I Dare Say -- The unsung (3-30-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (March 30, 1943)


The unsung

By Florence Fisher Parry

Heaven knows it is the young among us who are the heroes; it is the boys who swing off to battle and death as though they were going on a tour, expenses paid. It is their wives and sweethearts who wave and smile, then turn back to emptiness and the long young vigil.

It is for them, the partings and the meetings. It is for them, the sudden blank called death. It is for them, returned, the future – that strange exciting pattern, strictly new.

Give them their due. They are shaping the world. And for those who are to die in the shaping, give them sins to build what they left unbuilded. Give them daughters to comfort their slim young widows. Give them what they want. Give them their way.

If they will marry, let them marry. If they will forget their trysts and vows, it is not for us to pass upon their forgetfulness; war does odd things to the heart and mind, and faithfulness is a peacetime virtue.

Listen: let us face this, understand this: War is another life; those who are to be in it must be conditioned for it, else they perish. The training is hard and unremitting and geared high and taut: its tempo is not a home-front tempo. It is – pathological, abnormal; each nerve a sentinel on guard, no relaxation anywhere.

Let them alone!

Look at our boys returned. They are not the same men. They are here for a furlough, a leave. They think they will relax, forget. But they find they cannot. Long before their leave is up, they are straining at the traces.

And if this is so now, what will it be after years, years? Their way is not our way any longer. Give them theirs, then; do not impress our ways upon them any longer.

They will say: I want to marry. Let them, let them. They will say: I will not marry. Let them alone then.

They will say: Stay behind, wife. Camp is no place to be near. Or they will say: Come with me, that I may find respite in brief normalcy. They will say: Keep the children, stay home. They will say: Leave the children behind, it is YOU I want.

No family but to whom comes this willing servitude. What he wants, we want. What he wills, we do.

Now this is as it should be. But it seems to me that in singing these heroes, we can give out a song for those others who are bearing the brunt here at home. The mothers and fathers – yes, grandparents, too who were ready to spend the late afternoon of their lives in peace and know the quiet old-age rewards of their early labors – and who now must lay aside even their old age, and simulate a vigor and assume a responsibility they are beyond bearing, yet must bear.

The burden

The time to rear children is when you are young; it goes hard with a woman to start in anew. Yet all over the land, young mothers are flocking home with their babies, to spend the duration with Mother. Young brides speed back from the altar to remain, at home, until the war is over. And even the mothers of men in uniform are sighing resignedly over letters than run:

I know Mary would be happier with you, mother, than with her own folks, so I want you to take her in while I’m gone.

Pass any row of houses on any Main Street and look behind the curtains where hangs the service star; and you will find in one out of every five, a young wife, a bride, a baby, a couple of stirring children, spending the duration back home.

Oh yes, the doubling up process has begun – and it has JUST begun! The younger generation has indeed taken over! And this is as it must be, and who would deny welcome to them?

Only – I wish it didn’t need to be taken so FOR GRANTED. They’ve moved in upon us; they’ve taken possession.

Oh yes, we’ll make room! But – a little more recognition, please, of the gesture? A little more appreciation, please? A little more consideration and help, please? We’re getting old. We’re often at the end of OUR string, too.

Welcome, daughter! Welcome, children! Welcome, baby-that-is-to-be. But – let the light shine out of your eyes, let us KNOW you see.