Christmas 1942 – Somewhere In England

152nd Station Hospital -1942

I found this tiny program in some of my great-aunt Wylly’s things when I went to see my cousin, McKenzie last summer. I had a whirlwind trip where I scanned photos and documents for most the time I was there. It was a quick overnight visit with me quietly scanning through the night while the rest of the house snoozed. Aunt Wylly was my writer aunt that I’ve mentioned before and sweet to me like a dear old grandma. She was McKenzie’s great-grandma and after McKenzie’s mother died suddenly a few years ago, she’s been the one to keep the family history safe.

Going through things quickly, I learned a lot about my family I hadn’t known. This Christmas menu and program from 70 years ago was tucked in a box, no doubt saved by Aunt Wylly who left a serious paper trail. I knew my Uncle Tom had been in the army, practically everyone called him Sarge when I was growing up so it would have been hard to miss, but I did not know that he’d been in England during WWII. Finding this little treasure from 70 years ago left me with loads of questions with no answers. I gleaned a bit online, but I’m hoping a older relative or adult child of someone who might have served with my uncle will see this post and get touch with me.

Thanks to the internet I was able to learn where the 152nd Station Hospital was located, and found that my uncle was in Bristol, about a 14o miles from where I live now. Frenchay Hospital was much smaller before the Americans arrived in 1942 and they added more buildings to make a medical complex that is still in use today.

I wish I knew more about his life and his time in England during the war. My husband, John was less than three months old when Uncle Tom sat down to the Christmas dinner you see on the program below. Given the shortage of food and rationing going on in England at that time, Uncle Tom’s Christmas dinner was likely much better than what the English were having that year.

Christmas Menu 1942 152nd Station Hospital

Since I’m talking about food and family, I thought I’d share a bit of our Christmas day with you.

Christmas 2012

Our Christmas dinner, the American version … no roast potatoes, sprouts or parsnips. I like them, but I wanted a more familiar taste of Christmas and John was fine skipping them this year. He cooked the turkey and made the gravy, I made the rest from handed down family recipes. We did have the English version of pigs in a blanket which were wrapped in bacon versus biscuit dough.

Christmas 2012

That pink mass before you is a cranberry congealed salad. It stuck a bit in my jello mold so it’s not very pretty, but it was tasty. This traditional Christmas salad has been the subject of a great deal of ridicule from John. I get that congealed isn’t a very appetizing name for it, and that it tends to look like something that has already been eaten once, but it reminds me of my step-mom, Cullene and it’s very special to me. John thinks it is very similar to what they call a blancmange (sounds like bla-monge) which does sound a bit more grand. He had a decent sized portion with his dinner so I think he may be getting used to it.

IMG_3027

Here’s a shot of John waiting patiently for our present opening to begin. I’ll be back with another post on gift-giving as I received something very special from him.

P1020471

Since we’re talking about food in this post, here’s a shot of me with one of the carrots I took on our walk to the pub for our traditional Christmas drink. The couple that own our village pub offer everyone in the village a free drink on Christmas day if they come in on regular basis. I was carrying carrots hoping we might come across a moorland pony or two, but we stayed in the lanes on our walk making it less muddy and we bypassed the moor and the ponies. I did get lucky though as you can see below.

P1020476

This sweet horse was having a Christmas walk and had the benefit of the carrots in my pocket. Murphy munched them down pretty quickly and we went on to the pub.

Thomas Franklin St John

Thomas Franklin St John

I’ll leave you with this photo of my great-uncle Tom taken in uniform. I don’t share any of his DNA as he’s my uncle through marriage, but it’s kind of nice to feel a connection through both our military (Army) ties and our Christmas dinners in England.

If you’re visiting older relatives this Christmas … ask them about their life or you may be sorry later when they’re gone. 

Not Half, But Whole – Remarriage & Children

Bryan Cooper, Cullene Harper, Jennie Harper, & Elizabeth Harper - April 14, 1975

Young children can’t always grasp the concept of how they are related when parents divorce, find new love, and have more children with new partners and spouses. When they each bring children from previous relationships to the new family, the soup becomes an even more complicated mix of half and step siblings making it sometimes necessary for a flow chart of sorts when explaining family ties.

I’m the eldest of four girls with only two of us having the same set of parents. Born in 1962, Margaret and I are two years apart. Ten years later, our sister Pam was born into our mother’s second marriage. I remember hearing words like half-sister then and even though I was a reasonably intelligent 9-year-old, I was a bit confused by the concept especially having only just met four step-siblings that I don’t remember ever seeing again.

By 1974 my youngest sister, Jennie, was born on Easter Sunday and being halfway through my thirteenth year, I had a better understanding of the half not whole concept at least in theory. Nicknamed Bunny, by her granddad, she was the child of my dad and my stepmom, Cullene.

Margaret and I were living in Tennessee when the news came of her birth, having been moved away from Georgia by our mother after a judge decreed my dad should be able to see his children more than one Saturday a month.

By the time Jennie was celebrating her first birthday in the photo above, I was living in Georgia with my dad and Cullene watching them navigate through territory that looking back, was more recent and familiar to me than it was to them.

Jennie was born to Cullene when she was forty having passed the age when she thought she’d ever have a child and with twelve years between my dad and his last diaper change, I’m sure he felt as if he were learning everything again for the first time.

In my life with my mother and sisters in Tennessee, I had been largely responsible for overseeing Pam’s care and knew the kind of childcare things that an older sibling knows when there’s a big difference in ages. ” Watch your sister, ” was an all-encompassing directive that could include bathing, feeding, or playing, and I was good at it.

While planning my escape to Georgia only six months before this picture was taken, I hadn’t realized that saving myself might mean losing my sisters. After I left, my mother cut off all communication and moved my sisters to another state changing my sister Margaret’s last name in the process. I lost my relationship with Margaret for the ten years that followed and four-year old Pam grew up with no memory of me, a situation that she and I have never recovered from. Despite my previous efforts, Pam and I are strangers.

In the image of above, you can see me hanging on to my sister Jennie’s birthday hat. After my move, I remember feeling as if I were free-floating and barely secured, much like the hat with only the tiniest bit of pressure keeping me grounded and in place.

That I am only half in the picture feels like an apt metaphor for how I felt about my life then. Everything familiar was gone and even though I was finally safe from the life I had been forced to keep secret, I was struggling to adjust to one without my sisters, Margaret and Pam, and my mother too, despite her treatment.

I began this post with a whole different focus. I was looking for a cute photo to add to a Facebook greeting for my sister’s birthday when I found this one. Having recently had a conversation with John about children and how little they may understand the half versus whole concept when new siblings arrive, I was struck by the memory of this time in my life and today’s writing shifted direction.

My youngest sister Jennie is 37 today, an age I remember so clearly it feels like five minutes ago. I’m sure she would say I’ve been trying to boss her around her whole life while dispensing advice as if I were a third parent or an older aunt, but I have always seen her as my sister, the baby for sure, but always whole and never half.

Although not the big birthday post I’d envisioned, I want to say, ” Happy Birthday Jennie,” from your sister Elizabeth, who once felt half, but now understands whole.

Sisters - Elizabeth, Margaret, and Jennie Harper - 1974