Petals Amidst the Thorns - Part 5: Truly Uncertain Times
December 15 1941
This war we’ve entered is now considered to be the Second Great War or World War II. I really thought it would be a short fight, one we could win with our hands tied behind our backs which really wouldn’t change my life much. But it appears this isn’t so.
In school we’ve had a substitute for U.S. History, Ms. Anderson, who’s been subbing for Ms. Moore our regular teacher. Ms. Moore has been out for some type of surgery though we weren’t told what kind, and was expected to return by the end of last month. But she didn’t and our principal just announced day before yesterday that Ms. Moore will be out for the rest of the year and Ms. Anderson will be our permanent History teacher. Not to put Ms. Moore down but my class was overjoyed..
Mss Anderson is a great teacher and she teaches us about things like how people in the country reacted during different periods. She always has personal accounts of events that she must spend tons of time finding. She also shows lots of films but instead of being happy a film is shown because it’s not another boring lecture, the films she shows are always really interesting. Sometimes she even shows parts of movies, Alexander Hamilton and All Quiet on the Western Front which is about World War I.
When my parents heard Miss Anderson had shown the second one (George, one of my classmates, snitched to his parents but it was before the pact so we didn’t throw him out of the group which is the punishment for snitches,) they were pretty upset. I guess even though it was an old movie they’d seen it when it came out. Me and Jeremy listened at the upstairs hallway grate which is over my parents’ bedroom. That’s where they talk when they don’t want us to hear them.
Father was saying it must have been hard for the boys to watch, considering they’d be called up the following year and how he doesn’t see the need to have them thinking of such things so far ahead of time. Mother asked if he really thought the war would go on for over a year, and father said it would likely keep on for over two years, maybe even three. Regarding the movie. Mother said it was entirely inappropriate for young ladies who did not need to know of war and fighting and all the death that was in the film. She added that even though she was long married when they’d seen it, if father remembered, she was extremely upset for days afterwards.
Father laughed, a sound we rarely hear as neither of my parents could be called humorous. He joked that he remembered because he hadn’t gotten more than burnt toast and soluble coffee for breakfast for a week afterwards. Then mom laughed and she sounded so young. “And under cooked chicken and thin soup for dinner,” she said.
“And partially congealed green jello with fruit cocktail swimming around at the bottom for dessert,” father said and they both laughed. I gave Jeremy a surprised look. He looked back with a confusion of emotions in his eyes that concerned me more than mother and father discussing what should be done about history class.
It was really weird hearing our parents talk all flirty-like. I mean they’ve been married forever, mother already engaged by the time she was 17, wed at 18 to future investment banker, then aged 21, who was little more than a teller when they’d met. That’s how they’d met actually. My grandmother had spotted him and knowing he came from a good family, dragged my mother along with her when she next went to the bank.
Mother said it was so embarrassing since her mother had no banking business to attend to, having taken care of what she’d needed to on the first visit. Grandmother had asked about various investments and accounts insisting that only “James” could attend her. He had always been polite, my mother said, but never seemed to notice her.
Mother said she hadn’t thought much of him either, at first, and when her mother had invited James over for tea, mother had been mortified. They sat ramrod stiff and largely silent except for her parents’ leading questions trying to elicit the best out of both children. Things turned around when they’d taken an insisted upon walk only to get caught in the rain which had evidently loosened their formality as well as their tongues. They found out they had much in common, and when they’d returned wet to the skin, to my grandmother’s horror, they’d announced their engagement.
Father may have come from a good family but there was propriety to consider. A soaking wet daughter whose curves were fully outlined in the dripping cloth, coming out of the woods with a boy, despite being sent off in that direction by the grownups, was a problem. As was an instant engagement. Even though Jeremy hadn’t come right away, mother said during one of her “talks,” there was gossip. They said she must have lost the baby even though the wedding was set almost a year away from the start, an insistence by grandmother to prevent such rumors as those that still circulated.
But I was telling you about Miss Anderson, Dear Diary. The way she teaches makes class so much more interesting compared to just reading the book. She is also teaching us about the war as part of class. Some of the parents, mine included of course, are not happy about this, saying it’s supposed to be a history class not current events. The parents even called a special PTA meeting to discuss it.
After a letter was sent to our principal, Miss. Anderson told us she would only be able to mention certain things about the war. She said that, as an exercise, we were to listen to that part of class and not take notes. I think we all understood that if we were to get updates on what was happening which the adults learned about on the radio and in the newspapers which we were banned from listening to and reading, mum was the word.
We called our own meeting and decided for the first time ever, to keep certain information from our parents. We think we have a right to know what is happening in our own country things that will undoubtedly affect our whole lives. Plus, the boys in my class are only a year away from turning 18 and being sent off to war. If they’re almost old enough to be in the army with a gun in their hands, old enough to be shipped off to somewhere foreign where they’ll be expected to kill people and maybe be killed themselves shouldn’t they at least be allowed to learn about what is happening in the war they will be fighting?
Anyway. So my class has made a pact not to tell parents what we are learning in history class. Mrs. Anderson never told us not to tell but we have decided that to be adults we have to make our own decisions on our own behalf. Of course there are always slip-ups but that can’t be helped..
Okay, back to what we learned in class today. About the war. Evidently, in addition to Germany and Japan, England (which we have been taught to call Great Britain) and us, there are a bunch of other countries involved. France and India declared war on Germany a couple of years back when England, I mean Great Britain, did. Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand declared war on Japan right after we did so they’re on our side also. China declared war on Japan the day after Pearl Harbor which seems kind of weird to me. I guess it’s just my ignorance showing but I assumed China and Japan were friends since they seem so much alike. I probably don’t know much about either one so maybe I’m just assuming. Mrs. Anderson said that China and Japan have been in a de factor state of war since 1937. This means that they’ve been engaging in hostilities even though neither country formally declared a state of war.
This business of having to formally declare war or not declare war doesn’t make much sense to me, Dear Diary. If someone attacks you do you have to formally state you’re at war with them? It just seems like another one of those things that are put into law which are unnecessary. I know we don’t want the President being able to declare war every time he turns around but at the same time when you’ve already been bombed and a bunch of soldiers have been killed wouldn’t anyone fight back? So then you have two countries fighting each other and that would be war wouldn’t it?
I’m off track again dear diary but the journaling business seems to lead me to just vent everything I’m thinking about. Okay, so just to sum up, fighting with us are England (Great Britain), Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and China. Germany is attacking Russia so Russia would technically be on our side also since the enemy of my enemy is my friend (something we learned today which I think is clever). Thailand joined Japan. Though that’s only because Japan attacked them and won so they have to fight for Japan.
I don’t know how much of a threat they’d be since they can’t feel very friendly to a country that trounced them. I think there must be a decent chance they’d defect to our side with little provocation.There are constant radio updates and it’s impossible for my parents to keep me completely ignorant. At school we compare notes and fill each other in on what we know. But still - there’s a lot that we miss or don’t understand. That’s why we really need Miss Anderson.
Even though it’s just been a week since Pearl Harbor, air raids and blackouts have already started here. Mrs. Anderson says they’re going on in all the other major cities, also. The government may not let the Rose Bowl be played because it’s held in California and they’re afraid that so many people gathered in one place on the Pacific coast will be too tempting to the enemy and they'll attack. We read about blackouts and air raids when we studied the Great War which is now being called World War I since this war is called World War II..
None of us thought we’d actually have to learn what bomb shelters were like first hand, though. I hate to say this because it really makes me seem really shallow and stupid, but I kind of thought the idea of the sirens going off and everyone running to a bomb shelter and all that happened in them was kind of exotic. I can assure you it really isn’t Dear Diary. I had this image of it being like an auditorium with families and all the kids from school being there, like a huge sleepover. The reality is that we all end up in small root cellars without any furniture which smell of onions, meaning it’s impossible to escape mother and father’s scrutiny and questioning. No, not exotic, not glamorous, not romantic at all.
Since we haven’t had the chance to build any real bomb shelters yet, we all just run to the nearest basement which is bad enough. Someone in my class said they heard that most people in England have their own little bomb shelters buried in the gardens behind their homes. They have to sleep in them every night. I can’t imagine that here but who knows. I heard father in another of his angry moods, yelling at someone on the phone and saying if we were really bombed the building would just collapse on us killing everyone. I can’t say I feel very safe anymore and I have started having nightmares about suffocating and being buried alive..
I’m completely exhausted and Jeremy still seems to be avoiding me. Well, really avoiding everyone. I don’t know what happens when boys go through puberty but maybe it’s just hormones.
But now that I don’t have him to draw some of mom and dad’s fire or just distract them, all of their expectations and demands, along with talking of the war at school much of the day, remembering where we can talk about it freely and where we have to pretend to be not very interested in it, and the grand scheme to make sure our parents don’t learn what Miss Anderson is including in her classes has me worn out all the time.
I must look it, too, because yesterday Mother wouldn’t let me go to school until I agreed to take a spoon of cod liver oil. She has decided my blood is low and that supposedly builds it back up. It is absolutely disgusting! If we force fed the enemy that stuff I have no doubt they’d surrender immediately. Who’d have thought I’d ever want to go to school so badly that I’d take cod liver oil rather than miss part of it. Unfortunately what is making me so tired can’t be fixed with a swallow of oil, and the irony that mother doesn’t seem to see is she’s a large part of it.
So that’s all for tonight Dear Diary. Hopefully by the time I right next, Jeremy will be back to his mischievous but fetchingly protective big brother self, and I won’t be feeling so much of the heat from mother and father.