|The second world war was over and, although
the little town of Foraker was certainly isolated, removed from the
beaten path out there on the prairie plains, the radio news had kept the
folks fully informed as to bombings and misery a continent away. No one
stood up in the middle of the floor and announced the war was over, but
the lighthearted ways in which the grown ups were behaving made it clear
there was decidedly a difference in the world now. Mattie, who was the
age of nine years, was observing the sweet changes in the folks around
Even Grampa, who was at the last part of
the eighties in his life, had a lighter step. There was altogether a
difference in his conversations with Grandma. He no longer stood shaking
his finger at her vowing to vote against her favorite candidate. The old
gentleman who dressed in a worn suit, was still a gentleman it was
clear. He somehow could fumble for his watch and chain, hold it in his
hand, balance the cane with his other hand, and shake his finger at
Grandma, all at the same time. Now, he appeared not to have the time as
he was busy about getting to some place or another on foot. The little
town was called Foraker after a politician and had nothing to do with
the amount of land. However, it probably wasn't much more than four
acres. Grampa could certainly get to any part of the town easily on
Mattie's boy cousin who was a teenager in
highschool was preparing for his valedictorian speech. While Mattie
listened, she, despite her tender years was learning what he was going
to do. In the way of children she kept the enlightenment to herself.
"Friends," her cousin practiced
his speech, "Friends!" He repeated. "Romans, and
Now Mattie knew nothing about ancient
history. The words, graduation, valedictorian, speech? Well, they were
all just words. For those of us who are adults now, it would be well to
make a note of how a child learns as quickly, indeed, as that well known
"Friends, Romans, Countrymen!"
"And, Mrs. Whipkey!" Her cousin added a flourish of a gesture,
swinging his arm out and away from himself in a wide arch.
"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Mrs.
Whipkey, and the rest of you worms out there, "Good Night!"
"Oh the shame of it!" Gramma
"I just never thought our grandson
would have done such a thing!" Grampa agreed."Did you hear what Warren said in his
valedictorians' speech?" Mattie heard her girl cousin ask someone
on the telephone.
If the times had not of been gifted with
the relief of the war having ended, her cousin might have been very
sorely punished. However, everyone was just too, into the pleasures of
not having the awful war hanging over their head they were little
concerned with a smart aleck kid, misbehaving over a graduation speech.
Another miserable part of the war had
been the rationing of food and products. It was almost impossible to own
the things people had always had in adequate amounts. Automobile tires
were at what they called "black market" prices.
"What's that?" Mattie wanted to
know about a black market. "Is that something to do with the color
of tires?" She asked her cousin.
"Just never you mind?"
"You sure are a nosy kid!" "What do you care?"
Mattie's older girl cousin frowned down to her.
So, Mattie didn't ask any more about
black markets. It still seemed to be an interesting something or other.
"Must be something very good, if I'm not supposed to talk about
it?" She shrugged her shoulders and forgot about the word.
The sharpest happening to mark the ending
of the war remained in Mattie's memory for her whole life time. This
event had to do with rationing. As always she was keeping her eye on the
boy cousin, who was the master of great speech giving. He was having
more fun, it seemed, than anyone else. Now, as he quietly walked up to
the dining room table in the middle room, he was very cautiously placing
a can at the middle and center of the table. The can was of a different
look than those in the pantry. There was a festive way about it and it
was a bright color. Marked boldly across the tin was the word,
"MARSHMALLOW." The can would have probably, been ignored if
not for the word. Anything of such high sugar content was and had not
been on the shelves for all of the war time. In fact, Mattie did not
even know what marshmallows were. The can stood out against the dark
polished wood of the piece of furniture. The teenage boy softly walked
away from the room and just by the way he moved Mattie knew there was
something up. She kept quiet. Secretly, somehow, she knew there was some
fun in the making.
First on the scene was the husband of her
girl cousin. He was a young man, tall and strong. When he came in it was
with just a few steps he covered the area from the front door to the
table, such was his stride. Almost as if he was directed to the can on
the table he reached out for it. Picking it up he loosed the lid,
screwing it back and forth until it came off. The trick of having a
giant snake come out of a can is an old one. But, with a child, who had
never seen it before it was too funny.
The scenario of an adult, normally so in
control of the world, that they could make a child feel small and not so
smart, being surprised in such a way was to Mattie's thinking,
One by one, she watched the adults each
carefully replace the lid, setting the can back on the table, waiting
for the next person to bite the same bait. It was a little thing, of
course. These were the times speaking of simple fun, practiced by those
who were enjoying the world now free of the hated word, "war."
How long had her cousin owned the can of fake marshmallow? How in tune
he was with good timing to introduce the joke at this moment when the
heaviness of their depression was lifted at the news of the peace time.
This all happened at what now seems so
far away and long ago in the tiny little town of Foraker, Oklahoma,
located somewhere in Oklahoma, sixty miles from nowhere.