Two Days Before Thanksgiving

Audio: Two Days Before Thanksgiving

When I first heard this story from my father, the news came during the Thanksgiving meal. But according to his grandfather’s journal, the news came two days before, on Tuesday.

My great-grandfather was Emil (pronounced EM-ee-ill) Folda. At this Thanksgiving, he was 52 years old, married to his second wife because his first, Emilie, had died of pneumonia when their son was nine and their daughter was six. A second marriage followed a year and a half later, and then a second daughter, Olga.

In 1918, Laura was 20, and Olga was 12. Albin (pronounced ALL-bean) was 23, but not at home. He was in France, fighting in a World War that had not yet acquired a number, because the idea that there could be another was unfathomable.

The family was hopeful and excited for Albin to come home. The war had ended a few weeks earlier.

I imagine that preparations for the Thanksgiving meal were already underway, and I imagine what the table in the grandest house in Clarkson, Nebraska, might have looked like. China plates with an intricate pattern. Crystal goblets from Bohemia. Ornate silverware of real silver. Maybe a seat reserved in honor of their son, maybe the chair at the right hand of his father.

This is the timeline from 1918, based on Emil Folda’s journal:

April 27: Albin, age 23, enters the army.

June 4: Albin sails for France.

August: Albin reaches the trenches.

October 21: Albin is killed.

November 11: Armistice is declared.

November 25: Albin’s parents receive two letters from him, one dated October 11th and the other, October 16th. The letter of the 16th says that Albin is to be relieved on October 18th. The family allows themselves to hope for the first time.

November 26: Telegram arrives from the War Department: Albin has been killed. The telegram crossed paths with one sent from father to son, expressing joy over the end of the war.

I have many photos of Emil Folda but few of his son. If I showed you one, you would look at his pale skin and soft eyes and ears that stick out and fine hair already in recession and you might think he looks bookish, fragile. He doesn’t look like someone you would expect to survive a war.

Photo of Albin Folda, wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and tie.
Photo credit: honorstates.org

I always imagined Albin was killed by a bullet, but he wasn’t. He was ‘struck in the head by a shell fragment, and was killed almost instantly’ as reported by Chris Haberman of Friend, Nebraska. That’s how two-thirds of the soldiers in World War One died on the battlefield—not from bullets, but bombs.

Inside a factory, shells (bombs) as far as the eye can see
photo credit: Horace Nicholls, from
the Imperial War Museum, via Wikimedia Commons

Albin’s father and stepmother traveled 100 miles south to meet with Haberman, a soldier who was wounded by the same shell, who was the last to see their son alive.

I wonder about the ‘almost’ part of what Haberman reported. How instantly is ‘killed almost instantly’?

This death of his firstborn is what caused my great-grandfather to turn his back on God. Two years later, he wrote in his journal, “My religion is no religion.”

I wouldn’t have been able to read those words because they were written in Czech. But they were translated by my father and later posted on a Clarkson, Nebraska historical website.

Emil Folda wrote in his journal,

… the year was a hard one on me on account of the loss of Albin and at times I felt very discouraged with everything, and had the blues real often.

I get it. I’ve had the blues real often, too. So has my father. And unless the blues skipped a generation, so has my grandmother.

There are all kinds of inheritances.


Chewing the Cud of Good

Thankful for hot tea on a cold morning.

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