Memories of Our Youth



Memories of Our Youth
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio


 
Gresham, Oregon….

“You okay, Nana?” The young woman stood in the alcove leading to the living room. She had a cup of coffee in her hand, and the steam had fogged her glasses. She put the cup down on the table in front of the sofa and sat down. Reaching over, she rubbed the woman’s back, evoking a sigh.

“It’s just that,” Alice pointed to the TV screen; the ending credits of a movie were rolling, and the music was a bit louder than either of them would have liked. Jeanne had just put the baby down for a nap and hoped the music hadn’t disturbed the little one’s rest. Alice, on the other hand shook her head. She picked the remote and turned off the recording with an apologetic look as both of them looked down the short hallway to the baby’s room.

“Something my grandfather said to me…” She bit her lip.

“He was so angry about losing his Dad….” Her voice carried only a hint of Brisbane since she’d spent her teens and then young adulthood in Chicago after the family moved.

“About Gallipoli, Nana?” The old woman nodded. It was a part of their heritage that was both sad and wonderful as valor had been mixed all too foolishly with someone else’ choices, leaving young men half-way around a cruel world to die or nearly perish with hurts too painful to forget and memories too needful to set aside.

“He said to me if we ever get in another war…” She put her head down, almost ashamed.

“Nana…you should be proud.” Jeanne touched the old woman’s cheek. Tears began to spill as Alice shook her head, as if her own choices were somehow wrong.

“I can’t close my eyes once without remembering the lads….” She would have finished the sentence had she not begun to sob. She buried her face in her granddaughter’s shoulder.

“Pop-pop made you feel ashamed….your own battles, Nana. You’re brave to me.” Jeanne looked over at the picture on the mantle; the only piece of that past Alice had left behind. A group of twenty or so young men in brand new uniforms, ready to take on the world and all too many of them destined to lose to that same world. One tall boy stood out; a smile on his face and ginger locks peeking out from under his cap. One of only two who returned home.

“He never understood.” Alice said between short gasps. She looked down at herself as if by living she should be condemned. Not just surviving, but coming to the conclusion that in order to live, she had to truly live her life the way she saw herself.

“Mum brought him around….but I still wonder what he really thought at the end. “

“If he could see you now? I think he’d be proud.” It was probably true, since her father was a fairly reasonable man for all his faults. But even in that, he could never bring himself to say he was proud of his only child. A child who grew up a continent away from his birthplace only to risk his life by returning to do his duty. A child who nearly died saving his best mate in a place called Nui Dat who vowed almost like his great grandfather…never again.

“Nana? I’m so proud of you. You’re about as brave as anyone I’ll ever know!” Jeanne rubbed the old woman’s arm and stared at the picture on the mantle, thankful that the ginger-haired boy had returned; not too safely inside if preserved. She looked at her grandmother and her own tears began to fall. The old woman’s eyes were still as bright as ever; eager to please and desperate for love and acceptance. Her ginger hair had faded only a bit from her youth, but she was stronger in so many ways than when she gave her all for her homeland decades before in a place called Nui Dat.

“You….you’re proud of me?” Alice said weakly, a weakness not borne of age, but of near astonishment. A child that had grown up without ever hearing those words from her own father and never hearing the needful accompaniment of ‘I love you;’ unspoken praise from a generation that never said what they felt out loud. But her father did leave a letter upon his death. A letter from a man who barely understood, but tried; a letter filled with terse but positive remarks about a boy named Tim who finally had the strength to do what was necessary to live a life. Jeanne blinked back tears and pulled Alice in for a hug.

“Oh yes, Nana.” She hugged her tight and stroked the ginger locks and kissed the face of the woman who had not only survived, but lived her own life.

“Yes…..” She was going to continue but a baby’s cry came from the nursery down the hall.

“I’ve got to….”

“Bring her along, Jeanne. We can have tea.” The old woman nodded and smiled. Jeanne got up and walked down the hallway. Alice sighed and wiped the tears from her eyes and stared at the photo on the mantle.

“I won’t forget you,” she said to herself as her attention fell upon the only other one to survive the horror of those dreadful days years ago. Her eyes brimmed once again with tears as she smiled at the face of the man who accepted her and loved her and stood by her as she took the first of many steps to live her life. Jeanne returned with the baby in her arms and walked to the mantle.

“He was a good man, Nana…a very good man.”

The baby cooed at Jeanne's words as she picked up the picture, staring at the two boys standing side by side; ready to take on a world that had decided there was no room for children of another generation, even if they sacrificed and gave their all. But a new world would learn to accept a boy and a ginger-haired girl; two who faced death and lived life the way it was meant to be lived.

“Yes he was, Jeanne…yes he was.” The tears fell freely now, but they were no longer tears of regret and shame but of lasting hope and love. The baby cooed again. Alice held out her arms and welcomed her great-granddaughter with a big smile. Jeanne leaned closer and kissed Alice on the forehead.

“I love you so much, Nana.” And with that, she walked slowly into the kitchen and put the kettle on for tea….

With loving thanks to all of those here and around the world who have served with honor and valor and sacrifice
to keep us safe. In honor of today; known as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and Veteran’s Day


Hymn to the Fallen
Composed by John Williams
For the Motion Picture
Saving Private Ryan
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Omd9_FJnerY



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