The Two Thousand Yard Stare

Mom was standing by the backdoor looking out over the patio and the yard. Her back was to me, but I could see the look on her face plain as day. It was just something I could feel in the air. And I know it well because I had inherited that look form her myself. It was a two thousand yard stare.

In 1944 artist Tom Lea was working for Life magazine as a war correspondent. One of his most famous portraits came out after his experience with the Peleliu campaign in the Pacific Theater. This battle seemed to have a dramatic impact on Lea as his style was significantly different afterwards. No doubt because of what he saw during the fierce fighting, hand to hand, cave by cave, to vanquish an enemy battling to the death.

2000YardStare

The image is a combat hardened Marine whose appearance belies his young age. With eyes staring, wide open, you can tell he is in another place in his mind. Bill Mauldin, a war correspondent who showed America the war through the eyes of his famous “dogfaces” Willie and Joe, put it like this: “Look at an infantryman’s eyes and you can tell how much war he has seen.”

Mom isn’t a combat hardened Marine, but it was the same look. She was staring out that door, deep in thought. This was the house that was, until recently, her home. It had been her home for thirty-eight years. Now it was for sale, and she had moved to a much smaller place. An apartment in a retirement community.

I’m not sure what she was seeing out that door. Can only guess. The vegetable and flower garden she tended for many years. The apple orchard, now almost vanished as the trees aged and succumbed to rot and the burden of snowfall and high winds. My sister’s wedding reception was in that backyard with its tent and horse carriage and festivity. Grandchildren played there. Workers, including her husband and sons, renovating various parts of the house. Many memories.

Lost in time and place. She was reminiscing. And with a sudden turn, her eyes once again filled with impishness, she walked back into the kitchen and was ready to face her new world. To make new memories. To build a life in her new home.

Sometimes we need to go to our own places. Physically or mentally. And there regroup, rejuvenate, and prepare for the next step in our journey. That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com

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