hearing the offspring of this generation wanting to reconnect or really, for the first time, connect with their parents as young people. Pat told me she was born nine months to the day after her dad returned from the war. As for the 88 year old woman, I hope her daughters will seize this time to capture their mother’s past while it’s still fresh. Across America, as I travel, I want to hear more and more stories from people about discovering lost letters and photos. Spread the idea. Toss that pebble of an idea. Make this ripple on the pond grow.