Remembering a time like no other

By Micki Cottle - Guest columnist

Fat, heavy-bodied raindrops topple out of arching trees like classy high-divers, bouncing a lazy tattoo on the backs of the garden furniture. A soothing kind of rhythm takes hold, and I am in another house in another town, and it was long ago.

Perhaps it was ’42. The War was still raging. My dad was somewhere in the Pacific, Mama was always home, (or close thereby.) Bluing bottles sat on the back porch windowsill nestled beside African Violets that she tried so hard to coax into bloom.

It was a childhood of uncertainties, War and rationings, blackout curtains, searchlights: It was a good time for flowered wallpaper, and baseball; quilts that smelled of mothballs and the erotic taste of hot chocolate on cool nights. It was a time for radios and mail, and looking at pictures. It was a united time, a time like no other.

In our patch of a backyard, we had managed to dig, a victory garden. The radishes surprised us; but the beans and corn refused to give an inch. The tomatoes came up eventually, but they were a sorry lot. Still Mama did the best she could.

The Wong brothers, who owned the Chinese laundry, next door, were generous with their own abundant spread; and on hot summer nights would invite us to come sit on their flat roof and watch the stars. The giant arm of the searchlight would pass back and forth, “counting her children,” and we would shiver in the night air. The Wong brothers, with their long pigtails, coolie coats and toothy smiles would pass around tiny cups of strong, black tea, and talk longingly of China.

A Greek family two doors down, with hearty laughing adults and misty, brown eyed children, supplied us with grape leaves and taught my Southern mother how to make a spicy Greek dish; grape leaves, stuffed with something, probably Spam. Everything was stuffed with Spam.

Our street was a close group of survivors. The town of Quantico was surrounded by the Base and painted with Navy whites and Marine Corps blues. It was probably a pretty mixed surrounding to grow up in. Though the winding alleyways, and stores that smelled of pickles and garlic were as joyous and natural as any hometown. So, of course, I thought everyone lived like this.

Today, when I do dream of my old town, people I once knew are moving along the sidewalks of Potomac Avenue, and somehow time has passed them by. The Chinamen, (long gone,) are there, smiling, and nodding. Clotheslines are tilted with clean khaki shirts and pants. Their back porch steps are flooded with soapy wash water. It seems they think it is only another Monday.

In my dreams the light is everywhere, on the sides of people’s faces, the fronts of buildings, on the grass and ground and streets. Sitting neatly under a blue domed sky, they are forever held hostage in this tiny vacuum of time.

Women walk slowly, carrying bulky packages, gazing steadily, with such trust, such concentration as they wave sadly at the jeeps full of young, smiling soldiers. Children hold tightly to their mother’s hand. Fathers never seem to be in the picture. Of course I know they are in strange places, with strange names fighting for a freedom, most never lived to enjoy.

I see US flags; and before me the creased khaki shoulders of a young Marine. He is teaching me to ride a bicycle and the coiling, bluish smoke from a Camel cigarette, stuck in the corner of his mouth, make his brown eyes crinkle. “ It’s easy Kid, easy.” Nothing else was so easy for my friend Charlie. He died on a lonely beach somewhere in the Pacific. Charlie was 23: A twinkling clown of a man, who could swing into a soft-shoe, and dance across Georgia.

Almost daily, we fight the weeds of change and decay in this new century, as we shake our heads and hang on tight. Leaders are giving us so much more than we bargained for. And the memories of the 40’s for those of us who were there, forever live in our minds. The faces of all those young men (and women) who never came home; never scuffed up their shoes dancing across Georgia, smile sadly in our dreams; and we know all wars will haunt us forever. And they do.

“And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24

By Micki Cottle

Guest columnist