Tuesday, May 26, 2009

1943–1945, not in School

After promising to write literally what I remember, not just facts from history and not remembering how I felt, I owe the blog some actual facts.
Sometimes I wonder about the little girl named Gloria who lived directly across the street from 1342 Grove, whose mother didn't let her play with us, it seemed. I often remember the girl with very smooth, long blond braids names Catherine Schultz who was in the same class as I was and still had braids in Grade 9 when I encountered her again. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the really nice mother-leader of the Girl Scout troop of which I was a member. But I was so embarrassed that, when she was accompanying the troop singing something, my father noticed (did she know that he did?) how 'funny' her fanny bounced on the piano stool. This troop was everything a Girl Scout troop was supposed to be. We learned how to hem and darn properly. We learned how to do satin stitch on linen. We learned how to put on a proper tea for our mothers, and did so, and no end of safety rules. We earned and had checked off every single one of the requirements for each badge. Of course, there was help if needed, so as to do it over properly. And we sold cookies. Did we ever sell cookies! And kept our own accounts (and hoped that our mothers turned the money over to the scout leader). We carried the cookies in shopping bags and sold them directly. And of course we went to day camp—or was that a later troop? We met weekly in the Sunday School rooms of that same little Methodist church just east of Lincoln School.
Just west of the School and only a block and a half from our house was the school store. When I went to Athens in 1959 there was still such a school store serving the Marasleion school.  Pencil sets, color crayons, penny and nickel candy, kites (rolled up, requiring some skill at home) and kite string in season, sno-cones in season. The same family as owned the school store also owned a variety store and a grocery on Encinal Avenue. A good grocery. The supermarket had not been invented, and almost everyone shopped in their neighborhoods, unless (a sign of Class) you had your groceries delivered. I have never been more ashamed than I was when, shortly before we moved away, they came, Mr. and Mrs. B., to our house to complain of the unpaid bills. I had not realized that things like that happened.
I knew about Hiroshima and the dreadful statistics and battle maps in the newspapers, and I knew that the President had died, but I didn't know that people failed to pay their bills—and didn't tell us children about it. It never occurred to me to overspend my 25¢ weekly allowance; I wouldn't have had a clue as to how one might do it.
As for the great events of the time, though I remember going out to run and shout in the street when Victory in Europe was declared and understood that it might, just might, mean a return to life before Pearl Harbor, when there was woven gingham and other imports, and no rattioning, and no more dreadful newsreels and movies about dying in submarines and tanks ("Sahara"), I didn't really see why we all went out in the streets and made noise. After all, one had to wait days before the newsreels showed us New York.
The one thing I remember was the whole section of full-page photos of Hiroshima, from the air, a day or so after the Bomb. I spread out the Oakland Tribune on the living room floor and studied the photos and the captions over and over. Remember, it was only after the war that exhaustive coverage of fire bombing was published. It was a long time before I realized that Hiroshima did not look utterly different from other wholly flattened and burned cities. I thought (it never occurred to me to assume otherwise) that very likely others, too, might have such bombs and we all might be like Hiroshima. I cannot recall thinking that We were evil. It was beyond right and wrong. I knew that kamikaze pilots would be glad to land on us; they did land on ships, after all. After an hour or so the thought framed itself that no one ever would be safe again. It was only several years later that I added, after all, that no one ever had been safe.  By then I'd read a lot of novels.
Curling up under one's desk and wrapping one's arms around one's head was a good thing to do, on the other hand, in a normal earthquake.
To be continued, the unstructured part of childhood.