A Gold Star Mother

About 5 years ago I began to research World War I and think about whether there was a story I wanted to tell. A lot of that came through the family stories my Aunt Catherine told me about John Walter Cobb - the uncle that had died in the Great War and was buried in a US cemetery in France.

His mother went to France on a Gold Star Pilgrimage in 1930 to visit his grave. 

I considered working on a story for John Walter but then I became intrigued by continuing my pursuit of women who served in the US military in France during WWI.

Walter died in November 1918 and I intend to have more of a story about him ad his mother by then.

Its an important story for me and it will wrap up some history for our family. That's important to me.


Comfort in the Words of a Doughboy - WWI, 1918, France

I hope you will excuse me for bringing up the subject of World War One so often. I can't help it. You see my head and often my heart is in France some part of every day. With the internet there is no limit to the world of information, the pictures, the history and access to personal stories. I am grateful for every bit of it - although there are times when it is overwhelming. Yesterday I was fishing for more pictures and I had a good catch.

When you look closely at this picture where the nurse is working on a single patient who is surrounded by many, many more waiting to be taken care of. Is that a corp-man standing by with surgical scissors in his hand and extra bandage or a fellow doughboy who's stepped in to help. The nurse is wearing rubber gloves and using a larger instrument. She is clearly confident and in charge of the procedure. The rubber gloves and surgical gown she has on say they hope they have a sterile field as they open or re-bandage his wound. Everyone appears calm and confident even while treating this wounded man on a stretcher on a crowded piece of ground. I imagine she is practiced and perhaps even numb to the situation.

From the Red Cross Nursing History Website

Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD was one of the US university hospitals asked to organize a medical unit for France.Their staff included 64 nurses, all graduates from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.

These Hopkins nurses are the women I have researched to create my new story Ready to Serve.

All the reports and stories
of nurses on duty at the Base Hospitals in France are similar in that the work was hard and required homeric endurance, the living conditions were bare and difficult, and the weather was harsh.

One wonders if the nurses had any idea how difficult it would be for them before they volunteered to go.

I doubt it - but I don't think they would have changed their minds. From everything I have read all the nurses who went to France were determined, skilled, compassionate women who wanted to help the wounded.

After the Armistice Bessie Baker, Chief Nurse of the Hopkins Unit, wrote in her report to the Red Cross:

While we sat swathed in blankets around those miserable little French stoves and breathed upon our numbed fingers and waited for the monotonous hours off duty to drag by, we nurses tried to puzzle out the meaning of war, of those sick boys on the wards, or our own ridiculous plight.

We could not get very far with most of our discussions, but there was real comfort to us at least, in one of the doughboys words:
        " the last thing I knew, I was out and over the top. ... I opened my eyes and there above me was a nurse    with a Red Cross on her cap. I just turned over and went to sleep, because I knew then that everything would be all right." 


Abigail Adams said it - "Remember the Ladies"

My new story Ready to Serve is drawn from the letters Maryland nurses wrote home while they served in France during The Great War. I have filled in gaps the censor sliced out of their letters by reading old newspapers.

June 14, 1917 - the Johns Hopkins Base Hospital 18, the first medical unit sent to France sailed from New York on the USS Finland in a convoy of 18 ships, many carrying the first American troops going "over there'.

The papers of the day across the country reported the departure, almost always naming the eminent  and almost eminent Hopkins doctors who were part of the medical unit.

Also shipping out that day were 64 nurses from Baltimore, all graduates of Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing. The only nurse mentioned was Chief Nurse Bessie Baker... except for hometown squibbs when they named the  "daughter" or local citizen.   Often someone at the local paper saluted the "lady" mentioned by adding the following excerpt from an article in the Baltimore Sun.

From the Baltimore Sun  June 1917

The full ending of the original article.

Research opens your eyes doesn't it?


Where is the safe haven?

I don't know how to talk about what is happening in the world and right here at home these days.

Jim and I were in Italy in 2001 on 9/11 when all Hell broke here at home. We watched the airplanes collide with the Towers on a television in our hotel room. That was not the beginning of terrorism but up until then we had not experienced it from abroad on our homeland.

Somehow what happened in Brussels this week has opened  that pocket of pain I felt back then.

Earlier this week terrorists released suicide bombs and killed people in Brussels. At the airport and on a subway. Innocent travelers.

Over 30 people killed by battlefield-like injuries from really meanly constructed bombs that spewed out sharpened pieces of metal. Vicious  shrapnel. Good grief.

Americans were among the victims. A precious young woman in Atlanta lost her sweet-heart. He had called her to let her know he was stepping aboard his train, on his way to the Brussels airport and that he would soon be with her - and several days later she has to absorb that he won't be arriving soon or ever. Parents and family members agonize over their lost or missing family members. Heartbreaking.

CNN covers it all and I am drawn to it like watching a cobra as it prepares to strike me.

Now we can watch the police
work - that is definitely amazing. I remember how startled I was a few years back to see films of the military team executing Bin Laden. Now we just watch such things with our coffee in the mornings. I am not saddened by the "take out" of the #2 man in ISIS - but I am quite queasy that the mission i is talked about as being "well executed." It was an execution!

I know. I know - for the good of all. And he brought it on himself. But, I have to ask myself - why was I watching it? On television -
on Good Friday morning.

I don't have any answers about this. I don't have knowledgeable opinions because my fears and concerns block my long range view. Members of my family will soon be traveling in Europe. In my heart I would like to say "don't go." But I can't do that. I can however light a candle in Faith and pray for travel mercies and a safe return for them.

And I will be watching my own steps here at home - because unfortunately these days it does not feel like the safe haven I thought it was - or as I wish it to be.


Start Over When You Are Stuck

This week-end was tough. So, I took a break.
 Instead of holding on to what I was writing that was not working I stopped to play with an old photo from Venice using a new computer app for editing photos.  It was worth the detour.

This is the re-newed photo - a shot I took of layers of weathered advertising posters posted on a wall in Venice.

Now its re-newed with lots of the clutter cleared out so that both of us - the image and I - have more room to breathe deeply.

That was yesterday.

Now I am starting over - back to scratch with my story - which I will be telling in five days.  Back to go - with a new start.

I think I will print this new version of the photo and hang it over the computer to remind myself to take time to breathe when I am stuck.


A Powerful Print

This print - The Artists Studio by Raoul Dufy - 1935
startled me when I saw it set out on an upper display shelf in the shop at the Phillips Gallery last Sunday. It startled me because it brought back a flood of memories. I had a copy of this print torn from a magazine that I hung in my dorm room when I lived in Hampton House, the nurses home at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in 1954-56. 

At the time I had not studied art or art history at all. I was drawn to the piece because it was bright and airy and free.

After Jim and I married I used the print in our first apartment in Baltimore, then in our two apartments in Brooklyn, and in two flat 1950s Texas ranch style houses in San Antonio. Once we reached Chapel Hill I think I retired it - but I never let it go. I bet if I went into the studio right now I would find it, faded and a bit beaten up - but still among my things.

It is layered in memories for me - not that I can tell you specifics but the piece brings back feelings an visuals of those place we lived.

So this post is part memoir and maybe someday I will take the time to recall more; to be more specific with what I see and remember. Maybe - at the moment that does not seem needed. The feeling is light and airy just like the image as well as young and happy. What more can I ask for?