I have unearthed a box full of things my mother saved. A large brown scrapbook, my father’s discharge papers, the flag that covered his casket, a few pictures. Since I have begun this process of finding, these items suddenly present so many clues and some answers.The scrapbook I remember finding in the back of the bedroom closet in our house on Mountain Ave. Whenever I was left alone on a sick day or school vacation, I would secretly look through it, many times in the first years after my father’s death. There are postcards from his rail trip west to join the crew of the USS Hilarity, wedding snapshots, ticket stubs from a play in Boston, the announcement of my birth. Christmas and birthday cards range from 1942 and stop in 1950. The remaining pages of the book are empty.
The contents have the feel of relics. Looking carefully, I can recognize my father’s signature. 70 years later, there is a fleeting sense of connection to the man who wrote with such care. He had quite elegant handwriting , no doubt honed over years of naval record keeping.
Then, an unexpected date jumps off the page. The transport ship that brought my father back to the States crossed the International Dateline at Cape Newenham, Togiak, Alaska on Sept. 3, 1945! Then, it was on to San Francisco where he disembarked and proceeded by rail to Boston, finally discharged on Sept. 26. The Navy paid him 5 cents per mile to make the last leg of the journey. He returned to my grandparents’ home on Ide Ave in East Providence, Rhode Island. What happens next?
He had been in transit for almost two months, leaving Okinawa sometime in early or mid-August, stopping at Guam (according to my uncle’s memory), and then crossing the Pacific by a northern route. How did it feel to take a cab from Union Station to that quiet street lined with trees and late summer flowers, not far from the fields where Mr. Kent’s cows grazed? Was my mother there? Had he called ahead? Perhaps everyone had gone to work and only my grandmother was home to greet him. There is no one still living to describe his arrival, but he did come home.
. . .thus says the Lord, do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not burned, and the flame shall not consume you . For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. -Isaiah 43: 1-3