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December 7th, 1941 It had been but a matter of hours since they were wandering the beaches of California, Bev recalled asshe dashed up the walk in the downpour. Grinning wildly, she took the front steps two at a time and collapsed withher back against the front door. “Are you out there?” she called into the misty gray. She laughed. “Come on! Hurry up!” “Coming, darling!”
A moment later, Tony’s shadowy figure came into focus. He raced after his new wife, clamping his capon his head. As he clamored up onto the stairs, Bev took the keys from his hand and pushed the front door open.
Tony scooped Bev into his arms, abandoning the suitcases in the doorway. She shrieked and laughed ashe carried over the threshold, “Tony! Put me down!”
He laughed too and set her down gently in the living room. The pounding rain quieted. She twisted theends of her hair between her fingers and wrung it out, brushing the excess water down the front of her coat. Tonyfollowed suit, taking off his hat and shaking the water from his short locks before putting it back on. “Should I start the fire?” “Oh, yes,” she agreed quickly, taking his coat as he wriggled free. Tony dropped the suitcases in the corner and closed the front door tightly against the rest of thestorm’s sounds. And briefly cupping Bev’s chin as he passed, he turned his attention to the darkened hearth.
Smiling to herself, Bev slipped her shoes off and padded into the adjoined kitchen. She draped their soggy coats over the back of a chair and went about securing the windows’ latchesagainst the howling wind. She turned the radio on and skipped amongst stations, trying to settle on a song.Humming along as she picked up different verses, Tony came in and rummaged through the fridge.
Dancing from foot to foot as he collected two chilled soda bottles, he closed the fridge back up andtapped Beverly on the shoulder. “Refreshments after our long trip, my darling wife?” “After this song,” she promised, taking the bottles and setting them aside. He swept her up and began to spin her around in time to the swinging of the big band. Rising on hertoes, Bev threw her head back in a sincere laugh and skittered and skipped along.
The record squealed to a stop in a broadcasting station somewhere. Their eyebrows knitting together,the newlyweds’ feet fell back to the ground.
“We interrupt this program for an emergency news bulletin: the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.”Bev’s skirt swirled to a stop around her legs.
December 8th, 1941 “We can at least be grateful that you were moved from the Arizona.” Tony reached over and patted her bony knee as the car jostled along in silence. “And you have to go? Already, I mean? There must be something we can do – someone you can talk to –about all of this.”
“Oh, sure. And what do you suppose they’d say?” he said, gently but sarcastically. “I’ve only just takenleave for the wedding and our honeymoon, darling. Besides, it’s not that I’m looking for us to be separated. But I havea duty that I want to fulfill.” “That’s fair, I suppose,” Bev admitted, sinking into her seat. She turned to stare blindly through her tearsas the rows and rows of boring, gray military housing bumped by. “Doesn’t make it any nicer to bear, though.”
“I love you.” She reached up to catch the tears that escaped with the fingertips of her gloves. “You’ll let me know who… if your friends are alright?” Tony retracted his touch from her leg so he could maneuver the car around the corner. He slowed asthey neared the area where he would be returning to his naval ship.
“As soon as I hear,” he promised. He pulled into a parking space and killed the engine of his car. For a moment, neither Bev nor Tonymoved; to open the door or say goodbye or even to blink. The naval base soared into the sky all around them. Hisship floated against the early morning sky. Men, all dressed up in their finest uniforms and carrying sea bags,migrated toward it all at once with their loved ones lingering a foot or two behind.
“This is where you get off,” she whispered. “I love you.”
December 22nd, 1941My husband, Are you missing home yet? We both knew you would be called back to your ship around this time. We only hoped itwouldn’t be for Christmas. My sisters have been calling and one of them dropped by to see if I would visit for the holiday. But I told her no.We were planning on staying here, anyway, for our first Christmas as the Smarts. Besides, I would rather be here while you’reaway. I’d go crazy not knowing whether or not word of you had come while I was away. Rest assured there isn’t much of anything for you to be missing right about now. I haven’t been to the market inover a week. I don’t plan on making your holiday candies or doing up a spread of ham and potatoes for me alone. I think I’drather just a quiet little dinner as I listen to the war updates by the radio.
There aren’t any Christmas cards for you to miss helping do. Not yet, anyway. I did try getting a tree in here tobrighten up the place, even if just a little. But it was too difficult on my own and so it’ll have to cheer up the left side of ourfront stairs for now. How are you, darling? I disliked creeping around the dark on my own when you were out for the night. Now thatyou’re overseas – or perhaps still in the middle of it – I altogether hate it. I’ve been doing a lot of racing up the staircases andinvestigating our home’s phantom creeks and groans like a chicken with a baseball bat. If you were here, you’d find me funny, I’m sure. I pray that you’re safe and that you’re not getting too vicious. Your responsibility to your country is burrowed sodeeply in your heart. But please don’t go looking for ways to jump into the action. There are so many men fighting for us. I’d
rather they all jump first. I’m not in love with them. The fire needs restocking now and I suppose I should run this, and my other letters to you, into town before the raingets too much worse. More gray skies, though I bet you’re not unsure about that. Please write when you have the time. It’s sodifficult to wait to read your words and receive the update on your friends who’d stayed at Pearl Harbor when you left. Butwe’re all making sacrifices, right? Doesn’t make it any nicer to bear, though. Besides, there’s someone at the door.Warmest of wishes and love, your darling
Bev folded the letter into thirds, taking care to make the folds crisp and the corners sharp. She slipped itinto a bright white envelope that sat waiting in her lap and addressed the front to I.S. Tony Smart. Then, turning thepower dial down on the radio, she rose slowly from her chair and answered the front door.
“I was beginning to think you weren’t home,” the woman standing on the other side admitted with arelieved sigh and a smile that made her cheeks seem even rounder. “I’m Ruth. My grand-niece and -nephews and Iare staying next door.” “Beverly Smart,” she announced perfectly and offered up a handshake. “I apologize for the wait. I wasjust finishing up a letter to my husband.”
Bev’s eyes lingered on the snow-white envelope she clung to with her other hand. “Is he the reason for your flag?” She followed Ruth’s eyes to spot the flag that flew on the inside of the window to Tony’s study. All thearmy wives and families had received them as reminders to fly in honor of their absent boys. Bev nodded stiffly, not caring to linger on the thought with a stranger.
“How brave,” Ruth mused aloud, her eyes clouding over as she stared at Tony’s flag. “Got a nephew ofmy own serving, in fact. He was a single boy. So here I am, looking after his two little ones,” she added, herexpression brightening only slightly as she spoke of the children. “What are their ages?” Bev asked brightly, noticing her neighbor’s darkening smile. “Oh, there’s his eldest pride and joy. Her name is Kate. Eleven years old and she’s already got the boysdipping her braids in the inkwells at school,” Ruth chuckled, really much livelier than before. “Then there’s herbrother, Gus. He’ll be nine in the spring. And Billy’s not Ronnie’s baby but he’s been orphaned by the bombing inEngland - that’s where they’re all from. Oh, I couldn’t bundle up Ronnie’s kids and pack them into the car knowingthat little one was all alone next door. And at this time of the year, too.”
“I’m so sorry,” she offered automatically. “My husband – Tony – he was called back because of PearlHarbor.” “Oh, we miss them dearly but our boys are out there fighting for a noble cause.”
“Doesn’t make it any easier to bear, I always say,” Bev rattled off. She dropped her eyes to the Tony’sletter. “You know, I was just off to mail a couple of things. I was thinking about restocking my cupboards andwhipping together a loaf of banana bread. But I couldn’t go through a whole one myself,” Bev offered with a gentlesmile.
“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenlyand deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan..” Ruth cuddled Billy closer as he chomped on the end of a bottle and cuddled against her side.
“Who is this talking?” Kate asked, resurfacing from her game of marbles for the first time that evening. “FDR,” Bev mumbled a bit mindlessly as she pushed her toes against the floor and rocked her chair backand forth. “The president.”
“The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinionsand well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation. As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and NavyI have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.” “Our daddy’s one of those guys,” Gus added proudly, sitting back on his feet. “He’s fighting in Europe.The King wanted our daddy to help.”
“So I’ve heard. It’s good to be proud of that.”
With one last smile, Gus motioned for Kate to take her turn and their game resumed. Bev sipped at hermug of tea to wash the aftertaste of banana away. And all listened as the radio station host replayed the president’s“Day of Infamy” speech. Billy finished his bottle and crawled onto her lap. “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteousmight will win through to absolute victory.”
“I wish I was two years younger,” Bev admitted aloud. “We all do. Though personally I’d take a little more than that off, while I was at it,” Ruth exclaimed witha bright laugh as she patted Billy’s back. He wiggled impatiently so she lifted him gently down to the ground.
“Two years ago, I was still in college,” Bev continued, staring off into the remaining lowlight cast bythe dwindling fire. “I went home for every holiday. And once a year for Christmas, Tony would take leave from thenaval base to bring me a gift and take me sledding. Now all it does is rain.” “With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain theinevitable triumph – so help us God.”
“My husband served in the first world war,” Ruth announced in her quiet, even way of speaking. “Hewas killed in action. But all those days I spent in the dark leading up to that… I worried my life away for a numberof years. In the end, the only thing that helped was finding another purpose, elsewhere and with other people. I,myself, became involved in countless charitable organizations. I finally felt like I had a purpose again. “You know, a friend from back home has been working to secure visas for the little British kids. Thereare worse things than awaiting a husband’s return. I suppose the children will need a place to stay.”
Bev swallowed the rest of her tea and set the cold cup aside on a clear corner of the end table, next tothe unopened bottles of soda. “I ask that the Congress declares that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Decemberseventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”
“We should be getting home to bed. We’ve got to see about school in the morning.”
December 23rd, 1941Hello, my Mr. Smart. Lots of things on the agenda today, for a change. Are you surprised? I met our new neighbor yesterday as I wasoff to mail you your letters and things. She’s quite the character. We spent the evening baking loaves of sweet breads with thechildren who are staying with her during the war. It was nice to have company in our place again, even if she left before I couldcheck the doors and windows and race upstairs for a night full of too much quietness. I woke up to more rain – or maybe I just woke up to the same rain I fell asleep to. Still, I’ve got all the windows butthe one to your study propped wide open for a good old airing out. Things to clean. Considering trying a snack or two for theneighbor children. And I think I’ll invite them over again tonight for the radio and company.
But don’t worry. Nothing too spectacular until you’re back.Love, love, love, your darling
December 24th, 1941My Darling, Merry Christmas, Tony. I love you. I miss you. I love you.Your Darling
December 25th, 1941 “Beverly! Where’ve you been?” “We’ve been waiting for you!” “Auntie Ruth! She’s finally home!” “Hello Kate, Gus! I’ve been out volunteering!” Bev chimed as she came up the walk and found Kate andGus sitting in the open doorway of their house.
The rain dribbled around them in small, succinct gray streaks. As she hurried toward her own house,Bev refused to compare this moment to afternoon she and Tony had returned from the honeymoon. Instead, she tookit as an opportunity to wish the children, and Ruth, who appeared behind them with Billy on her hip, a MerryChristmas. “They insisted on waiting on your porch,” Ruth called out into the storm. “Are you eating alonetonight?” “Not unless you four have other plans,” she countered with a bright smile. “I ran by the market thismorning. Kate, you and Gus bring the marbles, okay? We’ll have Christmas, after all.”
“I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family, yet I cannot truthfully say that Ifeel far from home. Whether it be the ties of blood on my mothers side, or the friendships I have developed over her over manyyears of active life-” “Enough of this political chatter. Tune into the Kraft Music Hall, will you, Gus?” Bev called as shetraipsed into the living room with her hands hidden behind her back.
“What have you got?” he immediately wanted to know as he scampered to the radio and turned the dialsuntil the sounds of Bing Crosby filled the little house. “Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I am debuting a new song written by Irving Berlin. It’s titled “White Christmas”– I hope you enjoy it folks.”
“Oh, just a little something, maybe,” she hummed suspiciously. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” Bing’s low voice crooned in the background. Kate and Gus leapt over their widespread game of marbles and tried to dart around her back and sneaka peek until, laughing, she presented them each with a gift.
“We’ve got a surprise for you, too,” Gus announced, producing a browned, wrinkled letter from his pantspocket. “You were out when it was delivered.” Bev shoved the gifts into the kids’ hands and grabbed quickly for the letter. Instantly, the Christmascarols sounded as if they were being played out of a house two blocks away instead of right near her. “Just like theones I used to know.” She was hardly aware as the kids dropped to the floor, crisscross, and tore wrapping paper offtheir gifts.
“This is exactly what I was afraid of,” she grumbled under her breath as she tore the envelope open. “Ishould never have gone out. I should have been right here.” Bev startled as a hand touched her arm. “Absolutely not,” Ruth insisted. “We were here to receive the letter on your behalf, weren’t we?” Bev offered up a weak smile as she tore open the envelope and with shaking fingers unfolded ahandwritten letter.
Darling, lovely, beautiful Bev, First things first, you can take a breath because this letter doesn’t bring bad news. Bearing that in mind, I love you.I miss you. I love you. We were rerouted at the last minute so that our ship doesn’t go straight to Pearl Harbor. Instead, we’re on our wayto the Pacific. Sorry I can’t get more specific. In a way, I suppose that’s for the better. I know it’ll let you sleep a little deeper andbreathe a little slower when the carrier shows up with letters. But you know how deep the patriotism runs. I regret it every time I can’t return one of my beautiful wife’s letters. But I receive multiple almost every week (orwhenever I can) and value every one of your thoughts and sentiments.
Merry Christmas, Mrs. Smart. This time next year, we’ll be celebrating the time in our little home. We’ll sled untildark and when we go inside to wrap ourselves in blankets, from head to toe, I’ll get all those monsters and you can wanderaround in the blackness as slowly as you wish. We’ll have the neighbor over. We’ll invite the children, too. Or maybe we’ll haveone of our own. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Smart.I love you, my darling. your Mr. Smart
“It’s snowing!” With beads of tears dotting her eyelashes, Bev looked up from the letter to see Gus standing with hisface pressed against the window. Exclaiming her excitement and disbelief, Kate clamored into the spot next to himand peered, too.
“Can we go outside, Auntie? Pleaaaaaase?” “Yes, PLEASE, Auntie Ruthy. Can’t we go see the snow?” Hello again, Tony, Beverly began to compose her next letter in her head. “Put on your shoes; quick, quick! We don’t want this turning into a gray, rainy Christmas,” Ruthallowed, holding the baby against her hip as she ushered the rest of the children to the front door. “Come along,Beverly.” “Where the treetops glisten, and children listen,” the radio continued. “To hear sleigh bells in the snow.”
“Coming,” Bev promised, her cheeks flushed pink, and flew to retrieve her coat. Merry Christmas, indeed. Would you believe it’s snowing? Not a raindrop in sight, darling. There’s a new song onthe radio these days about a white Christmas. I’ll have to find the record and play it for you this summer. “Come on, Beverly! Let’s go!” “Alright! Alright!” Oh, what to tell you?
Bev rounded the corner, doing up the front of her coat as the children eagerly and carelessly stuffedtheir toes into their shoes. She pulled the door wide open. I went volunteering this morning. And it seems like I’ll be helping our neighbor with a group of British childrenlooking for a temporary home this winter. Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when the time comes. So many things to do between thenand now, love. The song on the radio faded into the background as all refocused their attention on the silent snowfalling, “May your days be merry and bright,”
“Have you ever seen snowflakes so large?!” But for now, my dear,… Bev stood ankle-deep in the snow that gathered all around the little lawn that belonged to the Smarts.She tipped her head up to the sky and caught a snowflake on her tongue. …I’ve got snow to play in.
“Start a snowman with me, Beverly.”I love you.“Here, I’ll make the head. You make the middle. And Gus and Auntie can do the bottom.”Love, Bev.“And may all your Christmases be white.”