by Cece Redmond
Found a letter wrtten 61 years earlier Christmas night
Tears welled up when I saw the envelope. I recognized the handwriting, and knew the address. It was to Mom, before they were married. I just sat there holding the envelope. This letter was different. She had saved many letters from Daddy when he was on the frontlines of WWII. Those letters had been edited by the Army then typed on short hard paper, and written with cold, sterile, and impersonal language.
At first I was unable to find the inner courage to open it. I slowly unfolded the crispy, yellowed stationery. Tears poured out and dripped onto the paper as I read the date: Christmas Night, 1946. My heart wrenched as I realized how Rolfe C. Harper Jr., my daddy, poured his heart out to Mom. Even as a married woman with grandchildren, Daddy remains my number one love. I felt his feelings and heard his voice coming through his written words.
Bronxville, New York
Christmas Night, 1946 11 P. M.
My Darling Jean,
Mom and I just came in about a half an hour ago. We were out making umpteen dozen calls.
I am listening to the Nutcracker Suite, it’s beautiful. Sis and George just came in.
As much as I try not to think of the past, I cannot force it out of my mind. Sitting here in a warm room with a plate of cold turkey, a beautiful symphony playing my memory wanders back over the years.
Days like this, years ago, Daddy would sit for hours helping me operate my train, with Mom’s back seat driving. Christmas, with the tree and gifts for Sis and me that filled a living room the size of football field; well, at least it seemed like the room was that big when we were little.
The Christmases when I came home from military school in Mobile, there were no toys under the tree but lots of presents that were always fun or something useful. Those were the few years between being a child and a grown-up. Daddy would offer me one glass of eggnog. With our family being from the South, you know what I mean when I say that the spoon would practically stand up in the eggnog.
I remember my last Christmas with Dad. It was my first furlough from the Army, three whole days. So, I spent two days of that time traveling to get home to New York from Georgia. That Christmas was the first time I think Daddy saw me as no longer a child.
I’m sure when I got off the train Christmas Eve and he saw me for the first time in a uniform, thoughts of the last war flashed through his mind. I can remember the look on his face: it was there for only a second, not the look a father gives a child, but a look that men pass between themselves when they have an honorable secret that they want to keep. How many times after that did I pass the same look to Joe?
I can remember the last thing he ever said to me when I was going back to camp after that Christmas, “You’re no longer a child, Bud, and I suppose I should talk to you about morals and your behavior, but I won’t, for you’ve always been a good boy. The army is a tough life, and fighting is pure hell, I know. Do your job well. If you get hurt, grit your teeth and take it in your stride. Somehow I know you will come back to us. Be a good soldier, since you must be one at all. When the war is over come home, finish school, marry a nice girl, and be happy. War, my boy, can ruin a man if he is weak. Remember, you can be a good soldier and not be cruel. Be a real gentleman and you will never be mean or cruel. Please take care of yourself, and I will be seeing you soon.”
I kissed him goodbye with a heavy heart, and the same feeling is still there.
I wonder and hope that he can look down on me and see that I have tried to do the things he asked. If I am a good man and have done the right things, it is because I want so much to be like him. If I must ever send our son to war, I will tell him the same thing.
Christmas Day two years ago, the German 5th Tank Division and 97th Infantry Division crashed out of the woods three hundred yards from our trenches. Thirty-nine days of fighting and retreating followed. We got beaten and mauled badly. I had eleven men killed and twenty-three wounded in the first hour of the battle. Thirty-nine days later, the American 4th Armored Division rescued us.
Christmas a year ago, in fact, 11:00 a.m. Christmas Day 1945, I sailed from Bremen, Germany for home. So, this holiday represents a few landmarks in my life.
Except for the fact that you are not here, it has been a lot of fun and really a merry one. Mom, Sis, and I enjoyed it, and we all hope the Redmonds did also.
I hope I have not bored you, Darling, but I cannot talk to Mom about Dad. Undoubtedly, she has bitten her lip and found a smile as many times as I have today. You are the only person I can talk to. I miss you so much Dearest. I love my Angel with all my heart and wish I did not have to be separated from her.
Darling, I will never really be happy and contented again until you are my wife. It is terrible to be torn between the desires to be with you as your husband and have to remain separated in order to gain security for us in the future. However, I wish I could see a better way than this that I could really feel was right and secure. I do not want our married life to start off plagued with trouble, doubt and worry.
--- I Love You --- Goodnight Darling
* * *
It really struck hard in my heart. After sixteen years, this was the first Christmas that Rolfe and Jean would be together again. Three months had passed since Mom went to meet him in September of 2007.
I was faced with the daunting chore of going through their memories. My sister-in-law, Helen, had sorted and put their things into large plastic containers. I’m thankful for Helen doing such a great job, because I know if it had been left up to me, it would’ve taken years to even start the process.
Photos were mixed in with albums and letters. Some I had seen over the years, but most of them I had not.
Daddy’s words brought back memories of Christmases with him and the extended family. The letter stirred up my own memories in Mobile, Alabama, of family gatherings with traditions that have changed since the death of so many loved ones.
Christmas of 2007 approached in a blur of tears and sadness. From the fourth of July to Labor Day of that year, I lost Uncle Chet, Aunt Celia, and Mom. Losing them was a double hit to our family. The families were related on both sides, so I lost my cousins too. Dad and Aunt Celia were cousins by blood. Mom and Uncle Chet were brother and sister. Celia was my cousin by blood, and she was my aunt by marriage. Therefore, Uncle Chet was my cousin by marriage. I still haven’t figured out if that relationship made my mother my cousin.
Mixed in the containers were memories of all who had passed in the last forty years on both sides of the family. Seeing all of their faces in pictures of Christmases past helped me breathe and be thankful for the family that is still here.
Reading the letter stirred new life into my memories of Daddy. I now see how his words and actions demonstrated that deep inside he was a man who loved his family. I have twin five-year-old granddaughters, and I will share the life of our family with them through these mementos and treasures.