"I am so tired of waiting!" announced Caroline loudly at five o’clock in the afternoon. "All I have done all day is wait, wait, wait!" Nana looked back at her from the kitchen where she was preparing dinner. "First I had to wait in the drugstore for your medicine to get made up. I couldn’t even get any candy since I had to go to the dentist. Then I had to wait in the dentist’s office until it was my turn, and they didn’t have any good magazines to look at." Nana smiled and kept stirring the macaroni and cheese on the stove.
"Then, I couldn’t eat anything for two hours because my mouth couldn’t feel anything and the dentist said I could bite my lip or something." Nana nodded as she sprinkled in a little pepper and a bit more salt. "And then we had to wait for the train to go by before we could get home! And now I am soooo hungry and dinner isn’t ready yet!"
Nana shook her head and smiled. "You poor thing. Why don’t you go outside and play? I just have to bake it in the oven for ten minutes or so."
Caroline sighed dramatically. "Ten minutes?! That’s forever! And I’d have to put my boots on again." Nana placed her hands on her hips. "Oh my goodness! Ten minutes is no time, Miss Caroline! And weren’t you just saying that you were so glad it finally snowed?" She placed the macaroni and cheese into the oven and walked over to the table where Caroline was sitting. "You don’t know what it is to really have to wait for something. Let me tell you about waiting, honey."
"Like when you waited in the hospital to have Mommy?" Caroline rested her head on her hands.
Nana smiled. "That was a happy wait, and you forget about those. No, this was a very worrisome wait, and I’ll never forget it. It was more than sixty years ago, and I was eight going on nine---almost the same age as you. I lived in Willard---you know where that is, not too far from here-----with my mom and dad...." "My great-grandma and great-grandpa," interrupted Caroline. "Yes, and my brother Bill and Sister Mary." "The real Aunt Mary!" declared Caroline, who had another Aunt Mary who was not nearly as bossy or funny as her great aunt. "And great Uncle Bill who lives up in Cleveland."
"Yes," continued Nana. "Well, I also had an older brother named Dick. You never knew him. He was so handsome, Caroline, and he could sing like Tony Martin."
"Who’s Tony Martin?"
"He was a beautiful singer, honey. Anyway, when Dick finished high school that June of 1941, he and a couple of his buddies all joined the Navy. They were sailors, like your cousin John is now, and, oh, they all looked so sharp in their white sailor suits. I remember that everyone made such a fuss over them when they walked into town. Of course, everyone in town knew who the Booth boys were because they were only a year a part and played football. Well, when Dick went into the Navy, we put a blue star in our window. That showed everyone that we had one boy in the service. Pretty soon, he was assigned to a ship in Hawaii."
"In the Pacific Ocean….and the capital is Honolulu. We’re doing capitals this year."
"Very good! He was on a ship that was called the Tennessee, and he wrote me letters from there." Nana stood up and went over to the small chest in the sitting room that was inscribed with Japanese writing. She pulled out a small piece of paper and brought it over to Caroline.
"This is the Thanksgiving menu from the ship. He told us that the food was good and the weather was warm when ours was getting colder." Nana fingered the yellowed paper carefully. "We received this letter in the mail the day before it happened." She looked down at the table.
"It was on a Sunday afternoon. I always rode my bike into town to watch a movie on Sunday afternoon because I always got my allowance after church. It only cost ten cents back then. The real Aunt Mary worked there selling popcorn. I remember it was called the Temple Theatre." Nana looked out the window.
"When the movie was over, I got on my bike to ride home. I remember that I didn’t see Mary, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. But then I noticed that everyone was hurrying around and talking to each other in an odd sort of way. Nobody was smiling or just strolling around, like on a normal Sunday afternoon. Everything seemed different."
"When I got home, I ran in the front door, and there was my mother, crying next to the radio:
‘They’ve bombed Pearl Harbor! They’ve bombed Pearl Harbor!’"
"I didn’t understand….until Mary told me that it was in Hawaii where Dick’s ship was docked. All the ships were bombed and thousands of boys were killed and it was so, so horrible."
Caroline’s eyes widened. "But what about Uncle Dick?"
"We didn’t know," Nana sighed. "And that’s when the long wait started."
"Why not? Didn’t the TV reporters tell you?"
Nana smiled. "We didn’t have TV back then."
"Oh, yeah," Caroline paused. "Well, didn’t someone call you?"
"No, honey. Everything was out…and there was so much confusion. The next thing we knew, the President came on the radio and said that we were at war and we all had jobs to do. Our whole world was turned upside down in one afternoon."
Caroline listened intently. "My dad was an engineer with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He came home that night, and I’ll never forget it, he cried like a baby. I had never seen my father cry before. He just kept saying, ‘Dick’s such a good boy. Dick’s such a good boy.’ But then he got up the next morning and went to work. We wouldn’t see him for three weeks because he had to run trains morning, noon and night to take soldiers to their bases and deliver supplies."
"Your Aunt Mary and I went around collecting scrap metal."
"Like pop cans?" asked Caroline.
"No, pop came in bottles back then. My favorite was Nee-Hi Orange Soda.....But we collected tin cans, aluminum foil, old pots and pans that people didn’t want. Any old piece of metal. People gave as much as they could to make airplanes and tanks and such."
"Did Uncle Bill have to go to war, too?"
"He tried to go down and join the Navy, but he wasn’t old enough yet. He joined right after he graduated from high school the next June. But in the meantime, he and his buddies collected any old tires they could get their hands on. I think they almost stripped the tires off of people’s cars if they were watching." Nana smiled.
"But the best one of all was my mother," Nana nodded. She stood up and opened her kitchen cupboards.
"Do you see all of this food here? I can get whatever I want at the store……But back then, the government needed food to feed the thousands of boys who were fighting the war. So President Roosevelt asked us not to buy so much food. We had ration stamps…..like your books of stickers, but these weren’t as pretty…..Mom could only buy so much meat and sugar and flour and the lot. So we had to make do with a lot less food, and she had to be really creative!" She closed the cupboard doors and sat down again. "This was right before Christmas time, and we’d normally be baking up a storm. But not that year…..and not for a long time. We didn’t have enough food for that."
"Were you hungry?"
"No," Nana replied. "We made things like…..macaroni and cheese! And tuna noodle…..you just had to stretch your food and not waste a thing."
"Then Mom and her friends made bandages out of old cloth to be sent over to hospitals. And we had to put heavy blinds….like dark curtains…..over the windows so that when we had air raid drills, we could cover them up."
"You had drills like fire drills? Where did you go?" wondered Caroline.
"We went in the basement. We would hear a loud siren, just like the tornado sirens, and we had to turn off all of the lights and pull the blinds down, and then we’d run down the basement until the all clear whistle."
"Why?" Caroline was still confused.
"Because if we were going to be bombed, we didn’t want the enemy planes to be able to see our houses or to know where we were."
Caroline covered her mouth and though hard about this.
"So my mother worried about all of these things, all by herself, and kept waiting and waiting to hear about Dick. She would sit up beside the radio most nights just to hear anything at all. Every day it dragged on and on. But the worst part was when the telegram boy would ride by on his bicycle." Nana’s voice lowered to almost a whisper. "You could hear his bicycle rattling on the bricks and his little bell tinkling. We would all stop in our tracks."
"Wait, wait!" Caroline held up her hands. "What’s a telegram?"
"Emergency messages were transmitted over the wires, like the phone wires….but these messages were typed out by someone at the local station in town, and then the boy was sent out to deliver it to your house. Kind of like express mail, but very simple on little brown paper….Anyway, my mother would stop and say a prayer, because even if he didn’t stop at our house, he was stopping at someone’s house, and she prayed that it was not bad news."
"So did you get a telegram about Uncle Dick?" Caroline asked quietly, more than a little worried now.
"No. Day after day, then one week and another passed by. We waited and waited." Nana stood up and walked over to the stove to turn it off. "I remember that people stopped by the house because they knew Dick was at Pearl Harbor."
"It was on the Tuesday before Christmas, December 23rd. It was the last day of school and we three kids were all home just sitting in the living room. Mom had set aside enough sugar to make two dozen Christmas cookies, and we had planned to go out and cut down a Christmas tree, but none of us kids were in the mood for any of it. We were all moping about how terrible this Christmas would be without Dick, and our dad coming home just for the day, and no fancy food." Nana ran the water in the sink to soak some dishes. "And then my mother walked in from the kitchen and just looked at us. ‘You kids should be ashamed of yourselves! We are so lucky!’"
"She said, ‘We are still waiting to hear. Thank God, we haven’t heard bad news. By still waiting, there’s still hope. After the first few days, I decided that’s how I was going to look at this whole situation. If there’s still a wait, then there’s still a hope. And if there’s a hope, there’s always a Christmas. And that’s something to be thankful for.’" Nana opened the oven and pulled out the macaroni and cheese.
"Just then, the mailmen shoved some letters through the slot into the front hall. Mom walked over to pick it up, not expecting anything more than a few Christmas cards. Then she came upon a tiny square envelope addressed to her and Dad…..Here, I’ll let you see for yourself."
Nana went back over to the Japanese chest, pulled out a small, worn envelope and handed it to Caroline.
"It’s so littlel!" Caroline opened the envelope carefully. The writing was faded, but still legible.
OK. LATER. DICK
"Yay!" Caroline cheered. "He was alright!"
"Oh, we cheered and cried, and my mother knelt down right there in the hall and just hugged this letter. Bill grabbed a pan and a spoon from the kitchen and ran out to the porch and made the biggest ruckus! The neighbors looked out, and they knew right away that it was good news about Dick. It was the best Christmas!"
"Later, we got more letters from him, and we found out that he became deaf in one ear after Pearl Harbor. When the bombs came, he ran to the machine gun turret and fired away. The noise just was too much for that one ear. But that was a small price compared to what happened to others."
"Did he come home then?"
"Heavens, no. There was still a war to be fought for four more years, and we spent a lot of that time waiting to hear from both of them. Bill was in a submarine and Dick went on another ship. I think we saw them twice over that time, and we did a lot of waiting. But I always remembered what my Mom said: ‘While there’s still a wait, there’s still a hope. And where there’s hope..’" Nana spooned some macaroni and cheese onto a plate and set it before Caroline.
She waited for it to cool, without saying a word.
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