Wednesday, September 6, 2017

When I was born...

Once again I’ve opted to join StoryADay for a marathon of short-story writing. Yes, yes, I know I said no more writing until I’d organized forty-plus years’ worth of genealogical research, but…

This is such an easy way to add stories to my file of freebies and submission possibilities. No one is coming after me if I don’t write thirty stories in September! No one will ever know. I won’t get my hand slapped with the words, “No more prompts for you until you’ve caught up!” No, the story prompts will appear like magic via email every week! Then I’m free to do with them what I like.

Did I mention participation is free also?

The event happens twice a year, and for me, it’s a shot in the arm (or elsewhere if you like), spurring me to dash off what will be, with some editing, a short read to share on my website or even right here at The Word Place. In fact, I’m going to do just that right now!

Day 1 prompt:  When I was born…

I peered around the half-digested newspaper at my youngest grandson who sat hunched over his bony knees on the floor beside my chair.
“So what was the world like when you were a kid?” Steve’s freckles appeared to be bouncing around on his earnest face as if they sought higher ground in his shock of burnt-orange hair. I’d had the same hair, though not quite as many freckles.
“What was it like?”
“That’s the question, Grandpa.” He gave me that disarming smile he’d known for eight and a half years could elicit the right answers from almost anyone, especially me.
I lowered the newspaper to my lap. “What was it like?”
He opened his mouth to say something but nodded instead.
“When I was born, we were smack-dab in the middle of a war. World War II. My father had gotten a twenty-four hour pass to see me in the hospital before he shipped out the next day.”
“Where to?”
“He wound up in England as part of the invasion force. D-Day.”
“What was D-Day?”
“Don’t they teach you anything in school any more?” The newspaper slid from my lap. “I swear, what’s wrong with schools these days?”
“Geography,” he said clearly. “We’re learning geography, Grandpa. The continents and oceans and…”
“He’s only in third grade, Dad.” My son’s voice drifted across the room from his favorite chair. He didn’t put down the comic section he’d appropriated before giving me the rest of the paper.
“Oh. Well, when are they going to teach you a little history?”
Steve shrugged. “I don’t know, but you could give me a head start, couldn’t you?”
I gave him a brief explanation of the Normandy invasion.
“And your dad was there?”
“First wave on Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of them all.”
I sat back in my chair. “He didn’t make it back.”
“I’m sorry, Grandpa.”
“Yeah, me, too, Stevie boy.”
“Do you remember being in third grade?”
“Sure do. Little one-room country school about two miles from my grandparents’ farm. Used to get rides on Poppy’s tractor when he was plowing that direction. In bad weather, he’d take me in his pickup truck. But he died that year, so my grandmother sold the farm, and we all moved to town.”
“This town?”
“Crows. That’s up in the eastern part of the state. The school was a little bigger. One room for each grade.”
“And the war was over, huh?”
“Ended when I was two, but then the Cold War started.” I explained that before he could ask. “We spent a lot of time scrambling under our desks and covering our heads with our arms. Air raid drills,” we called them. “But they were useless. Being under our desks wouldn’t have saved us from an atomic bomb.”
“Were you scared?”
“I don’t remember being scared. It was just what we did.”
“Oh. What did you watch on television?”
“We listened to the radio. The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Big Jon and Sparky, Eddy Arnold, The Shadow, Gangbusters, Amos and Andy, My Little Margie. We didn’t get a TV until I was in junior high school.”
“Sounds boring.”
“Anything but. We played outside after school until dark and all day in the summers. Rode our bicycles--with no helmets, by the way. Mom didn’t even know where I was, just around, but I knew I best be home in time for supper or else.”
“So I guess you didn’t have video games either.”
“Nope. Didn’t need them. Too much else to do.”
“Did the movies have talking in them?”
“Just how old do you think I am, anyway?” I glared at him.
He grinned. “Just checking.”
“It was a good time to grow up in Stevie boy. People weren’t in such a hurry, and they were nicer to each other.”
“Come to think of it, things were still pretty good when I was growing up.” My son Stephen folded the comic section and laid it aside. “Pretty good.” He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. “We’ve lost something we’ll never get back, you know.”
“What’s that?” Stevie scooted closer to his father.
“A sense of who we are.”
“I know who I am.”
“Who are you without your tv, your video games, and your computer time?”
Stevie’s mouth puckered. “What d’you mean, Daddy?”
“I mean, who’s Stevie? What do you like outside of electronic stuff? What do you think? What do you hope for?”
“A Chromebook for Christmas?”
Stephen shook his head. “Wrong answer.”
“How about snow?” I suggested. “You could build a snowman.”
“That’s kid stuff.”
“You’re a kid,” I reminded him. “You’re not even nine yet.”
“Will be in two months.”
“I knew who I was,” I said, closing my eyes and letting my mind drift back over time. “I was the boy who’s dad died in the war. Only one in my class even though a lot of my classmate’s father’s had seen action. I was the boy who talked to his dad at night after I went to bed. Told him about my day. Told him I wished he could’ve seen me hit that homerun on the playground or win the Friday spelling bee. Told him how I wanted to go fishing with my friend and his father, but they didn’t ask me.”
“I didn’t know that,” Stephen said, his words almost inaudible.
“No reason you should.”
“You never missed anything I did,” he said. “And that’s why, isn’t it?”
“I guess so.”
The silence in the room, chilly at first, slowly draped the three of us like a warm blanket. “Why don’t we go fishing on Saturday?” Stephen suggested. “Like that idea, Stevie?”
“Can we take the boat out?”
Stephen shook his head. “No, not this time. We’re going to pack up our gear and a picnic basket and drive to the river. We’ll fish from the bank like I learned to do.”
“Okay, I guess.”
“You in, Dad?”
“You bet.”
“You never taught me to clean a fish.”
“Well, I could do it faster, and your mother didn’t like a mess in her kitchen.”
Stephen picked up the comics again. “She sure didn’t.”
“So I guess I’m going to find out what it was like when you were a kid, Grandpa?”
“How do you mean?”
“More than that, Stevie.”
“Maybe you’ll catch a fish, or maybe you’ll just have time to think about who you are. Either way, you’ll bringing something back.”
His mouth twisted, then straightened. “Okay, Grandpa. Whatever.”
“Not whatever, Stevie. Something. Something important. Okay?”
His freckles sought the high ground again. “Gotcha.”
I reached over and tousled his hair which didn’t need the extra. Then I picked up the sports section again and began to read.

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