My Mother's Lover
January 10, 2014 12:32 PM   Subscribe

What we knew of Angus was this: Angus—the only name we had for him—was a flight surgeon our mother had fallen in love with during World War II, planned to marry after the war, but lost when the Japanese shot him down over the Pacific. Once, long ago, she had mentioned to me that he was part of the reason she decided to be a doctor. That was all we knew. She had confided those things in the 1970s, in the years just after she and my father divorced. I can remember sitting in a big easy chair my dad had left behind in her bedroom, listening to her reminisce about Angus as she sat with her knitting. I remember being embarrassed, and not terribly interested. I was interested now. Even 30 years before, her affair with Angus had been three decades old. Now, 60 years after he had fallen into the sea, she wanted to follow him.

This story is from The Atavist, and will only be available for a month.
posted by the man of twists and turns (18 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

This was great, thank you for posting it.
posted by PussKillian at 1:10 PM on January 10

This was the most human thing I've read in a long time. Sad and lovely. And, dare I say it, well presented. Bravo!
posted by dirtdirt at 1:18 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

I can't imagine loving someone that much and that makes me sad.
posted by agatha_magatha at 1:20 PM on January 10

Loved this story. So much evocative detail.
posted by SLPatterson at 1:23 PM on January 10

Wow, what an amazing story.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:27 PM on January 10

The photo album is a beautiful, fitting ending. Wonderful.
posted by maryr at 1:38 PM on January 10

He took many shots of long, photogenic B-29’s with hyperfeminized mascots painted near the cockpit: Long Distance, a lounging, gowned brunette talking on a telephone; Heavenly Body, a bikini blonde astride a 500-pound bomb; Battlin Betty III, a Grable likeness curled atop a crescent moon. On the back of a two-by-two-inch print of a B-29, Patches
All 498th BG planes.
B-29 serial 42-24544 "Long Distance" (T-square 49) of the 875th Bomb Sq, 498th BG survived the war with 60 combat missions, including being rammed by a Ki-61 over Tokyo.
B-29 serial 42-24624 "Patches" (T-square 44) of the 875th Bomb Sq, 498th BG survived the war with 48 combat missions.
B-29 serial 44-69772 "Battlin' Betty III" (T- 41) survived the war.
B-29 serial 42-63510 "Heavenly Body" (T38), written off April 1, 1945 after an attack on the Nakajima aircraft plant in Tokyo.

Also, B-17 Jukebox 21.
posted by zamboni at 1:38 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

I have to echo dirtdirt -- this is such a human story, and all the more so in contrast with the mythologies we have about the era it took place in. I was riveted and moved.
posted by thesmallmachine at 1:38 PM on January 10

At the end, where he sums up all the wrong combinations that the people ended up in, is both funny and sad. Very human, and very rich.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:16 PM on January 10

Wow. Can't say much more. Just wow.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:34 PM on January 10

A fine (and profoundly moving) piece of writing. In light of the whole story, the photograph of them with the puppies was especially moving. They are in the middle of a kind of fantasy that is about to disintegrate around them. Love and hope, man, the most powerful things.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:09 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Really interesting. Times of war must create loads of personal narratives like this. I'm touched by how the children of the disparate combinations relate together.

Also, even without war, I bet that lots of people carry pasts a bit like this, with unexpressed unresolved longings and missed opportunities, rejection, etc.. Birth control, delayed marriage, and de-stigmatising divorce have a lot to be said for most of us getting through those years without the fallout of previous generations.
posted by C.A.S. at 4:49 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


There's added poignancy in the thought that, even if these people had paired up in the ways they had wanted to, they would probably not have enjoyed it. Angus in particular -- although he was a fine serviceman -- does not sound like he was much of a husband. He would probably have made Evelyn unhappy. Don, too, probably did not really want to marry Nell; else why wouldn't he have done it before she died?

What shapes we make of ourselves and each other.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:02 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]

Also, even without war, I bet that lots of people carry pasts a bit like this, with unexpressed unresolved longings and missed opportunities, rejection, etc.. Birth control, delayed marriage, and de-stigmatising divorce have a lot to be said for most of us getting through those years without the fallout of previous generations.

Oh, I dunno, I know several couples that are in similar situations still and I'm only in my 30s. One I can't recall that they've ever been happy but they own a house together and live in a very expensive area so they'd face a substantial stepdown in quality of life if they parted...and honestly, I think they both feel owning a house is more happiness-inducing than a relationship could ever be. So they have a quasi-open relationship and are basically just roommates because divorce would be a financial hassle. I bet things like that are more common than you'd think. I'm best of friends with one of them and it took a LOT of booze for me to find that out.

It's really, really hard to get out of that pattern, especially if you're not exactly unhappy but maybe not totally fulfilled. Like your spouse isn't a drunk wife beater or something and if every day is maybe a 7 or 8 out of 10 with a few ups and downs everyone has, why roll the dice, you know?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:40 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]

My father was in the Air Force and then in the Army Air Force in WWII and Korea and my mother worked at an airbase in Miami as a soda jerk, a Jeep driver in Transportation, and a piano player/singer in the Officer's Club, I think, at night. Both parents are gone now and we didn't get along anyway, but this post makes me realize how complex and deep the memories from that time reached into their souls.

Interestingly, when my mother was very old she was taken to the hospital in Arizona and, on the way, asked me to call her "friend" in Iowa, a man she had known in WWII, whose name was Dale. She and Dale talked on the phone nearly every day - I knew nothing about it. When I called him, he told me he had been head over heels in love with my mother in the 40s, having fallen for her when they went to school together in Iowa. He was in the Air Force and came to Miami on R&R and was amazed to find my mother there. In his words, "we spent every single hour together during my 30 days in July of 1945 - every single moment" - and he went on to tell me he wanted her to marry him but she wouldn't and he didn't know why. I knew why - she didn't want to live the life of a farmer's wife - she wanted bright lights and a big city. That didn't happen, but there were at least 40 years before they reconnected, maybe more, and they were long-distance sweethearts of a sort in their 80s. The love in both their voices was very real even after all those years.

This story makes all that more real to me and I wish I'd been able to put together the pieces of my own mother's story - and my father's, also - before it was too late.

Thank you for a beautiful story.
posted by aryma at 8:29 PM on January 10 [10 favorites]

Fabulous story - so sad and so complicated. So very glad you posted it!
posted by leslies at 9:06 PM on January 10

zamboni: your last link was particularly interesting for seeing the author researching this story a decade ago. Obviously not a fast process…
posted by adamsc at 8:40 PM on January 11

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