We thought at first it was the Germans. Thunderous explosions across the fields and front yards that stretched from our house to the college campus, smaller crashes right outside our window. “But the Germans would have to come in planes,” my sister Mimi whispered. “There haven’t been any planes.” It was as still as the cemetery at midnight.
We crept out of our beds, into the hall and down the stairs. Beyond the bow window where we could always see the street light there was only inky blackness. We heard our father in the kitchen, opening drawers. Eventually, a flicker of light appeared, and he emerged with a candle. “It’s only a storm,” he said. “Go back to bed.” But there was little sleep that night. We shivered by the window, trying to peer out into the silence. There had been rain, we remembered, just after we went to bed, and briefly a little wind. Now there was only a still quiet, punctuated everywhere by the sound of shattering nature. The sky was an ominous indigo black; every now and then we could spot the edges of a cloud, behind which was the winter moon.
By morning, the scary sights and sounds of the night before had morphed into a fairyland. Layers of ice bejeweled every branch and twig, every blade of grass and every leaf of the ivy along the walk, the hedges around the yard, the once-flowering bushes and gardens. It was magic. We dressed quickly by the kitchen stove, pulled on our galoshes and set out to see the town. And the town belonged to us. Grown-ups were confined to the indoors, beginning the work of siege. We slid along the middle of the streets, pelting each other with ice-twigs, capturing long, delicious icicles from porch railings, a wonderland party.
The next day, my friend Ann’s mother was found dead in their car, with the radio on and the engine running. A town lady, aware of salacious rumors about infidelity and intrigue, told Ann she hoped her mother had been trying to stay warm and had not “done something on purpose.” Ann was 10. By that afternoon, the ice had begun to melt, leaving only gray vistas of terrible devastation where the oaks and maples of the campus had been. The plum trees in our yard, whose branches had cradled us through countless hours of leisurely reading were gone. The town mobilized to saw up the trees that had been the beauty of my childhood.
New trees grew, the Germans were defeated, and my friend Ann grew up, comforted by the town. But after that winter, things were never the same again.
Causes Fran Johns Supports
Compassion & Choices of N.CA
San Francisco Interfaith Council