Petals Amidst the Thorns, Part 3: You Learn by Living
December 9, 1941
I have the most exciting news, today. I wasn’t planning on writing again so soon, but I just have to tell you this, Dear Diary. My mother and I are at odds. That’s not the news though. Not exactly an unusual occurrence, as I don’t seem to ever do much that she finds “acceptable,” or “enviable.” This last one is her term, not mine, for “behavior that distinguishes a lady and causes other to want to be like her and be with her.” Major eye roll.
I've never wanted anyone to admire me to the point of wanting to be like me. Truthfully, I prefer not to be the center of attention much. I would think that alone would make my behavior “acceptable,” to my mother as constantly calling attention to oneself is one of those traits mother terms, “that which makes a lady unmarriageable.” Yet, evidently, my tendency to ask questions, desire for learning and need to understand the world around me for myself and not just as others deign to describe it to me largely negate my mannerly shyness.
Anyway, the news that has caused the newest scandal, not only in my household but in all households with young women, was caused by the First Lady herself, if you can imagine it. We had been told yesterday at school that there would be an assembly today so that we could all listen to a special broadcast, though we hadn’t been told what the broadcast was about. Mother is going on, and on about how it just isn’t right that parents hadn’t been asked to sign permission slips for us to be allowed to listen to the broadcast, but it is too late. It has already happened and I can’t exactly reverse what I’ve heard, now can I?
I was so glad we were going to get to hear it, since I hadn’t been allowed to listen when it was broadcast. My parents said I had heard all I needed to about the “war business,” and my father said there wouldn’t be anything significant added by the First Lady, who was giving the address. I guess it was a program that was planned before we were bombed and she added some comments about what’s to come then would follow with the regular program. I wouldn’t have been allowed to listen anyway since she was doing an interview with a young soldier, which wouldn’t have been considered, “suitable” for my delicate, young, female ears.
Honestly, I can’t say either of my parents are particularly fond of the First Lady. They feel that she has taken too public a role in her husband’s Presidency, and should just be doing what other First Ladies have done. This translates as acting as a wife and mother, one that is content to remain behind the scenes completely out of the public eye. Yet I think that it must be the President’s idea or, at the very least, he strongly supports her public role. I can’t imagine she’d be allowed to do it otherwise.
Isn’t the President supposed to model ideals for all Americans to emulate? If not, and we aren’t supposed to admire his ways then why ever would we have elected him to serve as the leader of our country? I know that a President always has their detractors, but I thought that was due more to politics than character.
So if he’s okay with his wife addressing the nation about what to expect in terms of the war we have now entered, why is it not okay for me to hear what she has to say? I tried this argument but nothing was going to move my parents from their views. So I was sent to bed like a child while they listened to the address.
Jeremy, of course, was allowed to listen, being a boy and all, but he said I didn’t miss anything. In fact, he said father turned it off half way through insisting it wasn’t of “interest or import,” something I can just hear him saying. I tried to get Jeremy to tell me more about it but he got upset with me again and just said he’d already told me that there wasn’t anything interesting about the First Lady’s address. He then stormed off and slammed his door and father told me to leave him alone as if I was the one who lost my temper. Things are very confusing at home these days, Dear Diary.
Anyway, back to the broadcast we heard at school. We all gathered in the auditorium, and Mr. Garnett, our principle stood up and addressed us. He said that the broadcast we were about to hear would be from the First Lady who had been given the task of addressing the young people in the country and charging them with the new reality of our nation. The broadcast had aired the night before last, the same day the President declared war.
So the First Lady, the Presidents own wife, was given the task of talking to all the young people in the country. This at a time when we’d just been attacked for the first time ever, and were about to go to war. I bet she got to ask all the questions she wanted and no one said not to. Not exactly the shy, demure, soft spoken, quiet little woman I am supposed to become.
And it’s not as if she didn’t marry well. She’s married to the President of the United States, for heaven’s sake! And no, Dear Diary, that’s not what got my mother in a snit. I do know better than to try to argue something she has no intention of hearing.
Anyway, we were all terribly excited when told we’d get to hear the First Lady speak, especially given that she was including us in her remarks and not just our parents’ generation. It made us feel important. Her remarks were actually quite short, but I must say, Dear Diary, that when she was finished I felt proud to be an American. I was also left convinced that we would win this war against our enemies who have attacked us and killed so many of our young men already.
The really interesting part though was a statement she made about all sorts of opportunities opening up for young people especially, women. She addressed the women in the audience in particular saying that like many of them she had a son that was already serving at sea, maybe even in the Pacific, though she didn’t know where exactly. That just broke my heart, Dear Diary. I mean what good is being President if you can’t even keep your own children out of a war if it happens?
Anyway, it was the part about there being new opportunities opening up that made my mother madder than an old, wet hen. She’s afraid these “opportunities” will put my head on backwards and I’ll forget the way I was raised. In other word, though I’m sure you probably could quote the bottom line as well as me by now, Dear library, I’ll become undesirable to the most desirable marriage partners.
As an activity we were supposed to each try to take down as much of the address as we could. Then we got together in groups and tried to piece together exactly, or verbatim (a new term I just learned today) what the First Lady had said. Then the whole class went over the different group versions to correct any errors and end up with an accurate copy.
The exercise is supposed to point out how the way we listen and hear something may not be what was actually related. Our teacher said the way we perceive things is specific to what is most salient or meaningful to us. So the girls seemed to remember more about the statement she addressed to the women while the boys seemed to remember more statements specifically related to fighting.
I guess it didn’t hit me til then that boys not much older than us will be going off to war. Anyway, here’s the text of the beginning of the First Lady’s statement, Dear Diary. I want to put it down in here so I’ll have a record of it.
I should like to say just a word to the women in the country tonight. I have a boy at sea on a destroyer, for all I know he may be on his way to the Pacific. Two of my children are in coast cities on the Pacific. Many of you all over the country have boys in the services who will now be called upon to go into action. You have friends and families in what has suddenly become a danger zone. You cannot escape anxiety. You cannot escape a clutch of fear at your heart and yet I hope that the certainty of what we have to meet will make you rise above these fears.
We must go about our daily business more determined than ever to do the ordinary things as well as we can and when we find a way to do anything more in our communities to help others, to build morale, to give a feeling of security, we must do it. Whatever is asked of us I am sure we can accomplish it. We are the free and unconquerable people of the United States of America.
To the young people of the nation, I must speak a word tonight. You are going to have a great opportunity. There will be high moments in which your strength and your ability will be tested. I have faith in you. I feel as though I was standing upon a rock and that rock is my faith in my fellow citizens.
I don’t know exactly what “great opportunities,” we are going to have but I can’t wait to find out. I hate that we are at war, that a lot of young men have already died and more probably will also die in the coming days. But if War was inevitable, then I can’t say I’m sorry that it might bring a chance for me to do something other than sit and embroider and “simper fetchingly,” at “good marriage prospects.”
I know there’s more to me than that and I can’t imagine a life of always being away from what is happening, with everything I know and do always controlled by others in my life. I think I should have some say in what I’m allowed to hear and learn and do and not just live my whole life sitting and waiting for others to decide my fate. And I think, Dear Diary that, as awful as War is, it also may bring me the chance to find a way to make my own path in the world. As for these opportunities, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait to learn what they are until I do. But don’t worry, you’ll be the first person I tell when I find out. Goodnight Dear Diary, and thanks once more for being my confidant.
© 2017 Natalie Frank