Our room did have a small electric heater, and we used hot stone water bottles in the big bed at night. My sister and I shared this room in our small rowhouse flat. It was an old drafty building, so my parents gave us the top floor room. The rising heat made it the warmest room in the house. We had a small kitchen with a wooden table and a brand new icebox. It made the milk nice and cold. Our drawing room had a chair for mommy and one for daddy and we shared the big chair, but we mostly liked to sit on the floor and listen to mommy sing and play the piano at night. She had a beautiful voice. We also had a lovely garden outside. It was our home.
In that room and in our garden, my sister and I crafted a world of adventures every day after studies. We were Indians on the hunt of the great water buffalo; pirates on a ship combing the seven seas for buried treasure; archeologists searching for lost tomb of kings in the great pyramids; and Sherlock Holmes and Watson trying to crack the case of the missing crown jewels. We daily played out the pages of our storybooks and made them come to life. But our favorite game was called Princess. We’d pretend to be Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth having tea and biscuits. We’d dress up in our Sunday clothes and gloves and talk about all the wonderful balls we attended and the handsome princes we’d marry. Daddy made tiaras out of tin cans and we glued hard candy on them for jewels.
With the war and all, bedtime was right after supper. No lights or piano music were allowed because of to the blackout, but mommy and daddy snuggled up with us and told us beautiful tales of wonderful places with princesses in big palaces like India, Africa and Greece until we fell asleep. I dreamed that I could see them someday.
I often think of life before the Blitz. It still haunts me with echoes every night when I close my eyes.
We awoke to sounds of loud whistles, then thundering explosions and searing high-pitched screams of the planes dropping their bombs. It seemed so close. In the dark, my sister and I huddled together, shaking and crying, not knowing what to do. The bursts came closer and closer until we heard the crash of bricks tumbling and felt sand and dirt falling on us from a gaping hole in our ceiling.
Petrified and screaming, we quickly crawled on our hands and knees trying to find our door. We heard mommy and daddy yelling at us to get out, but we couldn’t see. Then the night moon shone a small beam of light to show us the way. We hastily ran out the door and down the stairs to mommy and daddy. Then we all ran to the loo where we four sat in the bathtub with mattresses over our heads to protect us.
For hours, we sat in silence in the dark trembling and holding each other while blindly hearing booming blasts and deafing bangs among the sounds of screams outside. Finally, it stopped.
Daddy went out first to make sure it was safe. After he waived us in, we slowly walked out into our drawing room. Mommy gasped as she saw the wood beams in the middle of the floor, tossing the chairs around the room and the piles of bricks dumped on her piano. In the kitchen, the new icebox was still there, but the table was cracked in half.
As the dawn broke, the shafts of light gleamed through the small holes in the walls and broken window glass to brighten the room, showing the full damage. Dirt, dust, wooden beams and fallen bricks from above tore a mess through the drawing room and kitchen, but it was still standing.
Suddenly I was hopeful for our room and ran up the stairs without a thought. Daddy ran after me yelling to come back. I abruptly stopped after only a few steps. There was no room, just remnants in the rubble. Our bookcase of storybooks was in splinters. Our tea party set and crowns, gone. Our big bed lay atop the missing wall exposed to the daylight below. There was nothing left to see.
Tears strewn down my cheeks as Daddy took me down the stairs. I tried to hide my face to spare my sister the pain, but she knew. We all did.
My sister and I sat on the bottom stair watching as Mommy and Daddy sift through the ruins to find what remained. Daddy found our radio under a pile of dust and turned it on. Prime Minister Churchill said “…It’s time for everyone to stand together and hold firm… as we draw from our hearts the means of inspiration and survival…for our people will not flinch from the struggle.”
He was right. We were still together and we would start over again. Home was not the building or our things, but our family.
© 2021, Suzanne Rudd Hamilton