Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Diary

My cousin recently forwarded a diary written by our grandmother. Our fathers were brothers who grew up in the Alberta Neighborhood of Portland. My father passed away in 2001, my uncle just passed away in November.

What an opportunity -- to read the thoughts and feelings of my grandmother who died when I was only 5 years old!

On the first page my grandmother writes that she had long wanted a diary and received this one from my grandfather at the end of December, 1941. Only weeks after Pearl Harbor. Not only was the diary of personal interest, but also of historical significance.

My grandfather was a professional musician who was a member of the Portland Symphony and played his violin for various dances, shows, and other music jobs that came his way. He was also working evenings at the shipyards (which I wasn't aware of until now). My uncle was completing his senior year of high school and job hunting. My father was serving in the Oregon National Guard (41st Infantry "Sunset Division") and, as you can imagine, he was immediately called into active duty after December 7.

Reading the diary decades after it was written, I know that both my father and uncle came home from World War II to marry and begin families. But this, of course, was unknown at the time my grandmother recorded her concerns.

Many of the diary notations regard my father and a mother's fears for his safety. He was at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington, when the 41st departed. At the time, no one knew where the men were going. My grandparents received a cablegram from my father informing them that he was at Fort Dix in New Jersey. When the 41st shipped out not long afterward, the family still had no idea where the men would be fighting.

The lack of communication from my father made each day an ordeal for my grandmother. She recorded daily events -- having the living room painted and papered, doing laundry, shopping, visiting family and friends. But practically every entry ended with thoughts of her oldest son, "God knows where."

The neighborhood mothers shared information when they heard from their boys. The radio deluged them with war news. Finally, my father sent another cablegram followed by letters. The 41st was in Australia. They would be fighting the Japanese.

My uncle graduated from Benson High School that spring and registered for military service. My grandmother mentioned the friends and school mates of her sons who were shipping out. When my uncle was inducted and sent to Louisiana, my grandmother stopped making entries in the diary. The year 1942 was nothing but heartache for her.

My uncle went on to serve in the European Theater. My grandfather bought my grandmother a globe set atop a wooden floor stand so she could keep track of her two boys at opposite ends of the world.

The Potter boys wrote when they could -- their letters censored to ensure that they didn't inadvertently reveal military information. My father added cartoons to his letters and mailed home a replica of an outrigger canoe the men had sailed (and flipped over) plus the carved and fully uniformed characterization of a Japanese soldier.

The fears and anxieties expressed by my grandmother were those felt by any mother of sons at war far from home -- regardless of the era.

What a difference from today, when friends and family can e-mail, tweet, or talk via Skype with the men and women serving in the armed forces. I wonder what my grandmother would have thought of that?

For now I'll cherish the diary and, when the time comes, forward it with other mementos to my young cousin who wants to be the keeper of the Potter family history.


Rising Rainbow said...

What as amazing gift! I think it's awesome there is someone in your family who wants to be the keeper of the family history too.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Wow! What a special family treasure. I wish I had something like this from my Mother. She died when I was 8 and I only know a little bit about the woman she was from a couple family members, because my Mother was a very private person.


gowestferalwoman said...

what a sweet gift - and she didnt even know it while she was writing...