Apr. 19, 2007


by Brenda Shaw

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Poem: "Parent" by Brenda Shaw from Poems of Maine in the Ninteen Thirties and Forties: by one who lived through them. © Moon Pie Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Father, I know more about Mother
than I do about you,
and she died when I was a baby.
I lived with you for eighteen years.

In all that time you seldom spoke.
Your favorite words were "Oh my gosh!"
said in three different tones
for three different sorts of occasion:

In surprise
at an unexpected pleasant happening.

In anxiety if I were proposing
some crazy stunt and you were worried.

In despair if the worst
that could possibly happen had happened.

I wonder—is that what you said
when Mother died without warning,
without saying goodbye?

Somewhere along the way
I asked you questions—very few.
One was, "What was Mother like?"
but you couldn't find the words.

Another was "Which of your two wives
did you like the best?"
You said "The one who gave me you,"
and choked up.

Later I asked
"Do you believe in God?"
You said "No, I guess I don't."
On that, at least, we agreed.

We knew each other on a level
beyond words.
There were no divided loyalties.
I knew you'd stand behind me or beside me
whatever happened.

There was one question I never had to ask.
The one sure thing in a nightmare world
was the knowledge that you loved me.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1943 that an uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto began. It was the largest ghetto uprising of World War II. Hitler's army had invaded Poland in September of 1939. Warsaw was the last city in Poland to submit to the Nazis, but on September 27, after three weeks of resistance, the city finally surrendered. On October 3, 1940, about a year after the invasion, the Nazis built a wall around a section of the city measuring about 20 blocks by six blocks. Jews were given a month to move into the ghetto, and all non-Jews were ordered to leave. Almost all of the Jews in Warsaw lost their jobs, and many of them went around collecting rags, bones, tin, and paper to sell to the Germans.

Eventually, small resistance groups began to pop up in the ghetto. The Nazis had confiscated almost all of the printing presses in the city, but people reconstructed presses from discarded machinery and printed the newspapers on paper they found in the trash. Underground newspapers were published in both Polish and Yiddish. Secret schools were formed in basements and abandoned buildings.

In the summer of 1942, the Nazis began Operation Reinhard—the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to the concentration camp in Treblinka. From July to September, more than 300,000 Jews were deported, leaving only about 50,000 people in the ghetto. When reports of mass murder leaked back to the ghetto, a group of people, mostly young men, formed a resistance group and began ambushing Nazi officials and stealing their weapons. They organized several underground factories for making grenades, bombs, and mines, and they created a chain of tunnels, trenches, and bunkers for people to hide out in.

On this day, April 19, 1943, the first day of Passover, hundreds of German soldiers entered the ghetto in rows of tanks, planning to destroy the ghetto in three days. But resistance fighters fought back, and the fighting went on for days. When they ran out of grenades, the Jews fought with kitchen knives, chair legs—whatever they could get their hands on. They held out for almost a month.

In the early morning hours on this day in 1775, the first battle of the American Revolutionary War began when about 700 British troops marched into Lexington, Massachusetts, on a mission to capture colonial munitions. There were only 77 militiamen available to defend the area, but they all assembled on Lexington Green.

A shot was fired, which gave the British an excuse to attack. The colonial militiamen were overwhelmed and they went into full retreat. The British continued their march toward Concord. But word had gone out throughout the countryside that the British were attacking, and volunteer militiamen began to flood the area from up to 20 miles away. A group of several hundred militiamen assembled at the North Bridge, above Concord. What resulted was a standoff, with just a few shots fired, but after several hours the British decided to head back to Boston.

And it was on the road back to Boston that the heaviest fighting broke out. The British had to flee 18 miles to get back to Boston. For those entire 18 miles, the colonists followed them and fired upon them from behind trees and rocks and stone walls along the road. It was the first time in the history of the American colonies that colonists had fired upon British soldiers.

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