Below I’ve reposted a slightly-edited post from my old blog, 15-Month Adventure, that I also published on Time Now last year on Mother’s Day.
To the Moms, the Whole Love
Moms come up quite a bit in writings about the war, I’ve discovered. Not surprisingly, authors are sensitive to how military service touches those whose children do the fighting. For example, here’s how Benjamin Busch in Dust to Dust describes his mother’s reaction to the announcement that he has joined the Marine Corps:
“My mother took a deep breath, her hands clamped to the edge of the table as if she were watching an accident happen in the street. Her father had been a Marine, had gone to war and almost not come back.”
How to describe a mother’s anxiety about her child’s deployment? Kaboom author Matt Gallagher’s mom, Deborah Scott Gallagher, writes:
“’I will be stalwart,’ I had said to myself on the drive home from the airport the morning I said goodbye to him. “I will be steadfast. I will read and listen to the reputable war reporters, and I will write my senators and congressmen, but I will not lose faith in my country. I will concentrate on sustaining my son rather than myself, and I will not confuse self-pity with legitimate worry and concern over him and his men. I will be proud, justifiably proud, but I will not be vainglorious! And I will never, never, never let him know how frightened I am for him.’
“But, within moments of returning home, I had broken all but one of these promises to myself. I was doing laundry and, as I measured detergent into the washer, the Christmas carol CD I was playing turned to Kate Smith’s magnificent contralto, singing, ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.’
“‘And in despair, I bowed my head,’ she sang. ‘There is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’
“And, at that moment, for only the third time in my adult life, I began to sob — not cry, not weep — but sob uncontrollably, sitting on the floor of my laundry room, surrounded by sorted piles of bed linens and dirty clothes.”
And if the child comes back wounded? Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone, describes a trip to Walter Reed to meet injured soldiers and their families:
“And there were mothers. Unlike the military members and their spouses, who somehow all seemed in great and hopeful spirits, the mothers looked stunned. They seemed to be trying to grip their emotions tightly, but their faces hid nothing. Their faces said: ‘Why did this happen to my beautiful boy?’”
And how does a veteran describe his mother, a lover of language and books and authors and ideas, as he watches her fade late in life? Benjamin Busch again:
“She had been a librarian. All of the books and conversations about the importance of written words swelling inside her head like a star undergoing gravitational collapse into a black mass, its light still traveling out into space but its fires already burned out. Nothing left but ash.” Then he recounts her last words: “‘Oh my baby boy.'”
So much hurt. So much damage. So many memories. So much love.
Benjamin Busch, Dust to Dust: A Memoir (2012).
Matt Gallagher, Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Dirty Little War (2010)
Deborah Scott Gallagher, In a Hymn, Words of Courage, New York Times, December 23, 2011.
Siobhan Fallon, You Know When the Men Are Gone (2011).
Siobhan Fallon, A Visit to Walter Reed, March 29, 2012.