On a Saturday in 1940, my mother sat us down around the wooden dining table in the kitchen. I watched her tap her fingers on the table, I watched her fingers roll across the table cloth. She said dad was leaving for the war. I felt a tension knit across my shoulders. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want my brothers to laugh at me. So I looked down at the scar I got last week on my finger.
I said “When Kristi’s father left for war, the family gathered in the living room to pray.”
My mother looked at me and said “Sweet heart, we don’t pray.”
The house seemed smaller than it already was, it was simple, one story, the boys slept in one room. I had my own, but had to share it when Aunt Faye came to visit. I looked out the window at the big yard to the barn full of old tools and hay from another time. I like to hide out there when things get crazy, I longed to be there now. There were kittens out in the barn, the mother was wild, but I could get close to the babies when she wasn’t around. I could pet them and be at peace.
My mom was quiet and distant the next few days, but she had no patience and when someone stepped out of line they were sent to their rooms. No one skipped out on a meal, no one had to go to school, all the time was spent with the family. When dad took his duffel bag and turned down the end of the drive way my mother collapsed at the kitchen table. She cried and cried. When I asked her what was wrong she said.
“He may never come back.”
I held her hand and she told me to go play outdoors for a while.
I went to see what the boys were doing; they were playing in the back yard, sticks no thicker than twigs as guns and picked up rocks to fire like shells from imaginary tanks. They pointed at each other reenacting the last newscast they heard on the radio. They vowed the good guys would win. At that point, we could only hope we would win.
I asked the boys if I could play, but they told me to get lost. I went out in the barn and quietly opened the door, the light trickled in, there was dust everywhere. I looked all over the barn, they were just starting to move around a little bit. Mama cat had moved her kittens on a bed of hay under the old tractor. Mama must have ran when she heard me come into the barn, but I knew she was watching me, I could feel it.
My mom said I could have one when they were old enough to live inside with us, I wanted the black and white one. I hadn’t picked out a name yet, when I was younger, I asked my mom how she came up with our names. She said when she was naming us she didn’t have anything planned ahead of time, when she got to know us better a name came. So I will wait until a name comes to me.
In December of 1940 the enemy blitzed Main Street; the boys and I went to see what the town looked like. Everything was crumbled the roads were covered in brick and people were crying. There were soldiers in the streets trying to clean and rebuild. I asked my brother if one was my dad, but they said these men were too young. This was my town, there weren’t supposed to be soldiers in my town. We saw shrapnel and twisted metal on the ground. I picked up a piece of shrapnel, later asked my grandfather to make a necklace out of it for me. I said it reminded me of my dad, so he did.
The next night they bombed the steelworks, which we learned later was their original target.
We could hear air raid sirens. My mother got us out of bed and led us down to the living room where all the curtains where closed. She wrapped us in a blanket. She told us to sit close together. I remember crying because it was so dark so mom said she would light one single candle.
As I was falling asleep in the living room, I told my mom the kittens name would be Victory.
“Shush,” she said, “Not a word.” I asked if they could hear us from the plane if we talked and she shushed me again. So I said nothing.
I woke up covered in dust, I don’t remember hearing anything. I couldn’t hear what my mother was saying as she shook me awake. I was surrounded by broken glass and dust the house seemed to sway as if all the nails where blown out of place. She made sure my brothers were all right and noticed that there was blood coming down my face.
I watched my mother walk over to the kitchen counter, kneel down so that her skirt brushed the floor. She began to mutter something. I realized that probably for the first time in her life she was praying.
Mr Arnold, the neighbor, showed up in his pajama’s and war helmet right on time, usually he knocks on the kitchen window saying “everything is OK.” Tonight he leaned in and asked “Is everything OK?”
Mother started to shake her head. Mr Arnold continued. “You folks is some lucky, those enemy planes took out your barn, now who takes out a barn? That candle wasn’t on was it? You wasn’t the only one hit, they’ve opened up the school as a shelter, you folks make your way down there now, and be safe.”
We walked down the road to the school. People seemed to gather with us as we went along. It wasn’t until a little girl carrying her stuffed toy kitten came past us that I realized that if the barn was bombed, the cat and the kittens were probably sleeping there. I started to cry, my mother said there were other things to worry about now.
For two weeks we stayed at the shelter and my grandfathers worked all that time to put the house back together. Churchill had refused to consider defeat, and mom lived in his words and put her faith and trust in him. Every evening she asked the lady who took care of the shelter and night for paper and wrote to our father.
A few weeks after we moved back into the house there was a knock at the door. Mom looked at me and said go answer it. When I opened the door, I saw my father standing with his arms out stretched. In his hands was a small kitten. White with tabby spots. No bigger than the ones in barn, he said, “Mom says you want to call her Victory, she’s a lot of work, I’ve been feeding her with a syringe and she needs constant attention, but she’s all yours”
I was caught not knowing if I was more excited about my dad being home, or having my own kitten. I hugged my father and went searching for a basket and some old blankets I could use to line bottom.
“Hello Victory” I said, “Welcome to the family.”