Aren’t they gorgeous? This is one of my favorite old family pictures. During World War II, my father was stationed somewhere near Washington, D.C., and his parents brought my mother to visit him on furlough. My father is on the other side of the camera. I love the hats and the hair. Although my grandfather was a railroad worker and my grandmother modeled “mature women’s fashions,” they managed to look glamorous on very little. My mother was probably still in high school at this time. She and my father married in December, 1944, when she was 17 and he was 19. She continued to go to school for her last semester, while he returned to the war.
Dad came home in the summer of 1946, after the war was over. He worked full time at the village textile mill while he went to night school for six years at the Rhode Island School of Design, thanks to the G.I. Bill. In his spare time, he built a house. There were no power tools, so he cleared the land with an axe, mixed the concrete in a barrel, and cut the boards with a saw. My mother had had my older brother by this time, so she would push him three miles in a stroller every day to meet my dad and help out. In the winter, she put sled runners on the stroller so that they could get there even in deep snow. She proudly tells how Dad constructed the beautiful hardwood floor in the living room around a two-inch square of wood, working out in concentric squares from there. They worked so hard together to make their dreams come true.
My dad died of Alzheimer’s Disease on January 4, 2004, after fourteen years of fighting a cruel devourer. My mother cared for him at home by herself until the very end, when the angels at Hospice came over every morning to help her bathe and change him. Mom is 85 now, still living alone, washing her floors on her hands and knees and raking up 90 trash bags of leaves and acorns this past autumn. She dreads the annual return of January 4th, not only because her husband died on that day, but also— through the years— her mother and her second son. Mom does her best to stay inside and watch happy movies.
They are, indeed, the greatest generation.