The sounds of air battle were loud, we could hardly hear ourselves talk over the noise of the video game the boys were playing upstairs in their grandmother's bedroom. Don, my (twice widowed) mother's third husband, offered to go upstairs and check on them, to get them to tone it down.
"I'll go with you," offered Mom.
We all knew Mom was just worried about Don getting upstairs unscathed with his ever-present 50-foot long spaghetti noodle of oxygen tube that followed him wherever he went -- a barely tolerated concession to staying alive is how Don seemed to feel about that 24-hour oxygen.
As they slowly made their way upstairs toward the virtual melee of World War II fighter planes attacking the bad guys, as played out by two adolescents safely on the homefront, the volume was quieted voluntarily by the boys. They had been at the receiving end of Don's impatience before.
"Sorry, Don," I hear both boys mumble.
"Will you look at that," I heard next, a tinge of wistfulness in my mother's voice, "that's Lou's plane. I'll never forget the day he took me for a ride in that plane..."
"That Lou was born to fly, wasn't he?" remarked Don.
Total silence wafted down the stairwell, the ribbon-cloud of the invisible world of this old couple's rememberings wrapped us all in its weight.
"Who's Lou again?" asked our ten year old.
Don replied, "Lou was your Uncle Mike's father. He died in the war, shot down in a plane just like that one you're playing games with."
Small shockwaves from the boys' flinch reverberated down the stairs.
"Oh Don, they don't mean any harm," placated my mother's voice.
"Nice, Don," I thought to myself. I loved Don, but got to know him too late in his life, after he was elderly and curmudgeony, our meeting only after his wooing of my mother from afar when Mom and Don, a recent widower, were both age 78.
Mom, Lou, and Don were all from the same small town in upstate New York. Back when they were all young, full of life and promise, Lou won my mother's hand and became her first husband. Don was a young preacher with a young wife Mom and Lou had gotten to know, they'd come to town to start a church; Don always thought my mother "a doll."
In later days, we heard some of Don's war stories; he was a Navy Chaplain on a ship at the storming of Normandy. I still cannot get out of my mind his descriptions of the acrid scent in the air, the visual horrors of his memories, of a sea so bloodied and full of parts -- limbs and torsos and heads and bits of the young soldiers that Don had counselled earlier, when they were full of fear, when they were still alive, before the invasion began. Not until then did we understand how offensive that game must have been to him.
"How old was Uncle Mike when his Dad died?" our twelve year old asked my mother with a strange quiver in his voice.
"Seventeen days old, Honey. I was a war bride. Lou never got to meet his only child..."
Mom and Lou ~ after a day at the lake, just engaged (You okay there, Lou?)
Their wedding day, just before Lou was called to San Diego for training.
Lou in uniform with my cousin, Carol.
My oldest brother, Mike, as a child. He was adopted by my father eventually (before this photo, I think) - after my parents, my mother's second, marriage.
The 1944 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, taken by my father's photographer friend. This photo and the following I add because I grew up loving to look at them. There was a photo of dead Mussolini hanging upside down, also taken by this photographer, that I was a little too fascinated with apparently -- that photo disappeared while I was still a child.
(just got an email from said brother Mike ~ he has it).
A worker clearing debris in a bombed-out cathedral in Sicily
Thinking of you all: Mom, Don...and especially Lou, who died so young in the war.