Memorial Day

Memorial Day

My dad, L.S. Kelly, Jr., was born in the depression years and spent his early childhood in a nation swept up in World War II, a war that makes Memorial Day meaningful to many. He lived in Englewood, NJ at the time. He conveys the times, their import revealing just how different his world was from the one I now know. I read his words from an interview and find myself confronting the visceral impact of a time of upheaval, the imprint on his psyche, his perspective of the U.S. and of the military, of “us” vs. “them” shaped by circumstances more stark in their contrast to what we now live, more surreal in hindsight. No one could point at the term “axis of evil” and shred its hypocrisy because It applied. And it applied thoroughly in the minds of those shaped by the fallout.

Memorial Day

L.S. Kelly, Jr.

In the only way I know how to memorialize a day that has become, to me, less about the idea of a noble U.S. military infrastructure and more about honoring those who bring integrity to a failing ideal, I’m posting my dad’s responses to the interview questions here. His heart comes through the lines he wrote for my son’s A.P. U.S. History class. The clarity of what matters shatters my hesitation to note the day, my frustration with the distortion our military might has become. The day should be noted and we should never forget, no matter our stance on the military-industrial complex, because there was a time…

What can you remember about growing up during WWII?

A feeling of heaviness and fear – dread – during the early years.  The Japanese, Germans and Italians were portrayed in the media as some pretty awful folks. And they did some pretty awful things, which were shown at the movie theater before the main event.  Newsreels were gross.  Life magazine was as graphic as they could get away with.  That changed a whole lot with military successes.

We had rationing of materials and food. Gasoline. Nylon – women went back to silk stockings. The war effort took a lot of stuff off the shelves of the grocery stores.

Cigarettes. We saved cans [-] like vegetables came in. Flattened them and took them to some point where they could be given up for scrap metal. Then came victory gardens.  We had three plots in the back yard one summer, and after that five families that socialized together Kellys, Jim Kellys, DeSaussueres, Whitsons, Stokes, had huge garden in Cresskill, NJ where DeSaussaures lived.

Our next-door neighbor was the block air raid warden. When we had an air raid alert (practice of the system), we hung blankets over the windows, kept the lights down low so as not to disclose the whereabouts of a populated area to enemy bombers. The warden would knock on the door if light was showing around the blanket. He wore a white helmet and acted extremely seriously, as did we all.  Just about everything we did was in the context of national defense.

The doctor who lived across the street was in the army in Europe.  He had a son my age who received packages of souvenirs from his father, actual Wehrmacht uniforms, which he and I dressed up in and paraded around the neighborhood. Once.  AS widow lady around the corner got all upset, and that was the end of my German career.

When the A-bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945, I was 9 years old. We knew nothing could survive that and continue to wage war, and the feeling of relief brought a sense of elation and national pride.  We had fought two wars at the same time and beat the bad guys.  Which they were.

How did it impact you personally?

I got to eat a lot of organ meats, since they were undesirable and carried a lower meat-coupon penalty.  Tuna, chipped beef.

Sometimes we had nightmares:  Go to the movies on Saturday afternoon and come home, to go [to] bed and recall the newsreel. The boy next door was in the navy in the Pacific and we worried about him.

Mrs. Knowles’ 2nd grade class at Franklin School in Englewood, NJ would pray together every morning, the Lord’s prayer, and we’d recite the pledge to the flag and would sing the National Anthem. Often Mrs. Knowles would then have some story or inspirational thing she’d share with us. She had a brother who was a dog-face in France at the time. That means in the Infantry, in the mud.

One morning she held up a quite thick, yet shirt-pocket-sized thing, that turned out to be a book.  It was her brother’s bible. He had been carrying it all the time. We watched as she opened it enough for us to see the hole in it, which still held the kraut bullet that her brother’s bible had stopped, effectively ending its deadly journey toward his heart.

That was the classroom where I broke down one morning when we were singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Boo hoo. Everybody looking at the simple goose crying. I couldn’t tell why. They called my mother, and she couldn’t tell them, either. When I got home, I couldn’t tell her why. I didn’t know. She didn’t know either.  Nobody was gonna ask my Daddy.  Who knows?

Any observations about that time and that war in general?

Nobody even thought about burning a flag. Not a stars n stripes.  It was a time when the nation really seemed to be together about one thing: beating the Axis.

My 80+ year-old dad, who texts his daughters every night when he goes to bed – sending his love, who loves silly humor and growing tomatoes reminds me what shapes the minds of a nation, what lays the foundation for exploitation of fear: the real thing. Not that we have not known terror here in our time, but most of us have no point of reference, no way of knowing what war looks like. And the experiences of a child, his reflections over 70 years later reveal what we hope to never know but to also never forget, even if only for the sake of those who lived it. Here and abroad. Here’s to those who gave. While I may not want us to ever drop another bomb and though it hurts to think of the suffering of Hiroshima, this, too, is true: we must never lose sight of the humanity, the lives given in service.

Sweet Journey

At this time 21 years ago, I was in labor with my first child and only daughter who, in a handful of years, managed to birth parts of me I had never known before. It has been such a beautiful path with plenty of challenge and I’m sure more adventure and growth for us both to come. But in the meantime, it feels right to get back into the swing of blog posts by acknowledging the celebration and gift of Marion’s life.

I am a rich woman!

J. Ruth Kelly, 2016, All Rights Reserved

J. Ruth Kelly, 2016, All Rights Reserved

j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved, 2015

With the Makers

I’m all done with notional condemnation,
nonsense posing salvation
suggesting pre-birth agendas and all the control
a robot might covet.

Take me to the truth, down to the bone of it.
Marry me to the wonder found in the midst of
all this chaos and randomness daring us all
to make meaning.

I see their meaning made in fear.
The meaning they make
spews the poison in their hearts,
the snare in their aid.

Take me far away from the righteous.
I want to live with the undone and undoing.
I want to dance with the makers and shake
every foundation lost to the mold of stagnation.

Deliver me to love, love in spite of it all,
love because of it all,
love morphing, rolling up sleeves
and shaping this mound of flesh into new and ancient songs.

j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved, 2015

j. ruth kelly, all rights reserved, 2015

photo by j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

A Gentle Sun

shining down on,
welling up from,
spilling over,
flowing…
all these breezes,
all these meanderings,
all these lightbeams
telling love,
sculpting a new story
one you feel at the outer limits of
all you thought you’d be and
all that life has wrought of
your holdings and releasings…
beyond the gates of rightness
a river’s journey shapes the story
and we can make it all about the loss
or we can shape the meaning and vision
by love, for love, of love…
as all these leaves and lines settle ‘midst a gentle sun’s sight
revealing the creator within and beyond our worst night.

photo by j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

photo by j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

my meditation

River Speak

My curves whisper love,
risk, abandon and…
something about being whole.
Moments liquid spill
my feast for still minds,
unfolding sometimes rapidly, roiling, obliterating order
and then hushing, following slowly the pull towards home,
stirring hearts alive and begging transformation as you
lay your weary body down in my wealth,
washing, baptising days to come
and days gone by,
stirring youth back into those bones,
beckoning resilience from layers long sighing into the fight.
My colours ask no blindness,
seek no superiority over sight.
To not see, to not distinguish,
to not cherish every nuance and hue
is to die, to shrivel up inside,
never knowing your own precious blues.
Come, learn my ways;
liberate eyes into seeing how deeply we partake
when we can discern the differences
and know no fear, no ego’s tyranny.
Abandon inhibition here…
feed soul’s longing along the journey
flowing us all as love, by love, in peace.

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

Blossoms Unrelenting

we drink of depths in
resonating moonlight’s call,
unknowingly bound
to a love whose song
blossoms unrelenting in
the rise and fall of
our worst stumblings making us
more nimble, bruised but
tender, used for all the best
of thunder’s drumming.
some ancient humming
we refuses all the loss…
and rhythm, rhyme and meter disintegrate
in the flow of all this living undoing structure and hope
making something sturdier, something resonating to the past
to the future
into the now and
grabbing at my heartstrings, yours, plucking away,
strumming and fretting us along our days
with promise bigger than maybes or pinings away
for days yet to be,
just the being here now and
no matter how much I push you away,
refuse the heartache of what might never be,
nothing ever shatters, severs or shames
the feltness of your unfolding against my skin
these blossoms unrelenting pull me in, wrecking
all my walls meant for safety
flooding fields in sunlight, conjuring blooms
hid long from sight, stirred by
our moon’s wondering ministrations.

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

A Strange Feast

Spent petals fall to the ground…
closing in…
no more will you hear so much from heart.
Maybe then we can survive
this tide of blithe, unkind,
belittling,
begrudging find.
Maybe too much spills and roars
from depths long lost on those ears,
so…
here’s to days of still and silence.
Pass me the pin, the tag,
the warning sign that says
without saying:
“I’m in silence.”
Let it sound out a rhythm
and grin in the hush of my flow.
Maybe something new grows in the wake
of all the granted taken tokens
rarely really known and sown
far too profusely to be seen here.
So,
raze the fields’ constant yields
with daily ingratitude
and my burgeoning awareness…
and let’s sit in all we don’t say
as all the harvested silence holds sway
in the court of my alleged guilt.
Maybe then new words can bloom
when scales from eyes melt,
revealing a strange feast.

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved

j. ruth kelly, 2015, all rights reserved