She looked out the window, clearly remembering the evening before Pearl Harbor. The children were off playing, and the adults lingered over their coffee at the dinner table, discussing the possibility of war. Lillian and Annette believed that war would be averted. Bernie was more skeptical. And Charles had been strangely quiet. As Annette pointed out, all the newspapers stated that there were no new developments towards war; Hitler was occupied with the Russian Front, and the U.S. was in negotiations with Japan. Lillian had thought that it was all far away and would eventually be worked out. No one wanted war.
Then the news on the following afternoon, Sunday, December 7th. A day she would never forget. That moment was etched in her mind, with odd details still fresh and sharp. She and Annette had been preparing dinner. They had just sent the kids out to the cider house to fetch some apples; Annette was going to make her famous apple crisp for dinner. Lillian stood at the table peeling potatoes, and Annette was at the sink washing vegetables. The mention of the cider house reminded Annette of a Christmas dinner when they were girls, and the two sisters playfully argued over the unusual mashed potatoes, and whose decision it had been to add cider to them.
“I might have been the one to add the cider,” said Lillian, “but it was at your suggestion. I remember it clearly. And if I hadn’t put in quite so much, they might have tasted all right.”
She turned to her sister, waiting for her to object. But Annette had shut off the water and was staring out the window over the sink, leaning forward. Then she walked to the front door, a red and green woven dish towel in her hand, and stepped out on the porch. Lillian could still remember the bang of the storm door closing and the rush of cold air against her legs.
Lillian had followed her onto the porch, shivering in the cold. “What is it, Annette?”
At the end of the lane a pickup truck had stopped. Bernie had been showing Charles around the orchard, but now both men stood next to the truck. The driver was waving his arms, upset about something, and then he sped off, grinding the gears as he left. Bernie turned and ran up the lane. Charles had just stood there, staring at the horizon. Then he slowly walked up the lane. Lillian knew that something was terribly wrong, but couldn’t imagine what it could be. Had there been an accident? Did someone need help? Was there a fire somewhere? She eyed the horizon for signs of smoke, then waited for Bernie to tell them what had happened.
She would never forget that image: Bernie in his red and black plaid jacket, running up the lane and onto the porch, a mix of surprise and terror on his face. “We’ve been attacked!! Bombed!” he had cried out, holding Annette by the arm, almost as if hoping she could do something about it.
Then all the overlapping questions from her and Annette: “Who has?” “The Germans?” “Where’s Pearl Harbor?” “Are they coming here?” “Go get the children!” Disorientation and gut-clenching fear pulled the ground out from beneath them, making it difficult to think clearly.
Lillian had impulsively dashed out into the snow in her good shoes to gather up the children, fearing that the flying crows overhead were German bombers. When she and the children returned to the house, she found the others gathered around the radio. Bernie sat on the edge of a chair, leaning in as close as possible towards the radio; Annette stood next to him, twisting the red and green dish towel. Charles stood next to the couch, eyes fixed on the radio. The children took their places on the couch, or sat cross-legged in front of the radio, receiving most of their information from the worried faces of their parents.
Lillian stood with one hand on the back of the couch to steady herself, the other pressed against her stomach. Like the others, she was stunned as she listened to the report about events that had already taken place over three hours ago: the United States had been attacked by Japan! Much of the US fleet severely damaged.
Lillian followed Charles’s eye to the morning newspaper folded next to the radio, the headlines seeming a mockery now: Navy is Superior to Any Says Knox. She wondered what Charles’s thoughts were, what he was seeing in his mind. He had been in the Navy. She knew that he would feel the loss deeply, and understand the significance of the attack, in a way that she would not.
Annette and Lillian had tried to make the evening as normal as possible for the children, but the very air was different. Nothing looked or felt or tasted the same. Lillian’s mind took off in a thousand different directions. Should she stay at Annette’s with the children? Could she convince Charles to stay with her? Or would it be better to go home? Then the horrible thought that perhaps Charles would have to serve. She didn’t want him out there in harm’s way, bombs dropping, bullets flying; and yet they must all do whatever was required of them. She felt twisted by the two competing sentiments. Annette had remained rock solid throughout, helping to quell Lillian’s disorderly fears.
Then the somber mood the following day as they once again gathered around the radio, listening to the President’s speech: “a date which will live in infamy.” The words “the Empire of Japan” had frightened Lillian, making her feel small, insignificant. Two mighty forces, empires, on either side of them. War was now coming from the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Later that evening, Annette had gotten out an old atlas, and she and Lillian searched for the location of the attack, and where the islands were in relation to the United States. They traced their fingers from the red nation of Japan, over the blue Pacific, to the sprinkle of pink islands called Hawaii, a US territory. It all seemed so far away, so unreal. But now there was talk that the Japanese empire might soon bomb San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego. And that the Germans would use the distraction to attack simultaneously from the East. They were trapped, like sitting ducks, unprepared, shocked, futilely flapping their wings in outrage.
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