Why Studying the Past Helps Children, Teens View the Future

By Gail Kittleson

It goes without saying that war changes people. I would add that studying war can change a person, too. I’ve experienced this myself, and shudder to think of the real facts of our historical record being altered or whitewashed for students. How can they ever come to appreciate the common humanity we all share if they’re sheltered from the veracity of history, including the cruelty humankind afflicts on its own?

As an historical fiction author, I focus on the World War II era, where individuals learned about evil by surviving when that maliciousness was unleashed upon them. Those who lived to tell the story longed for justice and peace, and to put the hatred behind them.

One brief example of this transformation is memorialized not far from my Iowa home. Camp Algona, in a town by the same name, was built on farmland to house German troops captured in North Africa and Normandy. The citizens of Algona, as anti-Nazi as any other normal Americans of the time, had no choice but to accept the presence of the enemy in their area.

Thousands of German troops were processed at this main camp, and some were sent to smaller branch camps across the Midwest. But some of the most virulent devotees of Adolph Hitler, including officers from his North Afrika Korps, remained at Camp Algona for an extended time.

The army assigned a commander and guards from various parts of the United States, MPs and others who could not deploy for one reason or another. But a large share of the workers came from civilians, ordinary people from Algona and the surrounding area.

What transpired fascinates me—the prisoners worked in crews to help farmers plant and harvest, make hay and weed their fields. They saved Minnesota’s 1944 pea crop. Because Camp Algona treated the prisoners according to the Geneva Convention, many of them experienced deep gratitude—enough to fashion a three-quarters size nativity scene as a gift to the city of Algona before they were sent back to Europe.

In business interactions, friendships were formed. Some prisoners kept in touch with Iowans after they returned home. A few, facing utter devastation in Germany, worked hard to return to Iowa and start over.

This is just one side-story from a horribly cruel war. And here’s the irony—I grew up about an hour and a half from Algona. A couple of branch camps were about half an hour away from our family farm, but I never heard about the POW camps until the last decade. When I share about Camp Algona with book clubs, most people are not aware of this unique thread from the war here in Iowa.

As parents, we can help our youth learn from history and recognize themselves in stories like Camp Algona. Through research and proactive interaction with our school systems or home school organizations, we can help bring history alive to our children and teens—and bring home the thread of humanity that runs through us all. But one thing is sure, if we sweep the past under the rug, vital lessons about our common humanity will be lost.

About Gail Kittleson
When Gail’s not steeped in World War II research or drafting scenes, she does a limited amount of editing for other authors. She also facilitates writing workshops and classes, both in Iowa and Arizona, where winters find her enjoying the incredibly gorgeous Ponderosa forest under the Mogollon Rim. Favorites: Walking, reading, meeting new people, and hearing from readers who fall in love with her characters. Visit Gail at http://www.gailkittleson.com/ and www.facebook.com/GailKittlesonAut.

Our Inheritance: Puzzles

By Gail Kittleson

Every ounce of information we glean about our parents has the potential to change our perspective on our childhood years. One orphan quipped that “the joy of having been abandoned is having no known gene pool to blame for my foibles.” The key word here is known.

Of course, that pool exists, but the recipient of the genes remains ignorant of her ancestors. Those of us who know our parents find answers to many of our questions in our memories, in fading slideshows, family videos or photo albums. If we’re lucky, great aunts, uncles and cousins can still supply trivia capable of unlocking mysteries.

Recently, a friend’s cousin found an archived newspaper clipping from a family member’s rather long leave at his parents’ home in St. Louis. Right there in black and white rested the name of the Navy nurse who accompanied him—definitely not the woman he later married.

The family had been aware of his former girlfriend, but wow –those two must have been serious for her to cross the country together with him during that leave. Otherwise, wouldn’t she have visited her own family in Kentucky?

What happened to their relationship? The family has no clue, but this new tidbit opened another window to their uncle’s/father’s life. He later married a local girl, but did he also nurse a broken heart?

We can only imagine World War II’s effect on its participants, and on their baby boomer children. This family will probably never know what caused their family member’s rages, but there was something healing about this fresh peek into his past.

In 1597, Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” Amen to that, and in addition, we often discover knowledge to be curative. This principle proves true for Kate Isaacs, the heroine of With Each New Dawn, the second in my World War II women’s fiction series.

Kate’s sparse memories of her mother and her aunt’s nurturing gave her a solid foundation, but she possesses an enormous longing for insights about her deceased father. No wonder that receiving an unexpected glimpse of him in the midst of war-torn London alters her world. To learn of his clandestine activity as a spy in the Great War stuns Kate—and a puzzle piece falls in place in her quest to understand her own risk-taking nature.

This momentous discovery also propels her into further exploration. Especially if you met Kate as Addie’s best friend in In Times Like These, you’ll enjoy delving deeper into her story.

About Gail Kittleson
Gail writes from northern Iowa, where she and her husband enjoy gardening and grandchildren. Her memoir, Catching Up With Daylight, paved the way for fiction writing, and she’s hooked for life. With Each New Dawn releases February 24.

Stepping Back

By Gail Kittleson

Looking back over our parenting years, it’s easy to moan, “If only I’d known then what I know now.” But one strategy I later learned would have revolutionized my skills.

Unfortunately, 12-step concepts like stepping back entered my life too late. At least I can use them with our grandchildren!

I wish I’d known that….

  • Interfering with youth’s normal ups and downs blocks learning opportunities;
  • Each of us is responsible for ourselves. This gets complicated when our children are young, but it’s so true as they become adolescents.

The transition from fulltime caregiver/teacher/mentor to part-time, on-call adviser can be traumatic for parents as children. But maybe a word picture like this one would have helped me back then.

A baby bunny whose mama birthed him in our 18-inch high wheel rim eventually had to find his way down to earth. A little bruising ensued in the process, most likely, but carrying nine offspring over the side, one by one, proved too much for his mother.

At one point, she gave the sign and stood back. Sure enough, the little ones toppled over the edge, unscathed, and happed off to greater adventures.

A mama robin cannot take her fledglings’ first flights for them, but must step back to watch. And, unable to rescue her offspring if they fail, she must sometimes accept suffering.

Our children need to learn by doing, by experimentation. It’s scary for us, and not all experiments succeed. But James Joyce wrote, “Mistakes are the portals to discovery.” And consider this quote from George Bernard Shaw: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”

If we hinder our children from the learning potential of mistakes, we do them an injustice. Every time they fall down, they glean the know-how to get up again. In order for our beloved namesakes to become realistic, responsible adults, we must let go as we step back and cheer them on. The sooner parents learn this lesson, the better for both parties.

9-15-15 authorAbout Gail Kittleson
Gail writes from northern Iowa, where she and her husband enjoy gardening and grandchildren. Her memoir, Catching Up With Daylight, paved the way for fiction writing, and she’s hooked for life.

Her debut novel, In This Together, released late last year. After World War II steals her only son and sickness takes her husband, Dottie Kyle beg9-15-15ins cooking and cleaning at the local boarding house. The job and small town life allow her to slip into a predictable routine, but her daughters and grandchildren live far away, and loneliness is Dottie’s constant companion when she’s not working. Al Jensen, Dottie’s long-time neighbor, has merely existed since his wife died. Al passes his time working for his son at the town’s hardware store. However, he still copes with tragic memories of serving in WWI. Being with Dottie makes him happy, and their friendship grows until, for him, love has replaced friendship. When Dottie’s daughter has health issues, will Al’s strength and servant’s heart be enough to win Dottie’s love and affection? Can Dottie’s love for her family enable her to face her fear of crowds an d enclosed spaces and travel halfway across the country to help the daughter who so desperately needs her?

A Sibling Saga

By Gail Kittleson

I suppose if you knew me, you’d wonder why I’d volunteer to write about tender brother and sister moments with my five siblings. Our family’s had its share of conundrums and challenges to conquer.

Family triumph comes hard—you’ve got to scoop away all the angst and drama from the past until the gem beneath it shines through. One of my sisters and I had a squabble that might have derailed our relationship. But I’m so glad to say that with time, my sister and I have managed to find that nugget.

The problem was so many emotions got in the way. Expectations, too. And hurt.

Reading a little book a few years ago helped me a lot. At first, I thought it was too New Age-y. But the more I read, the more I felt a heavy veil lift.

The short volume, The Four Agreements, might not sit well with some Christians, and I understand—been there, done that. But when it comes to practical help, the author lays it out in spades.

Two agreements stood out to me: Always do your best, and Don’t take it personally. The first comes naturally to me. Of course I do my best—I care so much what people think, why wouldn’t I? Like many folks, I’m prone to wear myself out doing better than my best.

9-15-15 author Taking things personally fits right in, too. Of course I take things personally, especially when they hit emotional buttons that drive me crazy. I’m betting my siblings would agree.

But out of five of us, only three remain. That’s sobering, no matter how much trouble one of them caused. Two out of five—less than great statistics, unless you’re talking home-runs per at-bats.

We only get one time up to bat in this life. If I were in charge, I’d create a double track. You get to learn how to live, then you get to play it out on life’s stage. Not how it works.

Like I said earlier, I’m glad my sibling and I worked through our painful experiences and came out on the other side wiser, more apt to give the benefit of the doubt, and less quick to form conclusions. And not take things so personally.

Don’t get me wrong, this attitude alteration isn’t easy, and the change doesn’t occur over night. But if you commit to it and stick with it, this seemingly simple change makes a huge difference. I wish I’d discovered it years ago, decades ago.

Because I finally did, I can face the rest of what life hands me in tandem with my sibling rather than at odds. We learn through all of this. Right?

And that agreement I’ve made with myself—not to take things personally—fortifies me. It’s actually a facet of the beauty lying under our family dilemmas. Remember that gem I mentioned?

When our children were young, we searched for rubies on the backside of Mount Rushmore. Sometimes we had to dig a little, after someone showed us what to look for. Those tiny, dirty pebbles weren’t much to see at the start, but scraping and cleaning brought out their sparkle.

Every family has such treasures, however much scrubbing and rubbing it takes to reveal the shine. It’s the old pearl in the oyster syndrome.

Learning not to take things personally equals scrubbing. So does letting the outcome go once you’ve done your best. A side benefit is, all this experience helps me with my novel characters—after all, none of them are perfect, either.

What are some of your similar sibling stories?

About Gail Kittleson
Gail writes from northern Iowa, where she and her husband enjoy gardening and grandchildren. Her memoir, Catching Up With Daylight, paved the way for fiction writing, and she’s hooked for life.9-15-15

Her debut novel, In This Together, releases soon. After World War II steals her only son and sickness takes her husband, Dottie Kyle begins cooking and cleaning at the local boarding house. The job and small town life allow her to slip into a predictable routine, but her daughters and grandchildren live far away, and lonelin
ess is Dottie’s constant companion when she’s not working. Al Jensen, Dottie’s long-time neighbor, has merely existed since his wife died. Al passes his time working for his son at the town’s hardware store. However, he still copes with tragic memories of serving in WWI. Being with Dottie makes him happy, and their friendship grows until, for him, love has replaced friendship. When Dottie’s daughter has health issues, will Al’s strength and servant’s heart be enough to win Dottie’s love and affection? Can Dottie’s love for her family enable her to face her fear of crowds an d enclosed spaces and travel halfway across the country to help the daughter who so desperately needs her?