Sunday. Evening. Da Nang. Drizzle.
On June 6, 1942, barely half a year after the Japanese Air Force left Pearl Harbor in a hellish inferno, my father was drafted into the U.S. Army with serial number 13073307 stamped on his shiny Dog Tag.
After a few months of boot camp in Baltimore, Maryland, the 21-year-old Private Ernest Raboff was shipped to Europe. For the rest of World War II, my father was a war reporter for “Stars and Stripes,” the U.S. Armed Forces’ daily newspaper.
On August 24, several weeks after D-Day, Paris was liberated from the German occupation. Among the 800,000 American, British, and Canadian soldiers, not to forget the French resistance “Free French 2nd Armored Division,” was also a skinny journalist from Philadelphia, Private Ernest Raboff.
My father stayed in Europe after the end of the war, and in the spring of 1946, he sat with some friends in the bar at Café de Flore in Paris. On a barstool a little further away sat a couple of young Swedish women who had recently arrived in town.
Just like many other Swedes after the war, the girls had traveled from Sweden to Paris to be inspired by the various creative expressions of French culture. Perhaps they were also looking to meet a handsome partner in uniform.
Before the evening was over at Café de Flore, one of the girls and my father had taken a liking to each other, and eventually, they became a couple.
After some time in Paris, the newly engaged traveled to the Swedish capital and lived there for a few years. In Stockholm, my father wrote a lot of poetry, perhaps to process all that he had seen and experienced during the war. In 1950, N.O. Mauritzons published his poetry collection, “The Bridge Across Turbulent Times.”
A few days ago, I received an unusual email from an American woman. In the email, I learned that she was in the process of going through her deceased brother’s estate in the house where he had lived in New Hampshire.
Among her brother’s belongings was a collection of books from the time when their mother, Countess Nahida de Comminges (1864-1960), had lived in an apartment just a few blocks from Café de Flore in Paris.
Among all the books was the poetry collection, “The Bridge Across Turbulent Times.” The book was dedicated to the Countess and signed by my father.
The Countess’s granddaughter, the woman who contacted me the other day, and who is also named Nahida, wondered if I wanted her to send my father’s book to me.
Why am I mentioning all this?
Well, because this story nicely highlights why I am so obsessed with making books. A book is a bit like a message in a bottle. Suddenly, it appears on some unknown beach, discovered by some unknown person.
Right now, I am working on a book about what it’s like to turn 60. Yes, about everything that entails both emotionally and physically. It’s as difficult as it gets but no less exciting to sort thoughts and structure them in essay form.
Just the thought that this new book (or any of the others) will continue to live on long after my time on this planet is kinda cool.
Think about it; someone in the future might contact Elle’s children or grandchildren and wonder if they are possibly related to the author of a book they found in a creaky drawer, on a dusty bookshelf, or in a moving box that was never unpacked. That thought warms the soul.
It also makes me want to continue making more books!