Sunday, February 28, 2010

#71 – WAR

On a Sunday morning I went back up to the servant’s room where I slept that summer I was 7, up the back staircase from the kitchen area – carrying the comics, which the cook, Mrs. Miner, had saved for me. She had also slipped me one of her sweet, light brown maple sugar cupcakes even though I was under orders not to snack between meals. A maple sugar cake and the comics, what a fine day. I could not remember a time I did not like snacks. And, best of all, I was reading now for the first time. And reveling it, though this did not count for much with the family since my brother had already been reading for three years.

These servants rooms on the top floor were not being used by servants, but they were still blocked off by a set of doors that closed off the hall to rest of the floor where all the adults stayed. Actually Peter and I had started out down below past the kitchen and pantries in a special area called The boys Wing, a section of the house with a room for a nurse, which we did not have this year, and, above a dark playroom, our big airy boys’ room which had beaverboard walls with old travel posers on them – a steamship line that no longer existed, a place to go tramping – their world for it – in Bavaria, when Germany was still a place to visit. This was where my father and uncle has slept when they were young.

One night there were shouts of alarm, and the sound of people running down below. Then cars being started up in the garage, which connected to the playroom. Both Peter and I thought it was the end of the world.

Although they told us nothing had happened, they decided the next morning to move us up to the main part of the house. I liked that that these bare side by side little rooms were was near the kitchen. A steep staircase right outside my door led straight down into a pantry and to the cook, Mrs. Miner, and her little daughter and women from the village who cleaned and served. In another time there had been live-in servants where Peter and I had these separate small rooms, but now – the war for some reason seemed the reason – people who worked at White Pines lived in the Village of Sugar Hill, not in White Pines itself.

I began with one of my favorite Sunday comics, this a new one about adventures in a community of cute bugs who were as distinct as real people. This Sunday the bugs were in uniform and had gone to war, just like real people outside the comics. They were shooting each other and blowing each other up with bombs. Panel after panel of what the family called the funny pages was crowded with very human bugs being shot and blown up. This was much more immediate than the French songbook pictures on the piano stand downstairs. I felt I really knew the bugs, whereas I did not know French soldiers and kings. That such could happen to the these bugs seemed to prove all my suspicions.

A feeling of dread, which already seemed a feeling I knew well, had come over me by the time Auntie Betsy came up to visit me. With her husband killed in the war in England, she was back in the summers at White Pines with the baby who had not been born yet when her husband was killed. On her way up to the White Mountains the first time with her baby she had stopped over in Connecticut. When I went to visit her in the guest room her breasts were bare and the baby started sucking on her nipples. Her skin was darker than the skin of other family women, and unblemished and smooth.

This moment in the guest room had seemed important to me, and her body had seemed familiar. But what I thought of first now when I was so upset about the killing and maiming of the bugs was that she was the one who could tell me about war. Gaga, her father, my grandfather, had been doing something billed as big in World War I, and he had worked to get America into World War II, but Aunt Betsy was the war expert I trusted.

I wanted to tell her about what was happening to the bugs I had like so much. But she was immediately telling me about something as bad or worse. She was saying she had heard from a friend about Americans who were captured by the Japanese. What the Japs did, she said, was try to get the American boys to tell secrets, and whether they told or not the Japs would use sharp knives to cut their tongues out.

I knew that everything I had been suspecting for as long as I could remember, was true.

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