Friday, 07 September 2012
When is War Real?
By Barbara Sloan
My mother wore her best, a cotton house dress she had made of flour sack material. She wiped my face and we were ready to go to the weekly meeting of the Stitch and Gabble Club.
Mother had been invited to join the country lady’s group soon after we moved to the farm. The group of eight women met once a week to sew, knit, crochet or just visit for two hours. Children too young to be in school were welcomed.
My Dad remarked at the supper table that evening while eating leftovers, “Don’t see why you can’t get home at a reasonable time to fix a hot supper. That club you go to shouldn’t be called the Stitch and Gabble. I think all you do is gabble like a bunch of hens.”
My mother shook her head and said, “Sam, you shouldn’t say that. Since the war started, we are knitting socks, packing boxes to send overseas and writing letters to the boys who don’t have families at home. The Red Cross has met with our group to teach us first aid and what to do in case of an attack if someone is hurt.”
“Maybe so, but it seems like Friday would be enough time to have leftovers.”
“Mary got a letter from her son in Germany telling how nice it was to have heavy socks inside his boots. I guess you can put up with a few extra meals of leftovers.”
My Mother came back from the kitchen with the lemon meringue pie she had made that morning.
“By the way,” she said, “the club is putting on a going away party for Fred Green at our monthly couples euchre night. It’s potluck. What would you like me to make?”
“Whatever you make will be fine,” Dad replied as he put a big slice of pie on his plate.”
Kids of all ages came with their parents to the monthly euchre night. Older ones looked after younger ones as hide and seek, kick the can and red rover, red rover games were organized outdoors until after dark.
It was finally time for eating the dishes lining the large dining room table. I bypassed the chicken pot pie, beef stew, Swiss steak and mashed potatoes, pork chops and gravy, salads and desserts for my favorite: ground bologna and sweet relish sandwiches on store-bought bread.
During the meal, Fred sat on a chair to open the presents that people brought to send him off to war. He was a small, wiry, young man who eventually became an airplane gunner sitting in the small, dangerous area under the belly of the plane using the machine gun to target enemy planes.
Frank, Larry, Don, George and Gene followed Fred’s example and joined up within the following year. During the time they were gone, we put black shades on the windows and doused yard lights at night.
School children picked milk-weed pods for stuffing life jackets. School was released in the spring and fall for the students to help with the planting and harvest seasons. Still, for a young elementary school child like myself, war seemed far away and somewhat unreal.
It was about two years after the Stitch and Gabble Club sent Fred Green off to war. We were eating dinner and listening to the six o’clock news on the radio.
The party-line telephone rang, three long, drawn-out rings instead of the usual short rings. We were not allowed to answer the phone unless it rang two short rings. My mother got up from the table and hurried to the phone on the wall.
I said to my Dad, “Why is she answering the phone?” That is Fred Green’s family ring. She shouldn’t be answering it.”
My Dad put his finger to his mouth so I would stop talking.
We all listened to my mother say, “Hello? Yes, I’m here. Letty, I can’t understand what you are saying. Are you crying? What is going on?” (pause)
“You say Fred didn’t make it home? What happened?” (pause)
“A plane crash??? I thought he was coming home on leave.” (pause)“He didn’t take the train from San Francisco? He took a plane instead? But what happened?” (pause)
“It crashed into the Rocky Mountains on the way home? How could that be? Why would they crash into the mountains when he was on leave?” (pause)
“Yes, yes, I’ll tell everyone that didn’t pick up their phone. Sam will be right over.”
Mother slowly put the receiver back on the hook and began crying. “It can’t be true. He has been overseas and wasn’t even scratched. Letty said his buddies wanted him to take the train with them but he could fly home free and it was faster. He should have listened to them.”
A young member of our community was coming home in a casket and had a military funeral. War was no longer unreal and far away.
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