Just around the corner from our house is a small three-room house on Sanders. Melvin, the owner, sits on his porch every day and waves as I pull Joy’s wagon along the sidewalk.
Yesterday was Melvin’s birthday. Neighbors stopped by in the early evening and stood on his driveway (ten feet away from each other and from Melvin), chatting, wishing Melvin a happy birthday. Signs and balloons decorated his yard and porch and carport. He offered chips and sodas to everyone who stopped by.
I stopped by at 6:40 pm.
“Happy birthday, Melvin,” I said.
“Do you want a sodie?”
“I’m good. Thank you. So you were born in 1924?” I said, reading a sign on the lawn that said: MELVIN IS 96!
“I’m ninety-six,” he said. “Got chips too.”
“Yes, sir. Were you in the war?”
It occurred to me later that my uncle Otto Jr., my mom’s older brother, would have been born in 1924. I Googled it. Yep. Born in 1924. Died in April 1942. In the South Pacific. The precise place where he was killed was classified during the war. I think it was American Samoa.
A few months ago, as I was moving boxes in the basement, I came across an American flag folded in the shape of a triangle. It’s the flag that draped Otto Weiner Jr.’s steel casket on a rainy day in May 1942. Due to a clerical error, his body was shipped 12,000 miles to his hometown (St. Louis) for burial. This was the first burial in home soil of an American killed in action in WWII. An article in Time magazine (June 22, 1942) reported that Private Weiner was “a favorite of the native chief. When he died, the natives held a tribal ceremony. They wove a tapestry of bark and sent it along for his parents.”
My mom was just two and a half years old when Private Weiner shipped off to fight in the war.
My mom’s sister Jean was born in 1932. Exactly one year ago, we went to Jean’s house for lunch. She wanted to meet Deb and Joy.
I sat at her kitchen table and looked around at the house where she has been living since the 1950s. Everything seemed so much smaller than I remembered it.
Of all the six sisters, Jean is the one who looked most like my mom when I was growing up. A lot like my mom. They have the same laugh. The same hair. The same smile.
Aunt Jean sat next to Deb and they chatted quietly while I talked to my cousin Patty. Doug and Chrissy and Emily and Paige were there, too. Joy got passed around the table until she fell asleep.
I looked over at Aunt Jean and Deb talking, baby Joy falling asleep in Deb’s arms, and for a second I saw my mom talking to Deb. I could, for a moment, imagine what it might have been like to have had lunch with Mom and Deb and Joy at my mom’s South City home. “Hey, Mom. This is Deb, my wife. And this is Joyce Elizabeth. Do you want to hold her?”
Jean has since moved out of her home and into a nursing home, where visitation restrictions will keep most family from being able to see her in person. I hope I can stop by soon to see her (and my mom).