Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Letter to a Soldier - Eleanor Shepherd

          This week, I received the gift of a letter written by my mother 72 years ago.  If Mom were still here, she would be celebrating her 99th birthday this Friday, February 1st.  It is so good to hear her voice again.

            My older brother, David found this letter Mom wrote to her younger brother, Clarence after he left St. John’s to serve with the military overseas in 1941.

            I knew little of the story of my uncle, only that he died in the war.  I discovered in Mom’s letter, there must have been an interested young lady he left behind.  The letter is dated June 17, 1941.  It is clear from the context he is now in Europe.  

            Mom says, “How long it does seem since we heard from you.  I was so anxious. Last week I was dreaming all sorts of things about you.  But I was so relieved when Phyllis told me on Sunday that she had heard from you.  She brought me up your address last night.  Right away I got an atlas and looked it up.”  Living in St, John’s, Newfoundland at the time, my mother never imagined that one day she would visit the place where her brother would be buried in Europe, or that she would travel herself to so many different locations she would have to find in atlases during the years of her ministry with The Salvation Army. 

            As a typical older sister, Mom reminded her younger brother, that he had an obligation to be in touch with the family.  Their mother had died thirteen years earlier and it was their grandmother who had raised my mother’s four younger brothers.  Concerned for her grandmother and her worry about this soldier grandson, Mom wrote, “ I hope you had time to drop Grandmother a line.  I know she is anxiously waiting to hear.” 

            She gives him news of the various members of the family and what they are doing, to keep him up to date on the life he has known.  Then she mentions activities unique to the war experience, happening in St. John’s.  I can hear her voice as she writes,

“Oh yes, you might be interested in this. Last Sunday night, I went down to the Caribou Hut.  It was the (Salvation) Army’s turn to serve lunch for Navy boys and soldiers.  We had quite a crowd.  And the boys did appreciate it. I thought of you.” 

            Then you can feel her anxiety for him as she concludes this account with, “Clarence, my dear, we think of you and pray for you, that God will protect you.” She asks if he has had an opportunity to connect with The Salvation Army where he is.

            Trained as a nurse as well as a pastor, Mom asks practical questions about his clothes, and then admonishes him, knowing the challenges that he will face as a young man, far from home in a fragmented world, leaving no doubt about her expectations of him.  She says, “Now, Clarence, my dear be good, be firm.  You will no doubt meet with temptations that would ruin you and mark yourlife.  But we are depending upon you to do the right.  We are praying for you.” 

            Her letter reveals Clarence is not alone. Other boys signed up with him and Mom sends greetings to them by name.  Her concern is also for their moral well-being and she tells Clarence, “I am depending on them not to let me down.” 

            Her longing to keep the relationship strong over the miles that separate them comes out in her final wistful words to Clarence, “Write as often as you can, won’t you?” 

            After the signature comes a typical P.S when we miss those we love.  She says, “Send a picture of yourself as soon as you can get one.” 

            The letter to a young soldier from his sister helps me appreciate more a situation that I knew nothing about.  The war finished before I was born.  Yet there are so many elements of the letter that are common to me:  the desire for protection for those I love, my anxiety when I am do not receive communication from them, my concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of those who are dear to me and my desire for symbols of them to hold when we are separated. Human glimpses like this from my history strengthen the bonds with those who have gone before.
Word Guild Award

Word Guild Award



Peter Black said...

Eleanor, thank you for sharing this intimate view into your mom's earlier life and character and her concern for your uncle. What a heartwarming treasure this letter must be to you, now, with its numerous points of poignancy.
It also provides us with a backdrop to your own life, rich in faith and service, through your Salvation Army ministry at home and abroad.

Rose McCormick Brandon said...

Elinor - I loved this peak into your Mom's heart as she wrote to a faraway brother. The reader senses her worry. What a gift for you to have this letter in your possession. Thanks for sharing it.

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