Posting this today in honor of my maternal grandmother, Fern Wright Baach, on what would be her 129th birthday. She was quite a woman: a teacher; a suffragette; a self-taught violinist; poet and writer; and a Minnesota farm wife and mother during the worst of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. She died of breast cancer long before I was born, but my mom adored her and talked about her so much I’ve always felt I that knew her. And now I do more than ever, since I inherited all of her old letters to her sister, letters that span the decades from the 1910s to the 1950s. Happy birthday Grandma!
“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” Dorothea Lange .
These photos and negatives are all from the 1920s, and include photos from when my grandparents were courting, and a Christmas portrait of my mom and her big brother. (The Brownie camera belonged to my father-in-law.) Does anyone not love old family photos?
Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don’t do that much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering. Despite the awesome powers of technology many of us still do not live very well. We may need to listen to each other’s stories again.
–Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal
Most of my childhood and teenage Sundays were spent at my Grandma’s kitchen table. There was always the smell of coffee, and the kitchen was warm and cozy in the winter, the perfect refuge from the freezing Minnesota cold outside. Grandma always had plants in the window, like the African violets I could never make bloom at home, and from her second-story window we could see the nineteenth-century red-brick Grant House Hotel and Restaurant across the street.
Some Sundays, especially when I was little, the kitchen was full of aunts and uncles and rambunctious cousins (I am number 41 of 44), and I would divide my time between hanging out and listening to the adults and playing with my cousins. Other Sundays it would be just mom, dad, and me, all of us gathered around Grandma’s table, talking: me listening, drawing or playing with my dolls, and the grownups telling stories. As I grew older, I was allowed my own cup of coffee, and I interjected a question or two, but mostly I listened, fascinated.
Many of these stories involved memories formed during the bitter years of the Great Depression, when my parents were growing up, and the World War II years, when my dad was fighting Nazi Germany and my older uncles were in the service. But although the tales they told were set during harsh times, they were filled with love and warmth and laughter. I wish every child could have that gift, to grow up as part of a big, loving, crazy, storytelling family.
The stories I heard during those years formed me into the person I am today. The tales related by my aunts and uncles and grandmother and parents illustrated for me the values that have become their greatest legacy to me. Like the importance of being able to laugh at your problems. Of always being kinder than necessary. Of not judging, because everyone is carrying a burden you might know nothing about. Of making your own decisions, not just following the crowd. Of the importance of forgiveness and not holding grudges. At 49 years of age, I am still plumbing the depths of the stories I heard at my Grandma’s kitchen table.
As Remen notes:
The best stories have many meanings; their meaning changes as our capacity to understand and appreciate meaning grows. Revisiting such stories over the years, one wonders how one could not have seen their present meaning all along, all the time unaware of what meaning a future reading may hold. Like the stories themselves, all these meanings are true.
Knowing your own story requires having a personal response to life, an inner experience of life…Most of us live lives that are far richer and more meaningful than we appreciate.
Perhaps this Thanksgiving we could put down our iPhones for a few hours…and tell stories?
Edit: I accidentally posted and sent out an earlier draft. Here is the corrected version. Thanks for your patience!
On Facebook today, I’ve seen a number of posts celebrating Independence Day with the quote “the Home of the Free because of the Brave…”
So I thought I’d take this opportunity to honor my Grandpa Baach, a Doughboy in WWI; my Father-in-Law George M. Marincel, a bombardier and navigator in a B-17 Flying Fortress, who flew 36 missions over Occupied Europe in WWII; and, of course, my dad, Leonard H. Resch, who fought at Omaha Beach, The Battle of Normandy, Northern France, Huertgen Forest, Battle of the Bulge, and Central Europe, and liberated the concentration camp Nordhausen.
May you all rest in God’s peace after the horrors of war.
When the magnificent and dedicated WWII vets of The Fort Snelling Honor Guard presented my mother with my dad’s casket flag at his burial, their commander read these words:
“On behalf of the President, the Armed Forces of the United States and a Grateful Nation, I present you this flag, a symbol of our Great Republic, for which our Departed Comrade has Honorably Served.”
Another Memorial Day & […] still at war, decorating an ever-increasing number of graves. –Eleanor Roosevelt, Memorial Day 1944.
When Eleanor Roosevelt wrote this, my dad was a 24 year-old farm boy from Minnesota living in Selsey, England, training for the great Allied invasion of France that would take place the next week on D-Day, June 6. My dad would hear his first shots fired in anger in the midst of some of the worst carnage of the entire war, on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, later aptly nicknamed “Bloody Omaha”.
The United States had a lot more graves to decorate after D-Day, and in the months to come, until WWII finally came to an end with unconditional surrender of Japan in August of 1945.
My dad has been gone for over twenty years now; his generation, the World War II generation, is almost gone now. The day we buried my father, there were enormous patches of open land at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery; when I went out there yesterday to visit mom and dad’s grave, I noticed that it is almost full. Soon there won’t be any veterans left to tell their stories about Omaha Beach, or The Battle of the Bulge, or the day their unit liberated Buchenwald, or Dachau, or one of the numerous sub-camps that lurked throughout Germany. It will be left to us, their children and grandchildren, to keep their stories alive, to make sure their legacies are passed on to new generations so that their heroism is never forgotten.
But will anyone want to listen? Are people listening now? I’m not entirely sure. And that makes my heart hurt…because I know the price my father paid, not just by giving his country the best years of his life, but in blood, in sweat and tears, in heartache and grief and flashbacks and lifelong nightmares.
What these men did mattered, then and for all time. They saved the world from a terrible, incomprehensible evil. As President Bill Clinton said of the gathered veterans in Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, the year after my dad died:
They may be older now, and grayer now,
and their ranks are growing thin.
But when these men were young,
these men saved the world.
They did. They really did. Guys like my dad never have thought of themselves as heroes, but that’s exactly what they were.
The last of the Resch boys, the five sons of John and Bertha Resch, was laid to rest earlier this month. He wasn’t the last-born, but he was the last to die; an entire century passed between the birth of Leo, the eldest of the five, and the death of Albert. But for those of us who loved them, my father and my uncles, a century wasn’t nearly enough time to have them with us.
My Uncle Al, the last surviving brother, died of pneumonia on January 6, 2016. Today would be his 88th birthday.
I feel as though my heart is broken and bleeding, scattered into dozens of pieces. I always adored my Uncle Al (I think all of his nieces did). More than that, however, he’s been like a second father to me ever since I lost my own 23 years ago. In fact, the moment he walked into my dad’s wake, I flung myself into his arms and asked him if he would give me away when I got married. Which, of course, he did. Miracle of miracles, he even wore a tux for the big event, which according to my Aunt Mickie was quite an amazing phenomenon. (I’m not entirely sure my own father would have agreed to wear one, actually.)
All of the Resch brothers were handsome, with easy grins and athletic builds. Although my dad, Leonard, was nine years older than Al, I loved watching them together because not only did they resemble each other physically, but they shared the same mannerisms, gestures, verbal expressions, and quirky sense of humor. And they were both just magic with kids. And animals. And growing things. All of those brothers had a strong nurturing, gentle streak. And talk about salt of the earth! If you needed them, you didn’t even have to ask–they were already there. I believe you learn a lot about a person’s character by what they take for granted. Well, those boys, every one of them, simply took for granted that one is there to help. To be kind. To be strong for you when you felt weak.
So many memories…The day after my dad’s funeral, I called my Aunt Barb in a panic, asking her to come over because mom and I’d had a stupid fight over nothing, and she was hysterical. I’d never seen my mother like that. In no time at all Aunt Barb was there, to talk to my mom in a way that I, submerged in my own grief, couldn’t. And Uncle Al was there too…I just recall clutching the flag from my dad’s casket and sobbing, endlessly, in his arms, while he patted my back and let me cry myself out.
He even came to stay with us a couple of times to help us with major repairs on the house–it was a beautiful turn of the century structure, but required constant upkeep. (That’s another thing about those Resch boys, they could fix anything!) While he was here, Uncle Al and I had a number of long talks, and he related stories about my dad, his Army service, all kinds of things I never heard from anyone else. So in a way, Uncle Al gave me the gift of my father. Just as he became a second father to me, for 23 years.
And of course, being a Resch brother meant mischief. It meant that one existed in order to tease and make the lives of their children, younger siblings, and nieces and nephews difficult! My dad always got this special twinkle in his blue eyes right before he was about to tease me, and so did Al, who called me “Sparky” all through my teen years because of my red hair and, er, temper. Furthermore, all through my teen years, every time a boy paid any attention to me, I was terrified my dad would find out–because I’d never, ever, hear the end of it! Everything was grist for the teasing mill. But they were always sweet, never mean or cruel in their teasing. We–children, nieces, and nephews–all knew it was a sign of affection, and we loved it.
Leo, Leonard, Tony, Al, and Frankie. One blog post can never do them justice, but this has to be written. As one of the nieces, and as Leonard’s daughter and only child, I feel compelled to write something to honor their passing, to tell whoever might stop to read this how truly special these brothers were. To give witness to the huge void they have left behind. And to honor the amazing legacy they have left for their children, their nieces and nephews, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren.
Al’s death has left a lot of broken hearts. Yet, like his brothers, he also was a man who took a great deal of solace from his faith, and those of us left behind do as well; we know that, someday, God promises to wipe away every tear, that death will be no more, that goodbye is not forever. And in the meantime we have our memories, our stories, to share and cherish. We know that they are never far away from us. And most of all, we know that love never ends.
Al lived in Montana, where he and my beloved late Aunt Mickie raised eight children. Some of my favorite memories are of the trips daddy and I took to visit them all! It is fitting, somehow, that he lived in Big Sky Country, because when I think of him I picture enormous, unending blue sky, and sunshine, laughter and stories and a love even vaster than the sky above.
So goodbye for a while, darling Uncle Al. I hope you know how much I loved you and always will, and what a difference you made in my life.
In paradisium deducant te angeli
May choirs of angels lead you into paradise
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres
and at your arrival may the martyrs welcome you;
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
may they bring you into the holy city, Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
May the holy angels welcome you,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
and with Lazarus, who lived in poverty,
aeternam habeas requiem.
may you have everlasting rest.