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19 days: We shall never forget

December 8, 2014

Please excuse a short momentary break from all things Christmas.

Two things hold constantly true for me. I am always a keeper of stories, especially those passed down by family members. I am also a burden bearer. My heart hurts when others hurt, even historical hurts. It isn’t exactly rare when those two constants collide, but when they do, I hold what unfolds tenderly and dearly in my spirit. Such was the case when I had a phone call with my Mama the other day.

I call my ninety-year-old grandmother fairly often because I know someday I won’t have that opportunity, and I do not wish to miss any chances to savor time with her, even if she lives twelve hundred miles away. Over the years, we have talked about everything under the sun. Most stories in her collection, I have heard more than once before. This held true until that phone conversation when she told a story I had NEVER heard before.

She commented about seeing her namesake on the annual family calendar I give as a gift for grandparents and great-grandparents. She reminded me that the little Cloie had an upcoming birthday. Teasingly, I said my family had another birthday, our dog’s, to celebrate first. Her retort was, “Well, how could I forget it? You put it on the calendar!”

The mood shifted a bit when I said it was always easy to remember our Huckleberry’s birthday because it coincided with the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The moment those last two words left my mouth, the old memories came spilling out. It was as precious a moment to me as it reconnected me with my Mama’s family.

She said everyone should remember that date and hold it sacred. She remembered the day as if it were yesterday. In east central Alabama, the Cunningham’s (my Mama’s birth family) were getting ready for church. In a sharecropping family with twelve children, that was no small feat. The radio was playing gospel music in the background before the normal programming was abruptly interrupted. The choked up announcer relayed the information as best he knew it at that time.

The United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii had been attacked by Japanese forces. The toll in terms of lives taken and property destroyed was indescribable, but the vulnerability felt for the first time by entire generations of Americans was even greater. Just the retelling of the story, one that had a significant impact on her life, left my Mama choked up.

“It was the first time I had ever seen my Daddy cry.”

As soon as he heard the newscaster’s words, he sat down at the kitchen table and wept. Mama Cloie described it as sobbed. There they stood as young children and teens, surrounding their loving Daddy, not fully understanding what they were witnessing. He had lived through the Great War, World War I, something his generation never wanted to relive. As the patriarch of his family, he knew, without a shadow of a doubt he knew, what would happen to his young sons and his brothers-in-law as America regrouped and dealt with one of her darkest hours.

His knowledge of past hurts proved to be prophetic, my great uncle Preacher (his nickname) and my great-great uncles Arly and Hef were all sent away to fight for America on foreign soil. Their lives changed forever.

Tonight as we drove by a city building on our way to a banquet, we saw the flag being flown at half-staff. I wanted to call my Mama and tell her, “We remember. But more importantly, we shall never forget.”

Photo found on

Photo found on

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