maternal memories

Regular readers may recall that nursemyra was adopted as a baby and therefore has had two mothers. My now deceased New Zealand mother was raised on a farm and left her one roomed schoolhouse at the age of 14. Before she met and married my Irish father she worked as a seamstress making uniforms for soldiers fighting in WW2. She and the other girls used to write notes for the boys who would wear them, fold them over with a big red lipsticked kiss and tuck them into the breast pocket

I always liked it when she told me that story, it seemed a romantic gesture for a decidedly pragmatic woman. Tonight when I was looking for something to write about I found this site about US Army uniforms that made me think of her…

“The Army wanted the coat of its service uniform to fit easily over the chest and shoulders, and to conform to the figure at the waist. However, as swing dancing swept the Nation, the wear and tear on snug uniforms became apparent. The soldiers ripped their uniform jackets so often in jitterbugging that it became a major repair expense. Many claimed that the US Army developed an entire new uniform style in the late 1930s to accommodate swing dancing.

The new service uniform coat was approved on November 26, 1939. The back of the coat was redesigned to include 2 side pleats that extended from the shoulder seam to the waist. These pleat openings (also known as side-shoulder vents) gave the extra roominess needed to swing.

The image above is of American actor Dane Clarke and socialite Mrs. Ellis Cox. Dane was wealthy enough that his uniform was purchased privately,  including his mohair necktie. He graduated from Cornell as a lawyer, then earned a living as a boxer, construction worker and model before turning to acting.

My father was also a construction worker and amateur boxer in Ireland before emigrating to New Zealand and joining the Air Force. He kept his uniform after the war ended, it used to hang at the back of the closet. His medals lay in an old cigar box and his kit bag found a home in the same cupboard that housed the meat grinder and a disused pair of bellows.

One day when I was about 12, I borrowed my mother’s lipstick and drew a red mouth over my own, kissed and folded a piece of paper, then tucked it into the pocket of that uniform. Until tonight I hadn’t thought about that day in years. My father developed Alzheimer’s and passed away a long time ago. My mother packed up the house and moved into a nursing home where she never bothered with lipstick again.

Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 8:33 am  Comments (48)  
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48 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I always take my coat off before dancing. silly me.

    • I don’t. Then my dance sweat shows more.

      Touching post M.

  2. It is strange how our memory banks are activated by a sight, smell and thoughts. Things we have not thought about in many years suddenly pop into our heads. Nice post Nursie.

  3. Memories are, in the end, all we have. These memories sound like good ones. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks Gryphon, Bearman, Joe and Archie

  4. Life can be so hard it certainly needs the sweetness of love tucked in a pocket. And that swing photo makes me want to dance with a pretty girl in a skirt to the Artie Shaw band on Catalina Island. Is that too much to ask?

    Beck Entyme

    • I love that photo – too gorgeous isn’t it?

  5. I spent six years in the U.S. Coast Guard on a search and rescue team. I can attest that it’s true: girls love a man in uniform.

    • Have you got an old photo you can post on your blog?

  6. So I guess we’re both half Irish….HA!

    That boxer/model combo had to be a tough one. What did he say? “Please, just not the face!”

    • Well I’d like to claim the Irish blood but these are my adoptive parents. My birth mother tells me there is Irish in the family though

      • You bet there’s Irish in our family!! Your grandfather’s side came from Mullingar County, West Meath and Scariff, County Clare. Your great grandfather was an Irish policeman! Love from your birth mother.

      • thanks mummy xx

  7. When I was in the military, they wouldn’t let us wear our uniforms out into town without permission. Which was fine with me. They were not only uncomfortable, but you could really rip them up in a thrash pit, and then you’d have to pay to have them repaired.

    • What’s a thrash pit?

  8. Aw NurseMyra, that was really sweet.

  9. That’s a lovely story Nursey – you have my permission to send as many lipstick covered notes as you like ……

  10. so very sweet. xxx

  11. Now, is this a true story since nursemyra is not really a nurse?? I will be forever in a state of confusion when reading this blog. 😉

    • This is a true story about my adoptive parents. They both had Alzheimer’s when they died, Dad’s mother had it too. Mum cared for Dad at home for many years, he was quite childlike and used to refer to her as his grandmother most of the time. He was always trying to catch a bus back to Galway (from New Zealand). I still cry for him whenever I hear Danny Boy.

      • Oh my goodness…my Dad’s name was Dan as well and whenever we hear that song it yanks at my heartstrings!

      • My Dad’s name wasn’t Danny, the song affects me because he used to sing me to sleep with either that or Galway Bay. My brother is a semi professional singer/guitarist and he sang Danny Boy at the funeral.

  12. this was a nice post NM. i’m delighted you revealed a little bit of yourself for those of us who are curious about you. thank you. oh and that was a sweet gesture with the lipstick from your mother and from yourself. i liked this post a lot.

    • It’s a side of my mother I never really knew. She was a very stern and stoic woman though mellowed a lot as she grew older. It was a shame she had to leave school so early, they could only afford to send the boys away to further their education.

  13. They don’t that for soldiers anymore, putting the kissed notes in the uniforms. Now we can just send them porn in their care packages but that doesn’t seem as whimsical.

  14. Lovely post Dear NM … our memories of what our parents told us and our interpretations as children are so important to form who we are now .. our understanding of stuff and compassion as grown ups

    as an aside my Aunt worked in a factory making bullets etc in WW2 and they would tuck notes in the boxes of bullets for the troops abroad

  15. Lovely post – does that mean you’re a Kiwi?

    • Yes, though I left there as soon as I finished high school. I’m an Aussie citizen now.

  16. This is one of my favorite posts since I have been visiting you, NM. Very sweet and touching. I’m glad I haven’t had anything similar to go through to what my grandparents did, but at the same time I wonder how much richer my life might have been if I had to give some things up for a greater need or to help strangers more often.

  17. I agree with Nicole. A very lovely post, Nursemyra. Well done.

    • I agree Donald it’s so much more impressive than the other Myra. The Celt might have been hard on your posts but tough love is often the best.

      • Both sides of you are impressive, NM. Fascinating, even.

        And I really do love this post.

        Thanks for sharing.

      • I think all sides are equally impressive.

  18. I loved this, thank you.

    My Ma (85 this year!) has a memory as sharp as a pin, and will recall tales from any year, about anybody she knew! She too worked in the ‘Clothing Factory’ and told us many times as kids of her time making overcoats for the soldiers in WW2.

    I have been on the bus to Galway many times, as will my daughter in the autumn, as she hopes to attend university there.

    I am not allowed to play Danny Boy when I am drunk!

    :¬) xxx

    • Hey mapstew, welcome to the gimcrack. Any friend of Jimmy’s …..

  19. Could they swing? I like to swing dance.

    This was a very cool story by the way.

  20. lovely post! i was/am a “daddy’s girl”….your lipstick note gesture was perfect.

  21. Lovely post, Nurse Myra. I can just see you popping that kiss into your dad’s pocket.

  22. i was enjoying the story until the last paragraph… then enjoyed it more, but with a tear in my eye.

  23. Dearest Nursie, what would we do without you?

    • Play three handed mah jongg?


  24. Absolutely loved this post. My fave for sure. Such a good memory of the lipstick. And who knew about the uniforms and swing?

  25. Thank yo for sharing these wonderful stories from your youth nurse. I always love reading personal stories about the bloggers I typically visit. I wonder if your dad ever found that that note with your lips on it.

  26. Lovely, poignant post … funnily enough, given it’s (dubious) reputation as an Irish anthem, Danny Boy was written by an Englishman … and another Pommie wrote the tune to the Star Spangled Banner which had been a well known drinking song in local pubs. Whoever wrote the music to God Save The Queen gets the prize for the dreariest dirge ever. I wasn’t referring to the Pistol’s version 😉

  27. I truly enjoyed this post. Sometimes you just have to let people in a bit, and I feel privileged to get to know you a little better.

  28. One of your best posts NM. Written in a wistful moment perhaps ?

    I hope your thoughts about NZ are not all melancholy. My parents and I came here in the 50’s from the UK with a boatload of emigrants, and as a very young boy on the boat I was befriended by a group of teenage Irish girls. A very happy time.

    • No not all the memories are melancholy. Summer holidays in Wanaka were fun

  29. Loved this post, NM

    Thanks for sharing !!!

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