Keep Calm and Carry On

That’s a mouthful at times. I have a friend who’s facing surgery with extensive recuperation, plus two dreadful diseases in her close family.

Keep calm, you say?

With another friend, we have an ongoing discussion about how people make it through suffering, sorrow, illness, and loss. Sometimes I think it’s a combination of this “carry on” attitude plus faith, of course, and a good dose of everyday concerns that keep us going.

 

On our recent trip, Lance ordered bangers and mash, also known as sausages and mash, a traditional British and Irish dish combining sausages and mashed potatoes. The flavored sausages may be pork, lamb, or beef (often specifically Cumberland sausage. The dish is sometimes served with onion gravy, fried onions, or peas.

This dish, even when cooked at home, may be thought of as an example of pub grub, quick and easy to make in large quantities. I’ve read accounts of wartime children being sent to pick up the family’s order of this dish at a local restaurant, since both of their parents were working.

During World War II, I wonder if, in addition to seeking divine comfort, the necessary constant task of providing food for their families helped everyone make it through. Here in the states, women survived dire Depression-era poverty and went on to endure the wait for their loved ones to return from the second world war.

Maybe it’s no wonder that generation taught us to eat everything on our plates and placed high value on a good, solid meal followed by a lush dessert.

Some World War II ladies we met at Bletchley Park

Talk about authentic…take a look at these women – oh, so stylish! The one with the white hat has a Veronica Lake “victory roll,” prevalent during World War II. This hair-do kept women’s hair out of the way in such a busy time, and helped them avoid accidents with machinery at their jobs, as well.

 

One of these ladies might work in a factory, like her American counterpart, Rosie the Riveter, or as a secretary to someone in Winston Churchill’s underground war rooms.

These are the types Addie and Kate would have encountered in Charles Tenney’s office, or on the streets of London.

 

Changed Plans and Reminders

A promise is a promise. I said I would send photos from England and a continuous report of what we are doing over here. However, the photo part has to wait because my husband is at a camera shop right now seeing if his camera damage from the trip over the Atlantic can be fixed or if he needs to buy a new camera.

In the meantime, he has been taking what we hope are wonderful shots of everything we have seen so far. So here goes from Portsmouth where the D-Day Museum completely captured our attention and where I put my pinky in the very cold waters of the English Channel.

The Salty breeze from the channel made me very thankful for the coat our daughter found for me last week. We stayed minutes from the channel in the Easley guest house where Steve and Clare provided great breakfasts and loads of information about Portsmouth now and during World War II.

One of the highlights for me was meeting a couple of women on vacation during breakfast the first day. One of them grew up in a big brick house across the street and told us that along the line of houses, where we now could see a more modern one, that meant the original one had been bombed out during the blitz.

As usual meeting these women was a highlight for me. We also explored a bombed-out local Garrison church built long before Jamestown was founded.

We went to the Mary Rose museum. The Mary Rose was Henry the VIII’s pride and joy, his best warship. But he watched her sink from Portsmouth Harbor. Centuries later, she was partially brought to the surface and is now reconstructed underneath a huge glass enclosure. So many artifacts retrieved from the Mary Rose and it’s amazing they were still recognizable.

Today I am taking a break from concrete and cement for my poor aching feet, but ice is helping. We wanted to be on a tour today, but as often happens in life, had to change our plans. The same thing happened with being able to check my emails so if any of you have written me and not received a reply now you know why.

Still, it’s a gorgeous day in Oxford England. Yesterday we saw punters rowing their flat-bottomed boats—which they call “punts”—on the river beside the colleges. We ate dinner where C.S. Lewis and his buddies met every week. It’s a pub called The Bear and it was flooded with Americans. I sure hope Lance’s photos have turned out OK. He can’t tell at this point, but hopefully will be able to send some soon. For now, a few from our phone will have to do.

 

In the meantime, I’m reading The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis out in a beautiful back yard of our hotel and being reminded that even when our plans go awry the beauty around us reminds us of what really matters. Signing off for now.

Light in Darkness

We went to see an incredibly well-written/directed/acted movie yesterday. The Darkest Hour offers humor, honesty, riveting tension, and a challenge. My own personal challenge was to avoid crying through the last hour, and I failed.

It’s difficult to imagine the stress Winston Churchill experienced as Britain’s new prime minister in the dire circumstances brought on by appeasement: Hitler’s forces surrounded the entire British army near Dunkirk, and many in the government urged this new leader to seek a peace agreement.

It’s even more difficult to imagine our world today if Winston Churchill had cowed to the pressure and ignored his intuition that declared England must NOT negotiate with Herr Hitler. Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing how many British citizens agreed with him.

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This morning, my tea bag boasted just the right sentiment for Prime Minister Churchill’s predicament.

Many in Parliament were still controlled by the former appeasement-focused government, and felt nothing could be worse than the present situation. They were also quite aware of Churchill’s imperfections. The movie clearly and honestly shows these…and that’s part of its power.

Who among us is perfect? What leader has no weaknesses? Yet, certain leaders arise at just the right time to alter history’s course for the better.

My tears were for this imperfect leader’s loneliness in what seemed an impossible task. Yet he found the strength to persevere, to act courageously in the face of bitter adversaries on every side. He ordered the Admiralty to summon ordinary citizens with seaworthy vessels to rescue the men at Dunkirk. Kind of like the fishes and loaves…nobody thought the idea could possibly work.

But behind the scenes, the nation prayed…and a truly miraculous outcome afforded Churchill with the support the next difficult five years would require. This production also provides a down-to-earth example for us when anyone’s opinion threatens to dim our light.

I don’t often promote a movie, but this one stands out as UNMISSABLE, especially if the World War II era intrigues you.

 

 

Country Folk of Another Era

Reading Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale has given me an even deeper appreciation of the way simple country folks suffered in the early years of World War II.

When we say country, we visualize rural American farm families. But in France in the early 1940’s, thousands of peasants tended their gardens and vineyards, cared for their children, and enjoyed a simple pastoral setting.

Then, suddenly their freedoms were swept away by the brutal Nazi occupation.

What’s interesting is how people came from all walks of life to help the French Resistance change the tide of the war. One of these, from my Women of the Heartland series, hailed from Iowa farm country. Used to the sight of corn and soybeans ripening for harvest, Kate Isaacs is thrust into the midst of unthinkable horrors.

Unthinkable but very real. Her land-centered background serves her well as she treks back woods trails to avoid the Gestapo, delivering vital messages for the Resistance. So does her heritage of valuing hard work and tenacity. You can’t take the country out of a country girl, right?

Admittedly, this “country,” replete with mountains and deep valleys, is different from Kate’s moorings. Along the way, she views incredible structures like the Abbey of St. Pierre at Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, built in the ninth century. She gasps at this architecture and takes heart at the eternal message of hope engraved in this incredible structure’s entrance.

If you need some more historical fiction to get you through the winter, may I suggest…

 

The Humble Milkweed

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Probably many of my readers recall picking milkweed as children–such an unique plant.

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Yesterday my twelve-year-old granddaughter and I reveled in the superb softness of milkweed down. She sent it flying far and near, and piped, “Grandma, it’s softer than my special silky blanket!”

For the sake of the Monarch butterfly,  people have started re-growing this “weed” that used to flourish in Iowa’s ditches. Back in the forties and fifties, milkweed fluff was everywhere.

Many of us ran our fingers over the satiny floss that floated like dandelion fluff on sunny fall days. But few realized how vital this wispy white stuff had been in the World War II effort to save sailors’ lives. The Japanese controlled kapok, the normal life vest filler, so milkweed floss became a workable substitute.

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I’ve been reading an incredible book called And If I Perish, about nurses and doctors who risked–and often gave–their lives to help wounded soldiers. My research also gave me the story of an Indiana sailor who suffered in the waters of the Pacific and would have died without his life belt. He brought it home as a keepsake, and when his mother looked it over, she realized the inspection number on the belt belonged to her.

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Yes, she worked in a factory that produced life belts and vests. Such an ironic twist to this sailor’s story of deliverance. The war era is full of these stories–I can’t get enough of them.

 

One thing is certain, I’ll never look at milkweed quite the same way again.

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