When my dad went overseas in World War II he went by troop ship. We’ve got, I think, a picture of it somewhere, some ship of the era with a soldier standing on every flat space the camera could reach. The picture’s one of those family heirloom things, possibly in a closet by now.
Years later, as commercial air travel became a thing, soldiers could leave a Vietnam battlefield and be in their parent’s living room in less than 48 hours. It created, the people who studied this kind of thing learned, problems, as there was no room for decompression, no time to process.
I had a chance to consider this last weekend as me and the wife headed north for my Mom’s 90th birthday party.
We drove. The party was in Philadelphia, “Philly” as it’s called (so yes, that explains my accent). It was, needless to say, a long drive. The flip side of this being that I like to drive, so it was nice both driving up there, me and the wife, time to consider what was at hand, and time to drive back, time to process, as it were.
Mom (and thanks for asking) is doing great. Still shares an apartment with my youngest sister (I’m the oldest of eight) still does things people who live on their own do and can certainly – certainly – hold up her end of the conversation. She takes naps more, but then who doesn’t?
She wanted, as part of the festivities, to hear me sing “Amazing Grace” and a second song, “Edelweiss.” We put that in just before the cake-cutting and handed out lyrics so all gathered could sing along.
“Amazing Grace” I’m pretty sure you know. We sang it there, gathered around, family, cousins I hadn’t seen in forever, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, friends, people from Mom’s old neighborhood, people who care.
“How sweet the sound,” it goes.
“Edelweiss” is not as popular, but well known enough. It’s a Rogers and Hammerstein song, written for the movie The Sound of Music, the mostly-true story of a family, a large family, seven kids, which later became well-known for its singing. They, in the story, flee Austria in the opening hours of World War II.
Mom loved, loves, that movie. That song, “Edelweiss” in the movie is introduced by the patriarch of the family, signing about Austria with that touch of regret, apparently knowing he’s leaving home soon. He’s enthusiastically joined in the song by the governess/love interest in the story. It’s a touching scene.
A surprising number at the party knew the song and we all sang it together, entertaining Mom, Mom’s wish on her birthday, family and friends.
Then we had cake.
Then more time for visiting, “what are you doing now?” questions and clarifying who’s attached to who and by what relationships.
And good night.
Next morning, early, in the car. Coffee in a to-go cup and a long black slab of asphalt pointing the way, me and the wife heading for the house, decompressing, processing. It was a long drive, took us a long time to get up there, took us a long time to get home.
It was a great party; lots of fond memories.
Every morning you greet me
Small and white
Clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Bless my homeland forever