Saturday, 18 February 2017

The War Bride...My Mother, Renee C

There once was a girl named Renee Constance Wilkinson who lived in Derby, England. She was born February 17, 1923.  She played out in the streets during WWII with her sister Maysie until their father Harry, the Bomb Shelter warden, rang the siren for them and the rest of the neighbourhood to seek protection during the nazi bombings. Other than WWII  life was normal. Renee was working at Rolls Royce factory in england where her brother was a manager, she was on the munitions assembling line for the RAF until the war was over and RR would go back to assembling luxury cars again. One day at work, in sauntered a handsome american officer to inspect the plant for the Allied troops.  She says she spotted him and later in the afternoon as she walked back from lunch they locked eyes from across the street. Renee and her American soldier would chat as they sat on the border fence separating civilians from the military base.  He had his feet dangling on his side and she on hers trying not to get caught outside of his jurisdiction.  Renee was a modern woman before her time as a lot of the greatest generation were. When anyone would cast curiosity towards 'gays' or transsexuals mum would simply say that she worked with lots of 'puffs' as a seamstress and in factories, and they're just different thats all...nothing else.  She married the love of her life and then waved goodbye to her mother and father as 'Sentimental Journey' played and sailed to NYC harbour on the famous Queen Mary from Southampton where all the famous ocean luxury liners were made. She was proud to have seen her being built on a school trip in england as a child.  After she arrived in NYC harbour she had her photo taken by the NYTimes as one of the only war brides to have a destination of Hollywood, California. We loved to hear her first thoughts of Los Angeles Union Station upon arrival in 1946 in january stepping off the train with sunlight so bright she thought she had landed on the surface of the sun itself ....and the smell...that smell of blossoms in the air in January. She said to herself right then and there California is the place she would stay.  'Air Force wife' was her next title and mother of 4 children, one of them being myself traveling the globe until 1966.  'The Accident' happened in 1969, September 7th to be exact when her husband was killed in a car accident.  Widowed with 4 children she championed on with her usual nerves of steel. The only signs of weakness were in the wee hours of the morning we could hear her cry in her locked bedroom. Years went by and all of us kids grew up, moved out, had children and she continued to live a full and happy life without a lot of material wealth or savings to her name, she still did not complain, but, instead would tell us to remember how blessed we were to have food on our table and to live in glorious California.  She felt loved on all sides with lots of grandchildren and great grandchildren and she kept hold of a ferocious spirit for adventure!
As her daughter I could never name one gift she gave me or the best talent I inherited from her, but, one trait I will remember is her 'look'...the one i received when I acted up in church or came home from high school with an F in Home Ec class shamefully hiding a dress with 3 sleeves behind my back. Mum was a seamstress in Beverly Hills by trade in 1947, 1948, so I must've been a disappointed! But, then there was the 'look' i got after i nailed the lead role in the musical 'Oliver' at 17 years old in high school made all things right.
Some mothers would not allow their kids to 'make a mess' at Christmas cookie making time, but, we felt the dough in our hands as she showed us how to roll it out and squish it together through our fingers.  She said that the mess would be easily cleaned up and the memories made were more than worth it!
When i gave birth all 4 times she would always be there at some point stroking my hair and giving me a sixth sense that all would be right with the world again.
She was not a babysitter who came and went constantly but rather a source of strength and assistance when i needed it the most. She wanted to be a grandmother they would remember fondly, not take for granted. She was an anchor when i lost my way and needed to stop and feel the earth under my feet, not in the spoken word, but in her presence.  Just being there was enough to ground me.
On her birthday today, February 17, Renee (with an accent over the double 'E')Constance Wilkinson Horvat, would've been 94 years old.  I instinctively reflect back on so many things.
Thank you mom for never leaving a place without planting some seeds of wisdom, sharing apples of gold with your old stories and simply filling all of us up with your fun vivacious spirit.
With each new breath I am forever grateful for the forward march towards the future you instilled in me to not look back but rather to face forward.
That little girl, Renee, huddled in the corner of her bombed out house as the enemy surrounded her on all sides, who then stood up to take on the world with no fear goes before me and with me along with my children and generations to come.
I miss you mom so much now and forever....yvonne
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