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It was one of those cool summer nights that you wished would never end.
The air had been furiously hot all that day. Hot enough to make my thick curly mess I call hair frizz out like a poodle. The sun had beat down mercilessly, frying my skin. I worked out in the Victory Garden with Mama all morning, planting turnips and cabbage and all manner of disgusting vegetables. Thankfully, Mama had some kind of heart and told me to stay inside to watch after my younger brother during lunch. Except by midday, the house was as hot as it was outside. I threw open every window in the house, praying for a breeze, but it only seemed to get hotter. When dusk fell, we all looked like we’d been playing in the creek, that’s how sweaty we were.
But dusk brought nighttime, and nighttime brought cooler air. So I took my brothers, Brad and Asher, out to the front yard to let them play in the twinkling twilight. I sat out on the porch swing pushing myself back and forth, listening to the swing creak, and watching to make sure the little ones behaved. Mama was inside, cleaning most likely. She cleaned all the time, more so now that Daddy was away.
I tipped my face up to the cloudless sky. Stars sprinkled the deep blue heavens, the near full moon hung lazily, watching the Earth turn. I sighed a thankful sigh as a slight breeze ran through my hair. Brad and Asher’s shrieks of laughter pierced the still quiet of the settling night. I closed my eyes to let my thoughts wander.
Of course, they drift to my father. There’s no escape from that. Even if I’m busy all day with hardly any time to think, at the end of the day, my thoughts are haunted with memories of him. Daddy enlisted almost as soon as the United States entered the war. Mama would not stop him; it was his patriotic duty, she would say, to go and fight the Germans. I would ask her what our patriotic duty was, to sit here and let innocent people die? I have never received such a cold stare from Mama in my entire life.
I missed Daddy. I missed him with every moment of every day. It ached in my heart when I thought of him amidst the explosions and gunfire. He left nearly five months ago, and we had only collected one letter from him. And even then, the letter was censured in many parts. I complained, “There are no enemy spies in Coalmont!” You never know, was always my answer.
In times of war, everything changes. You can’t trust any body; you have to sleep with one eye open. At the beginning, when the war was only in Europe, everyone assumed we were safe. On December 7, 1941, however, the world as we knew it ceased to exist.
It had been so terrible to see my daddy get on a plane and leave us all here. I wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but it felt like he was deserting us, leaving us here to sit and worry until we all felt sick. Thinking about him now, with his gun slung across his shoulder, dirt smeared across his face, blood on his hands, made me tear up. I quickly wiped my tears away so Brad and Asher wouldn’t see. I stood up, ready to go write Daddy another letter –
Then it started. The horrible wailing noise that would torture my dreams.
The air raid siren. The blackout signal. Whatever you wanted to call it, it terrified us all, young and old.
We had done the drill in school before, just a practice. But out here, in the real world, there was no reassuring voice on the intercom to tell us that this was just a practice. There could be German planes up in the sparkling blue heavens right now, ready to drop bombs and level towns.
I grabbed Brad and Asher, and together we raced inside the house. Mama was already waiting at the basement door with blankets and books. I opened the door, gently pushing Brad and Asher down the stairs. Then Mama and I ran throughout the house, turning off lights and shutting the blackout curtains. When that was done, Mama grabbed something from the bookshelf and headed down to the basement with me.
I flicked on a flashlight and saw the boys huddled together under the blanket. Terror was etched across their faces. But they learned from school not to vocalize their fear, for that was unpatriotic. I snuggled up next to them and whispered how everything was okay. We would be fine. But I didn’t know whom I was convincing, the boys or myself.
We sat there in the dark for about half an hour. Mama volunteered to check outside. Climbing up the stairs, she whispered, “Stay put, the three of you.”
Asher snuggled close to me and whimpered. I hugged both of them closer to me, looking intently to where Mama was last seen. Is this how it’s supposed to be, I thought. With us sitting down here in the dark, dank basement, waiting?
That was always the worst part, the waiting. We never knew how long we had to wait: for a letter from Daddy, for the all-clear signal, for the stupid war to be over.
But waiting made us all stronger, more patriotic. That’s what Mama believed, and that’s what Daddy believed.
I, however, was done waiting.