Monday, May 30th remembers all who have died serving in the American Armed Forces. Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday began after the Civil War to honor and decorate the graves of Union & Confederate soldiers. It didn’t gain a strong following until after WWII and wasn’t renamed Memorial Day until 1967.
We Once Had Wings opens in 1947, two years after the end of the Second World War. Jimmy came back for our main character Joy, but many he had served with did not recross the Atlantic. Their memory would forever haunt him.
“The war’s ended and the men have marched home. How unaware we were, waiting in our Sunday dresses, that they’d forever be soldiers, no longer the smiling boys with combed waves and rolled jeans we’d known. Something now preyed upon them in the darkness; they bounced their legs, waiting to run.
The shrill voices of their blood-splattered officers haunted them. “Men! Serve your country, get a job, get married . . . get laid!”
Our GI Joes yelled, “Yes, sir!” and threw themselves at their first loves, the first girls they saw, or whoever first fell against the pinup girl tattooed on their sinewy arms.”
Two years ago on a vaporetto in Venice, I stood next to my eldest daughter. She held my hand. The water ‘s reflection tickled her cheeks and the early morning sun sparkled in her eyes. It was one of those near perfect moments that dot our lives. As we docked, a poem framed over the door caught my attention. It has yet to leave me.
The cruel girls we loved
Are over forty,
Their subtle daughters
Have stolen their beauty;
And with a blue stare
Of cool surprise,
They mock their anxious mothers
With their mothers’ eyes.
On April 6, 1917, the United States formally declared war against Germany and entered the conflict in Europe. Fighting since the summer of 1914, Britain, France and Russia welcomed news that American troops and supplies would be directed toward the Allied war effort. Over two million U.S. troops served in France during the war. In We Once Had Wings, Margaret’s father Charles decides to grow wheat on his upper state New York dairy farm. He boasted, “Food’ll surely win this war … or line our pockets.” American farmers reported record profits during WW1 by supplying food to war-torn Europe.
The patron saint of Ireland is honored every March 17th coinciding with the date of his death in 461. As in We Once Had Wings, the festival has long been associated with public revelry and raucous behavior. Though for many, it is a green-clad nod to the heritage of their ancestors. Sean Keegan celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on the Meyer’s farmstead in New York several years after his last glimpse of Ireland by way of Queenstown Harbor. Queenstown, renamed Cobh in the late 1920s, was also the final port of call for the ill-fated RMS Titanic as she set out across the Atlantic.
Every story has an inspiration, while every character borrows something from someone else. Further proof that in this world, there are no true firsts. We Once Had Wings opens in 1947 with this young woman who also happens to be my grandmother. The novel is not her story, it is entirely a work of fiction. That said, I dedicate the opening section to its namesake for today is her birthday, she would have been 90.
While Columbus is attributed with bringing citrus to America, Spanish explorers planted the first orange trees around St. Augustine, Florida in the mid 1500s. By the 19th century, oranges were growing wild throughout many of the state’s forests. By 1915, commercial production was at all time high. Hard work shimmered like copper coins in the sun, when Henry and George stepped off an orphan train to meet their new foster parents. Life for these two young boys would never be the same.
I read to my children before their necks were strong enough to support their growing brains. I’ve come to realize this was as much for me as it was for them. Since, dare I admit, I love a great story – genre, subject or target audience aside. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I give you a gift. Young, old – this one is for everyone who has ever loved.