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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Who Remembers What Gold Star Mothers Are?

A Star for Mrs. BlakeA Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once, when I was about seven or eight years old, so it had to be 1949-1950, while walking on a Sunday afternoon with my Dad around our Chelsea New York neighborhood, I remember noticing a rectangular flag-like banner with a gold star hanging in the window of one of those below sidewalk apartment windows. It was like nothing I'd seen before against the pane between it and the lace curtains behind it. I asked my father what it was and he said a Gold Star Mother lived there. Naturally, I asked what a GOLD STAR mother was and how she was different from other mothers. He said she was a lady who'd lost her son in the war. I don't remember the rest of our conversation nor do I remember whether there was any more to our conversation. I'm not even sure I ever thought about it again through the years but A Star for Mrs. Blake, a Good Reads giveaway made me think of it once more.

April Smith has brought five, no actually, six of the Gold Star mothers to life for us to get to know and, in the process introduce us to a short-lived government program in which Gold Star mothers, women who have lost a son or sons in the First World War, are provided an opportunity to visit the graves of those who did not come home, those buried in those French fields of uniformly placed white marble markers. White marble markers still made in the marble sheds of Vermont, my home State, and used world wide in US Military Cemeteries.

It is during the Depression and Hoover is in the White House. Each of these women want to go to see where their young sons were buried over 20 years ago. They are for the most part middle class women who are leaving responsibilities and family behind to say a final good-bye to men they'd thought to see again but who were wrenched suddenly and unexpectedly from their lives. How an Irish immigrant Catholic who lost two sons and has a crippled young son and large family in Boston, a Russian immigrant Jew whose husband has taken her, a woman who loved art and music to a potato cooperative in the wilds of Maine and who forbade her to go, a wife of a famous architect who has been committed over and over into an insane asylum, a wealthy widow of the heir to a railroad building family, and the main character, a Maine widow from Deer Isle who now takes care of the daughters of her deceased sister interact, bicker, commiserate and form deep bonds is the focus of the story. The sixth woman is a black lady who makes a brief but indelible appearance in the story. The Quandry produced by her appearance highlights the attitudes and behavior of the military to those young men, who also gave their lives for democracy.

Playing an important role in the telling--the US Army--represented by the no nonsense General overseeing the program and the young inexperienced Army brat graduate of West Point, Thomas Hammond, who is devoted to the Corps and to the five women placed in his care. Thomas herds them from New York to Paris to Verdun and the small village in which their boys are buried. He is assisted by Lily, the Army nurse who is actually under contract to the Army.

And lastly, there is a disfigured survivor ex-pat newspaper man who plays a crucial role in the story of the program and in the life of Cora, the Deer Isle lady, in particular.

All in all, an enlightening story about a moment in American history at the end of the war to end all wars and which began 100 years ago. How sad that there are still Gold Star mothers being made every day and that they have been ever since this program was conceived and since discontinued. Where would these mothers need to go to see their son's and daughter's final resting places now?

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  1. I enjoyed this review. I'd also enjoy seeing my novel reviewed by you, KT you do such a nice job.
    On Sunday 7 Dec. I'm a guest blogger at Mary Gramlich's blog: http://marygramlich.blogspot.com/ check it out.
    Also please stop by my blog and say hi.
    Mike Draper

    1. Terrific interview. Did you ever teach? I'm retired from 30 yrs of teaching secondary school science, primarily biology and anatomy and physiology

  2. Hi Katherine:
    Just found your site on Goodreads and asked to 'friend' each other.
    I enjoy the Goodreads site. Would you add my book "Three Strikes and You're dead" to your Goodreads reading list?

    1. Will do--sent you an email from Citygal to day