Everything I know about love, I learned from a letter my grandpa wrote to my grandma during World War II.
Well, today is VE Day. I am glad that much is overâ€¦ There is no celebrating here. We had a parade and several speeches today, but no shouting. Everyone is restricted to the post until things quiet down. I think everyone should wait and celebrate when the whole thing is done…
Henry â€œHankâ€ Shellenbarger was a big John Wayne of a man. A bomber pilot, the Army recruited him to teach others how to fly. Helen Mary Shellenbarger was a teacher â€“ a college-educated woman far ahead of her time.
As I knew them, they were always old, always wise. Grandpa could take one look at the sky and tell you if it was going to snow that night. He could build or fix anything, including our first house. Grandma kept a stash of every grandchildâ€™s favorite treat in her pantry. She had a saying for every situation, a collection of old colloquialisms she picked up in her youth. Most of the time, I had no idea what they meant, like when something got lost, it â€œwent the way of the rug.â€
When I got old enough to understand, I would beg Grandpa to tell me about the war. Was he a hero? Did he ever get hurt? Could I be a pilot, too? One day he answered with his silence. He got out of his well-worn rocking chair and went into his bedroom. A moment later, he came out, his hand closed tightly. He told me to hold out my hand, and I obeyed. In it, he placed a tarnished set of Army Air Corps wings.
â€œNow you can be a pilot,â€ he said.
It never occurred to me to ask Grandma about the war until college. I interviewed her for a history class term paper, and being a natural writer, I used her answers to craft a creative narrative of a woman struggling on the home front.
It wasnâ€™t until after I discovered the letter in Grandmaâ€™s dresser drawer â€“ neatly creased inside a yellowed envelope along with a single dog-tag â€“ that I realized I had asked both of them all the wrong questions.
They are moving the whole engineering training school to some other field. We donâ€™t know where for sure but it looks like Shepherd Fieldâ€¦ Donâ€™t worry. I will still be in the same program, just in a different place.
Grandpa died in June 1997. The day he passed, the entire family gathered at their home in the small farming town where I grew up. One by one, we filed into the bedroom, where he lay in a hospice bed, to say good-bye. And one by one, we all cried. But not Grandma. Not that day.
She didnâ€™t cry in front of us until she viewed him for the first time in his casket. I hung back and watched as Grandma moved toward the front of the room. She stared for a moment and then reached out her hand. She placed hers over his. And then she began to cry.
â€œOh my Hank, my Hank,â€ she sobbed.
Before my eyes, she was transformed. She wasnâ€™t my grandma anymore, and he was no longer my grandpa. Instead, I saw them as they were fifty years earlier, a young couple passionately in love. A young couple about to be separated by war and distance.
I miss you and love you very much, sweetheart. I am glad we are going to have the baby. I guess Iâ€™ll read and go to sleep.
Today, I hang onto Grandpaâ€™s wings and the letter. Grandma hangs on to his heart.
Louise Knott Ahern is a freelance journalist and public relations coach who writes contemporary romances. Sheâ€™s the author of â€œOpting Out: A Career Womanâ€™s Guide to Going Home Without Going Crazy,â€ a blog for mothers at www.optoutguide.blogspot.com. She is also a contributor to The Writerâ€™s Vibe (www.thewritersvibe.typepad.com), a blog for professional writers.
I’m just catching up on blogs today and after I read yours (crying btw) I realized that my parents went through very much the same thing during WWII. It brought back all the stories my father told of how hard it was to be separated from the one you loved, being moved around and not being able to tell your sweetheart where you are.
My parents had a similiar love and relationship — the loss of one from the other almost inconceivable. NOW THEY ARE BOTH TOGETHER AGAIN.
Wow, Louise. I’m crying as I write this. A beautiful story of love to keep close to your heart.
My heart was touched by your true story, it brought tears to my eyes.
What a beautiful story, You come by your loveing spirit and “get it done” attitude honestly. Since meeting you and the other young ones( Geralyn, Mary, Dana and Michelle C. ) I know the Chapter will be in good hands for many years to come. You are a talented writer and a super woman!
Hi Mary — Nope! The baby was my Uncle Tom. My mom is the youngest of their five children.
I’m tearing up all over again too. 🙂 That is a beautiful story. Thanks Weez. 🙂
I forgot to ask: was the baby your mom?
What a touching story, Weez. A lifetime together isn’t long enough for true love!
Wow, what a wonderful love story, Louise. And yes, I’m tearing up, too.
Dang it. I’m crying again, Louise!
It’s a beautiful story.
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