Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Because of the War


World War II was brewing when I was born, and although I was not quite five years old when it ended, many of my memories are as sharp and clear as though it were yesterday.
I didn't understand exactly what was going on, of course, but I tried my best to figure it all out, listening to the adults every chance I got. And asking questions.
"Where is the war?"
"A long way off," Mother said.
"How far?"
"Way across the ocean."
Everyone was consumed with the war, even Terry, Patsy and I. We often played "War," using sticks as machine guns.
"Tat-tat!" Terry yelled, chasing us around the yard, "Tat-tat-tat!"
I crumpled to the ground, hand over my heart, and Patsy threw herself to the ground beside me.
"Get up, I'm taking y'all to Hitler," he said, "You're prisoners of war!"
One of Daddy's best friends was a prisoner of war, and most young men we knew (and a few young women) were serving in one branch or another. Daddy's brother, Uncle Bob (that's him in the picture) was drafted near the end, and, thankfully, wasn't sent overseas. But Mother's brother, Uncle Tom, served more than three years in the thick of it all, France, Germany, North Africa, and in the bloody battle of Anzio Beachhead in Italy.
Uncle Tom wrote to us regularly (tiny, slick letters, "V" mail, they called it, and I wondered how he managed to write so small). Terry, Patsy and I stood quietly around Mother, as she sat with Mary Ellen on her lap, reading his letters aloud. For a long time, they began with Somewhere in France.
"Why does he say somewhere in France," I said, "Where is he?"
"Nobody knows," Mother said, "Nobody's supposed to know."
"Why?"
"Because of the war."
Uncle Tom was one of the lucky ones, but I remember the gaunt look on his dark, handsome face, the restlessness and nervous energy surrounding him when he finally made it home. (That's him and Mother in the picture.) He is now 89 years old. He recorded his war experiences and gave them to me, so I am just now discovering some of the horrors he went through.
I remember rationing books, war bonds, and the syrup pies Mother made for dessert many nights for supper because of the shortage of sugar. I remember news reels preceding the movies at Milwain's in Bardwell, and the narrators' terse, sharp voices. They reminded me of the actors in James Cagney movies.
Gigantic tanks rolled across the black-and-white screen, bombs exploded in faraway oceans, German soldiers marched in a strange way, slinging first one leg straight out and then the other. (Terry and I marched around the yard for days thereafter, trying to synchronize our steps.)
I watched President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur exiting meetings, waving to the crowds, odd-looking smiles on their faces. Once I saw Stalin. But he was not smiling.
I watched our troops going off to war, wives, mothers and girlfriends crying and waving their handkerchiefs as their loved ones boarded ships, planes and buses on their way to The Front. And I studied the face of a stiff and scowling Adolf Hitler, wondering why he was so mean.
I was thrilled and excited by the news reels and booming music, but disturbed by the alarm and apprehension that hovered. Everyone became very serious when they discussed the war, and looks of panic slid over Mother's and Maw Maw George's faces when they spoke of Uncle Tom.
I remember Daddy telling us to "settle down" as we all huddled around the battery-powered radio, listening to President Roosevelt's Fireside Chats. I remember the silky-smooth voice of Edward R. Murrow, who began his broadcasts with "This is London," and Walter Winchell's high agitated voice spewing out, "Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. North America and all the ships at sea!"
I incorporated some of my memories into a fiction piece, and I was delighted when editors informed me last week that Because of the War has been accepted for publication in Straylight Literary MagazineStraylight is published by the English Department of the University of Wisconsin.  It is scheduled for their spring issue.
So now I'm able to put those memories to rest. Well, for a while anyway.


3 comments:

Kari & Kijsa said...

Congratulations...it couldn't have happened to a nicer person!

smiles, kari & kijsa

William F. Renzulli said...

Congratulations on your recent publishing success.

I too grew up during the war and can remember going into our local grocery store with my mother and holding up my second and third fingers and saying "V for victory". And I remember clearly the parade in our very small farming community on V Day, the first time I saw a parade. (I guess for young folks today V Day means the Vagina Monologs.)

Suz said...

Congratulations again, Brenda, on yet another publication!

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley