Chapters 19-21


                                                                                                                             A love story



                              CHAPTER 19

April 1951

THE last snow of the winter had just fallen. That’s the one the farmers wait for. They call it the poor man’s fertilizer. The pond was opening up, the crocuses were pushing through the snow and the redwing black birds had just come home. Miss Matoon and Lilly had left for a week in Boston on the morning train and Aunt Magic made a whole pan of fresh biscuits just for me. 

     Jake and I went out to check the maple syrup buckets. The sap was already running good. I had just told Jake what a perfect day it was when Ben, the mailman, arrived. He asked where Aunt Magic was and I told him he’d find her in the kitchen.  

     To my surprise, when Jake and I finished checking the buckets, Aunt Magic and Ben were still talking at the kitchen table. As soon as I came in Ben said, “I better be goin’. Thanks kindly for the tea, Madge.”  And then he hurried out.

     “Willy, come sit down here with me.”  I knew something was wrong. First of all, she called me Willy and, secondly, Jake tucked his tail between this legs. He always did that when Aunt Magic’s voice was serious.

     “Is everything O.K., Aunt Magic?”

     “In this house, we’re not interested in not O.K., Willy.”            


                                 CHAPTER 20

WHEN I sat down, Aunt Magic looked at me with the kindest face you’ve ever seen.  She could make even a mean dog calm down with that face.  Finally she said, “Do you remember what I told, Willy, when you first came here? I said life is like a quilt. In the end, the most complicated ones are the most beautiful.”

     “I guess I don’t mind being a quilt, Aunt Magic. It’s better than being a pillow full of duck bottom feathers. But I’ve seen how many times you’ve stuck those quilts with a needle before they’re finished! That’s what makes me nervous.” 

     Aunt Magic laughed so hard that, for a moment, I thought everything was fine and there was nothing to worry about. But then she told me what came in the mail. It took me days to believe it. But there they were; letters written by my father. Aunt Magic said that we wouldn’t tell Lara about the letters until Lilly got back. I could keep them all to myself for the week. For a whole week I almost never left my room. I read the letters over and over again. I held each one like I was holding my father’s hand. 

     The letters had traveled all over Europe trying to get to us. It took them three years to find us. My father had written us every week during the war, but we never knew it. And there was much we never would know because only a handful of his letters made it to us. 

     Where were all the others? Were they blown to bits by some blind, brutal bomb hitting the convoy truck trying to get them to us? Were they forever buried in mud somewhere?  Did they fall into the hands of the Germans?  Or did they fall into the ocean, in the belly of some wounded plane never destined to make it home?  

     Father had enlisted in the army in '41. I could imagine how hard that must have been for Mama. He worked in dispensaries in Belgium, France and Germany with the American forces. He was in Germany, we learned, when the war ended and then was killed by a landmine on his way home. The American Red Cross told us that in the letter they sent along with Father’s letters. Mama and Grandmama never knew that part. But I knew it and I wished I didn’t. 

     Lucia came home the day after we got the letters. Uncle Nikkk went to get her in his truck. I told Lucia I was never going to believe in God again. She didn’t say anything. She just held me in her arms.  I didn’t move. I just stayed there hoping she would say I was wrong.  I didn’t not want to believe in God. But who could believe in a God who would let there be war and letters lost in the mud? After a long time she finally said, “Someday you’ll know the difference between what men think God is and what God tells you He is. Don’t worry.”  I started to cry because I knew she was right.     

     Then something amazing happened. It was the 5th time I was reading the letters. Instead of hating life, hating being far from home, and hating just about everything—  father’s letters taught me to love life. In the midst of all that war, they were full of life.  I didn’t know then how it was possible, but I knew it would be the most important thing I learned in the College of Overalls. By the time the summer was over, I had memorized all the letters I read them so many times.  

August 6, 1944

     My dear children,

     My mind is freer from worry now and I can say that danger is not all that it’s said to be. My love to you all. Papa

                                            August 13, 1944.  Somewhere in France

     My dear children,

     I hope you are getting my letters. I don’t know how the mail works here. At present we are being put up by a hospital unit in a town in France. They have peculiarly poor toilet facilities and no showers which would make life miserable if the chaps didn’t have such funny jokes about it. I just heard that the Allies were 15 miles beyond Paris which is good news for all of us. Hope it will be over soon so we all can be together again.  All my love to you, Papa.

September 17, 1944 

     My dear children,

     The country around here is beautiful beyond description. The news from the front is good but there’s so much to be done still.  I’ve been here such a short time compared to others, but I know the feeling of desperation about wanting to get home.  Most soldiers have it. But it is good because it makes me love you all the more. Papa

September 25, 1944 

     My dear children,

     I have learned that men are afraid of fear itself, and afraid of the effort involved in finding out its nature.  Then you learn it is your choice not to fear it. I wish you could tell you how much I love you.  Papa

September 24, 1944

     My dear children,

     The rainy season has set in in France. The Dispensary is very busy these days treating burns from all the bombs. I try to stay useful my every waking hour so you would be proud of me.  All my love to you, Papa

October 4, 1944 

     My dear children,

     I am fine and eating and sleeping well. We are in a rather large city now. We have showers here. It is wonderful to be clean, isn’t it?  I am sending all my love, Papa

October 14, 1944 

     My dear children,

     The men read their letters as if they were eating bread. When they read theirs, I pick up my pen to write you.  My life is pretty safe now.  There is no need for your sympathy. They haven’t found a way to kill good.  The people here are very good to us even though they have so little. Sometimes I can almost imagine myself at home with you, telling you how much I love you.  Papa

October 28, 1944 

     My dear children,

     Mother sent me a photo of all of us together at the seashore. It gave me quite a pang. We have changed locations. That is why I couldn’t write you last week. Our Dispensary is now in a hospital with quite a modern set up. Mother keeps a candle burning in the window for us. We will all be together again soon. All my love, Papa

November 10, 1944 

     My dear children,

     It is so difficult to write a letter about nothing when there is so much to tell about  if we were only allowed to say it. We are in the hills surrounded by many villages which you can see when the fog lifts. I am working in the wards tonight and this is one way I can pass the time while the men sleep. They say it is beautiful here in the summer. Most of the vehicles here are horse-drawn. The horses are very large Belgian draught horses. They remind me of home.  The little children always have their hands out to shake hands with the “brave soldiers”.  They hold up their fingers  in a V [victory] symbol.  I love you dearly.  Papa

November 28, 1944 

     My dear children,

     Sometimes I think of you all the time and most times I think of you constantly. Being separated makes me remember every detail of our lives together.  Everything   I see reminds me of home.  I love you all very much.  Papa

December 6, 1944 

     My dear children,

     Mother’s letters keep coming and add to my peace of mind. The little town where    I am now is very beautiful but the rains are the worst I have ever seen. The only thing that is more destructive ———————————————— [the last part was cut out by the censor]  My best love to you, Papa

December 15, 1944 

     My dear children,

     Yesterday my friend Wilson and I went to have supper with a local family. The father was born in Belgium. He lived in Belgium until he was a young boy and then his family moved here. He married a French girl. He is now a prisoner in Germany  as is the case with so many.  The mother was very nice and gentle. They have one daughter and one son. It was so nice to be in a home again.  We had some French fried potatoes and pickled beets and an apple for dessert. I was touched to tears  when they shared their apple. The evening made me love you even more.  Papa           


                             CHAPTER 21

NEVER looked at an apple the same way again. Every time I looked at one I thought it was just about the most perfect thing I had ever seen. 

     That summer I worked harder than ever in the garden. I worked hard at everything that summer. Sometimes it even made Aunt Magic worry a little about me, but she never said anything so long as I ate a lot. And she never complained no matter how much food I gave way. Everyone who came by was given something: a bag of beans, a watermelon, a handful of strawberries.  On Sundays we made strawberry ice cream. It was Uncle Irving’s favorite. Uncle Elbert brought babka. It was a cinnamon bread with raisins in it. His grandmother taught him how to make it, he said. Uncle Elbert also brought his accordion. One of his customers didn’t have money to pay him, so he gave him an accordian. When Uncle Elbert played, Jake would howl it made him so happy. Uncle Elbert didn’t seem to mind. 

     Most of the songs he sang were Russian. There was one I loved the most. I felt so proud that I could translate for everyone. It was about the blue herons that fly over in the fall. In Russia they call them Siberian cranes and they’re white. The song was about why we look up when the cranes fly over and watch them until they’re gone. “Are they, I think, our soldiers, not dead, but simply flown away? When they turn their heads and look back once more, did I hear one call my name?” 

     At night, when I was all alone, I would take one of my father’s letters and read it out loud to Jake. After Lara and Lilly had read them, they said that I could keep them. I never loved Lara and Lilly so much as when they let me have the letters. I kept them in my secret room. I was already too big to fit in the secret room, but I kept my most important things there. 

     I never read the letters quickly. And I never stopped learning from them.        

December 23, 1944

     My dear children,

     We are having a three day holiday now. Three days in this life is like a whole year anywhere else. I have met some very pleasant fellows here in the dispensary. Many  of them are no more than boys. They are eager to talk to someone. One boy is from England. He has a dry wit but a very sweet disposition. Another is a New York-Ukrainian. He’s married to a Russian girl. He loves Tchaikovsky and tries to sing the symphonies to us. Another chap, Juillard, has a remarkable ability to listen to other people. He’s really caught my attention. The men from Texas and Arkansas are really a work of art! They tell the funniest stories about Yankees. Well, my children, all you need to know is that you have my love always. Merry Christmas. Papa

December 29, 1944 

     My dear children,

     Just a line to let you know I’m alright despite the news. Things are developing and I am sure I will be alright. I haven’t had a letter from Mother in awhile but I hope you are getting my letters. All my love always. Papa

January 13, 1945 

     My dear children,

     I hope you haven’t been worried. I am not in danger despite what you read in the papers. There is lots of snow, the soft, fluffy kind. I can see why the Germans wanted to have these lands for their own. They are so beautiful. It is so peaceful and quiet in the snow. I felt like crying looking at it this morning.  I love you all very much.  Papa

January 20, 1945 

     My dear children,

     The Russians have taken Warsaw.  All my love to you. Your loving Papa

February 9, 1945 

     My dear children,

     The Russians are still coming on.  I may get a license soon to drive a truck and an ambulance.  I wish I could see you and tell you everything I want to say.  All my love, Papa

February 23, 1945 

     My dear children,

     I couldn’t write last week since we were moving. Rumors are good but nothing has happened yet. We are living in a small town. The big push is on and I hope history will repeat itself. I love you always. Papa

May 7, 1945 

     My dear children,

     I am doing very little for my pay compared to others. It has been impossible to write, but now I am in a town below the Danube River in Germany. If you look at a map, you can find the Danube and imagine where I am.  It is very beautiful despite everything that has happened in the last five years. Nothing more peaceful and pastoral can be imagined.  I am convinced that the war was deliberately put over on these people. They are not to blame. We are staying in what was once a Hitler Youth school on the crest of a hill and it dominates the whole valley.  There is a lot of Nazi literature here. The semi-official announcement of war’s end came today but it failed to make people go crazy with joy with all the unfinished business left. But peace in our time, or a modified version of it, can be hoped for at this point. It is possible that I will be home soon.  All my love to you.  Papa

May 26, 1945 

     My dear children,

     I’ve been on the road for twelve straight days. I am on my way home. I don’t know how long it will take as the roads are all very bad. Still, I am not far from Belgium now. I would love to run all the way if I could, but we have many injured with us. I will send for you as soon as I can.  All my dearest love to you. Your Papa 



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