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My Mother’s Family Stories Shaped My Memorial Day

by | May 23, 2020

“Remember, when you see war in your own backyard, it may not change who you are; it does, however, change how you behave in the future.”

What we do as parents has far more impact on our children than we imagine. By sharing family stories, we build our family legacy, pass on decades of experience and wisdom, and help our children and grandchildren understand why we are the people we are. Without the knowledge of our history, our children may not realize the unique knowledge we can provide them.

While Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day to honor the soldiers who died during the American Civil War, by the 1900s it had become a day to celebrate all American soldiers who died while serving in the military. This Memorial Day, I wanted to share a family story to show how I learned to honor those who gave their last breath so that we can all enjoy life in America.

“STOP, Elenina, STOP!”

“What’s the matter, Mama? What did I do?”

“Just listen,” she said firmly. “Do you hear the sirens? Remember when you asked me the other day what Florence was like for me during the War? And, why do I love America so much when I am an Italian first?

“I told you it was too hard to talk about. The sounds of the sirens, a lot like those you just heard, were almost all I would hear for so long before the War was over, and Germany was defeated. When the Americans came, it was the happiest day for all of us.” That was when she could hear the church bells again.

The War from a Citizen’s Perspective

My mother, Giovanna, was only 10 when she was escorted with her schoolmates to a rally in Florence, Italy, in May of 1938. Children and citizens of Florence were bused in, she later learned, to fill the seats in an auditorium where German Fuehrer Adolf Hitler and Dictator Benito Mussolini spoke to an inflated crowd of Italians, pledging their support for a war that was unfolding.

She had no way to know that the long-term impact of the sirens going off, warning of possible bombings and sending countless families to bomb shelters, would have a lifetime impact—emotionally, psychologically, and physically. Over the next five years the citizens of Florence would endure sometimes nightly runs to bomb shelters when the sirens sounded.

Public squares where Mama had run and played, beautiful churches with neat rows of pews, perfect for endless games of hide and seek, and museums of priceless artifacts where da Vinci’s work, from his models of flying machines to limbs from human bodies showcasing his style of autopsy, enriched her knowledge and education on a daily basis.

My mother never attended high school, but that was insignificant when she applied to college in the US. She passed her entrance exams and sailed through her classes. She said it was easy. She even mastered the use of a computer when they first came out. Her confidence as a student meant she, and my father, had very high expectations for their five children. Of course, they assured us we too could learn anything, if we wanted.

For my mother, the moment when the American soldiers and machines rolled through the city to firmly signal the end to the War that had torn her beautiful city apart was never forgotten. Having seen her enchanted home city threatened by the unfathomable horror of bombings that were impossible to justify changed her soul forever. She often said, “Remember, when you see war in your own backyard, it may not change who you are; it does, however, change how you behave in the future.”

Our Family Celebration

Memorial Day in our home was never an ordinary day. We always made time for celebrations and, most importantly, acknowledgements of those who lost their lives. It was a regular reminder that many who did not die in war were wounded as well.

My mother married my father when he was 19 and she was 18. He was a soldier in the American army, following in my grandfather’s steps.

They came back to the United States after WWII was over and settled in a small town in Texas because they wanted to be in a community that was VERY DIFFERENT from where either of them had come from.

While my mother’s citizen’s experience of war was different than that of the armed soldier, it had no less of a lifetime impact. We celebrated Memorial Day with gratitude and respect. 

Without this family story, Memorial Day would not hold the same meaning it does for me. What family stories do you have to share with your children this Memorial Day?

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Elane V. Scott

Elane is the co-founder of Raising Families. Her unique expertise in fields from marketing and media to community development and parent coaching is how she guides parents and grandparents to become more joyful and intentional family leaders. In her “free time” Elane enjoys reading metaphysical texts, talking to strangers on airplanes (pre-covid), and lovingly convincing her grandchildren they're meant for Olympic stardom. Read full bio >>