War Damage

I’m delighted to report that this will be a quiet, stay-at-home holiday for me. I’ll celebrate my follow-up 6 months checkup with a glass of cabernet and thank my good Lord that three and a half years past my chemo, I have no recurrence of cancer. Keep on truckin’, woman.

We live in turbulent times, but for my mother, this noise we tolerate today would be a cakewalk. One of the greatest generation, with a full plate lots of the time, especially during the War years, she had to find a way.

Mama eloped when she was barely seventeen, with my fun loving father who left her a widow when I was 22 months old. I had a brother, nearly ten, and  a Mama carrying her third child when death came knocking. A sick heart took Daddy away.

New widow, the Depression, and here comes a World War. Everybody  in deep crisis. No money, no future. But the War took away nearly every able man not needed in a big way to support the economy at home. That left holes all over industry. Mama quickly found work. She made 40mm ordnance for the Navy. It would be decades and lots of war movies before I realized that what the naval ships fired at the enemy were what Mama made.

What to do with her children? Day care didn’t exist. Orphanages did. Without hesitation she popped two of us into one, and when her third child achieved the necessary age, he joined us. He arrived on his third birthday. We hardly knew him. Mama went away to build bombs.

Now 32 years old she was made a supervisor solely because of her age. The million women working the jobs were mostly in their late teens . She was very good. The government ran competitions for the munitions factories, rewarding  workers with patriotic pins and pennants to fly atop their buildings. Mama’s crew won almost all the time. With no air conditioning then, huge fans circulated the air inside. Into their lungs. Mama got powder poisoning.

At the age of four I had a toothless green mother.  The poison in her system stained even her skin and caused her teeth to fall out. She just kept working, enduring the long hours and the explosions, nitro more unstable than some of the women.

I just kept crying. I missed her. I had little memory of my father, but I missed him too. When my little brother arrived I had trouble understanding who he was. My older brother was in the orphanage with me. We’d been put there together. He understood more than just being left. He had countless memories of our father. His anger was awesome. Rage sat upon his shoulders like furnace heat. Nothing calmed him. No one could comfort him. He blazed with  full strength fiery hate. Eventually he’d find a way to bank those fires, but could never reduce them to cold ashes. He clung to his anger with fierce possession.

He’d been her favorite, her prince. He’d had her all to himself for so long. How could Mama put him in here? He’d learn to live with his pain but never stopped hating his mother for it. He kept that tucked close to his heart until it flared and burned us all.

 

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