submitted by Bethany Peat:
I'm having trouble thinking of what to say in this letter. Miss O'Brien said you'll like anything we write to you, because you've been stuck in that prison camp so long that even stuff we think is boring is interesting. I'm having trouble imagining that. Miss O'Brien says to imagine doing the same thing, at the same time, every day, without anything ever changing. I asked her what she thinks my life is like.
She said I should tell you. So, here's what I do every single day:
Get up, get dressed, and get my three little brothers dressed. Then I make all the beds. I have to make sure everything's picked up before we go downstairs.
My brothers and I eat in the kitchen. Sometimes Mama has a few minutes and can sit down to eat with us, but usually not. So I have to make sure John doesn't spill his oatmeal on his shirt and that Joshua doesn't try to take food off of his plate and that Nathan doesn't dawdle too long over his food and make us late for school. When we're done eating, I make sure everyone washes their faces and brushes their teeth. Even if there's no toothpaste, we still have to brush our teeth.
Then we go to school. I have to watch my brothers the whole way there, to make sure they don't wander off or run into the street and get hit by a car. Even when we get to school, I have to drop the twins off at their classroom door. I'm supposed to drop Nathan off, too, but as soon as we get to the school yard, I let him go by himself. He's in second grade now; he can handle it. I've been going to my room by myself since the end of first grade.
Then we have school. I think it's always the same, even though Miss O'Brien doesn't. We say the pledge and pray, then do math, then spelling and grammar and compositions, then have music class. After music, we have what the teachers call physical education, and all of us kids call gym. Then we have geography. After geography is the best time of day: lunch. As fifth graders, we have the last lunch of anybody in the whole school. Sometimes it seems like it takes forever for it to get to lunch time. After lunch, we get time to play outside at recess for twenty minutes. Then we come back in and have history and science.
After that, I go pick up my brothers and we walk home from school together. I have to watch them for the rest of the afternoon. I don't like that very much, but I don't complain about it. One time when I complained that all the other boys got to have time to play with their friends while I was stuck watching my baby brothers, she told me she'd watch them for me that day. Then she told me I could do what she usually did in the afternoons: finish washing all the sheets and hanging them on the line to dry. I didn't even finish by suppertime, and my arms hurt so bad that was a chore just to scoop the mashed potatoes up to my mouth. Since then, I try not to complain about having to watch my brothers, because I DO NOT want to ever have to switch jobs with Mama again.
It's annoying, though, because some of the boys in my grade make fun of me because I always have to watch my brothers. They call me a sissy or a girl or say that I like to play with babies. And my friends from school, even though they don't call me names, don't come over to play much at our house, either.
After supper, we all help do the dishes. There's almost always lots of them, but with five of us working on them, we usually get done pretty quickly. Then Mama makes sure my brothers have done their homework, if they have any, and take a bath if it's bath night. Then she reads them goodnight stories while I have to do my homework at the table.
When my homework is done, I go out to the front desk and give Mama a goodnight kiss. Before I go to bed, I make sure that all of our schoolbags are packed and our clothes are ready for tomorrow. Then I go to sleep and wake up and do it all over again.
I guess Saturdays and Sundays are a little different, but not much. On Saturdays instead of going to school, Mama gives us a list of chores to do, like weeding the garden, beating the rugs, scrubbing the bathtubs, and washing the windows. I have to watch my brothers to make sure they do their part of the work right. Last week, John started pulling up the carrots while we were weeding the garden, and we had to go back and replant a bunch of them! But as soon as we get done with our chores, we can play, so as long as we work hard, we're usually done by dinner or just a little after and have the whole afternoon to play. A lot of times, Saturdays is the one day of the week my brothers and I get to go somewhere else to play. We like to go down to the crick or the pond. Sometimes we go swimming, or make little boats of twigs and race them. In the wintertime, sometimes we get to go skating.
On Sundays, we go to church and Sunday School. Mama always fixes a big Sunday dinner. It's the best meal of the whole week. We don't get fried chicken on Sundays every week now like we used to before the war, but sometimes we do. Afterwards, we do the dishes. Then we have the best time of the whole week: playing games with Mama! A lot of times she gets called away, but usually on Sundays it's quick and she can come right back. Sometimes we go to the park together, but most of the time, we just play games together in the kitchen or in the living room. I like charades the best, although last week Mama started teaching me how to play chess while my brothers were playing Go Fish. She said she hadn't played since my Dad died and was out of practice, but boy, did she beat the tar out of me! I don't think I lasted more than five or six moves in any of the games we played. She said not to worry about it, that I'll get better if we keep playing together.
I don't know about that. If she can beat me that quickly now, what's the point of practicing when she'll get better at the same time as me?
Well, if you feel like it, maybe you can write back and tell me what your life is like. Who knows? Maybe Miss O'Brien is right, and I'll think your life is interesting, even if you think it's boring, because it's different than mine.
P.S. Miss O'Brien looked over my letter and said I should explain why my life is this way. She says I should add that my mother runs a bed and breakfast hotel in our house. And my father's dead.
He didn't die in the war... not exactly. He was working in the shipyards on one of the ships we sent to England when the war first started when a tar mop fell on his head from way above. He's been dead for four years now.
I know a lot of people whose fathers or uncles or older brothers have gone off to fight in the war. Some of them have died. Sometimes, though, I think maybe it's easier for the people back here if they know that their someone died. Because the people whose brothers and husbands and fathers are missing- when they answer the door and get that telegram, sometimes they think their someone is dead. I heard Andy's mom fainted when she opened the door, and it took her three days to read the note and find out his dad was missing and not dead. Or only maybe dead. They still don't know if he's dead or not and just have to wonder and worry all day long. Every day. And poor Mrs. Cooke, she never smiles any more. I think all that wondering and worrying would be worse than just knowing.
So I hope your family knows where you are, and doesn't think you're missing. Maybe you should write to them instead of me.
Note from Snooky: somehow the response to this got past the censors.
For someone who couldn't think of anything to write, you sure wrote a lot!
Don't feel bad. I'm just teasing. Sometimes I'm the same way myself. I think I have nothing to say, and then I get started writing and before I realize it, I've written two or three pages. Sometimes it's just saying things like how I miss teasing my sisters (I have five of them- all older), or how much I'd love to have a slice of my mom's apple crisp with ice cream on it, or some corn on the cob, or a thick, juicy steak... I better stop now, if the fellas catch me drooling over my letter, they're going to wonder what I could possibly be writing. And when they find out, they'll tease me to no end!
Anyways, I don't mind writing to you and my family; writing letters gives us something to do around here! We spend most of the day, every day, inside our barracks. It gets pretty old real quick.
Since you asked, I'll take a minute and describe my life. I think my life is pretty boring, too, but maybe you'll find it interesting.
At 5:30 in the morning, we fall out for our first roll call of the day. There's always four, and sometimes five or six of them. Every day.
Actually, my barracks usually doesn't go outside for roll call until the barracks guard, Sergeant Schultz, comes in to bang on our bunks and yell at us. Sometimes Newkirk or LeBeau even tells him to go away. Actually, with Newkirk it's usually, "Bugger off," but that's just English slang. We have to stand outside for roll call until Shultzie counts all of us to make sure that we're all here. Sometimes we play tricks on him to make it take longer. We can make it take a long time for him to count to fünfzehn- that's fifteen.
A lot of times, we have to put up with boring speeches from Klink, our camp kommandant. He's the head Kraut around here. Sometimes we call him "Klink the Fink," which isn't very nice of us, I suppose. But until I read in your letter about how your feelings were hurt by being called names, I hadn't really stopped to think about it. My nickname's Slim, and I don't mind the fellas calling me that. In fact, if one of them called me Edwin, I think I might look around to see who the new guy was.
But back to my schedule. After roll call, we have breakfast. After breakfast, we stay in our barracks until lunch, unless we have a work detail. That's doing things like fixing the roads or shoveling snow. After lunch, we go back to our barracks. We usually get an hour or two to play games outside or in the rec hall during the afternoon. Then it's back to the barracks until suppertime, and back to the barracks again after supper. After our final roll call (usually about 9:30), we go back to our barracks. We have to have all of the lights turned off by 10:00, or we get in trouble.
We do just about anything we can think of to make the time pass quicker in the barracks.
Several of the guys do great impersonations, and Newkirk's always willing to play cards with you. Of course, he nearly always wins, too. We also read books, play our few board games, do our laundry in the sink or in a pail, and sew up our clothes when they get worn. We take turns with things like KP- that's washing dishes in the mess hall. If you think you've got lots of dishes to wash, you should try washing the dishes for a thousand guys! Even with eight of us in the kitchen to wash up, it takes a long time.
Anyways, I'm glad to hear you're such a responsible fellow. Not many kids your age have their day that regimented, but I'm sure your mother appreciates all the help you give her by watching after your brothers so much. I'm also fairly certain your brothers have it pretty good; at least they won't have any older sisters dressing them up in girls' clothes or forcing them to have tea parties in the yard, like my sisters did to me.
Keep up the good work, Howard. In just a few years, your brothers will be old enough that you won't need to watch them anymore. Although, by that time, you may have an after-school job and be wishing for the good old days when all you had to do was keep an eye on your brothers while you played in the yard after school.
Corporal Edwin "Slim" Addison
P.S. I was sharing my letter with the guys, and Andrew told me not to worry about hurting the kommandant's feelings; apparently the Colonel told the old Iron Eagle that "Fink" stands for "Firm, Impartial, Nazi, Kommandant." And Klink thinks that's a compliment.