Wanda Molsberry Bates
I have been thinking about a dear friend of mine who passed away several years ago, well into her 90's. She wrote many fine pieces of creative nonfiction, mostly memoir. With all the recent talk of our country being close to another war with North Korea, the fears of another ISIS attack and more unsettling world news, I thought about a 3 part memoir piece that Wanda wrote and shared in 2006 on a website for writers called Our Echo.
I am going to share Wanda's memories and insight on wars, extending from 1898 up to the early 2000's. Older readers may nod their heads as they remember similar stories in their own families. I would hope younger readers would get a picture of what life was like for their grandparents, great-grandparents during times of conflict. We must look at history to understand what goes on in the present.
Please share with others who might be interested. Perhaps Wanda's memories will trigger some of your own and inspire you to write about them for your own family.
Part 1: By Wanda Molsberry Bates
“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars...For nation shall rise against nation, & kingdom against kingdom:" ( Matthew 24:6,7 )
WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS – Part I—Early Wars
Many times in my long lifetime I have heard of wars and rumors of wars. I have heard family stories of wartime events, and sometimes my family and I have been actively affected by events of the war years. The first family wartime story that I remember happened during the Spanish/American war. It was a story about my Uncle Eldon, one of my father’s brothers. He was plowing when he heard of the declaration of war against Spain. One of his friends came along and said he was going to enlist, and he encouraged my uncle to go with him. Eldon enthusiastically agreed, tying his horses to a fence, and, not looking backward, went off to join the war. This was in 1898.
I have a small memory of World War I. I had a little part in the victory celebration in my home town and I heard stories told about my brothers’ war experiences. After the Armistice was signed in November, 1918, a huge army tank was brought to Main Street in my home town of Clarksville, IA, where people were given rides as the tank rumbled up and down over a pile of railroad ties. My oldest brother, Chet, took me to see it and I wanted to have a ride in the tank. However, Chet told me the driver would not want me to sit on his silk cushions as I had given in to the demands of nature. I was not quite four years old. Stories were told during those war days of German neighbors who were called “slackers” and whose houses were defaced by yellow paint.
Chet enlisted in the Army and was a second lieutenant stationed at Camp Dodge in Ft. Dodge, IA. He had a clerical job there and one of his jobs was to receive the bodies of deceased soldiers and meet with the parents. Old letters written to my mother showed that he wished to go to France, but he did not go overseas. At one time he and my brother, Mahlon, a 15-year-old, camped out and spent nights guarding a bridge on the Great Western Railroad track which ran south of town. I was told that Chet had a gun but Mahlon was not permitted to carry one. Some time later Chet frightened me badly by shooting a bullet into the ground in our back yard.
Old song books and sheet music published during the WWI days included favorites, “Over There,” “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” “Oh., How I Hate to Get up in the Morning,” “’Round Her Neck, She Wears a Yeller Ribbon,” “It’s a Long Way from Tipperary.” “Goodbye, Broadway. Hello, France,” and “The Rose of No Man’s Land.”
Chet had a “souvenir” of WWI, a grotesque gas mask. It was frightening to see such a hideous thing and I will never forget an experience with it which happened when I was about five years old. My older sisters, Bess and Iris, decided to play a trick on the neighbor children and me and Bess lined us up on the back porch and said she had a story to tell us. She went on to say that an old witch had been seen in the neighborhood and she had even grabbed a child but the child’s father had been able to beat her off and rescue the child. As the story grew more and more lurid, she suddenly shrieked, “Oh, here she comes now! Run for your lives!” Around the corner of the house came this terrible apparition. It was my sister, Iris, decked out in a long dress and wearing the horrible gas mask. We all did run screaming around the house, with the witch in pursuit. My mother answered my cries and pleas to be let in the front door which had been locked. Soon the other children found out that it was a game and they played it over and over the rest of the afternoon. I, being an orthodox coward, stayed safely inside the house with my mother.
(To be continued.)