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A Day of Infamy
'Lavender Leigh Taylor! Where are you?' my mother's currently livid voice called. I set my pencil down and sighed,
'In the garret.' Had she been yelling for very long?
'Come downstairs and eat! We need to get ready for church!' I sighed. I would have been fine going without breakfast if it gave me the chance to finish scribbling down my latest inspiration, but there was no way she would let me go to church with an empty stomach. I glanced at the watch I'd pinned to the wall by my red window seat. Its antique hands indicated the time to be almost 8:30. I'd definitely need to hurry. I closed my notebook and dashed down the slippery wooden stairs, coming to a crash at the bottom. My family sat at the table in the kitchen not too far from the stairs eating pancakes. They were all dressed and ready to go. I, on the other hand, still wore my muddy overalls from bottle-feeding our lambs earlier, and had yet to run a brush through my hair that day.
'Sorry. I guess I forgot what time it was.'
'That's the trouble with you, Lavender. You always forget about time and everything else going on around you! Someday I think you're going to wake up like the man in the story you just read and realize that twenty years just flew right by you!'
'I know, I said I'm sorry. And his name is Rip Van Winkle.'
'Alright, Lavender. Now, go get ready while I make you some toast. I don't have time to make more pancakes.'
In my room, I dressed myself in a ugly plaid dress (the only one I could find) and tied back my tangled, sandy hair; all the while muttering to myself about my writing being more important than getting ready for church and that my mother had no appreciation for classic books. I decided to forgo the toast and went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. The counter around the sink was covered in my older sister Nora's curlers. I sighed, and pushed them all into the tub with an arm. Looking at myself in a mirror for the first time that day, I realized how horrible I really looked. Dark circles surrounded my eyes, my horrid, old dress had an ink stain on the front, and I had a very conspicuous blackhead on my cheek. 'Oh darn,' I said. I never got acne like my sister did; so why did I have to today? I spit out my toothpaste disdainfully. Since when did I care about my appearance? I stepped on a curler that missed the bathtub and decided it was time to get out. My little morning had been going along so pleasantly before Mother burst my little bubble. A rapping noise from outside the bathroom came; accompanied by Nora yelling, 'Lavender, hurry up! I need to fix my hair!'
'Your hair's fine, Nora! Give me a few minutes.' I scrubbed furiously at my face. 'What are you doing in there?' There was no way I'd give her the satisfaction of knowing why I was taking so long, so I tried to figure out what to do about my facial blemish and told her, 'I'll be out in a little while. Just wait, okay?'
'No, Lav! I have a droopy curl I need to fix!'
'Pin it up, or wear a hat!' I remembered that my father once told Nora to pull out a blackhead, but unfortunately I didn't remember what the result was, so I scratched at it with a thumbnail; creating a bloody, little crater on my face. Frustrated, I slapped a band-aid on it and hurried out, leaving the bathroom to Nora.
We piled into the frost-coated pick-up. As soon as I sat down, Mother gave me a stern glance-over. 'Lavender, you forgot your coat.'
'Mother, we're going to be inside all morning. I'm sure I will be fine.'
'Well, we're already late enough, so I suppose you'll have to do without. Next time, I hope you'll start getting ready earlier.' Father put the keys in the ignition and turned them. The engine groaned and stuttered for a minute, then died. He rolled his eyes upward. 'Oh, please. Not now.' He tried again and again, then shook his head. 'It's already 8:50, Jill. We're not going to get there anytime soon.'
'Are we going?' I asked. It wasn't at all like my father to suggest skipping church.
'No, Lavender, I'm afraid not. The truck isn't working, and walking would take us too long.' I almost sighed with relief. It wasn't that I disliked church; I was just in such a foul mood that I didn't feel like being around other people at the moment. But then my mother had to pipe up, 'Robert, do you think the MacIntires have left yet?'
'No their car is still parked. Why?'
'Don't you think that at least the girls should go to church? I'm sure Dan and Eva can take them.'
'Sounds good to me. Girls, why don't you walk down to the MacIntires' and see about a ride?'
'Alright,' Nora agreed. I silently followed her down the icy sidewalk three houses down to our good friends' house. Their family was in the process of loading in their car; my friend Joe waved hello to me. Mrs. MacIntire greeted us, 'hello, girls. Do you need something?'
'Well, our truck isn't starting, and we were wondering if we could ride to church with you.'
'Of course you can! Hop in, we're just leaving.'
Nora and I crawled in the back seat; her sitting next to Rachel, and I between Joe and his toddler sister Anna. 'Hey, Leigh. What happened to your face?' he asked.
'I got a scratch.' It wasn't a lie, I reasoned. Not really.
'Oh. So, are your parents sick, or something?' he asked.
'No.' Even for my best friend I couldn't manage a pleasant demeanor.
'Well, what made you so late?'
'We got ready late and the truck wouldn't start.' Joe sensed the tension in my voice and stopped asking questions. Our ride was silent, now that Joe was put off by my foul mood. We filed out of the car and through the church doors, where the final strains of 'Count Your Blessings' rang out. I slouched as sullenly as conventionality allowed in the pew while the rest of the congregation rose to enjoy a few minutes of conversation before the sermon. Joe sat silently next to me like the faithful friend he was; pulling at his chocolate brown curls. I felt bad for enforcing my sour attitude on him, but I wasn't about to let that change it. Pastor Newman walked up to the pulpit and the chattering slowed down as people found their seats.
The sermon ran late, as usual, but I only noticed this time because I'd never minded before. Most people immediately rose to their feet after the closing prayer, but the all sat down again quickly as a flustered looking elder walked up front with a note in his hand.
'Everyone, please be seated. Word just came by telephone that the Pearl Harbor military base in Hawaii was attacked by Japanese planes.' The congregation gasped. 'So far, the casualties are counted over two thousand, although more are sure to be found. Over one thousand hundred are wounded, and several ships and airplanes have been damaged and destroyed. The attack came at 6:37 Hawaiian time.' That was the same time I'd been in the bathroom, fretting over something embarrassingly insignificant. He continued, 'We have yet to see whether the United States will declare war.' He sat down in the front row and Pastor Newman came up again. 'Friends, this will be remembered as one of the tragic, dark moments in our country's history. I want everyone here to put yourself in the shoes of someone living in that area right now. Your home, a place of refuge and safety, is no longer safe. Your friends and family are dead or injured, and all your petty grievances have been dwarfed by a tragedy you see everywhere you turn.' He stopped and looked around. 'How does it feel?'
I wanted to hide my face in shame. Every single complaint I'd had that day dissolved as I pictured the suffering going on, at that very moment, across the ocean. And I felt even sillier when I remembered the battle scene I had depicted in my story that very morning. I thought it fun; belittling horror, death, and sorrow. Obviously, fourteen years old wasn't as old and mature as I considered it previously.
December 7th, 1942 did live in infamy, but humans are forgetful and often need reminding of how far they have or haven't come. I never finished that story, and while my writing retained some consciousness of my lesson that day, it wasn't until later, when tragedy genuinely struck home that I really began growing.