"Be quiet . . . it's coming . . . " my mother said it so softly that I couldn't hear her voice.
She spoke the words aloud, but she appeared only to mouth them. I couldn't hear her above the radio. It had been on continuously for days. The announcer kept breaking in to say that it was almost over, that any minute now an announcement was expected from Supreme Allied Headquarters that World War II was over.
It was summer and hot. Usually I and my West Second Street Irregulars would be out playing. We usually played war. It was all we had played for the last four or five years. But now, at nine or 10 years of age, I, like the rest of the world, was weary of war. Besides, I had gone to the door several times, and catlike, stepped out to see if anything was going on, to see if any of the kids were out playing.
They weren't. The street was quiet. It had been quiet for days. No one moved. Nothing stirred. No cars went by. None of my friends lurked behind my hedge waiting to take me prisoner of war. For the first time that I could remember, the battlefield upon which I had repelled the enemy time after time was empty . . . silent, except for a lawn sprinkler hissing into the hot afternoon.
I stood, listening. It was as though the world held its breath, and so did I. I was glad no one had broken the afternoon silence with "READY FOR WAR!!!," the battle cry of the West Second Street Irregulars. It was a challenge that could be delivered at any time by any one of us. It could not be ignored under pain of excommunication from the war games we played during those years.
Any one of us could step out his door, screaming at the top of his lungs—"READY FOR WAR!!!"—and the rest of us were duty and honor bound to respond. We poured out into the yard and streets which, in our eyes, became battlefields. Hedges became hedgerows concealing German tanks with their dreaded 88 mm guns. In my backyard, the concrete lily pond my parents installed when they built their house and my mother's flower beds and my father's garden, both brimming with bounty, became our Sumatran jungles, our Pacific islands. Behind each well-staked tomato plant lay a Japanese machine gun nest. The back fence, laden with Concord grapes, concealed Japanese invasion forces who, due to their numbers, were always difficult to defeat. We fought like animals, but once they breached the grape-lined barrier, our casualty rate soared. Over the years, I must have died a thousand times defending my home as division after division of Japanese soldiers poured through the gap and took up machine gun and mortar positions amid the strawberries and behind the tomatoes and corn stalks.