Election Section

The Hurrahs of War

By Mary Barrett
Friday December 29, 2006

My mother painted white lights with scarlet nail polish for Christmas during the war—I was just born, “fifth dependent” my father bragged since I kept him from active duty.  

He volunteered for Civil Defense instead and scanned the night sky with binoculars from the cupola of the Webster Hotel spying for enemy aircraft that might fly in across Lake Ontario from Canada. Family rumor is they fired him, though, for falling asleep, while a tub of a U.S. plane flew across during his 2 a.m. watch, and wasn’t reported.  

An easy baby, Mother detailed, I slept, I cooed, though I cried when she sang any slow tune in a minor key, even if it was Irish. I didn’t like Marsie Dotes, either. She dried the winter diapers on a line hung across the cellar, three of us in diapers at once, and boiled baby bottles on the stove.  

She didn’t complain, grateful for hot water and health. We strung those Victory lights with garish others, the nail polish peeling off but symbolic of ‘making do’ and ‘overcoming’, right up until I left home in the ‘60s, brash and protesting a different war, my father still the patriot, my mother understanding.  

I refused the 4th of July hoopla at the Firemen’s Field where my father gave rousing speeches; I couldn’t stomach the hurrahs of war, fireworks like bombs, while images of terrified peasants running from napalm were the news; Pete already dead. I didn’t understand the concept of winning, the word couldn’t apply to burned babies, parents blown up by grenades.  

My father believed in the justness of war until he saw, on the black and white TV down in the cellar, Nixon’s shadowed face, a revelation.  

“Defending his ego not freedom,” Dad said, and voted Democrat after that, proud he had when Nixon resigned. Had he and mother seen Bush’s fatuous face and lived with his reckless choices, I imagine their efforts toward peace joined with ours. Together we light up this dark season, strings of protests, like victory lights, bright and glowing to make do, to overcome.