My Mother’s Daughter

Mother's Day, mothers and daughtersGrowing up, I never thought that my mother was a PERSON. She was just this entity called ‘MOM.’

I’m not sure when she became a human being. Probably the first time I found out she was fallible. Sometime in my 20s, after I left university.

mom, Mother's Day, mothers and daughters

Before she was a mom.

Once I began my life as a ‘grown-up’ and she and my dad moved to Oklahoma, of all places, I began to miss her. I was surprised, because we were never particularly close. Continue reading

By the Luck of the Draw

paratrooper, wwII, soldier and his girlfriend

“On leave,”
Neville and Marcia, 1944

I have no recollection of my dad reading stories to me from a book when I was a child, but he did tell me stories verbally.  The older I got, the more descriptive they became – about his poor, fatherless boyhood; his teenage years smoking and hanging out with the other kids wearing zoot suits and listening to jazz; his courtship of my mom when they traveled to New York City to listen to Frank Sinatra.

As I got older, my dad talked more openly of his experiences as a paratrooper during WWII, and the wild stories of training camp, and then fighting in France and Germany.I never thought about how these stories set a moral tone for me, a tale of life’s lessons, but now, looking back, I realize that my life’s view was definitely influenced by my dad’s stories.


We didn’t really know what we were doing, despite the training we received for a few months in Georgia. I mean, we were wild boys, really, most of us just 18. Full of aggression, cocky as hell, anxious to get to Europe and kill those Krauts. That’s how we talked about it – “Kill Krauts!” Of course, that’s how we were trained to think of our job, once we got to the other side of the ocean.

I wanted to be in the navy – that was my dream, or if that didn’t work, to become an air force pilot. But I discovered something about myself that I hadn’t known for the first 17 years of my life – I was color blind.

I had had no idea that I was missing reds and blues and greens.

But the navy, and the air force, diagnosed my disorder after their preliminary tests, so I went for the next best challenge: paratrooping.

Another thing I didn’t know about myself until I started to train as a paratrooper – I was acrophobic – scared of heights. I kept that secret to myself during the entire time I fought in WWII.

I don’t think the pilots quite knew what they were doing either, color blind or not. They’d shout ‘JUMP NOW’ to the paratroopers as we flew high paratrooper, WWII, soldierabove a foreign land, and so many of my buddies got stuck in trees. Some died that way, because they’d fall in the middle of a forest.

Happened to me several times – nothing scarier than falling, hard, on top of a tremendous tree, heavy white fabric covering you, while the tree branches pierced you as you tried desperately to get out of the shoot without suffocating.

One time, I was stuck good, frantically cutting the white shoot off me, so relieved to get the heavy cloth away from my face.

But the first thing I saw scared me so much, I wet my pants.

A German soldier stood tall, at the base of the tree, with his gun aimed right at my head.

I knew I was dead. My life was gone, at 18 years of age.

I closed my eyes, heard the shot. Waited for heaven, or hell, or whatever would come next.


Once I realized I was still breathing, I put my hand out and felt my chest, my arms, my head. Then I opened my eyes.

The German soldier was down, dead, below me. An American paratrooper stood five yards away, his gun still pointing at the spot.

He saved my life.

But that poor German kid. Couldn’t have been older than me. By the luck of the draw, he was dead.

And I wasn’t.

Love Letters

The rain fell softly as I curled up in front of my brother’s bedroom dresser and slowly opened the bottom drawer.

I was alone. My mom was down the street playing bridge with Mrs. Abbot, Mrs. Demmel, and Mrs. Poling. I could hear brother Chuck and his friend Ricky shouting at each other in the backyard as they enacted their own version of cops and robbers. Even at just 10 years old, I held onto these rare times of privacy like a drowning girl holding onto a life raft. I couldn’t articulate the need for time alone yet, but I certainly could relish it.

My skin prickled with anticipation and satisfaction. I stopped suddenly. A noise – something banging on the floor.

Oh, just the dog scratching an itch.

After opening the drawer as far as I could without its heavy weight falling on my legs, I pushed aside some winter sweaters and crawled my hands into the nest of wool, eyes unseeing, feeling for my secret pleasure. Yes, they were still there! A few weeks ago I had first discovered them, the old letters, hidden in a place my mom must have believed was safe from prying eyes.

Well, she was wrong.

I chuckled as I slipped out one packet of thin envelopes grouped together with a rubber band. This packet contained all the letters postmarked August, 1944. I opened the first one, an entire unknown world – released.

My dad’s love letters to my mother when he was in the war.

“The war” in my childhood household was WWII. My father had been barely 18 when he was shipped overseas. My mom lived with her parents, commuted to New York City for her job as a secretary, living for the time when she could race back home on the early evening train to see if another letter had arrived.

Most of these letters were from France, some from Germany. They said little about the war or my father’s life as a paratrooper, which was the boring stuff in my 10-year-old mind anyway. What I was most interested in, most astonished at, was the way my dad wrote about his love.

He described the times he and my mom kissed on the couch after my grandparents went to bed. About how he longed for her. How he missed her. How he couldn’t wait to get home to her. Almost every letter said the same thing. Sometimes he’d mention the atrocious food he and his ‘buddies’ ate from a can. Sometimes he complained that he had KP duty again, because he’d come back past the curfew, drunk. Those things surprised me, but I raced right past them, most interested in his romantic words of sexual love and longing.

Later that day, when the whole family sat down for dinner, I’d look across the dining room table at my dad and try to imagine him, writing those love letters.

But I never could.