To the Moms, the Whole Love

Happy mother’s day, also my birthday this year. Moms come up quite a bit in writings about the war, I’ve discovered. Not surprisingly, authors are sensitive to how military service touches those whose children do the fighting. For example, here’s how Benjamin Busch, author of Dust to Dust, describes his mother’s reaction to the announcement that he has joined the Marine Corps:

“My mother took a deep breath, her hands clamped to the edge of the table as if she were watching an accident happen in the street. Her father had been a Marine, had gone to war and almost not come back.”

How to describe a mother’s anxiety about her child’s deployment? Kaboom author Matt Gallagher’s mom writes:

“’I will be stalwart,’ I had said to myself on the drive home from the airport the morning I said goodbye to him. “I will be steadfast. I will read and listen to the reputable war reporters, and I will write my senators and congressmen, but I will not lose faith in my country. I will concentrate on sustaining my son rather than myself, and I will not confuse self-pity with legitimate worry and concern over him and his men. I will be proud, justifiably proud, but I will not be vainglorious! And I will never, never, never let him know how frightened I am for him.’

“But, within moments of returning home, I had broken all but one of these promises to myself. I was doing laundry and, as I measured detergent into the washer, the Christmas carol CD I was playing turned to Kate Smith’s magnificent contralto, singing, ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.’

“‘And in despair, I bowed my head,’ she sang. ‘There is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’

“And, at that moment, for only the third time in my adult life, I began to sob — not cry, not weep — but sob uncontrollably, sitting on the floor of my laundry room, surrounded by sorted piles of bed linens and dirty clothes.”

And if the child comes back wounded? Siobhan Fallon, author of the short-story collection You Know When The Men Are Gone, in a newspaper article describes a trip to Walter Reed to meet injured soldiers and their families:

“And there were mothers. Unlike the military members and their spouses, who somehow all seemed in great and hopeful spirits, the mothers looked stunned. They seemed to be trying to grip their emotions tightly, but their faces hid nothing. Their faces said: ‘Why did this happen to my beautiful boy?’”

And how does a veteran describe his mother, a lover of language and books and authors and ideas, as he watches her fade late in life? Benjamin Busch again:

“She had been a librarian. All of the books and conversations about the importance of written words swelling inside her head like a star undergoing gravitational collapse into a black mass, its light still traveling out into space but its fires already burned out.  Nothing left but ash.” Then he recounts her last words: “‘Oh my baby boy.'”

So much hurt. So much damage. So many memories. So much love.

Mothers, sons, daughters, everyone, make much of time.

My mother, Athens, Ohio, 1958, a few weeks after I was born.

7 Responses to “To the Moms, the Whole Love”

  1. preterite Says:

    Great, great post Pete. You helped me remember my mom (also a librarian) today. And happy birthday.

  2. Chris Brown Says:

    Hi Pete,

    Your quotation from Siobhan Fallon reminds me of a Bob Dylan song called “John Brown”:


  3. Peter Molin Says:

    Chris–Wow, thanks. I’ve listened to a lot of Bob Dylan and never heard that one before. Written in 1962 (before Vietnam heated up), never officially released until this century, but played on MTV Unplugged in 1992. Hmm…. it’s got the literalness of his early protest stuff, sensational, even gothic, in its approach, yet played subtly and lyrically, with that brooding apprehension that characterizes most of his work the last twenty years. And why the name “John Brown,” with all its historical associations? Great song.

    Oh yea, and speaking of music, I cribbed the phrase “the Whole Love” from the latest Wilco album. That the idea of “wholeness” is pretty important to this post should be obvious, but I also like the look of all those “o’s” in the main words of the title.

  4. Chris Brown Says:

    Hi Pete,

    I’m glad you liked the song “John Brown.” There’s a better version on Live at the Gaslight 1962. I have no idea why he named the young, wounded war hero after the famous abolitionist.


  5. anvi hoang Says:

    very touching and sweet. happy belated birthday, Peter.

  6. Peter Molin Says:

    Chris: From Melville’s “The Portent”:

    (Weird John Brown), / The meteor of the war.

    Anvi: Thankee!

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