(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters to his sister, from the front. Kathy’s first letter of 1944, in response, continues.)
…..A couple of hours later, Mom and I were decked out in our holiday duds and I had a half hour to spare before launching into the critical phase of dinner production. I wore my long plaid taffeta skirt – maybe you remember it; I think I got it the year before you left, and I seem to remember some unnecessarily critical comment on the colours that sounds like you. (The shops can’t sell long skirts any more, and the government does its best to make us feel that making them for ourselves is an unpatriotic act. Too much fabric, you know. But I can wear one smelling of mothballs without apology, I suppose)
…..Anyway, I had a few minutes to spare when our guest arrived and I’m glad, because he brought gifts – flowers for Mom, a bottle of Scotch for Dad, and even a box of marzipan for me, in cunning little poinsettia and bell shapes. (God only knows how he managed to track all that down before the stores closed for the holiday.) He’s clearly been brought up to be a polite boy, and I’m glad I didn’t have to greet him in the kitchen or, worse still, in my scanties, modestly camouflaged by a big flannel bathrobe!
…..His name is Mark and he’d been a Lieutenant in the 1st Hussars Armoured at Camp Borden for a few months but had just reverted to the rank of Trooper so he could go overseas. His family lives in Thunder Bay, but he was to ship out very soon and couldn’t risk being snowed in by heading home for Christmas. He’s twenty years old, just like you, and it reminded me just how young twenty looks on somebody who’s eagerly rushing off to dodge bullets and kill people.
…..Dad was at the top of his form all afternoon, sipping Scotch with Mark and trotting out all the most entertaining of his war stories…making it all sound very much like a gay lark in the park. No sense telling the bad bits, I suppose. He’d find out soon enough.
…..Of course, Mom couldn’t resist treating him to the saga of Tommy the Great (that would be you)…at great length, and several times. The way she tells it, you are valiantly attempting to eradicate the Hun, single-handedly and at great personal risk. She made it clear that she welcomes Mark’s intention to go overseas and give you whatever small aid he can offer.
…..He was bound to notice, in hearing the details, that you have an unfortunate habit of putting yourself in the line of fire. I think he may have been left with the impression that you are just a teeny bit reckless. Perhaps you shouldn’t count on him going out of his way to fight by your side.
…..“It’s about time to start the vegetables,” I hinted. I switched the radio on. They were bound to be playing Christmas music. Maybe it would make chopping and dicing more festive.
…..“Do you need any help?” asked Mom. “I always seem to spoil the vegetables, somehow.”
…..I took the hint. “No,” I sulked, as gracefully as possible. “I guess I can manage.”
…..“I can mash the potatoes when they’re ready,” she offered.
…..Lumps. “No. Thanks.”
…..I realized that I was going to need help fetching the potatoes and turnip. They were still in the cellar, and I wasn’t about to struggle with the trap door and climb down there in a floor-length taffeta skirt. But Mom and Dad were already dancing around the living room to big band renditions of Christmas carols, and Mark was sitting on the couch staring at them, enthralled. The new gloves had reappeared on Mom’s hands and the silk scarf was flung around Dad’s neck with noble abandon.
…..“Fred and Ginger…” I suggested.
…..“Well,” ventured Mark, gallantly. “Ginger, I can see. But don’t you think your father looks more like Douglas Fairbanks Jr.?”
…..“You know…he does. Look at that!”
…..Mom and Dad preened noticeably and danced on. I didn’t have the heart to spoil the moment, so I beckoned Mark into the kitchen.
…..“Your parents are dancing!” he said, quite unnecessarily.
…..“But they’re alone. In the living room.”
…..“Of course. There’s music. They’re dancing.”
…..“It’s just….well…I’ve never seen anybody dancing at home like that.”
…..“Don’t your parents dance?”
…..“I don’t know…maybe. I’ve never seen them dance.”
…..“You’re kidding!” How sad.
…..Tommy, what would life be like if you never danced in your own living room?! I think Mark’s father is a minister or something. Maybe that explains it.
…..“How do you feel about climbing into a hole in the ground and fetching out some potatoes?” I asked. “And a turnip.”
…..“I’d be delighted!” he replied. And he actually looked delighted.
…..When he re-emerged with the vegetables, he took another peek into the living room.
…..“It’s kind of cute.”
…..“Well, yes. I guess it is. I never really thought.”