(This little story was written as a contribution to a writing workshop, which will explain the first paragraph.)
I have listened with great interest, over the past weeks and months, to fascinating tales of the war years, and I have set my own recollections, very dim though they may be, next to those I have heard, and tried to weave them into the pattern of memories that we have created in this fellowship of “rememberers.” Unlike many of you, I was born during the war -- in 1941 -- to be exact, and so my experience of the war is, in many ways, much less intense than yours - both because of my young age --at the time-- not now! --and because of my protected location in western Canada - not a noted center for bombing raids, as you know.
In fact, you’d think my memories of that time would be very hazy. And yet certain moments and memories stir in my mind, and to that extent, I have been touched and formed by that war. The only recollection I have of my father is of the day he promised that when he returned from the war, he would build me a slide and swing set. I couldn’t have been more than two, but I have since realized that this must have been the day he was to leave for overseas, and his emotion-charged departure impressed itself on my childish mind -- although I was entirely caught up in the wonderful anticipation of my very own swing and slide, and had no idea of the gravity of this last good-bye. We were never to see him again. He was killed instantly while leading his platoon in a protective charge in Villanova, a town outside Ravenna , Italy, on December 28th, 1944.
I have no memory of his death. My mother believed in stoicism at all costs. She was called out of her classroom and given word of her husband’s death. She marched straight back to the classroom, continued her lessons till the end of the school day, picked me up at the baby-sitter’s, sharing not a word of her sad news, and then we went home to dinner. For me, it was a day like any other, and, indeed, it grew on me only slowly that my father was dead. It was never a matter of grief for me -- I accepted my new awareness philosophically, and life went on. Only now, all these years later, do I wonder how different my life would have been had my father lived. (To say nothing, of course, poor dear, of how different HIS life would have been!)
I have other, pleasant, memories of the war. We lived, as I have said, on the west coast and, because of the threats of Japanese bombing raids, we were forced to put blackout shields over our windows each night. What must have been a tiring, sad ritual for my mother was for me a wonderful new game. I’d pretend we were hiding from aliens, or, just as satisfactorily, from an unpopular aunt. Then there were the ration books, which were issued although rationing was never enforced. The stamps allowed me many satisfying hours of play at postmistress. And there was the aluminum cigarette paper that we were to roll and send to the munitions' factories. I rolled and rolled -- I remember the rolls, but I have no idea where I got the foil paper -- my mother didn’t smoke. Perhaps the size and importance of these rolls has become exaggerated by the vivid imagination of a child, and by my pride at “serving my country,” at the tender age of three and a half.
The war ended, as all wars do. Twenty years later, I visited the Canadian War Cemetery in Villanova, Italy, and found my father’s grave. The road to the cemetery was lined with lovely Lombardy poplars, the same trees that had lined the drive to his boyhood home. The caretaker talked to me of the battle that had claimed my father’s life and showed me the hill his platoon had been trying to take when he was killed. It was just a few meters from the cemetery entrance He pointed out, too, with justifiable pride, the beauty of his manicured lawns and flower beds. I felt at peace, and I felt proud that my father had fought on the side of justice and freedom, and had not lost his life in vain.
And so, the war, though far away, touched the life of a very young girl in ways that are very hard to measure.