Tag Archives: World War II

Hallelujah Anyway ~ the mercy of a French friend

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Looking toward the trails

I am reading the book Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott.  I am thinking about what mercy means and I am thinking about how many different forms mercy takes.

This story is about my French friend, Jeanne G.  I lived with Jeanne for about a year in 1992-93.  Jeanne was retired from Wall Street and had a darling house, it looked like a cottage inside and out.  Jeanne also had a great cat named Feefe.   We had  lovely conversations over dinner each night.  Jeanne told me about life in France and life in New York City and she had many, many stories to tell.

We lived together during the last big New York State blizzard in 1993.  With snow pouring from the sky, Jeanne rustled up the best shrimp dish I have ever eaten. We sat on opposite ends of  her dining table all set up with the best China and  I loved the celebratory feel of that snow storm.

Jeanne’s house was cozy, the living room invited you in and I sat during that snow storm reading People of the Lie by  M. Scott Peck with eyes wide open.  I thumbed through Vogue and People, grew my hair out, and got contacts…my life was changing  in the protection of this sweet cottage one mile from my job.

A theme for Jeanne as she told her stories about people was luck.  Luck, really? I remember thinking, So unAmerican…don’t we all just pull ourselves up from whatever happy horse shi__  we happen to fall in and live the Dream with the white picket fence and the 4th of July fireworks.

Not from Jeanne’s perspective.  She would tell me vignettes…oh, this person, she had luck in life, then she had no luck, then she had luck again.  She might be telling me about some poor woman who worked all her life and had nothing to show for it in the end. “A good person, no luck in life.” And then, another person, “Oh her husband divorced her, but he was wealthy and gave her very good alimony, she had a lot of luck in life, lived to be 92 and died peacefully in her sleep.”

When the Iraq war broke out (before I lived with Jeanne), I  asked her if she was worried, she said, “No, I lived through World War II.” Her stories of World War II included her work in the resistance, hunting for beet roots in a war-torn country, and the pale that settles over everyone when war is fought on your land.

One day, Jeanne said to me, “You will have to move out by the end of the month. My cousins are coming from France and I need your bedroom.”

I was heartbroken.  I loved my  happy place at Jeanne’s.  I loved her cat Feefe who stayed up with me all night when I was sick.  The day I left, she was on her front walk, and she said, “Claire, I’ wish you all the best in life.  Good luck to you.”

I felt like I’d never see her again, and indeed, in the context of roommate relationships, I never did.  But we remained friends as the years rolled forward.  In 2000, one of the last times I saw Jeanne, she, her daughter (a dear friend) and I went for a long walk and picked blackberries on our trail.  The trail at my house where I met my husband in 1995.

“Claire,”  Jeanne said.  “See how lovely everything turned out for you.  I knew if you stayed with me, things would not have been good for you.”

“You did?” I was stunned.  “Yes, you could have stayed there forever, I had the room, the cousins were only coming for a visit from France, but I knew you needed to leave.  And look at your luck.”

Luck indeed.  I like to think as I read this book by Anne Lamott, there is a little bit of mercy thrown in…RIP Jeanne G.

Memorial Day: Remembering my Aunt, a WAC & American Legion Post 746 Commander, Corning, NY

my Aunt Madeline in the army…a WAC during World War II, Women’s Army Corp

this is a lighter with the etching Past Commander on it; I photoshopped it to make the writing stand out

Memorial Day

Today is a day my Aunt Madeline was always busy. She was at the cemetery, a parade, or veteran’s event and arrived late to our holiday barbecues. I never went with her to these events and that is sad for me now, she is gone almost 20 years.

My aunt served in WW2, she was a WAC in Rome, mNY. A WAC was a member of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.

My aunt, Madeline Austin Castellino, was very involved in the Corning American Legion and I did go there with her. Once a year, at hunting season, she made a large venison dinner for the men at the legion. My sister and I went and helped her a few times. It was, from what I can see now, through a kaleidoscope of pots, pans, lettuce heads and napkins, a huge undertaking for one woman to orchestrate, but she seemed to enjoy doing it.

The most significant thing to me is that my aunt became the first woman Commander of the American Legion in Corning NY. Go Aunt Madeline, wherever you are. My Aunt was a doer and she honored the people who served, suffered, and died to live here and keep it, the US.

There is a line that Tom Hanks, playing Captain Miller, says at the end of saving private ryan that I find haunts me occasionally because of the things I take for granted. Hank’s character is dying, he is one of many that went into Europe to find and send home the only son left of an American mother named Mrs. Ryan. Hanks last words to Private Ryan: EARN THIS RYAN, EARN THIS!

It’s late Aunt Madeline, but I’m beginning to get it.