I'm a WWII kid. You could even say a product of War. Though I was born ten years after the end of said war, I grew up in an environment of Bomb Shelter Sales, as opposed to an entire living room of furniture for under $1,000.00.
Ten years is a long time for a pervasive fear to persist, yet Hitler managed it. He invaded the minds then hearts of though not a necessarily vulnerable society, but certainly one that was looking for something different. His delusions of a perfect society, a perfect world order characterized by his - at least in the beginning - charismatic charm, evidently sunk in.
When I was in grade school my class was shown black and white films that were confiscated from the German Army at the end of the war. Films depicting Prisoners of War being executed, bodies stacked like cord wood on lorries being wheeled to mass graves, even photos of twins subjected to bizarre medical experiments. Our teachers would stress the shock value to the rear of these films was the point; no one should ever forget what even just one, simply out of control mind, can inflict on society. We should never forget the power a sociopathic mind is capable of. Be ever mindful of symptoms.
That which is lost, will always find its way home.
While I lived in the city, I had the pleasure of living next door to a victim of the insanity that the World Wars inflicted, though at first I assure you, it was not pleasant. I had rented an apartment next door to an elderly couple that I never had so much as glimpsed until one day...
I decided to wash the car in the sloping driveway. I didn't even think about the runoff that would soon create a huge pile of soap bubbles in the driveway next door. While I washed the car, the soap bubbles insideously slid down the driveway, and created a mountain of white poofy bubbles in the driveway next door, just beyond the stockade fence the elderly couple had erected long before my arrival.
Shortly after I had finished the car the police arrived. The same police I worked with. "There's been a complaint from the neighbor." "What?" I said totally confused, "Against me?" "Ah, yuh," my co-worker continued, " apparently your soap bubbles are in his driveway..." All this while he was trying not to bust out into the loud guffaws he was known for at work. "Did you speak to him?" I asked as I wandered around the fence onto the sidewalk to survey my bubbles. As I stared at the mountain of bubbles I said, "Well, my bubbles are definitely trespassing, I'll go apologize." "Um, ah, nah, I wouldn't do that if I were you, he uh, has, uh, a box..." "A box?" Now I was confused. I understood elderly people in their solitary worlds, along with the self-imposed isolation of some that facilitated their irritation of anything disturbing their world, and their property, as they knew it. But a box? He continued, "A box of your kids toys. Balls and stuff that ended up over the short fence in the back yard." Jeese, I'd been wondering why I felt as though I should buy stock in children's rubber ball manufacturers since we had moved in. Maybe even a rubber company. Great, we were living next door to Joseph Mengala, they really had not found him, must have been an imposter 'cause he was next door. "Well, I'm goin' over anyway, if we bother him that much something had better give."
His wife invited me in after I had explained why I was there. She had that 'I just watched the scariest horror movie and I am still scared' expression on her face as she led me into the living room where her husband sat in his deluxe Lazy-Boy throne. I ended up spending over two hours in the immaculate little house they had lived in for well over fifty years. I left after being handed the now infamous box.
It would come to pass that the Mr.'s chronic health problems became life threatening. The first time his wife came to our door in tears and frantic, she couldn't apologize enough. "I didn't know what else to do, our son is at work, he fell down the stairs, he won't go to the hospital," she moaned, wringing her hands in anxiety. It was 7:30 in the morning, I had just gotten off a midnight shift and was tired, which meant I was not in any shape to mess around. I followed his wife next door. There he lay in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at me with tears in his eyes. "I can't get up myself, I'm sorry, please, would you help me?" He wouldn't have the ambulance, so after determining he had no visible horrendous injuries, I straightened him out, picked him up and put him in the Lazy-Boy. Girls can do things like that, especially when the subject only weighs about ninety-eight pounds. I became the go-to kid for them. Their health collectively declined. Since neither could no longer drive, the vintage, impeccably kept Buick - twenty-thousand original miles - sat in the garage. If one ended up in the hospital I would go get them upon release and bring them home. If they couldn't turn the valve on the O2 tank I ran over and did it. Even when their fifty-four year old son who lived with them was home. I could not understand this until one day...
The gentleman's wife called. "My husband would like to speak to you." "Oh gosh, am I in trouble?" Hesitantly she replied, "No, I'm not sure what he needs." When I arrived he asked me to sit. What he then proceeded to tell me was an unprecedented act of humble courage on his part, one that not only taught me a life lesson I will never forget, but served to debunk the myth that 'people cannot change.'
He began by slowly unbuttoning the cuff to one of the many long sleeved shirts he always wore, even during the summer, no matter how hot it got. What his lower arm revealed was a tattoo. Yeah, the real deal, a concentration camp tattoo of his prisoner number. I was horrified. I thought about my initial joke concerning Joseph Mengala. I was glad he would never know. When he spoke, he began with his story. He had been young, he and his parents were rousted out of bed one night by Nazi soldiers, for committing the crime of practising the wrong religious persuasion. At the concentration camp his parents were shot before his eyes, while the guards laughed. It was then, he said, he began to hate. It took a lot of energy, but he managed it with enthusiasm. Even after his liberation from the camp. Even after kind relatives who had already escaped to the United States had come to bring him here, his hate and mistrust never faltered.
This hate he confided, had colored his entire life so thoroughly even his own children wanted nothing to do with him. It was when he was at his most helpless, when the vision that never died of his parents being executed was foremost in his mind, when he had to ask for help from a relative stranger and that stranger did not refuse, did he realize his whole life had been a waste. As I sat with tears running rivers on my face, I saw for the first time, the anger that had always been so much a part of his normal expression was no longer there. I could think of nothing to say but, "I'm sorry these things happened to you. So sorry." His reply still haunts me, because his children knew his story, yet still refused to see. " No, I am sorry for being so mean to you and your family when you moved here. I know now. I have tried to apologize to my children but they will have none of it. I knew you would listen."
There was no need to assure him my behaviour had simply been what decent people do. He knew that now. I thanked him for telling me his story, that it had added an enormous dimension to my heart and life, a gift of such tremendous depth I didn't know if I was capable of holding onto such a treasure, and how would I use it? But I knew I would try. He died less than a week later. I grieved for his sorrow in having had to leave without the forgiveness he so desperately needed from his own children. I also realized that my grandmother's alleged 'old wive's tale' was not a fallacy. If Grandpa hasn't been feeling well, and sends his good blue suit out to be cleaned one day, get ready for the end of the story. Its coming soon. I called my dad later that day to thank him for not only serving his country, but helping to free the tormented. My mother said later the call had made him cry, he always had felt so badly for the children he had encountered overseas. Now he knew first hand that when the war had ended, the torment did not necessarily end as well.
It wasn't until ten or so years later, the memory of the dear old man came boiling to the surface. For all of us. I was in the company of my second hideous mistake (now ex-husband if you wish), and one of his sons who was fast attaining the goal of 'professional student.' The son was twenty-five years old, had been in school all his life and, in order to avoid a four year degree, continued to drastically change college majors. He and his father were having a discussion about war, and how we should never engage, nor participate. In front of me. I volunteered for 9/11. The son had been in a dorm ordering pizza to watch the carnage of 9/11 on TV. The son had already made a statement concerning the decision to land on a specific career depended on what choices would exclude him from any involuntary draft that may be re instituted.
We have learned. Thanks are given freely now.
I think I stopped breathing. I wasn't going to be capable of intelligent verbiage. And frankly I didn't care. The basis of my emotions, memories flooding through me of others who had suffered unimaginably, were choking me. And then my mother took over. The voice, so much like hers when her emotions were inflamed, that uttered words from my very own throat was low, even-toned, but not flat. Fueled with anger and disgust I said, " Oh, so would you like to be a police officer? I don't think they can be drafted. But no, those guys fight a war everyday on the streets so that people like you can walk to the store at midnight and not get mugged for your expensive sneakers. Hmmm. Let me think. Teachers? Are they eligible for the draft? And by the way, are they teaching you that people, men like my father, fought so that you could sit here today and figure out a way to avoid fighting for every freedom imaginable?" I knew if I stood there any longer I would explode. I walked away. I heard laughter behind me. They thought it was funny. It was not. Neither cared about the point. The son not wanting to be forced into a structured environment that would train him to fight in combat, and possibly be injured or killed. The father not wanting to lose his candy-ass son. Pathetic. I silently said "Thank You" to those looking down on me that had not avoided a duty of honor.
So during this long weekend, while we all enjoy the benefits of the freedom those before us have fought to maintain, please take time to thank the Veterans, in any way you can. Just buying a poppy shows you care. Power struggles and war have existed since the begining of time. They will not stop now simply because we want them to. . Forget about petty partisan politics, and remember you are free to live a law abiding life without fear of being dragged from your bed. Remember how this freedom came about.
Thank You Buddy. Buddy turns nintey years old this July. The infantry company he served with was named 'SHAVETAIL.' He saw the aftermath of Normandy first hand. It still brings tears to his eyes.
Thank You Mr. & Mrs. Gerrish, for opening your home to servicemen waiting for family to pick them up for leave. (The garnet pin was a gift from Mrs. Gerrish. Worchester, Ma.)
Veterans are everywhere around you, come in all ages, shapes and sizes. Living and dead. Thank the Living. Before it is too late.