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Rose: My Grandmother in World War 2 … Part 1
It’s a humid afternoon in Central Italy, 1940. My great grandmother, Rose, was reading the newspaper, searching for news of her brother Tito. He’s fighting in the American army, despite the fact that they live in Italy. He believed in the United States, and had many friends there. Rose was all alone. Her husband was lost at sea, presumed dead. Her siblings were all in the war, or in America. Her mother, killed by a mysterious illness that the Germans had brought with them. And her father… he had been murdered as an American soldier, even though he hadn’t wanted to be in the army. All that remained of the once large family was Rose and Lucy, her daughter. Lucy was entertaining herself with her doll, which she called Sandra. Rose studied her house, which was filled with the rich aroma of simmering tomatoes, heavy volumes bought from the flea market, and soil. She looked all around, at every dusty corner and cobweb. She admired every cabinet, every pot, even the washtub. Rose turned her eyes to the best parts of the house, the little stained glass window above a bucket, the vase that her mother had made, which was placed on the bookcase that her father had crafted, and over the dusty volumes, which were so well loved that the covers were falling off. She ran her hand over the rough table, which was covered in dust. We need to wipe it, she thought to herself. She envisioned her mother telling her what she always did when the young Rose made a mess Una sporca casa conduce a sporchi pensieri. A dirty house means dirty thoughts. She reached for an old dusty rag. Hearing shouts, Rose glanced at her daughter. Lucy was the same as ever, with an old faded dress, and messy brown hair, which cascaded down her shoulders as she squatted to play with the doll. Rose herself looked like an older version of Lucy, with the same hair, but pulled back into a braid, and the same frayed apron. She took a sip of hot tea, and winced. Pouring more milk from the jug, she remembered to save some for the soldiers. It’s terrible being in a war, she thought. I don’t remember how it was without those big German… brutes! I wish this war were over…
It was the harsh knock on the door that first warned my great grandmother of the approaching soldiers. Rose snatched a wicker basket from the shelf, and filled it with her daily portion of milk, and two loaves of bread- the only ones they had at the moment. Then, quickly, she grabbed as much food as she could, and concealed it in the bookshelf, behind a hidden panel. The panel had been one of her husband’s last anniversary presents to her. The war had forced many families to hide possessions, for they did not know who could be trusted. Pulling up her skirts, and, pulling open the door, Rose greeted the German soldiers, in an attempt to sound ignorant.
“Who is it? Ah, good sir, and companions! Who might you be?” Rose tried to keep up her act. “Or, if you are German visitors, then good herr, and und Gefährten!” She studied the men, who all seemed to be off balance, like they had had one too many drinks. One of them stood out, he was the biggest, and most muscular of all the soldiers. The German also had the most decorated uniform, with many medals. He must command them, she thought. As if to confirm that idea, the man pulled her by the front of her apron, and hissed,
“Ugh! You fool! Or if we’re speaking in our language, then: Du bist ein Narr! Gib uns Nahrung, oder stirb! Sie wollen wissen, wer wir sind? Denkst du, wer wir sind? Schauen Sie sich die Adler auf meiner Uniform! Sie absoluten Narren!” the men roared with laughter, and Rose felt rage boil inside of her. She shoved the food at the men, and without thinking, replied,
“Are you happy now that you’ve taken an innocent woman’s bread? Then you are an idiot!” Laughing so hard that my great grandmother thought that his red cheeks, and potbelly might burst; the commander repeated that to his friends, trying to mimic her tone. “Well, are you?” Rose repeated.
“Ah, yes, quite! But next time, make it three loaves,” with a guffaw, the commander and his friends walked away. Rose glared after them, fists clenched, breathing hard. The sun was high in the sky, and she realized that she was sweating. She was about to go inside, but her feet wouldn’t let her. Suddenly, like a sheep led by a shepherd, my great grandmother found herself walking towards the garden. She ran her hands over the luscious leaves and spiky vines. Rose tasted fresh cucumber on the air, and closed her eyes. She let out her hair, and felt it blow back by-finally- a light breeze. Maybe it will stay like this, she thought optimistically. But that was not meant to be. Feeling a touch on her work hardened palm, my great grandmother jumped.
“Oh, it’s you, Lucy. I was a little scared after that conversation with the soldiers,” she said, her nervous hands working to pull her smooth locks back into a braid. Lucy nodded, her eyes wide,
“So was I! But Mama, Tito has come home!” Rose’s hands flew to her mouth.
“What? How? Never mind! Thank you, Lord! Please say he’s not dead! We must go back to the house, and-“
“Wait, Mama,” It was Lucy. Suddenly, my great grandmother realized that there was more than excitement- there was alarm, and fear- in her daughter’s big brown eyes. “Wait,” she repeated. Afraid, Rose snapped,
“Go, tell me!”
“I’m afraid-“ Lucy went on, unable to speak. The girl looked down at the dirt, and kicked it into a little pile.
“What? Is he dead? Tell me!” The last two words rang out, and echoed in the empty silence. My great grandmother braced herself.
“His friend coming too. They’re being chased!”
Rose closed her eyes, then, opening them, she and her daughter dashed back to the house.