A Memory for Memorial Day

Back in college, my husband was a theatre major.  One of the things he had to do for a class was to interview someone, have them tell a story, record it, then re-tell that story in their style.

Now, my grandfather was a storyteller.  So Josh decided to record him telling one of his Army tales from WWII.  A few weeks ago, I found the transcript that Josh typed out.  Actually, I probably typed it out as Josh was horrible at typing…anyhoo, I found it, and I have to admit, I can still hear his voice telling this story.  At the time, my grandfather was about to slip full-fledge into Alzheimer’s, bastard disease that it is.  Josh only got to meet him a handful of times.  But because of Josh, I also have one of my grandfather’s stories, in his own words…

My mother, she was from the Old World you see…

Now, my brother Carl, he writes me a letter down in camp while I’m in Tenneesee and I read the letter and of course naturally my brother says, uh, “Don’t worry, Ma’s fine, but we had to put her in the hospital.”

Well I knew it was bad right there.  My mother never went to a doctor even.

Well, I had a hillbilly captian, and I went up to him and I asked him…I tried to explain to him that sh ewas a person who just always did her down doctoring, you know, well, if she was in the hospital, it’s gotta be serious.

“Well,” he says to me – he was a hillbilly – (this is where my Chicago grandfather would put on a Southern accent) – so he says to me, “Weeeelll Ree-zee-to” he says, “I can’t give you no furlough.”

I said “All I want is three days to get up there.”  I was in North Carolina, “to get up to Chicago, and to see how she is.”  

And Wrighton [says] “No you can’t.”

So I says “Okay” and I”m waking away and he says “Ree-zee-to” – he could never get my name right – he said “You go over the hill and I’m gonna throw the book atchya.”

I said “I wouldn’t think of doing that!”  And my lieutenant was next to him, he was smiling, you know, and he knew damn well I was gonna go.  He didn’t say nothing.

So I went in the barracks and found money from all the guys and there was someone who said  “How’d you get a furlough?”

And I said “I didn’t get a furlough.  I’m going over the hill.”  So I got enough money from them to ride the bus.  And every time I come to a stop in different towns, I’d tell the bus driver (cause they were all about eligible for the draft) and I’d say to them “Would you mind dropping me off a block this side of the station?” Because the word would go out and all the MP’s would be looking in the stations you  know…and I’d say to the driver “Can I get off before and I’ll meet you a block away when you start up?”  And he says “Sure.”  Everybody went out of their way…

I finally got home.  But I didn’t go home, I went to the hospital.  Of course they were waiting for me and I says “Hey, I made it this far, can I at least go in and see  my mother?”  And they let me.  

So I was in the room with my mother and the doctor comes in – he was a friendly doctor – hey says “Tell me something…are those three guys up there, are they looking for you?”  

I says “Yeah.” and he says “Well, just stay here.”  

He must have called up someone, and he came back and says to me “You’ve got a ten day furlough.”  

So it worked out fine…yet…she died anyway. (he paused here for a moment…)

Then I didn’t want to go back and all my brothers were saying “Get out of here, you’ll get us all in trouble!” (he said with a laugh.)

So I went back.  And boy, talk about luck.  When I got back, they’d changed captains.  And he was a nice guy too.  He says “Ah, forget it.”

And that’s all that’s to it. 

My grandfather (left) and a friend – the caption he wrote on the back – “In love with the Army” – HA!

Well, sort of.  That’s also the AWOL trip that he and my grandmother got married.  And then there’s another AWOL story, after Pearl Harbor was bombed (he went home to straighten things out with his new in-laws.)  He did get in trouble for that stunt.  But in his own usual style, got lucky.  And so on, and so forth.

But there’s the backstory, about a boy who loved his ma, who would go to the movies with her, and get in a world of trouble because of skipping school, and who’d watch her make spaghetti on the dining room table.  He was the baby of the family, a later-in-life surprise for his mother, and the youngest of eight children.  I remember him telling how his mother wasn’t happy that her baby was drafted.

But he wrote her – even though she didn’t speak English, he still wrote to her.  Because I found this letter in a box of his Army mementos my grandma gave me years ago…

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

There’s something sweet about a boy writing home to tell his ma how he’s just coming back from church…something my Catholic-Italian great-grandmother would have been concerned about, I’m sure.

Speaking of sweet – here are my grandparents, sweethearts that they were…

Jual O’Hanley Rizzuto, circa 1941
Edward Rizzuto, circa 1941

To me, these two embody what I am to remember on Memorial Day. Not so much the trials and tribulations they went through during WWII, but how they managed to handle it with humor and acceptance.  That’s just how things were, you dealt with it.

And afterwards…man, did they have a life together!