Veterans Day Below

By Londa


A handmade felt red poppy


"Father, do you have your story selected?" Vincent asked.

"No, not yet, Vincent. It's such a difficult balance with children. It shouldn't make war look like an adventure, or be too scary. It can't look like a game....."

Father looked down at his desktop, his head in his hands, lost in thought.

"I have found something you might consider. Remember that old dresser Mouse brought down here last year?"

"The one stuffed with papers?"

"Yes, it is so. I rescued something from it before we had the bonfire."

 Vincent pulled out a worn bundle of letters from an inner pocket. They were tied with a faded blue ribbon.

"I'll take a look at them, thanks. Now you better get started setting up the school table. William will let you use the dining room since his rationing lesson will be right in the middle of class."

Vincent felt Catherine. She was a little mischievous. She was close. He picked up an old battered green suitcase and bounded to where his heart told him she was.

"Catherine! I did not expect to see you so soon."

They hugged, and he kissed her soundly. She smelled like the autumn air.

"Well, I suddenly knew a way to make your class today a little better. I went to a nice fabric store and rushed right over."

William was in his red brick kitchen when he heard the excited children's voices and Catherine's low calm tones from the dining room.

What is she up to this time? he thought as he smiled with the left half of his mouth.  He put down his knife and watched from the door.

Catherine opened a tote bag full of rectangles of red and green felt, black buttons and yellow thread. The children were bouncing with glee. Vincent was leaning in the doorway smiling.

"All for us?"


"Can we start now? Right now?"

"And we were only going to draw poppies on scraps of paper!"

Vincent's suitcase of crayons and paper was open, but ignored.

William went back to grating carrots.

I'm up next, bedder' be ready. he thought.

After the carrots, he slivered onions, found the oatmeal, and retrieved the milk and butter from the giant ice chest. He was done early, so he sat for a few minutes and enjoyed watching the children make their little red felt poppies. Catherine had paper patterns to trace on the felt and good scissors to cut it into petal shapes.

"Poppies are a traditional way to remember the brave people who went to war," Vincent began. "Remember the poem we read together this morning? In Flanders Fields? That poem was really popular, and the poppies in it were adopted as a symbol of a soldier's sacrifice."

Vincent boosted the smallest child to sit on his knee and showed him how to thread a needle and sew the button in the center of his poppy.

"Vincent! You know how to sew!"

"Indeed I do. Mary taught me when I was a lad."

"But sewing is for girls!"

"Not when your only pants are ripped up the back, it isn't."

There was a storm of giggling.

"No man is ready for an adventure without a sewing kit. See, here's mine."

Vincent showed the children a small metal box that had a needle, black and white thread wrapped around a small square of card, and several safety pins.

The poppies were quickly finished and pinned on each child's shirt. The older children had managed to make extras to give away.

Jamie slipped into the dining room with a note for Vincent...he read it briefly, whispered goodbye in Catherine's ear and left in a rush.

"Now William, the children and I would like to learn what you have to teach us about food rationing," announced Catherine.

She looked straight into his eyes, something that he still had not gotten used to.

William blushed, studied his scuffed up brown shoes, and lightly coughed.

"Well, during World War I and II, there was somthin' called rationing. Ya see there was jus' not enough food or even clothes. Everything was dedicated to go to the war effort. Even up Above there wasn't enough clothing to go around. The factories were too busy making uniforms and boots for the soldiers. The same went for food. You were only allowed to buy a certain amount, and that changed how people cooked. I got here a soup recipe we're gonna make that will give you an idea of how that worked. Come inter' the kitchen, an stay a good ten inches away from the ovens. Right?"

The children did not often see William angry, but once was enough! They walked carefully behind him.

"Today, I'm using butter, but the real recipe starts with drippins' That's just the fat that drips outta meat when it cooks. Cooks saved it carefully an' used it fer loads of stuff. Back then, people even spread drippins' on their toast because they couldn't get enough butter. But I used all ours making gravy last night. I got the onions all cooked here. Kipper, be careful now and pour in that pot of broth. Easy now...that's right. Now here's the funny part, Suzie, hand over the oatmeal. Yep, we're gonna put in oatmeal.”

"What?" The children said like a chorus.

"Yep Oatmeal. It don't take much." William put a handful into the soup.

"We have funny ideas about food. Jus' because we usually eat oatmeal for breakfast, doesn't mean it can't be good in soup. What it does is make it a bit thicker. Normally white flour is used to thicken soup, but it was hard to get then. Now I'll put in some salt."

William poured a small pile into his hand and brushed it off into the soup.

"All we need now is carrots. Mitchell, I think it's right behind you, if you can just hand it over. Thanks. Then we let 'er simmer fer half an hour. Oops, forgot the parsley."

William picked the bowl of chopped herb off a high shelf and emptied it into the pot.

"After lunch, Mouse will teach you about Victory Gardens an' how he grew this parsley. That leaves just one more thing to add, but we have to wait half an hour. Father will read you something now. So, out to the dinin' room with you."

Father was sitting at the largest table with the tattered letters spread out in front of him. He looked solemn.

"Please have a seat. Vincent found these old letters written by a soldier while he was in the army during World War 2. He was writing them to his girlfriend. I think he was a cook, just like William."

Father picked up a letter and read.

"My dear Lois,

I am writing to tell you I am fine, and the enemy has not got me yet. We are on the move again, but I can't tell you where I'm going. They seem to think Hitler will figure out what we are up to if I say even where I'm going. We got all our pots and pans loaded up and expect to be far away by tomorrow.


Dearest Lois,

Thank you for your letter, it is much comfort to know I am not forgotten. It seems strange to me that you are working in a factory and me so far away. It rained all day on us and we have been standing in six inches of water all day. I hate it here. If anyone says this is an adventure, I'd just say I'd like to never have another adventure again! If they say this is bravery, I'll say we are just stuck here with no way out. It's not brave to be stuck.


Father read eleven more letters and ended with one dated New Year's Day, 1944.

"My Lois,

I miss you so much. I have almost worn out the photo of you that you sent just by looking at it. It has been snowing here for days and days. I'm colder than I have ever been before. I feel like I will never be warm again. I wish I was home with you so we could get married at last. Nothing else matters to me now. Where we will live, or where I'll find a job doesn't mean anything. I am lost here in this war. I cannot understand it at all.


And here is an envelope that has Thomas's dog tags in it. Soldiers wore these metal tags around their necks to identify themselves. It had their blood type on them if they needed medical care and couldn't talk, and their religion. That was so their death would be carefully respected. Some religions have special traditions about death."

Father handed the chain with the two metal tags to the children, who looked carefully at them and handed them around the table.

"Why are there two tags?"

"That's a sad story. The tags were meant to identify the soldier if he died. One was left on the body and one was taken off the chain to report the death to the people in charge."

The children were very quiet. William wiped his eyes, remembering his Uncle Barry, who had never come home from the war and was buried somewhere in France. No one in his family had ever been to see his grave.

"But Thomas, here," said Father, "probably survived. See, both his tags are still here on the chain."

Vincent reappeared in the dining room.

"You are right, Father, Thomas survived the war. One of our helpers has been searching all morning. She found the announcement of the wedding of Thomas and Lois in 1944, along with a photograph. The dog tags, and the address on the envelopes had Lois's last name on them, so they could trace their marriage records."

Vincent held up a photo copy of a newspaper clipping. The man's face was horribly scarred on his right side, he was using crutches and was missing his right foot. He was grinning. Lois at his side was wearing not a lacy white wedding dress, but a simple flowered dress. She was beautiful. She too was grinning.

Father looked at the photo copy for a full minute. No one talked or moved.

"This afternoon's writing assignment will be what you feel about Thomas and Lois and the letters. Now, William will need your help finishing the soup."

"Right, the last ingredient we need is milk. Back into the kitchen, an I'll show you how to keep it from curdling."

"What's curdling?" asked Maddy as she disappeared from view.

 Catherine studied the happy couple in the old image.

"Vincent, he sure looks happy. And Lois does too. Do you suppose they stayed that way?" asked Catherine.

"I don't know. I just don't know."

"They did Vincent! I just know they did!"