Monday, March 2, 2015

"I'll Be Seeing You": Letters, Love, and Loss

My friend Rose told me that her experience reading "I'll Be Seeing You" by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan (who never actually met each other while writing this book) was like finding a box of letters in her grandmother's attic and reading them with a cup of tea in hand - learning about the past and being privy to secrets and the stories shared from a friendship forged by longing. 

"I'll be Seeing You" follows the 1943-1945 correspondence between Rita Vincenzo, a sensible woman from Iowa whose husband and son are both away serving in WWII, and Glory Whitehall, a wealthy young mother from  Massachusetts whose husband is also in the war. Their letter writing begins after a 4-H meeting urged  women who were waiting for their loved ones to return from the war to find comfort in other women who could understand their circumstances.  The women develop a strong friendship as they share their respective stories of their families, and how they try to pass the days as they wait for life to return to a new sense of normal.  Their worry over their loved ones, their fear of receiving the dreaded death telegram, their daily joys and sorrows bond them together and help each of them overcome bouts of despair and depression as the war continues.  

Glory writes about the birth of a baby girl, parenting a rambunctious toddler (who contracts an illness that leaves him a shell of his former self), and mostly with the intensity of her relationship with her husband's (and her) best friend, Levi who was asked to "look after" Glory in her husband's absence.  Rita writes about her loneliness, her wicked neighbor, her son's secret girlfriend, and her best friend's relationship with a handsome stranger with a shady past.  Each of their stories bring them closer together and gives them a sense of comfort that there is someone sharing their pain and joy.  Along with the more personal stories they share, Rita also gives Glory gardening advice for her victory garden to grow in her seaside climate and they each share war time recipes like Tomato Soup Cake and Mock Veal Cutlets.  

What this book did for me was show me a very personal side of WWII that is often forgotten - what the women did while they waited.  1943 differed greatly from our modern day society where many women work outside of the home and enjoy choices that women in the 1940s could never dream of.  The women then relied on their men, but in their men's absence what many of the women learned is that they are strong beyond measure - especially when they could help each other.  In one letter Glory adds, "P.S. I love being a woman.  A woman among amazing women.  Women who understand just how much we need one another." 

It's true.  

The power of women's friendships and connections through tragedy and triumph is a beautiful thing.  Women connect in different ways then men connect - ask any woman who has a life long friend about their soul connection with that woman.  Ask any woman about the special women in her life and how important those bonds are for her - the talks, the sharing, the nights out spilling their hearts to each other over bottles of wine or meeting for coffee just to connect face to face and share in each others' company.  

This book made me want to connect with all my best friends.  It made me want to sit down and write good old fashioned letters (not Facebook messages or text messages, but real in depth letter writing).  Our best friends are the ones who make us feel connected to something larger than ourselves, who tell us the truth even when we don't want to hear it, who bring us back from the brink of destroying ourselves, and who help us make sense out of the world even when nothing makes sense. They are our truest allies in wartime and in peacetime. 

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