War

War

“I declare a war upon the country of…”

It is dusk, just after supper, the grown-ups are sipping lemonade or coffee on front porches, their voices barely audible under the cacophony of children playing in the street.   Tonight they’re playing War, one of my favorites. I’m a fast runner, so even though I have small feet, I can almost always stay in the game until the last round. But tonight I’m not playing. Tonight I’m on Mrs. Bruscheski’s porch with her grandson, James, watching the action. How I long to break free of my porch prison, but I can’t. Ma says to be nice; Ma says to be a good neighbor; Ma says, “Offer it up to God.

It came out of the blue. One minute Marie and I are laughing at Tony Roman’s imitation of James: “Look at me!” He holds up his hands and dangles them in front of him while he minces around the maple tree in our front yard. “Ooh, is that a yucky bug on my shoe? Help! Help!” The next minute I’m standing in front of my mother who is “very disappointed” in me. And can’t believe her daughter would act so mean. And did I stop to think about how James’s grandmother, Mrs. Bruscheski, would feel if she saw our little charade? Mrs. B. who always buys chances on the “Handmade Quilts” we sell for the Altar and Rosary Society; candy at Christmas for the Junior Catholic Daughters, and huckleberries we kids peddle by the quart in the summertime? Ma thinks that I should spend some time with James. She sends Marie and Tony home and marches me across the street with my new Chinese Checkers game.

That was hours ago. After supper, I’m sent back again. Never mind that I’ve already played about two hundred games and now I hate Chinese Checkers. James can keep the stupid game for all I care. It’s not fair. I don’t even talk to him. We watch the other kids playing, laughing, arguing. We watch the other kids having fun.

Out of the blue, Dotty gets tired of playing and decides to go home, leaving her country unattended. This is too good to be true.

“Come on, James,” I wheedle.   Let’s go down there and take Dotty’s place. I know you’re not allowed to run, but Dotty is America, and nobody ever declares war on America and even if they do, they always purposely miss the target.”

“I don’t want to,” James whispers. “Bubba will be very mad if she finds me down there.”

“Oh, come on. Why would she be mad? Your Grandma is the nicest lady on the block.   Anyway, you can just blame me. Tell her I made you do it.”

“Hey,” I yell to the kids. “Me and James will take Dotty’s spot.”

That is how we happen to be on the street, poised to run, when Mrs. Bruscheski comes out on the porch. Her face crumbles in fear. “James, stop!” she yells. Her hand to her throat, she stumbles down the concrete steps to the street. She grabs my arm, hard. Her voice trembles but her eyes flash in a face contorted into an expression I have never seen there before.

“You are a very bad girl. I never thought you’d be so … Don’t you ever come over to my house again. You are a very bad girl!” She raises her hand as if to slap my face, but she stops. “Never come to my door again.” She almost whispers it, but there’s no mistaking the steel in her voice.

The game stops. The talking on the porches stops. Even the crickets are silent. Someone, my sister Mary I think, takes me by the hand and pulls me firmly toward our house. Mrs. Bruscheski isn’t done with me though. From the railing of her porch, she dumps out the marbles from the Chinese checkers set and tosses the board into the street into the path of a coming automobile. I hear the thump of the wheels as they crush the board.
 

 

 

 

 

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12 thoughts on “War

  1. Diane – wow. The voice and imagery in this post is spectacular. I heard the dialogue in different voices and felt transported through time. I especially hear the car tires running over the board. This could be a short story studied in class.

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  2. Diane, the little devil girl. I had no idea…great piece again today, Diane. There wasn’t a moment reading it that I wasn’t riveted. The lead led me to believe something else about the content. What happened after this?

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  3. Well, my neighbor never forgave me. Her grandson had rheumatic heart. I didn’t know anything about it when the incident happened. He died when he was in the 8th grade.
    My mother told me that what I did was “no gooda” but that I was “not a badda girl”. It took me a long time to feel better about myself though.

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  4. Such an intense piece, Diane. I agree with what Aileen said. I could hear the voices and imagine each scene. It would make a great mentor text for a narrative. I’m thinking that if someone could have just explained James’ condition to you, this would not have happened.

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  5. I am left speechless and have so many questions. This would be a great text for interactive read aloud with kids. It is so talkworthy and there are so many unanswered questions. I can just hear conversation exploding around point of view, motivation and character. What is the big idea in this piece? What is the author’s intent? It is crafted in a way that make this piece so powerful for rich conversation. Can we use it with students? Let us know your thoughts.
    Clare

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    1. Of course you may use it with students. I wrote this because it is a vivid memory of an incident in my life. I didn’t know that Mrs. B’s grandson had rheumatic heart. I thought (and my friends thought) that he was just weird, though we liked his grandmother a lot. If we’d been aware, we would have been kinder maybe. But people then didn’t share such things with kids. We were self absorbed and unaware.

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  6. This is an amazing piece. I thought I knew where it was going and then it took several different turns. This must have seared itself in your memory to be able to remember these details.

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  7. Diane, I have never heard this story before. I was glued to the page – and I wanted so much more. These stories are all part of the YA book or memoir you are going to write….yes? I could hear Mrs. Bruscheski speaking, and your mom and James. I think the splash of dialogue brings this piece to life for me. Powerful ending – the marbles dumped and the car crushing the board. Nothing more needs to be said (in this chapter!). Oh, so many things to think about here!

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  8. This is a profoundly powerful story–the final paragraph is particularly gripping. I would love to know what kind of impact this had on your child life. Wow. I’m really impressed!

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  9. Two phrases shocked me: “nobody ever declares war on America and even if they do, they always purposely miss the target.” My jaw dropped just because I would certainly hope that kids today would never say such a thing and “even the crickets are silent.” I knew the intensity of the anger and disappointment. Thanks for sharing a great slice, Diane.

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  10. This is such an amazing slice. The last 2 lines really sum up the way Mrs. B felt about you. I would have been crushed if I would have been you! I’m sorry she never forgave your child-self.

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