Tag Archives: grandparents

My Mother’s WWII Correspondence

The past two weeks have been rough at the Nolen household with the grand-girl very sick with a tummy virus and everyone else catching it. I’ve got a writing conference in two weeks and a garage sale in three weeks. Both will require a lot of preparation. Nothing like adding a little something to something else to keep it fresh. But I have to say that this is a refreshing Fall, what with the nice weather we’re having and the fact that we haven’t just moved, or are moving, or are planning to move soon. Nope, this will be the start of year two in the old haunted house on Welch street.

So I begin with me but this is really another post about the past. Digging through my mother’s paper’s I found an extraordinary cache of history. I include it for your enrichment. I can’t help but be impressed with the passion of patriotic feeling that is hard to find outside of military families these days.

How did my mother come to have a pen pal in a POW camp in France?

Turns out the German POW found my mother’s address in her cousin’s address book. The little booklet was removed from his dead body during battle. He sent a scrap with addresses that he’d copied out of the book before the book was taken from him.

It looks like the first time Mr. Haag wrote was the 6 of July 1947. He wrote a postcard in German. All I can understand is the address and the beginning “Geshles Frauleine!” I’ve probably spelled it wrong. It is beautiful script, but hard to decipher the letters.

I guess he figured out pretty quickly that she didn’t speak German.

I think the next one is Epinal 15, 1947 (I have no idea when Epinal is so I leave it at that.) I think this is a second letter. Here is what it says:

“My Dear Miss Holl-, Last week I got your postcard and thank you very much. I had already given up the hope in your getting my card. I am sorry to write you, that the little book, in which I found your address amongst some others, is me taken off by a controll visit. I should like send to you your cousins address book. I was only able, to write up some adresses, which were well to card. In 1945 I was for a short time prisoner by the Americans, and well to remember me at this time, because we were well treated. In the next time, I hope to be repatriated and to be allowed to return to civil life. Perhaps, I am able to see once your country, America! I should you visite certainly. In the hope, soon to hear something off you, Dear Miss Holl-” I great you heartily and remain your Werner Haag.”

I think the next time he write is December 7, 1947. Here is what he says:

Dear Miss Holl- Your Christmas present for me, the Holy Bible, today at the same time so your kindness for which I thank you dearly. I am sorry that also in this year I cannot celebrate Christmas at house with my parents. For here in our prisoners camp there will be no distress  in Germany is very great. Now I will tell you about me as you want it. I was born July 23rd 1927 in the Black Forest! I have brown hair, and eyes, as you can see in the little picture which was made in captivity. After having leaved school in 1942, I was offered a coppersmith job, but I could not finish my apprenticeship for in 1944 I was made a soldier having 16 years. To I wrote you I speak English but very badly. Nevertheless I desire to perfect my knowledge of the English language. I was in American captivity for only a short time. It is very difficult for us to learn English for we have no learning books. For order to simplify our correspondence one of my comrades translates our letters. Dear Mary Louise, I’m very pleased that you like your work and that you are happy to help unemployed people. As I am very interested in your country. I would like to read the newspaper which published the article about your work. As I lost my two brothers, who were killed in war. I only have an older sister. We are good Christians and my very good Catholic homeland has suffered by war, especially farms which were completely devastated. I envy your country which is truly blessed as you said. I always hope to have the possibility to visit you in your country but that will be difficult. The German prisoners in France are offered to stay in France as civil workers for one year. They will have a holiday in the next year. I am separated from my relative already three years. My parents want me to engage here for one year. You know certainly that the liberation of the German prisoners of war has been fixed to the end of the next year. As during my captivity I have been accepted hard work off all conditions and often without sufficient food. It will not be difficult for me to finish my year working off my labor in the coal mine. For that is what they have for me. And now my dear Miss Mary Louise, I must finish once more. I thank you heartily for your Christmas gift. I want you and your relatives to have a merry Christmas. Your German Friend, Werner.

The last note is a postcard dated Merlebach, 6/2/48:

Dear Miss Mary Louise! I thank you very much for the Christmas card. Have you received my air-mail letter? I’m am set free now, and drive this month to my parent’s. Hoping that you soon to answer, and kind regards, Yours very faithfully, Werner.

I tried to locate Werner Haag POW number 1084450 born July 23, 1927 (He was two years younger than my mother) in the Black Forest and I came up with one Werner Haag born that year in that region. This Werner Haag invented the polymer later called polyester. He died in 2003. I shouldn’t be surprised a bit if it were the same person.

Stranger things have happened.

Stepping Away from the 1970’s and into The Grand Canyon

Me with the Sheriff.

I’m going to take a quick break from the past blast and catch you up on what we’ve been up to at the Nolen household. This past week we took the daughter and the grand-girl to the Grand Canyon. Left the house on a Sunday morning about 5:15, which is stinking early. Took the car to the ecoparking lot to leave it and catch the tram to the airport. The plane left on time at 8:15 and arrive in Phoenix at 11:45, which seems way too long but this was 11:45 their time which is about an hour behind our time. However, Arizona doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings Time (and this is WAY cool in my book) so they are two hours behind us at this time of year. In other words the trip lasted about an hour and a half.

We had about thirty minutes to make it across the airport to board the United Express plane to Flagstaff, a plane that seats twenty-five people and on this trip included one screaming baby on the lap of my daughter. She (the baby not my daughter) actually fell asleep about five minutes after take off but before take-off we were sitting for forty minutes on the plane with no air conditioning or fresh air and it was hot, hence the screaming part. I felt just like her but refrained from thrashing and crying.

We landed in Flagstaff in about twenty minutes after take-off. Flagstaff airport is about as big as my house and has one tiny cafe for entertainment for and hour and a half while we waited for the van that would shuttle us to Williams.

Once in Williams we found excellent food, lodging, and the people were more than helpful about everything. Williams, AZ is famous for the train which has ferried people back and forth to the Grand Canyon for sixty years and for the fact that Route 66 goes through the town. Cute. Very touristy. Loved it.

We stayed at the Depot Hotel and ate at the Depot Cafe (excellent all you-can-eat buffet for supper and breakfast), and shopped at the two souvenir shops full of train/Grand Canyon/Arizona/Native American  STUFF.

Great fun. The baby enjoyed it, her mom enjoyed it, us old people enjoyed it. And that was the first day.

The horse can laugh. Cora thinks it’s a big dog.

The next day after a huge breakfast, we went to see the western shoot-em-up show nearby before loading up on the train. The actors engaged the audience well and we had a good laugh. The grand-girl did not like the gunshots so her mother had to take her to the train to wait for us.

The ride to the Grand Canyon on the train was relaxing. We took first class seats as they were wide, comfy, and there was an extra seat for the baby. A nice buffet was available. This was time we could spend with our feet up enjoying the views from the large windows.

At the canyon the first event was an all-you-can-eat buffet. Man, these people believe in shoveling the food out. However, this one wasn’t very good. We had eaten all day anyway so no great loss. Next, we boarded a bus for a tour of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

There were two major stops. The views were spectacular. Every view was spectacular. There are no two views alike. Even on the same stop. I guess because the weather is constantly changing and the light changes so any view of the canyon is ever the same. The canyon’s rim is well over 2700 miles long, ten miles wide in some places and a mile deep. Most trails down into the canyon are over seven miles long because the mile deep part is literally straight down, a route that most people never want to take. So walking or taking a mule down will usually take all day and needs a lot of preparation.

I picked up a book at the train depot called “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon” written by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers. It is the store’s best seller. And I know why. It is an account of all known fatal mishaps in and around the Grand Canyon. Reading it is like eating popcorn, you just don’t want to stop. I’m about halfway through the book now and I can’t help but keep turning pages. Perhaps it’s because I’m astounded at all the stupid things people do – and die as a result. And this means lately by the way, as in last year. In fact the rangers report that people seem to believe that the canyon isn’t really dangerous.

I suppose because we all live in such an insular society. I guess we get used to the structural engineers and lawyers fixing all the faults … If something happens just sue, right?

I am not being serious.

Who are you going to sue if you back off the edge while getting a nice shot of the Hopi House?(about 3 people have done that) Or because you decide to drape your legs off the side to watch the sun set and then when you stand you lose your balance and fall in?(at least 6 people have done that)

Oh the ways you can die!!

Seriously, read the book before you hike the canyon. It might save your life.

So we are on this lovely tour and stop and look around, take pictures, see people stupidly standing on the edge. Obvious they didn’t read the book. And on our second stop we see not one but two condors.


Now this is incredibly cool because the California Condor was only recently re-introduced to the canyon. And we were not only seeing one from a great distance but they were swooping over our heads. I was too shocked to get THAT picture but I did get a few from a bit of a distance. They – and several other types of vultures – caught a thermal and cycled up miles above us and away. Really, really awesome.

Then we started back to the tourist camp and the Mastic Lodge where we were spending the night. And the rain came down. Not a little rain but a pouring, gushing, dropping buckets rain. And we didn’t know that was going to happen. They thankfully sold plastic ponchos at the souvenir shop at the lodge. We settled our sloppy wet selves into the rooms and dried off. The rooms were toasty and backed up to a gorgeous lush woods. After supper we were able to watch a female mule deer outside our window for a very long time. While we were watching her, my daughter saw a movement in the woods and we saw an elk. They are so big. And so quiet. The big male left as silently as he appeared.

The Grand-Girl

The next day it was still pouring but we decided to spend the day catching the free tram and seeing all that we could see in the rain. The grand-girls stroller has a nice rain shield that we’ve never used so much and am unlikely to ever use as much again. We visited the geology museum. It has a panoramic view of – clouds. Okay, we stayed there long enough so that some of the clouds parted at one point and we were able to spot the bridge over the Colorado river way down in the canyon. It’s the bridge that the mules cross.

My daughter and I are going back and taking the mules down. Determined we are on that.

Then, more rain and now it was cold, too. We went to the visitors center and saw the film. The National Geographic Society made the film so it was actually quite good. I appreciated how they blended the past with the present.

I have lots of pictures of the canyon and I am not including them all here. Just a few. Please forgive my feeble attempts. First, I had good views but I had left my camera in the rain about ten weeks ago and the camera’s viewer has not recovered. Second, I’m now reading that because of all the precipitation, and condensation, and stuff otherwise known as cloud droplets floating around in all that expanse above the vast crevice, a true photographer would use a warming lens on the camera to capture the colors our eyes see – instead of what the camera sees which is the blue haze.

With most of my photos you can see that blue haze.

Below this picture I redid it with a warm hue. It is a bit better. There is a difference. But when it comes right down to it. I need a new camera.

Traveling with the baby was a joy. She is funny, and cute, and always provokes a smile from everyone. True, she is only a year old and does have her moments of unbridled fury, frustration, and despair as only a one year old can have. But on the whole her good nature wins out. The hard part in traveling with a little one is all the preparation (it’s kind of like a endoscopy – the hard part is before the actual test) and of course the other hard part of traveling with baby is carrying all the extra stuff – diaper bags (we each had one), a car seat, and a stroller.

The next day train robbers tried to hold us up. We made one of them feel honestly terrible because he made the grand-girl cry. Ha. Ha. Ha. He went away yelling “I didn’t do it!” Yes, you did. A big guy with a mask over your face. And I bet you’ve made other girls cry before. Yep.

That was worth the picture.

Then the sheriff came through and rounded the bad guys up to take them them to “the pokey”. That was cute.

Again, a lovely train ride back to Williams. This time we had an even fancier buffet, with cheese cubes and a vegetable platter. The ranch dressing was the real thing.

We got back in time for the all-you-can-eat dinner buffet. We then ‘rolled’ our over-stuffed selves back to the depot hotel for a night’s rest.

Up the next day, an all-you-can-eat breakfast and then into town for some more shopping and seeing the sights. The taxi came and took us to the Flagstaff Airport where once again we couldn’t believe the airport staff told us we would just have to wait for them to open up for us. Wow? Then on the little plane for twenty minutes, then in Phoenix to board the big plane. We arrived back home at 12 AM our time.

Pooped but happy to have been there and done that!

The Curious Case

Upon reflection of the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” I think the story is brilliant.

Here’s why: I oversee the care of my 86-year-old mother and the care of my nine week old grand child. The two are similar in that they don’t have a lot of choices about life. So I can see where the storyline comes from. The writer asked “what if?” and there it was.

My mother sees life closing in on her. Her movements are more tentative, frailer, smaller every day. She is less and less sure of walking across the room. She can’t make the television change away from one channel. I’ve explained it a dozen times and written it down. But no, she’s decided the television doesn’t work.  Her values, beliefs, and determination remain strong but the world she maneuvers within has become tighter, tougher. It must be scary for her. She refuses to admit defeat, which is good for her but quite worrisome for those who care about her.

On the other hand, my grand child’s life unfolds within a growing world every day. She can see better. At birth her eyesight was only as well-defined as her mother’s face. Every week her distance vision grows sharper. She’s now sitting up and watching the football game with her grandfather. Her bright smile and obvious excitement at every turn has me believing that she’s a bundle of possibilities and not just a little bundle of flesh and bone with arms and legs that seem to sneak up and surprise her with their wild movements.

The baby’s movements are changing and growing more precise every day as her muscles grow stronger. My mother has lost most of her muscle mass. She holds up her arm and I can see each bone with the flesh sagging around it. She struggles to get out of a chair. She has never cared much for any physical activity and forget exercise, though she did go through a Jack LaLanne phase.  At this point, she is a poster child for “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” If I remind her that she needs to walk to gain strength, she gives me that thin-lipped look, with an ever so slight shrug. No, she doesn’t want to, so it isn’t going to happen. She tells her helper that I make her tired.

So the writer for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” must have experienced or seen the connection of opposites with the very old and very young and asked “what if a person was born old, grew younger, and died a baby?” What kind of difficulties would this present? What kind of difficulties would this present for everyone else? Especially those who loved that person?

While my grand child increases joy in our home, worry over my mother grows. I try not to think about it but then if I don’t think about it, here comes the guilt. Worry-guilt all for love. It’s a curious case of not really knowing what to do, nor how to do it.


Mothers and Daughters and Daughters or Sons

Queen Wilhelmina & Juliana
Queen Wilhelmina & Juliana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I sat across from her hospital bed as she pushed her food around on her plate. I waited. This was some sort of ticking bomb situation here. And I wasn’t about to be the one to light it this time.

“There isn’t enough salt,” she said.

I said, “Aren’t you on a low-sodium diet?”

“Yes. But I’m supposed to be on a low-sodium and diabetic diet.”

I thought – well that explains everything, but I said, “that means less salt and less sugar, right?”

She pursed her lips like she does when she doesn’t want to talk about something. She pulled out a plastic baggie from a stack of baggies that I thought were designed to hold all her meds. This bag was full of salt packets, the kind you get at McDonald’s. She ripped them open one by one and dumped the contents on her food.

My children and husband watched this and then looked at me. I didn’t know what to say. She must have noticed. She took a bit at the tip of her spoon and shook her head. “Still isn’t enough flavor.” And then she pulled packets of sugar substitute and emptied them on her food.

“Mom”, I said, “that’s sugar substitute. It’s sweet”.

“I know. It helps”.

I asked her what her sugar was. She said – two sixty-five.

“Not so good, huh?”

She shrugged. She pushed the food around and then pulled the two bowls of fruit closer. “I tried to be zealous about my diabetes when they first discovered it. When my weight went down the doctors didn’t seem too concerned, so I thought worrying about it was stupid.”

“Mom, that was 1964. There are better medications these days.”

My husband leaned over and whispered, “You shouldn’t preach.”

That was several years ago. Today, as I watched my eighty-five year old mother getting her nails done I thought, despite all the prickly feelings between us all these years, she was the best mother she knew how to be. I wonder what my daughter will think of me when I’m eighty-five.

I wonder if I will get to be eighty-five.

My mother has survived terrible ups and downs with her blood-sugar, hundreds of mini-strokes and one major stroke. These days she gathers twelve to fifteen books from the library every three weeks and proceeds to read them, preferring like me to read her way through authors. She gets a hair permanent and her nails done at the salon every four months. She looks pretty darn good.

These feelings well up and I want to tell her what I’m thinking. Before I can she reaches out and pats my hand and tells me that she’s proud of me. And I wish I can take back all those times I was so smart. When I wasn’t.

Today was the day I told my mother that she would be a great-grandmother. Her eyes grew wide and she smiled and said, “I don’t know how I feel about that. I never thought I’d see the day.”

Yes, I know.