Argentan (2013)

In 1944, my grandmother packed away a box of items - photographs, a wallet, a Purple Heart medal, letters, coins, a notebook - all topped with a folded American flag.  The box was stored away, untouched for decades, until when helping my dad sort things after my mother's death in 2006, I found it and looked inside.  It was a time capsule, a memorial to my uncle George killed in Argentan, France in 1944.  I had always known about George, my dad's only sibling, and marveled at his handsome countenance in the studio portrait my grandmother kept in the bookcase.  He was young, too young, when he went to war, and her story told to me of the day the officers came to their front door with the awful news resonated in my young mind -- I could see it so clearly, and felt the sadness even as a small child -- "Who is that in the picture?  A movie star?"  "No, that is George and we lost him." 

Finding his last belongings and letters in that box felt laden with responsibility -- how to honor his life and death, to respect my grandmother's need to keep all those things, in one place, closed but not forgotten.  And especially to honor her need to never open the official letter notifying them of his death; by the time the letter came, they already knew.  There was no need to open it; there never will be. I carefully take out each item, read each word, refold the letters, and place them as they were. I marvel at the young boy I never knew, the one that loved his school work, the one loved by many.  In his wallet were pictures of pretty girls -- my dad said he was quite the ladies man, so many girls and not a single name written on the photos' backs.  He knew who they were, his collection of possibilities; he carried their smiles with him into battle. I wonder what his last thoughts were; I hope he did not suffer.