THE GREATEST GENERATION: Things We Learned from Dear Ol’ Mom

Book excerpt from “If My Heart Had Wings: A World War II Love Story”

My mother’s parenting style could be summed up in one word—practical—which, I suppose, isn’t at all surprising for a girl who came from farm stock and lived through the Great Depression. Her greatest wish for my sister and me was that we would grow up to be educated, independent women, able to take care of ourselves under any circumstances.

“You can’t expect to marry someone rich, or even that you’ll marry at all,” she often told us. “You’ve got to be ready to handle whatever comes along, all by yourself. Then, if you happen to be lucky enough to have someone to help you, all the better. But if not, you’ll still be okay.”

A college education was an absolute must. More than once, Mom’s trusty math degree had been her ticket to a better life, and she wanted the same thing for us. “Get yourself something that will guarantee you a job,” she counseled.

Mom also made sure we mastered everyday practicalities, things like how to make your own clothes, wax a floor by hand,  use correct grammar, wash windows using vinegar and newspapers, behave properly in all situations, sleep with a headful of plastic rollers, and make an effective (though hideous-looking) face masque from Fuller’s earth.

And, like any good mom, she provided us with helpful guidelines for getting through life:

“Stand on your own two feet.”

“Don’t sell yourself short.”

“When you have a problem that needs solving, tell everyone you know. Somebody will have a solution.”

“Don’t open bobby pins with your teeth; you’ll chip them.”

And especially for my easily-riled sister, “Just let it go—like water off a duck’s back.”

Mom was the person we turned to whenever we needed anything or wanted someone to explain the world to us. We went to her when we were happy, sad, confused, afraid, elated, annoyed, or just in need of validation and love. And we certainly went to her with our math homework!

In all things and at all times, she was our rock.

And we loved her more than anything.

“If My Heart Had Wings” is the story of my mother’s life during World War II. It’s also a story of secrets, lies, a love that never died, and a woman’s long journey to self-discovery and fulfillment.

It took me years to uncover these secrets, using letters, an Army personnel file, interviews with family members, and, of course, the many stories, vignettes, and insights that Mom herself relayed to me. And in the process, not only did I learn the true story of my mother, I also discovered the story of myself.