A Family Without Men by (4 Stories)

Prompted By War & Remembrance

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I was four years old when my mother’s sister was invited to move into our little bungalow in Norman, Oklahoma. She brought with her two kids and their dog, Fluffy. Their dad had shipped out to Italy and would move on into Germany. My own father was in the Philippines and would later be part of the occupying forces in Japan. My Uncle Jim was part of the China, Burma and India forces. We were a family without men. Life changed.

The men were far away and couldn’t stop them.

To have my two favorite cousins living with us was a delight beyond words, and I have actually claimed that ironically WWII was the happiest time of my childhood. We played war in the backyard. My cousin, Virginia, was almost exactly one year older than me. My little sister was barely two. Howard Jr., seven years older than me, taught us three little girls to goose step and salute like Nazis and to make the screaming-bloody-murder cry of a kamikaze pilot crashing into one of our carriers. Fluffy went wild when Howard, up in a gnarled old willow tree, bombed us girls with paper airplanes.

My Aunt and my mother were able to concentrate on their children as they never had before. They taught us to do the Charleston and sing “Mairzy Dotes” and “God Bless America.” They helped us with costumes and sat in for serial games of Monopoly. Without the eagle eye of my father’s discipline, life was relaxed. The mothers peeled all the old greasy paper off the walls in the kitchen and put up big, beautiful pink roses. The man at the store had told them that rose wallpaper was meant for bedrooms, but they put it up anyway and painted the woodwork pink. Then they took my paternal grandmother’s old walnut china cabinet and painted it pink too and the round oak table—pink like a birthday cake sitting there in the middle of our rosy kitchen. They said they were wild women. They laughed like crazy and had to put down their paintbrushes to wipe their tears and blow their noses.

The men were far away and couldn’t stop them.

Profile photo of smithlouise smithlouise
My little brother was a baby boomer, one of the first things my father took care of when he returned from Japan. I'm prewar, a writer with more recollections than I can ever pass on. My first book, ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF MARRIAGE, was 100% fiction, I thought. But time has proven it was greatly influenced by memory. CADILLAC, OKLAHOMA is fiction. And THE WOMAN WITHOUT A VOICE is just the facts.

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Tags: war, children, women alone, child's viewpoint, war games
Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Beautifully crafted war story, Louise, powerfully representing the other side of carnage. I felt the strong current of defiance of woman, abandoned to a helpless fear that tragedy beyond their control would arrive in uniform at the front door. I particularly liked the strong contrast between the backyard war games engineered by the boys, and your mother’s and aunt’s determination to bring peace ‚— and opposition — the the suddenly relaxed atmosphere free of man. I almost cheered aloud as they put up pink wallpaper, frowned upon by a man, of course, and painted the paternal grandfather clock, pink, too. A wonderful antiwar story told with subtlety, grace, and gentle good humor. Thanks.

  2. minasamuels says:

    I love the picture of the author struggling to unfurl her flag and then the mental picture of all that pink furniture and the be-rosed walls, the boudoir-ness, the wildness.

  3. John Zussman says:

    This story like a pointillist paining, with all the fine details coming together to create a vivid picture. And the photo is priceless, the children arranged by height carrying guns and flags (and whatever your sister is carrying). Thanks for sharing this on Retrospect.

  4. nkpiore says:

    Fierce–and sweet (all those roses in that rosy kitchen)! You go girls!

  5. virginiasiry says:

    I am Louise’s cousin, the curly top next to the last in line in this picture of the little soldiers. My brother Howard is in the lead, and Louise, the author of this piece is last in line, still trying to unfurl her flag. Louise has been the leader in remembrances for our family, a leadership we all value and embrace.

    When pondering the days that I lived with my cousins and aunt, along with my mother and brother during part of World War II, I find myself struck by the contrast between all the destruction, death and suffering in the world and the incredibly happy and peaceful time living in Norman, Oklahoma. I was too young to understand all the dangers facing my father and uncles, so the thought of their not returning simply never occurred to me. They were merely away for a while, sending the important letters our mothers were so grateful for. It would take the Korean “police action” some years later to bring that apprehension home to me. But during WWII my brother probably understood some of the cloud under which my mother and aunt lived. He and they did not visit that uncertainty upon me or my cousin Louise, and certainly not my cousin, Phoebe, still a baby. Having not been born until just before our fathers shipped out, she couldn’t know her daddy. But when the war was over, she lifted up her arms to every man in uniform who crossed our threshold. “Daddy?”
    However, during WWII I lived a carefree existence, with my fine cousin as a playmate, a wonderful aunt and mother, and a very responsible, older brother to make certain no harm came to me. I owe all of them a debt of thanks for making life so much darned fun.

  6. I so enjoyed Louise’s little story; I was especially moved by the bonding of her mother and aunt during a difficult time that kept them both “sane.” Louise is a good writer.

  7. franhuston says:

    I loved this sweet story about a home without men. Just women and children working and playing together forming lifelong memories. Living in a sort of freedom without men.
    When else could one cover a home in pink?

    Also enjoyed the stories about Vietnam.

  8. Suzy says:

    I love this story! Your mother and aunt saying they were wild women, and painting everything pink! And all of you children playing war in the backyard, but also singing Mairsie Doats and dancing the Charleston. Such a vivid and delightful picture of your family without men.

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