Pearl Harbor Day at Fort Sam Houston


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It happened seventy-five years ago, and the day still lives in infamy.  Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was bombed by the Japanese.  Last year on the anniversary of that heinous act,  Mama had an appointment with an eye doctor, and he asked his elderly patient what she was doing that day in 1941. A young woman answered, with vivid detail.  I’m so glad he asked,  because I had never thought to.

On December 7, 1941, Marguerite was the wife of Captain George H. Van Hoorebeke, US Army. He was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and they thought they had the world by the tail. He was handsome; she was beautiful; they were both intelligent, accomplished people with great work ethics, personalities, and a bright future ahead.  They lived in a duplex close to post, with their first-born daughter, Virginia, who was just shy of 9 months old. (Yes, ‘post’ is correct. The army has posts; the other services have bases. Those of us who speak army cringe when someone says ‘army base.’  There’s no such animal. Thank you.)  Anyway, Ginny  woke up feverish that morning, and was covered with red spots.  Measles.  And of course, this was years before any vaccine had been developed. Although it was a Sunday, George was out on manuevers at Camp Bullis, and Marguerite started calling the post dispensary to see about taking Ginny to see a doctor.  She tried and tried, but for some reason, got one busy signal after another. She couldn’t get through.

So, with a fussy infant on her shoulder, Marguerite sat down to read the morning paper over a cup of coffee, and  turned on the radio.  She spent the morning trying to soothe tiny, red-spotted Ginny.  Sometime after lunch,  regular programming was interrupted, and she heard the terrible news — news that  would affect every day of her life as long as she lived.  Japanese warplanes had attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, and our country was at war.  The Sunday paper was left, half-read; lunch went uneaten.  An elderly couple lived in the other half of the duplex; they didn’t own a radio. So, with Ginny in her arms, Marguerite ran around to their back door to tell them what had happened in Hawaii. Everyone was shocked.  No wonder she couldn’t get through to the dispensary – the entire post was caught up in preparing for war, and nobody had time to see an infant with measles.

On that unforgettable morning,  war had come to change the world, and her personal circumstances were suddenly precarious. The idyllic lifestyle she’d enjoyed as a peacetime officer’s wife and young mother was going to change, and change it did.  George anticipated orders for Hawaii, but soon, those plans changed. As  the young infantry captain readied for combat, Marguerite got a civilian job handling payroll at Camp McCain, Mississippi, not far from her family home. Her mother and young sister, Polly, came to live with them.  In June of 1943, a second daughter was born.  Carole was about six weeks old when her father went overseas. She missed him the rest of her life.

George landed in Normandy on D-Day Plus 5, with Company I, 39th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, and was awarded the Bronze Star for what he did in battle. We don’t know exactly what happened that day. Place names and units were redacted from the text, as this was wartime, but  the citation reads:

For exceptionally meritorious  achievement in performance of outstanding service against the enemy in __________ on June 11, 1944.

And on September 13, 1944, somewhere near Brest,  Captain Van Hoorebeke died a hero for the freedom of France and the world beyond.  For his actions, he was awarded the Silver Star. Mama and my sisters received his awards in a ceremony at Camp Crowder, near Joplin, Missouri.  The citation accompanying that award reads:

On September 13, 1944, Company ___, ____Infantry, was attacking the city of _____.  Due to the large number of casualties sustained, the second platoon, led by a squad leader, had failed to advance after repeated attempts.  Captain Van Hoorebeke, going forward in an effort to remedy the situation, found that two enemy machine guns were holding a platoon back. Completely disregarding his own personal safety, he went to the front of the platoon and directed fire on the hostile positions until they were silenced. Just as the guns were knocked out and the situation seemed favorable for an advance, Captain Van Hoorebeke was killed by a sniper. The gallantry, disregard for personal safety and unswerving devotion to duty displayed by this officer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.

So, the attack on Pearl Harbor was the beginning of the end of George Van Hoorebeke’s life. But it did not end his legacy.  His daughters never knew him, but they knew about him, and today, I  take care of his widow ~ the Marguerite who lost the man who loved her and the hopes they shared.

Mama’s never been a signs-and-wonders kind of person, but she told me that through the years, whenever she faced  the toughest trials of life,  George appeared in her dreams with words of love and comfort.

Their  daughters – my older sisters –  are both gone now. But shortly after Ginny died in 2012, Carole had a dream. She saw Ginny walking down a heavenly street, holding hands with George, her father.  Walking towards them from the other direction was my dad, who married the widowed Marguerite and her two daughters in 1946.  Ginny’s eyes lit up when she spotted him, and she said to her father, “Come over here — I want you to meet my daddy.”

Pearl Harbor Day. Seventy-five years since the world went to war. It might be possible to calculate the costs of planes and warships in dollars,  but the personal price paid by the Georges and Marguerites of the nineteen-forties can never be totaled.

And Marguerite lives on, at age 96 —  with love, with wit,  with humor, and grace; a character shaped by the wounds of war.  I’m  proud to be her daughter.

Hair Nets Needed


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The Memomma Chronicles, Saturday Edition, July 30, 2016:

Yesterday, Marguerite got a great hairdo from sweet Louvenia over at Hair Worx in Odee. Louvenia does a great job with an old-fashioned roller set, just perfect for an old lady who likes to sit under a dryer and flip through a magazine.

So, last night, before Mama went to bed, she asked for a plastic shower cap to put over her head so her hair wouldn’t mess up overnight. I told her that wouldn’t work,we’d fix the hair in the morning, and she went to bed.

But she’s like a rebellious teenager these days, and no matter how many times you explain principles that she knew long ago and has forgotten, she is bound and determined to prove you wrong. And that’s why she’s 96.

So, ’round midnight, I heard her get up and went to check on things. All was well, except that the new curls were plastered, flat as a pancake, to her head, like they’d been glued there, and I was ready to cuss again.

So she explained. She’d gotten a plastic grocery bag out of the trash can it lined, wrapped it around her head, and went to sleep, not remembering that plastic on the head makes ya sweat if it doesn’t smother you first. Sweat+hairspray is one mean combination. So now, we have unlocked the secret formula for superglue, and poured a thirty-dolla hairdo down the drain.

I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up!


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The Marguerite Chronicles, August 22, 2016, 7:29 AM:

Mama’s voice came from the dining room.

“Somebody come help me!”

I ran towards the voice and nearly tripped over her. She was on the floor with her head pointing north – her walker was cattywampus, on the floor, heading east, a dining room chair was turned over, pointing west.

Once we determined that she was fine, I had two questions: how’d she do it, and why’d she do it??

Marguerite’s Moonshine



The Marguerite Chronicles, circa 1990:

Mama checked into a sleep diagnostic center for an overnight test. They hooked her up and left the room. She needed to get up, but no matter what she did, nobody answered her call bell.

“I knew they were watching me through a camera,” she said, “but I couldn’t get anybody’s attention. So, finally, I just pulled the covers back, turned over, and I MOONED ‘EM.”

Bet they never forgot those cheeks!




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A loud, high-pitched, prolongued screech, amplified by the baby monitor next to my bed, propelled me straight up, wide awake and into heart palpitations.

If you’ve ever had chickens, you know that sound. Roosters aren’t born knowing how to crow, and when they start practicing, it sounds plumb awful – other-worldly – nothing else anywhere sounds like that.

I ran back toward Mom’s bedroom, wondering if I’d find a stray rooster in full-out attack mode, or some kind of crazed intruder, but the crazed intruder thought didn’t kick in until I’d passed by all the kitchen knives.. Unarmed, I walked into the room.

Nobody. Nothing. Nada. Zilch – except for Mama, who’d pulled the covers up over her head and was still breathing, no blood anywhere, sleeping peacefully after whatever crazy dream made her screech like an adolescent rooster.

It was a good 2 hours before I could get back to sleep. And that, my friends, is why I fell so easily into rainy-afternoon-nap mode. Wonder what tonight holds?

The Indian Village


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Today, on my dad’s 93rd birthday — our 9th without him — Mama is having one of those deer-in-the-headlights episodes, during which she talks nonstop, to or about people who aren’t there. And she tells us about the Choctaw women she sees walking from the Indian village down in Neshoba County, where the casinos are now. She talks about this every single time she goes into one of these episodes, which usually last about 24 hours and are followed by a couple of days of deep sleep.

“Looky there — there is a young man I used to see every year down in the Indian village.”

And I wonder. What will you and I talk about when we are 96?

Talking to the Indians Again


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Aunt Polly tells me that on Saturdays, the beautiful Choctaw women with long, shiny black hair would walk to town to shop and socialize. Dressed in long, beaded dresses, they’d stand on the shady side of the the courthouse square to watch the comings and goings.

So those are the people Mama is talking to today. And while ago, she asked,

“Did the Indians build this house?”

And I answered, “No, it was built by the contractor that left the kids in the attic.”


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3:00 AM. George elbowed me awake to say, “Your mother’s in OUR bathroom flipping the lights on and off.”

Yep. She was. She had to walk past her bathroom into our room to get there, and she’s never done that before. I guided her back to bed, but she was in the throes of a full-blown Looney Toons episode, talking nonstop and intermittently making sense, and if her brain thought it, she said it.

Up again at 6, talking to the Choctaws. At 8, she snuck downstairs, this woman who hasn’t taken her own pills for 5 years, and bragged to our houseguest that she had taken her morning medicine.

Only it was her nighttime medicine.

Which meant she was going to be groggy on top on wacko. And then, Sister Margie calls from the beach condo to say there’s standing water on the floor of a bedroom and the sheetrock is wet, and I started calling Benchmark mulltiple times to get somebody over there…and then we were due at UHaul to pick up a truck for getting some furniture from my brother-in-law in Fredericksburg and there is not one spare inch in this house for another stick of furniture even if it is a zillion-dollar fine reproduction mega-desk, and I had to talk Mama down the stairs and out to the car one leg at a time because her brain was on the night shift.

There was nothing to do but strap her in a seat belt, pick up some grandsons and haul ’em all up I-95. And now we have a UHaul truck out front and no place to put the stuff that’s in it even though we do have a double garage and an 8-stall barn, and nobody to help unload it even if we did have room, and our front yard already looks like West Virginia but it has been too hot this summer for me to clean out the garage. So it’s not just Mama who’s Looney Toons.

The apple didn’t fall far, and it whacked me on the head on the way down.