Letters home become family memoir

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 30, 2016

In thumbing through an album the other day, I ran across a Nina’s Notes from the late 1970s or early 1980s. In the first paragraph was a suggestion to young mothers to start writing down some of those priceless, cute actions or sayings their little ones came up with. At the time they happen, you think you’ll remember them all. Unfortunately, time causes us to forget.

I did not specifically follow my own advice by recording those cute, funny, or sometimes frustrating happenings in a notebook. Since my two children and I spent 32 months with my husband in Germany, I wrote numerous letters to my parents back home. Upon our arrival, I described our new surroundings with excitement. Then as time passed, the homesickness crept in. Toward the end of his tour, we counted by marking off the days on the calendar.

My mother, from whom I inherited my “packrat” trait, saved newspapers with headlines of historic significance, such as President Kennedy’s assassination and voyages to the moon. She naturally saved my letters. After my daddy’s passing, she moved to Florida and gave us several pieces of furniture, including a deacon’s bench. She had stashed a plastic bag inside it containing the 32 months’ accumulation of my letters from Germany.

Upon discovering that plastic bag, the family insisted that I read those letters aloud to them. Not only were the letters crammed with stories of the children’s antics, but of my struggles as a stay-at-home mother. They were quite revealing to my husband because his duties as a soldier required long hours. Sometimes he was away from home for several weeks.

The letters complained my apartment was often dirty. Piles and piles of washing and ironing always awaited me. One or the other of us was always sick. I wound up with the mumps around Christmas one year.

Every time the temperature dipped below 20 degrees, our beat-up old station wagon refused to start. Many frigid mornings I heard my soldier’s footsteps on the stairs, as he returned to call for a ride to work. One day, the company covering our car insurance went bankrupt. He got the word and called from the field to tell me to get replacement insurance right away. Once there was an accident involving several people in his unit. The dependents of the safe soldiers received calls to reassure us our men were OK. Since we had not heard of the accident, the calls scared us all to death.

The most upsetting times during our stay were the occurrence of the Cuban Crisis and the erection of the Berlin Wall. Of course, my husband was on field duty both times. We were thankful he did not have to deploy.

As I read and the family listened, it sounded like more hard times than good. On reflection, however, we realized they were some of our best years. Unintentionally, I had recorded almost three years of our family history.

Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.