This Damn War
I was fifteen years old in 1943 and the War had turned my world upside down. My father enlisted days after Pearl Harbor against my mother's wishes (as a married man in his thirties with a twelve year old son he would have been exempted had he not volunteered).
My mother, already a fragile woman, did not handle his absence well, becoming increasingly anxiety-plagued and depressed and when word came that my father was missing in the South Pacific, my mother had a nervous breakdown.
Aunt MeMe came and took me away when they took my mother away. MeMe wasn't actually my aunt - rather one of my mother's oldest and dearest friends, and really the only real option left to me.
Aunt MeMe told me to pack up "whatever is important to you" and soon we were on a three hour train ride to Aunt MeMe's house.
"Your mother always reminded me of a beautiful but delicate China doll," Aunt MeMe said during the ride. "This damn war is going to break all of us, Porter."
Aunt MeMe had two daughters - Annie who was almost seventeen and Ellie who was almost fifteen. Their father (my "Uncle George") was also off fighting the war (he was in Europe) but unlike my mother Aunt MeMe was clearly in command and in control of the home front situation.
MeMe and her daughters lived in a large Victorian house with rooms that seemed to multiply each time you walked through the house. MeMe, who was a nurse, was active and involved in the war effort and I wasn't the only one she took in. There seemed to be a revolving door of guests and visitors coming to the house, war brides and war widows, single women awaiting word on their beaus fighting overseas, and others going through a hard time or contributing to the war effort and needing a place to stay.
I brought my own problems, of course. I was forced against my will to leave my hometown and the apartment house I was born in, giving up friends, schoolmates and my way of life. I missed my Dad and I didn't like not knowing if he was dead or alive. I resented my mother for being weak, frail, vulnerable and unavailable. She was "visiting a sanitarium" and although nobody talked about it, I was pretty sure my mother had gone crazy.
Annie and Ellie were also children of the war with their Dad off fighting the good fight (or perhaps dead from that fight) and they didn't have a lot of patience with my sad sack attitude.
"Everybody's suffering, Porter," Annie reminded me. "Quit feeling sorry for yourself."
"At least you're still in your own house, in your own hometown, surrounded by people who love you," I sneered.
"Oh, grow up," Annie frowned. "Everybody's making sacrifices and dealing with their own circumstances. You think you're the only one going through a hard time? People are dying every day."
"I'm the new kid who has to fit in to a new school in a new town," I moaned.
"Boo who," Annie said, rolling her eyes. "You think any of us are happy about any of this? Go ahead and carry that chipped shoulder defeatist attitude around and I guarantee you you'll be the kind of kid nobody will want to be around."
I showed little interest in getting involved in school activities or community events, content on hiding in my room avoiding people by reading comic books and listening to the radio.
I walked to school with my two fake cousins most days, Annie and me in high school, Ellie still in Junior High. Both were both pretty girls - tall brunettes with lanky legs and long arms. They pampered their appearance by dressing well, taking care of their hair, and experimenting with makeup.
I wasn't particularly tall for my age. I didn't look all that mature or strong and I wasn't the kind of kid who was going to be courageous or outgoing. But being around women other than my mother was new to me - Aunt MeMe and her friends, and of course my fake cousins.
I was innocent and naive when it came to the fairer sex but now that I found myself as the only male in the house surrounded by pretty women I begab to realize that such circumstances were interesting even though I was too shy and insecure to take advantage of any of it.
What I remember most about that time in my life was that, twenty-five years before the Women's Lib movement of the late 1960s and early1970s, I witnessed firsthand the independence, determination, capabilities, and talents of women during a difficult time.
Because of the war and the shortage of healthy young men, women were forced to fill jobs in factories and take over other responsibilities. Most of the men that I saw around town were older gentlemen or younger guys found ineligible for military service (4F), and some of them were looked down upon, at least from my teenage perspective. Because women like Aunt MeMe were influential with a forceful nature, they ran the show in the absence of the men.
I only remember a couple of male high school teachers and the school was rocked when word came that one of the previous teachers (a Mr. Saszma) had been killed in the war. What I remember most was gas rationing, salvage collections, war bond drives, and food shortages.
There was a Victory Corps at the high school. To belong, we were expected to meet certain physical fitness standards, attend a war effort class, and volunteer in activities outside the school.
It seems everybody had their own gardens in the summer. The adults tried to keep us kids positive and busy and we had distractions like the movies, music on the radio, and even baseball (even though most of the good players were off in the war) to entertain us.
Sometimes I wondered if we were all going to die. Watching the news reels at the movie theater and listening to the news reports on the radio made me anxious and some kids at school said Hitler and the Japs would kill us but I tried not to think about that stuff. I hoped that America and her allies would prevail and that things would return to normal.
I distracted myself from the anxieties of the war by focusing on the female form around the house. At my age, it was hard not to notice the beauty of the shapely women I was living with. One of the women was Miss Nan, a friend of Aunt MeMe's who, the best I could tell, was sort of the surrogate mother with Aunt MeMe being so busy and distracted so much.
Miss Nan was an attractive woman in her mid-twenties, finely formed, well dressed and educated, but also stern and even mean. I was frightened of her because she was so intense.
"That's how you're going to end up if you don't snap out of it," Annie warned me one day after Miss Nan went off on us for some minor infraction.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Notice how bitter, resentful, angry and sour Miss Nan is?" Annie asked.
"It's hard not to," I admitted. "Why is she like that?"
"This damn war," Annie grumbled. "Her finance broke up with her because he didn't want to make her wait until he got back from the service or destroy her if something happened to him over there."
"Geez," I said, feeling sorry for the poor woman even if she wasn't very nice.
Miss Nan's room was next to mine and I discovered (quite by accident) a small hole in my closet wall that allowed me to peek into Miss Nan's room undetected. I knew it wasn't right but of course I couldn't help myself.
I spent many a night huddled in my dark closet hoping for a view of something I shouldn't see but I usually fell asleep before Miss Nan retired for the night and I'd wake up in the middle of the night, confused and out of sorts lying on the floor of my dark closet.
But one night I happened to be awake when Miss Nan came to her room earlier than usual. With my eye firmly placed on the hole of discovery, I watched with amazement as Miss Nan undressed with her back to me - all the way naked!
It was the first time I saw a woman nude and I was taken by the view, especially when Miss Nan turned and I saw her beautifully shaped breasts and the mound of hair between her legs. I felt myself swell and stiffen between my legs at the sight of the lovely Miss Nan's smooth belly and her thick dark curly hair over her mound of secrecy. So amazing was the sight that I almost whimpered out loud, overwhelmed by excitement and disbelief. I thought to myself 'This is what we're fighting for!'
Miss Nan put on her night gown and she turned off the light and I didn't dare move for at least another hour just to be sure she was asleep.
I eventually made it to my bed and I'm pretty sure that night I dreamed about the charms I had seen.