Monday, May 25, 2015

When We Went to France, part 1

This is the family in 1995 at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery. It’s east of Paris. Google Maps says it’s in Seringes-et-Nesles, but I don’t remember that name.


We had rented a really lovely car and driven from wherever it was our plane had landed (anybody remember?) to Oise-Aisne. We couldn’t find a place to eat, so we bought some bread at the French equivalent of a truck stop. What we didn’t know was that it was raw dough to be cooked at home. Timmy ate quite a bit and then threw up. Yay for family stories, right?

We also couldn’t find a hotel the previous night, so we slept in the car in the cemetery parking lot. It was a comfortable car, but no car is comfortable for sleeping in. Rosie slept deeply but apparently had bad dreams. In the middle of the night, she cried out, “Mrs. White! Mrs. White! Wait for me!” (This was during the summer after Rosie had had Mrs. White as a teacher.) She woke me up, which was good, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to vouch for the veracity of this embarrassing story.

Of course, the real reason we were at the cemetery was to see Joyce Kilmer’s grave. He was Jonathan’s paternal grandfather. When the cemetery opened in the morning, we went over to the cemetery’s office to ask where his grave was. The American guy who was working there said he could look it up and what’s your grandfather’s name? We told him. He said, “Well, I can tell you that without looking it up. More people come here looking for his grave than for anybody else’s.” After taking us to the grave, he took several pictures of us, including the one you see here.

Joyce Kilmer (we always call him by his name rather than “Grandaddy,” what with none of his grandchildren having known him) had volunteered for the war practically as soon as the US got into it, even though he had small children at home. One of his children had just died and another was born several days after his departure. Jonathan’s daddy was the oldest. He was eight when his dad went to war and nine when he died.

My grandfather-in-law really threw himself into soldiering. He got himself transferred to military intelligence (hazardous duty) and was killed by a sniper during the Second Battle of the Marne. Earlier that day, he had been leading a party to find a German machine gun. He was 31.

Yes, I thank him for his service and for having made the ultimate sacrifice. But I cannot imagine how he could have left a pregnant wife and bereaved family, especially given that he didn’t have to go. I have complicated feelings about the military anyway, but that’s another story or nineteen. Another day, maybe.

Monday, May 18, 2015

That Hated Hyphen

“Oh, I never bother to remember the last names of my brothers’ girlfriends,” one of my future sisters-in-law airily informed me. “They just change them anyway.”

Well, I was darned if I was going to be the sixth Mrs. Kilmer. When relatives visited, it was already confusing enough directing incoming phone calls at the house—“Which Mr./Mrs. Kilmer do you want?” Often, the caller didn’t even realize that there were several of them. Besides, my brother’s wife and all my female friends who had gotten married had retained their maiden names; why shouldn’t I?

Jonathan had a different idea. He wanted us to have the same last name, just as his friend Jennifer Taylor-Ide and her husband did. In a huff, I asked him if he intended to change his name to a hyphenated name, too. “Of course,” he replied, looking at me as if I’d asked him if two plus two made four. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”

The Hunter-Kilmers before any of them changed their name
Even today, though, some people don’t understand that my last name is really, truly Hunter-Kilmer. Surely it’s Kilmer, right? I must not know my last name, I guess. Until Patrick was married, my stock answer was this: “No. It’s Hunter-Kilmer. It goes under the Hs. My husband’s last name is Hunter-Kilmer. The kids’ last name is Hunter-Kilmer. The dogs’ last name is Hunter-Kilmer.” That makes people laugh, and they put down my last name as I had originally told them.

Sometimes people want to know which was my maiden name. Just in case they are then going to assume that my last name is actually Kilmer, I tell them it doesn’t matter. I’ve had this last name since 1979. “But which name is it, really?” “Oh, I wouldn’t want to confuse you. My last name is really Hunter-Kilmer.” I smile to take the edge off.

Other people want to know what our children would do when they got married. What if they married somebody with a hyphen and became something like Hunter-Kilmer-von Lawick-Goodall? Jonathan and I figured that that was their problem. We didn’t care if the name of Hunter-Kilmer survived into the next generation, anyway.

Of course, our children thought that hyphenation was a terrible idea, and they all had plans to change their last name. Patrick took Hopkins, his wife’s last name. Rosie took Hill, her husband’s last name—which was actually more rebellious than what Patrick did, given our family.

The two single children are apparently too lazy to change their last names as they said they would. Timmy intends to take his wife’s name when he marries. “But what if she wants your last name?” “She can’t have it!”

Fortunately, the dogs don’t mind. Maybe they’ll be the last Hunter-Kilmers.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Treasure These Days, My Dear

When our children were about 3, 5, 8, and 10, they all came down with stomach flu on a Thursday night.

Each time a child was sick, both Jonathan and I got up and stripped the child, washed the child, put the child in new pajamas, stripped the bed, put the dirty bedding in the laundry, put clean bedding on the bed, and put the child to bed again. Things would have been hectic but manageable had they all been sick at the same time, but they managed to stagger their unfortunate episodes so that one was sick at 11, one at midnight, one at 1 am, and one at 2 am. It was epic.

The next day, Friday, they all stayed home from school while their daddy took care of them. I never had enough sick leave or vacation, so I went to work, running on about two cylinders.

Saturday, of course, we were all home. The children were perfectly well by this point and were dashing around in all directions as usual. Jonathan and I still felt half-dead. But by golly, we managed to get all of us to Mass on Sunday.

The kids were about this age.
Mass was probably the usual attempt to manage our fidgety children. We generally sat in the front pew on the left so that they could see everything clearly and would become interested. This was not as efficacious as we had been told it would be.

After Mass, a blue-haired old lady who had been sitting behind us grabbed my arm. In the creakiest possible voice, she said, “Treasure these days, my dear. They are the best days of your life.”

I smiled politely and thanked her, but I wanted to say “SHOOT ME NOW.”


Now that my children are grown and my grandchildren are not usually around, I see what the old lady meant. Children are indeed precious. However, I hope I never forget what it was like to work full time and have four young children. The years are short, but the days are so long!