When Did You Know?

I grew up in a unique period of history.  My older sister and brother were mid forites babies.  I was a late “49 baby and that has made all the difference. Today because of a BBC show I caught on tv I wondered when do children acknowledge war… I thought long and hard and then I remembered.

After school I often went to my neighbor’s house.  It was a time when you could just go to any house and rap on the door and it would be answered with a warm welcome.  In those days  late in Elementary school doors were opened and I was welcome.  As I approaced twelve I found my self going to our next door neighbor’s who we all new as Nonie.  She was English and yet now as  a writer I realize this term is may not have it’s roots in England,,,, Never the less she welcomed me and poured a cup of tea into the china cup as we talked.

I thougth of Nonie today as it was a snow day and I love to watch the BCC and I was enjoying a British series of WW2 and the Channel Islands.  Then it  hit me= the realization of the first time I had ever heard of WW2…in this case it was not a book spread on a desk nor an adult pontificating in the front of a  class of twelve year old.

I knocked on the door and a voice responded, “Come in Come in…I am in the living room.”  It was her most formal room in the compact house.  I opended the outside door and the inner door.. To my right was a book shelf from what I had borrowed had a story of two girls who came to NYC…I remember it as a musical with the lead song being a duet “In the Summertime When All the Leaves Are Green”  My sister sang it in the high school performance way back in the ’60’s.  There was also a framed photo of a soldier.   On this day I asked who is the soldier.

Her perfectly combed hair that was always in a french knot . Her dress earrings and movement always expressed a woman who was far beyond NE Pennsylvania.  She was a lady without judgement of others and yet she was so a lady beyond those around her.

She slowly began to answer.  At first she mumbled, he was a friend of your fathers and other boys in our neighborhood.  ” Why is he wearing the uniform?”  I asked  and she replied, “My Raleigh was in the war and he was killed.”

That was my introduction to World War Two.  No one in my family talked about the war.  I had no idea what role my father played until much later in life.  Most of my chronological cohorts will say the same.  There was not talk of the war until we were older and politcal confrontation came to the ‘fore.

On the day I was in Noni’s house looking at the man with blond hair and so handsome I began the discovery of War….. Her eyes were moist and I could tell I should not have asked and yet she contintued to talk as if it released something deep inside.   “He was overseas in England or France or,  well we never knew really.  We received a telegram and then a gentleman came to the door with his medal, a flag, and a very nice letter from President Roosevelt”…  None of this made sense to me at twelve.  But I was well aware of the weight ofit.

“You mean he died?”


I hesitated but then asked, ” Did he come home to be buried?”

“No, she answered.  He was buried with so many others.  Some day I might go to see his grave.”

All of this was confusing and new to me and yet I knew enough to ask no more questions. As years went on I would slip a short question here and there to learn more, but the former is the longest question and answer we shared again.

I studied the war as most of us did and came to learn my own father played an important role, my uncle served in the pacific, another uncel worked on airplanes, and both grandmothers had stars in their windows.  But the day I had the conversation was the start of my discovery  of World War Two…With her dress, nylons, heels .and french twist to her white hair I evermore thought of her as a mother of a hero.


5 thoughts on “When Did You Know?

  1. This is a wonderful memoir moment, very poignant and powerful. Thank you for sharing it. My father was in the Navy in WWII, but he would never talk much about — only mentioning some of the places he had been. I only found out more about his service after he died at age 80.

    Liked by 1 person

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