December 7, 1941 – My mom, Evelyn Beatrice Elburg Brown was 17 and a junior at Minneapolis West High School. At least that’s what they call it now.
Pearl Harbor Day always made my mother sad. She would usually call me on this day and tell me about all the boys from her high school that were lost in the war. “So many went and so few returned,” she said.
As her dementia worsened, this was a point that stuck with her. Whenever she brought the subject up, sadness filled her voice and while not a woman who cried easily or often, tears usually filled her eyes.
Mom’s been gone now for almost three years–in February and already my body and heart are tweaked to the upcoming anniversary of her loss. I can’t seem to help it. Feelings of sadness start to overwhelm me around this time of year. I seem to feel physical–and emotional pain more easily.
This will worsen, bit by bit, as the time grows closer to the actual date of her death, and linger for some time after. It happens around the anniversary of my father’s death in May as well, but less and less with each passing year.
My mother suffered many losses in her life. A stillborn brother. An adult brother who died too young–Uncle Slim. Her father, her mother, and only nephew Johnny all died within five years of each other.
She told me that once she was stopped at a red light in Vernon, British Columbia not long after our family emigrated to Canada in 1969 and she felt the earth open up and the hands of everyone in her family reach up to pull her towards death. But she resisted–until she was 88 years.
I suspect that all of us who have lost someone dear feel that tug–both a longing and a fear of joining those who have gone on before us–although we know not where, how far, or even if there is a road to take us to that better place where we hope they already are.
So here’s to all the people who died on Pearl Harbor Day–all the beautiful young sailors who never had the chance to grow old. And to the civilians who died as well. Thankfully, my foster sister Edna Weller Czaplewski was not among them. A mere two months old, living close to the scene of destruction, she survived to become a beloved member of our family some years later.
And just for sake of inclusivity, here’s to remembering all the other people who served and died in both the Pacific and European theaters of WWII as well, including all the Jews and others who perished at the hands of that mad man, Hitler.
I wish days like today–where we remember the dead–would muster up some resolve to prevent war from ever happening again. But since it’s still raging around the planet, we seem doomed to plunge ever-deeper into cesspools of conflict that now stretch across the sea to our very front door. In the words of Pete Seeger, “When will we ever learn?”
I guess the answer is still blowing in the wind.
(The picture above is of my mother, taken in the mid-1950s at my grandparents’ cottage on Big Lake, Minnesota.)