War, Motherhood, & A Little Cheesecake
Did you ever wonder what it would be like to work with your mother and learn about her life and in doing so discover a completely different person? My mother, Mollie Weinstein Schaffer, passed away on April 8, 2012. She lived a remarkable life, and I am happy that we worked for two years on a book chronicling her life from 1943 to 1945 when she was a WAC (Women’s Army Corps) stationed in Europe. Seeing the smile on my mother’s face when she held her book, Mollie’s War, in her hand was priceless. Peppered throughout her letters was the fact that she wanted to write a book … and it happened — only 65 years later!
Once my mother married and had a family, the idea of a book about her war experiences was forgotten. Between raising three children with my dad and working full time, she never had time. However, in October 2007, my mother received a letter from the daughter of Mary Grace Loddo Kirby, her last surviving WAC buddy, telling her that Mary had passed away. This event gave me the impetus to undertake this project while my mother was still alive. I knew I was on borrowed time; after all my mother was 91 years old. My job contract ended in December 2007, so I had the time.
Timing is everything in life.
Teaming up with my mother on this project was a strange experience. It is impossible to know what your parents were like before they married and became your parents, but using my mother’s actual letters and photos felt like being transported by a time machine to another era. Reading my mother’s words and seeing pictures of her as a carefree young woman who made decisions for herself and traveled the world during this most treacherous time made me realize what a full life she had before becoming a wife and mother.
We began the serious work of writing in January 2008. My mother had written to her sister frequently during WWII, and her sister saved the correspondence. We have over 350 letters as well as photos. Fortunately, my mother had written names, date, and location on the back of each.
The project meant reading and transcribing every letter. It became a family affair as my husband, sister, daughter, and son all helped. By the end, we had over 1,000 typed pages. When my mother and I read over the letters together, she often provided additional commentary and details. Sometimes she had lots of information to add, and sometimes she did not. And sometimes it would take her off on a tangent, and she would talk about her friends during the war or of being afraid when the bombs would drop in London. My mother told a story about getting separated from her WAC buddies on the streets of London and finding overnight accommodations at the Salvation Army. She was very frightened that night.
We spent several days a week discussing her war stories. My mother was so excited that we were actually working on the book; she had always wanted people to know about the role that women played in the military during WWII. Using the actual words from my mother’s letters makes Mollie’s War a first-person account of one woman’s World War II experience.
In April 2009, McFarland Publishers offered my mother and me a contract. As we worked with the editor, my mother was very insistent about which photos to include, especially the picture of her in her swimsuit in Butte Rouge (near Versailles). This added a little cheesecake to the story!
It is so important that we talk to our parents while they can still share information from their youth. I bet most of us would be amazed at the lives they have lived. It is hard to imagine that many years ago this quiet unassuming Jewish grandmother had the courage to leave the comforts of her home in Detroit to fight a war in a foreign land.