About Katie: Having arrived in time for the Great (?) Depression, WWII, and all other 20th century problems, I am endowed with long and varied memories. Writing classes have long been my home away from home. Other people's stories are fascinating, and sharing is growth at its best. Hope you seniors will join me with your stories. Try it. You'll like it.
No matter how hard I resist, I have to acknowledge summer is not coming back. When fingers freeze up on the keyboard and painful joints protest, I tell myself the whole cycle of seasons must be given equal time. So must my memories.
If you were born in the 1920s or 30s, you probably go through the same yearly routine as I do. November is full of what used to be. Bureaucrats playing around with the calendar can't interfere with what remains in the head. Armistice Day, now called Veterans Day, changes with the day of the week. What it once meant, it no longer seems to. But I am automatically transported back, and I see the faces again, hear the voices long stilled. And the song.
They are not as old as they seem to me. Not in years, though that, too, marks their path. It's the damaged flesh, seared scenes streaming through weary minds, bones that never cease to ache. Dreams diminished by passing years and hard times. Things happened to the young men that marched to Pershing's drum. Beneath years of monetary loss and broken plans, traumas set aside still crave exposure. In the kitchen, their equally worn women in faded housedresses sit drinking coffee; no longer the girls they left behind.
I sit in a darkened corner, listening. Depression is not just a state of mind. It is cold hard fact laced with terror. Talk is needed to relieve tension. Someone must start it, and someone always will. The least wounded, with the cane perhaps. The braggart, still living past glory. The shell-shocked, with demons always near the surface. Some one. Start the song, again. Bring back the days of decision, pride in facing fear. Start with a joke, maybe. One voice will follow another.
"The cooties were so bad at the Argonne, we had to tie down the gun carriages, or they'd be hauled away in the night. And the itch! They hid in every seam of that wet wool we wore; sneakin' out to bite. Worse than the Huns for hit and run. You'd think that cold mud in the trenches would have drowned them. Just made 'em more hungry for blood."
"Why not? The rest of us sure felt our backbones pushin' up against our bellies. Why shouldn't the cooties? And they weren't any worse than that rot between our toes. Good thing we couldn't take our boots off. Whole foot might have poured out into the trench."
"Any of you boys ever get the boiler treatment? In our outfit, somebody in a nice warm tent behind lines got a smart idea. Rigged up a truck with a big barrel on it. Lit a flame under it, to heat water. We got orders to strip to the skin, and throw our clothes in the fool thing. Gonna' boil the coots right out of the wool. Marched us down to the Meuse. Said jump right into the ice, and start scrubbin'. Didn't have to be told twice. Anybody standin' around in that water wasn't gonna last long. Mighta worked, but the boiler only got lukewarm, lettin' all the eggs hatch. When we got back into our clothes, we had more coots than ever. They was lots worse than the Huns."
Everyone's laughin' now, kind of low-like.
"Well, sometimes it wasn't so bad. If you got the chance at a few hours leave, and could get back of the lines. Might even get to Paris, or think about it, anyways."
"Yeah, think about it. Sidewalks, not mud. And women on every corner. Too bad old Black Jack talked Congress outa' givin' us all our pay."
"Humph! Better worry about what's around that corner. Worse things than cooties. Maybe a good thing not to have too much money in your pocket."
"Aw, Herb, why you always have to spoil the fun?" Silence.
Then: Big fellow, good voice, starts to hum, others pick up, words begin to form. In the kitchen, wives cock their heads toward the song. "What are they scheming?," one asks.