Most people think their lives are too dull to bother recording the details about them. Yet many people today avidly read of the day-to-day lives of others and consider them to be quite interesting. Through reading a journal, we can share in the hopes and trials of another person as his or her life unfolds before us.
I am grateful my mother kept a journal of her life before she died at age fifty-four. My life has been enriched by reading her journal and sharing in some of her life experiences.
One account that is especially meaningful to me tells of her experiences as a young girl growing up on a prominent naval base in Portsmouth, England, which was heavily bombed during World War II. I can remember playing in the bomb craters and air-raid shelters as a child during the immediate postwar years. But I had little understanding of what the war meant personally to my parents and to others of that generation until I read my mother’s journal account. She wrote:
“The war seemed far away to an eighteen-year-old that hot summer’s afternoon of August 24, 1940, as I sat in the garden in a deck chair, reading. The quiet was broken by ‘Moaning Minnie,’ the air-raid siren. Mother said we should go into the Anderson shelter in the garden, though we were reluctant to do so. This was probably another false alarm, and the shelter was damp and cold. However, our family went anyway, carrying our gas masks. Father, an invalid as a result of having been gassed during World War I, stopped in the entrance and looked up at the approaching aircraft. ‘Must be five hundred of them,’ he said. I grabbed his arm to pull him in. Then I knew no more.
“I awoke in a corner. The air was full of dust, and I couldn’t see anything. As the dust settled, a faint glimmer of light showed, but the door was blocked and we could not move the emergency hatch. We heard a voice. It was a neighbor, who tore at the rubble that was our shelter, and we eventually scrambled out through a small gap.
“What a scene of desolation! Only the front of the house was still standing. Other houses and a nearby factory were gone. Unbelievably, the sun still shone. It seemed impossible the sun could still shine.”
My mother’s writing brought her war experience to life for me. I later learned that the bomb which destroyed my mother’s house had killed eight people in the shelter next door. My grandfather died soon afterward, as a result of his injuries. But amid the grief and the pain, long-lasting friendships were forged as people struggled to help each other through the turmoil.
I cannot read my mother’s account of her life without feeling closer to her and to the grandparents I never knew. If I can record my own early recollections and encourage my children to do the same, our lives will become part of a continuing story to be read by future generations.