Letters to a Lost Soldier: Maternal grandparents caregive family when dad is MIA

Dear Daddy,

I wrote you again in December, 1944. We’re lucky that Mimi and Bepa are with us in Chicago while you are Missing in Action, because Mommy is busy practicing typing to get a job. Bepa goes to the Chicago Stock Exchange to watch his money and pay the bills and Mimi takes me shopping with her. We stand in long lines to buy rationed foods. She has to prepare meals without butter, sugar and some cuts of meat. I love her kasha but don’t like the beet borscht.
Everyone thinks Mimi is my mother because she is so young and beautiful for a grandmother. She uses her blue eyes to get attention wherever we shop. The butcher smiles at her, she is happy to get what he saves for us and gives him a big smile in return.
Mimi took me downtown on the streetcar to see the movie, “Since You Went Away,” about a family like ours with a father in the military who is also Missing in Action. It was very sad and I cried, especially at the very happy ending when he is safe and returns home.
When I asked Mimi how to pray for your safe return since we don’t go to church, she told me about her childhood in a small town outside of Kiev, when a traveling rabbi stayed in her home to teach cheder for her two older brothers, Charlie and Joe. Girls were not permitted to study with the boys, but her father had already taught Mimi to read and write in Yiddish and Russian and persuaded the rabbi to include her. She learned to read and write in Hebrew and to pray as a woman. When I do my homework at the dining room table, she is writing teeny, tiny Hebrew letters on air mail stationery to relatives who cannot read English, which she learned when she came to America.
Mimi told me how she escaped from Russia after her father died from slipping on the highly polished floor in his dry goods store and breaking his leg. It did not heal. On his deathbed he instructed Mimi’s mother Yetta to sell everything and go to America. He told her how to contact relatives in Philadelphia and pay the border guards so they could make their getaway and leave Russia. Mimi said the guards shot their rifles in the air and she, her two brothers and mother ran through the fields holding hands and praying they would survive the excitement and arrive safely at their destination.
I told Mimi that my teachers said to pray for the end of the war and my father’s return. I watched people in the movies press their hands together and lower their heads, but when I tried it nothing happened. “Maxine, you can pray in your bed, in the closet, at your desk in a chair, standing, walking, running, lying down. God is everywhere. Just thank God for all the good in your life that makes you grateful, then ask God to bring your father and the other soldiers home. Keep asking. Don’t give up.” I wish that Mimi could live with us forever, but she and Bepa plan on return to Los Angeles as soon as the war is over and submarines are no longer sighted off the California coast.
I never met your parents who died before I was born, Daddy, but Uncles Eddie and Lester take me with their families to the cemetery on the week-ends when it isn’t too cold outside to visit the graves of our Chicago ancestors. Your brothers stop by often to share food and shoe leather ration stamps with us. They check up to see if we are getting enough to eat and have shoes for our growing feet. I will tell you all about the nice times I have with my uncles when I either write again or see you in person. I am praying that you are warm and well and unharmed and wish you were here.