(translated from the Polish diaries of Danita Weissman; written in November, 1956. Last names have been changed or omitted. The diaries were found amongst Danita's belongings after her death and have been declassified).
Naturally the codeword was changed quite often. At the time, I remember being mind-boggled at the requirement that I was to memorize the numerous codewords. However, as I grew older I realized I was only given a short list of words to remember and the list was changed frequently.
Outside of Mummy and my absent papa, Uncle Jonathan was my favorite person in London. First off, being barely eight years old when I met him, Jonathan made a huge impact on me, seeing as how my social circle was seriously depleted by the transport of so many children from London.
Uncle Jonathan always had a kind word, he would share a witty joke with me, update me on world events other than the War and he would tell me fascinating tidbits about his Egyptian adventures. And as you know, most young children are fascinated with sweets and a friendship with the Hershey Bar Man during the War, however surreptious, made me quite popular with my social circle.
The children didn't know about my friendship with Uncle Jonathan but on the times I met up with Uncle Jonathan, he usually slipped a Hershey's bar into my hand. Later I would share the chocolate not only with Mummy but with my remaining friends.
Years of sweets rationing found a growing number of opportunitisic London children having a similar arrangement with the American GI's, who had a magical ability to obtain items like Life magazine, phonograph records, lipstick, nylons and an apparently unlimited supply of Hershey bars from America.
Any of these items would have made anyone visiting wartime London quite popular and a surprising number of English women found themselves engaged to, married and often pregnant by American GIs, including Mummy's friend Carlotta M--, who by the winter of 41, found herself not only pregnant but married to a GI from Missouri.
By late 1941, days had turned into weeks and weeks into months and the bombings wouldn't stop. To England's profound relief, no longer were the bombs dropping on a daily basis and the Blitz officially ended in May 1941 when Hitler turned his attention elsewhere. Still, bombs were dropped after May 1941.
But there was an uncertain feeling: when was the next bombing going to occur? Where was the next bombing? Was Hitler's attention permanently turned elsewhere? We certainly hoped so.
There might be days between bombings and a semblance of normality returned, albeit a changed normality, with normality being the way we lived before September 7, 1940.
Then a plane spotter would sight Nazi planes, the warning cry would go out, air raid sirens sounded, and once again parts of London (or Portsmouth or Manchester or Liverpool or wherever the Nazis had decided to bomb that day) would first hear the whistling of the falling bombs then the denizens would scramble to their bomb shelters as best they could.
And more buildings, airports, shipyards and munitions factories would be destroyed, innumerable lives would be lost, and the fabric of our country, like all war-torn countries, was torn apart.
And the terror would begin anew.
But as time wore on, the repeated bombings grew to become normal: the youngest children couldn't remember a time when the bombs hadn't fallen. And by the time the War was over, we had, the international news informed our parents, adapted. I don't recall anyone telling me that I was to adapt to the bombings. A rational person can not adapt to a war time situation. You can rebuild, you can go on, but adapation to a permanent war is far beyond a rational person's ability to accept.
Survive is a better term but I don't think the English language has the correct term I need to describe what everyone went through. I don't think any language has the correct term.
It was now the beginning of 1942--a bitter chill January (like all Januaries in England). The worst weather was rain, for the rain revealed the devastation to its worst extent. But over a period of a few days, a deep snow had fallen in stark contrast to the blackened husks of destroyed buildings. The thick snow drifts hid much of the damage and Mummy said that for once she was grateful for the snow. Grey smoke belched from the ruined areas of London. The smoke would rise up to an equally grey sky. Heat was scarce, as was food for most people.
Mummy and me had observed a very subdued Hannukah, our first without Daddy. America had been attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. There were a few companies of American GI's stationed in England prior to December 7.
On the day in question, I had been ambling about the house while Mummy was sewing the hem on my dress. From Carlotta, she'd borrowed several phonograph records and we'd spent the previous afternoon dancing to the music of American big bands.
That was a good afternoon, dancing to the big band music. I hope always to remember Mummy's laughter as we twirled to the music in the cleared out living room.
Early the next morning, mummy, in a gay voice, had asked me, "Do you want to listen to Billie Holliday for tea this afternoon?"
Truthfully, I didn't know who Billie Holliday was but I nodded my head for I surmised that Billie Holliday was a singer and that we would be listening to another phonograph record (I was right on both accounts).
"Very well. I'll need you to run to the store to pick up our weekly rations. You do the bakery and the dairy. I'll do the rest. Careful not to let on about our secret supplies." I nodded my head. This was a task we both shared, the weekly ration shopping.
One day in December, I had asked Uncle Jonathan why we suddenly had to stand in line for hours in order to get bread. He had told me that the government wanted to ensure that everyone received an equal share of food. I remember looking slyly at the Hershey's bar in my hand and Uncle Jonathan had chuckled and his eyes twinkled. He winked and told me that a dear friend of his had stocked up on numerous desirable items prior to the war.
Uncle Jonathan is like us, I thought. There were many people in London who were like us, like Mummy and me and now Uncle Jonathan: those who'd stocked up on certain items. We were termed hoarders and all of us tried to hide our hoarding, for we were ever fearful of robberies. Some of us hoarders were known to other hoarders and there was quite a lively underground trade going on between us.
"Now hurry down to the bakery," she instructed me when I had put on my boy's shoes. Mummy had found a pair of brand new (albeit soot covered) thick-soled shoes in the rubble and she had brought the shoes home. While the shoes fit me, I didn't like the shoes very much but I had to admit boys had better shoes than girls and I could run faster.
And running faster meant that I could arrive at the bakery and dairy sooner, before they ran out of bread. For although Uncle Jonathan was correct in his information that the government wanted to divide the food supply equally, oftentimes there just wasn't enough food to go around. The resultant food shortage was a result of the Nazis interupting British shipping lanes and destroying the shipyards.
Consequently, many stores were only open a few hours a day. And more frequently, especially at the bakeries, there were shortages of bread and the lines snaked around the corner. Getting to the bakery early meant a good chance of getting bread.
"I will. Today we're supposed to get sourdough bread." Sourdough, the way our baker made it, used a batch of kneaded dough that had been left to ferment for a week or so.
"I prefer sourdough bread. Yeast is difficult to get nowadays."
"Tell me. And the dairy store smells to high heaven from all the sour milk," I commented, then covered my mouth with my hand, trying to stifle a giggle.
Mummy looked at me sternly but she too was trying to suppress a giggle. "Now where did you hear that phrase?" she asked.
"Nowhere," I weakly offered as an explanation. I hoped not to get into trouble.
"Growing up too soon is a result of war. You heard it from the older kids," Mummy told me. She was correct: If you were a child and you remained in London, you struck up friendships with whomever was left. Many kids in my social circle were in their teens and I was picking up their epithets. "Well, run along before the bakery runs out of bread."
"Will do!" I opened the door a crack, then looked out. No one. I sighed a breath of relief, then opened the door wider so I could step outside. Still no one. I closed the door and carefully made my way down the street. Uncle Jonathan and his brother in law Rick had cleared our street and transported the valuables somewhere in Scotland.
Another light coating of snow had fallen during the night and the houses looked like squat sentinels, their blank eyes keeping watch over the silent neighborhood. I dragged my feet in the new-fallen snow, enjoying both the cold and watching my backtrail.
"Oh no! My backtrail!" I moaned. I was the first person outside on our street (there were several families who lived in the undamaged houses on the next block) and I turned to look behind me. Sure enough, there was a trail of footprints leading directly to our home--the only occupied home on the block, although not the only undamaged house on the street. And who knew if German spies were in London. Mummy and me were certainly spying, and Uncle Jonathan was spying as well.
Our front door opened then and Mummy appeared in the doorway. She closed the door then turned to walk down the steps. She saw me frozen there, looking at my backtrail and a horrified look on my face.
"What's wrong?" she called to me. I could only shake my head and point to my backtrail. Mummy looked perplexed, then she saw the problem. "We'll just have to walk up the front walks to the doors of all the homes. I'll do that while you get to the bakery."
That would solve the problem: if every front walk had footprints coming and going from the front door, someone would think that all the houses were occupied, even the damaged ones. "Thank you mummy!"
"Run along, you!"
"Okay! See you in a flash!" I called to her. She giggled, for I had picked up that phrase from some of the GIs.
In better spirits, I turned and walked as fast as the deep snow would allow. I was determined not to slip and break my leg, for an injury like that would hinder not only myself but mummy as well.
With a broken leg, I would be stuck in the house until the snow melted, and mummy would have to do all the shopping. Despite the war, I enjoyed going out and about London and I knew Mummy felt the same way: cabin fever was rampant, for parents were ever fearful about the bombings. I would also miss Uncle Jonathan and he was due to tell me the next chapter of his Egyptian adventures.
Upon reaching the bakery, I noticed that there were about a dozen people in line in front of me. I hurried to get in line as more people straggled through the deep snow towards the bakery. I hoped my high place in the line would assure me of bread this morning.
"Hullo, Danni!" a cheerful voice belonging to Liam, a freckled, pale skinned carrot-topped boy around my age greeted me. Liam's family was originally from Dublin several generations back.
"Hullo Liam! Top of the morning to you!" I replied, taking my place behind him. It had become a competition between us to see who could get to the bakery first. Liam usually won because he lived closer to the bakery.
"I've got some sad news for you," Liam informed me. I was shocked but not surprised. Sad news came often these days. "I'm going home to my family in Scotland."
At first, I was confused. I knew Liam was living with his older brother here in London. I looked at him keenly and said, "I thought you were from Dublin."
"I am. But my parents were relocated to Scotland. They're bankers, you know."
This I had known. "When are you going to Scotland?" I also suspected that Liam's parents were in Scotland to take care of the valuables that Uncle Jonathan and Rick inventoried. My suspicion was confirmed when Liam replied,
"I'm to leave at the end of next week. I'm going by a plane that the Hershey Bar Man arranged! I've never been on a plane before."
Now I was truly concerned for Liam's safety. Planes were dangerous these days. I was somewhat mollified by the fact Liam's trip was arranged by Uncle Jonathan. "That's one you have over on me. I've never been on a plane either."
The doors to the bakery opened and my mouth watered at the good smell of hot bread wafting through the open doors.
Liam cheered. "Bread today!"
"Sourdough bread is what I heard," I said as the dozen people ahead of us slowly entered the bakery tightly clutching their ration books.
Liam was next in line to go through the bakery door. I sneaked a look behind me. A line of people waiting for bread stretched around the corner. "The first loaf of bread my brother was able to get when the bakery started up again tasted like it was straight from heaven." He turned and peered at me. "Did you know my brother's shipping out?" he asked suddenly.
I hadn't thought of this and I turned to look at Liam. "Are you scared?"
Liam straightened his shoulders. "Yes." His tone turned serious. "What if Tristan doesn't come back? He's the only brother I have."
"My daddy is in..." I almost said France, but I caught myself in time. "the war effort too. You know what he asked me before he left?"
Now I could hear my daddy's voice in my head. "He asked, "what do you want for your birthday?"
"How could he ask you that if he was shipped out?"
I saw my omission. I had forgotten some key information. "My birthday was before daddy shipped out," I told Liam, who pulled me into the bakery. The smells of the baking bread made both our mouths water.
"What did you say?" Liam whispered.
"I told him I wanted him to come home safely after the war. He said I always get what I want."
Liam smirked at me. "Well I want Tristan to come back too. I always get what I want."
I had to smile. The baker, a fat jolly man in his mid-thirties going by the name of Trevor, smiled down at us. "Danni and Liam. Here's your bread, fresh and hot. And a bit of cinnamon rolls for you to eat on the way home."
My eyes, and I'm quite sure Liam's eyes, popped. Cinnamon rolls! They were small, but I knew they would taste good, especially on a cold snowy day.
Liam's voice intruded on my mouth-watering thought. "How?" he asked, his voice a squeak.
Trevor laughed. "Two letters: GIs."
"Ahh!" Liam and I said simultaneously. A late entrant to the War, the Americans were quite good at sneaking around the Nazi shipping blockade. Even Mummy was impressed. Liam continued. "Did they get the flour and the cinnamon?"
Trevor nodded. "And the yeast and the raisins. Been handing them out all over London. Said there's a shipment from Cornwall," he said as he slipped two smallish cinnamon rolls into a bag for Trevor and two more for me.
"I haven't had raisins in, well I don't know how long!" Liam said. Truthfully I hadn't had raisins in a long time either. Both of us took the proffered bags. "Thank you!" we both said.
We turned to leave the bakery, then turned back. Trevor was smiling at us. "Forgot something, kids?"
"Yeah," Liam said, holding out his ration book. I did the same. Trevor took the coupons from the books then handed the grey and white ration books back to us.
"Dreary things, rations," Liam commented as we walked out bakery door. "But we did get some cinnamon rolls!"
As if on cue, we heard Trevor say behind us, "Ten pence for the cinnamon rolls. And keep it quiet, else there will be pandemonium." We knew he wasn't talking to us, for there were some things kids got free. I guess it was Trevor's way of working around the sweets ration.
"When are you going to eat yours?" I asked when we got outside. I was going to save mine until I got home.
Liam considered. "I think I'll wait until tea-time. That way Tristan and I can have tea and cinnamon rolls."
I didn't hesitate for a moment. "Mummy's gotten hold of some phonograph records from America. We're going to listen to another one this afternoon at tea. Do you and Tristan want to come?"
"Yes. For real. A treat for you," I said, warming to the idea quite rapidly. I was sure Mummy would agree to my proposal.
"I'll have to ask, but I think I can convince Tristan to go." We both clutched our bread bags tightly as we made our way down the snowy sidewalk. At the corner, Liam turned to go. "At high tea time, then," he said, smiling and tipping his hat to me.
"See you then!" I said. I next had to go to the dairy but as I went further down the street, I saw the disappointed faces of passersby and knew the dairy was closed again for another day.
"Still," I said to no one in particular. "It was a good day anyways. With cin..." I stopped. I didn't want anyone to know what else I had received with my bread. Trevor had said pandemonium would break out when people discovered he had cinnamon rolls. I supposed he was right. These were a real treat and I smiled to myself as I pushed past all the shops.
I had made my way down the block to verify that the dairy was indeed out of milk. It was. I sighed. But I had cinnamon rolls and fresh sourdough bread, so I was content.
"Coxey," said a familiar voice behind me. I turned and barely was able to contain myself.
"Uncle Jonathan!" I started to hug him, then stopped. He had said "coxey". That meant I was to be given another assignment!
"Now shall I walk you home?" he asked. "At least part way." He was wearing a well-fitting tweed coat that nearly touched the tops of his dress shoes. His hat matched his coat.
"You may." I decided to be upfront. "Liam said he's going to Scotland the end of next week."
We had turned the corner. "Yes. It's to be his first plane ride."
"Won't that be dangerous?" I inquired. I truly wanted to know as I feared for Liam's safety.
"No more dangerous than living in London," Uncle Jonathan replied. "Besides, another Jonathan is the pilot. I know him personally and he's going to fly under the radar. Quite safe. I've done it myself." Uncle Jonathan said. I heard the snow crunching underneath our shoes.
Under the radar? I didn't know what that meant but it had to mean flying safely. I hoped so. "Are planes safe?" I asked.
"Mostly," Jonathan knew that I wouldn't be fooled by any other answer. I knew about car accidents and the dogfights 15,000 feet above London. "The planes are safe when flown by competent pilots. Under the radar means that Jonathan, the other Jonathan, my friend, will fly close to the tree tops."
"Won't that clip the tops of the trees?" I asked.
"No. He's an RAF pilot."
I giggled. "The RAF is the best!"
"Quite right, young lady."
We walked on in silence for a bit. I was burning with curiosity as to what my next assignment was to be. Mummy had told me that there would be times when I would be approached, the codeword given and then I wouldn't find out my assignment straight away. Sometimes not for hours or in one case, I had to wait days to discover my assignment. Apparently, this was one of those times.
"Your mum is quite all right?" Uncle Jonathan suddenly asked.
"Yes. Her friend Carlotta got married last month. She's borrowed us some phonograph records."
"Really?" his tone was surprised...and then I realized my mistake. Never give out too much information. The Americans liked to say, loose lips sink ships. But since I was very young, I knew Uncle Jonathan was merely training me and that I was expected to make mistakes at first.
I didn't know how to proceed. But I was suddenly struck with a wonderful idea: Hopefully, Tristan would give permission for him and Liam to come over and listen to Billie Holliday. So why not invite Uncle Jonathan as well?
"Liam and Tristan are coming over this afternoon at tea time to listen. Well, I hope they are. Do you want to come?" I knew my voice sounded excited.
"Perhaps another time," Uncle Jonathan said a bit sadly. "A bit over-scheduled, I'm afraid."
I was deflated. For a moment, I had imagined a party of sorts--a merry party to wear away some of the January blues. "When, then?" I asked, then giggled as I realized I made a rhyme.
"Perhaps I can bring Liam around next week," Uncle Jonathan offered.
"Oh please! That would be really nice! A going away party!" Now I couldn't contain my excitement and I skipped a few steps. Although Liam's departure would further reduce my social circle, at least he would get to be with his parents. I would miss Liam but the prospect of giving him a going-away party brightened my sadness.
"Well, then. That's what we'll do. You'll be able to borrow the phonograph records again?"
"Oh yes!" I replied, deliberately keeping my statement simple.
"Good," Uncle Jonathan and I had reached the end of the block. A narrow bench had been placed there. Last night's snow covered the bench. Uncle Jonathan swept the snow off the bench and motioned for me to sit down.
He sat half-turned to me, his tweed coat unbuttoned. I peered closer.
"Aren't you cold with your coat unbuttoned?"
"No." He reached inside his coat and I fairly quivered with anticipation. That was the pocket where he kept the Hershey's bars!
But instead of a Hershey bar, Uncle Jonathan pulled out an envelope. He smiled as he held it in his hand. "Do you know what this is?" he asked me.
Of course I did. "It's an envelope." I was a bit disappointed. I was only eight years old and I wanted both a Hershey bar and a cinnamon roll. More sweets to share at tea time today. I smirked inwardly. I was getting a bit greedy as I got older.
"But this is a very special envelope. You need to take this to your mum."
I understood I was to deliver the envelope to mummy: a courier.
"I can do that," I said.
"I know. This time, I can tell you how this letter was brought over. Would you like to know?" he asked seriously.
I nodded. "Yes. Please tell."
"The letter was passed from hand to hand, and passed from village to village. Finally, it was given to an RAF pilot who flew it across the Channel and here into London."
"By dogfighter plane?" The RAF flew the planes that fought the dogfights with the Nazis.
"Yes. By plane. Special airmail delivery. Now keep this somewhere safe," he told me as he handed me the letter face down. I knew I wasn't supposed to see the front the envelope until I was alone. If I had to courier something to Mummy, I wasn't allowed to look at the front of the envelope until I handed it to Mummy.
It was a curious rule, not allowing me to see the front of the envelopes, but Mummy had assured me of two things: first, that one day the reason would become clear; and second, that as spies, we were to endure absurd rules without complaint.
I accepted the letter without looking at the front. I tucked the envelope into my front pocket.
"That's a good girl. Now tell your mum that you two are invited over to Liam's for a farewell party next Wednesday."
"I will! Hey, I thought you were going to come round to our place?"
Uncle Jonathan smiled. "The other way around. You and Carmiela are invited over to Liam's at high tea next Wednesday."
"All right then. I'll tell her," I said as Uncle Jonathan stood up. I followed suit. A light snow had begun falling from the grey sky.
"Good bye for now," I told him. Uncle Jonathan tipped his hat, turned and walked away. The street was mostly empty, as the bakery had probably sold out of the bread by now. The dairy was closed, so most people just returned home.
I wandered around in the snow for a bit, then went home.
When I arrived on my street, I noticed that Mummy had walked up and down the front walks of every single one of the houses on our street. Judging from the different sizes of the footprints, Mummy must have changed shoes.
Misleading the enemy, I thought, remembering a lecture given by Mummy and Jonathan one day as we were out shopping for rations. To mislead any enemy spies amongst us, sometimes Jonathan came with Mummy and me in order to give the appearance of Mummy having a man around.
Looking carefully around the neighborhood, I went up our own front walk Our house was silent. I unlocked the front door and stepped inside.
Placing my jacket on the chair next to the door, I took the bread bag into the kitchen. It was nearly noon and I was hungry. Mummy had left some cold beef for me, and on the stove was a pot of tea, ready to be warmed up on the stove.
I placed the cinnamon rolls on a plate while the tea was warming up. I was sad that Uncle Jonathan didn't give me a Hershey bar this time around but I had the cinnamon rolls to anticipate. I was still curious as to what was in the envelope Uncle Jonathan had given me.
Was it from Poland? The envelope was plain white. It wasn't one of those red, white and blue envelopes with Par Avion printed on the paper. I couldn't wait until Mummy got home so I could finally look at the envelope.
With that thought, I heard Mummy's key in the front door. I jumped up from my chair as the teapot whistled. "Mummy! In the kitchen!"
"I hear you! Did you get the milk or was the dairy closed?"
"Dairy was closed but..."
"But what?" Mummy asked as she came into the kitchen with her arms full of packages.
"Take a look!" I pointed to the plate on the table as Mummy put her packages down on a chair.
"Cinnamon rolls! Danita! Where in the world?" Mummy went to the stove and took off the teapot.
I excitedly gave my explanation. "Trevor said the GIs gave him the ingredients. He gave Liam and myself these for free but he made the adults pay ten pences a roll! Oh! And Liam and Tristan are going to come over this afternoon! It is all right, isn't it? And we're going over to Liams for tea next Wednesday! Uncle Jonathan " I was only eight and the excitement over the impromptu parties had been building up over the morning.
Mummy laughed. "Yes. It will be fun to have visitors. And it will be fun to go visiting," she said with a wink.
I got serious. "I got a communique today."
Mummy raised her eyebrows. "Where?"
"In my coat pocket. I'll get it." I went to the front door. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the letter. Turning it over, I saw familiar handwriting. I squealed. "Daddy! It's from Daddy!"
Mummy rushed out of the kitchen. "You're kidding!"
"No! It's really from Daddy! I'm not kidding! Look!" I handed her the letter with trembling hands.
She looked at the handwriting. "It's true. It's from Gavriel."
Her own hands trembled as she gently tore open the letter. She pulled out a single sheet of paper folded into thirds. Opening the paper, something fell on the floor.
I bent down to pick it up. "A photo of daddy!" I showed Mummy. Her dark eyes misted over as she looked at Gavriel. She handed me back the photo and I looked at it while Mummy read the letter.
"What does daddy say?" I asked, not wanting to look away from Daddy's photo. It was a small photo, black and white but Mummy always said Daddy was a strikingly handsome man: for his job, he'd cut his dark hair short, dark eyebrows hovered over dark eyes. He was Daddy. And he'd somehow managed to send a photo of himself to let me know that I always get what I want: for him to come home safely.
"It's written in code," Mummy said slowly, her eyebrows furrowing. "Let's see, oh! This is morse code, in written form. Daddy's doing as well as can be expected. No injuries. He sends his love but doesn't know when he'll be back for good."
"Why is his letter so short?" I wanted to know. I wanted to read pages of news about Daddy. War was so unfair.
"How was this carried?" Mummy asked me.
"By hand then by RAF."
"Then the letter is short because Daddy's in enemy territory."
"Foodles," I said emphatically.
"I wanted to say something nastier. But Daddy's okay?"
"Yes he is. We'll find a picture frame for this photo after lunch. Then we need to clean house for our visitors this afternoon. Oh, Gavriel! He sent us a letter!"
The following Wednesday at tea time...
"I'm so glad Jonathan asked us over to Liam's. A going-away party was a good idea, Danita," Mummy commented as we trudged through the grey slush. The snow had melted somewhat from last week, and instead of whiteness, the snow was grey from the belching smoke of the ruined sections of London. The soot had fallen everywhere.
"He's leaving on Friday," I told her as
we climbed the steps to Liam's first floor flat. In the left hand window
nearest the door of the building, the blackout curtains twitched.
"Uncle Jonathan!" I said, happy that it was he who opened the door.
"Jonathan, it's good to see you again," Mummy said as Uncle Jonathan showed us inside the foyer.
"May I take your coat?" Jonathan asked.
"Yes, please. They are lucky this flat is still standing," Mummy commented as Uncle Jonathan helped her off with her jacket.
"It's only two stories in a relatively untouched area of London. And your coat, Danita?" Uncle Jonathan asked me as he helped me off with my own jacket.
"For now," Mummy drily said as we entered the Kennas flat.
"Where's Liam?" I asked Uncle Jonathan.
"He'll be around shortly," Uncle Jonathan replied. We went into the living room where a movie projecter was set up. A white sheet was hung on the far wall. Mummy and I looked at each other. I knew that Mummy was thinking what I was thinking: what's a movie projector doing here?
"Are we going to watch a movie?" Mummy asked Uncle Jonathan, who was pouring tea. A plate of sliced lemons next to the teapot made my mouth water even more than the cinnamon rolls.
He chuckled as he squeezed a lemon slice into a cup. "Mmmm, yes."
"Now that was an enigmatic statement!" Mummy commented. "What do you mean, mmm, yes?"
Jonathan glanced at me as he handed me a tea cup. Fragrant bergamot wafted up.
"For vitamin C, so you won't get scurvy," Uncle Jonathan told me as I longingly eyed the lemon slices. I was seriously considering sucking on those lemon slices.
"Jonathan," Mummy's voice carried a certain tone. She wasn't exactly mad with Uncle Jonathan but I knew her curiosity matched mine as to why he was hesitating explaining about the movie.
Jonathan took this opportunity to stymie Mummy's intentions. "Tea, madam? With a lemon slice, for vitamin C."
Mummy slitted her eyes but she couldn't quite hide her giggle. Neither could Uncle Jonathan. Mummy accepted the cup of tea and I noticed her also eyeing the plate of lemon slices.
"Shall we sit for awhile?" Uncle Jonathan asked I began to suspect we had an assignment. I took a seat on the couch while Mummy took a seat on the velvet chair.
"Curiosity kills the cat," I said, glancing at Uncle Jonathan. Today he was dressed in a dark brown suit and over the end of the couch I noted the tweed overcoat he'd worn the week before.
"Indeed," Uncle Jonathan replied, so I knew that the waiting was another one of the curious rules that we had to follow. Just what the assignment was to be would remain clouded until Uncle Jonathan was ready.
Mummy set her tea cup and saucer down on a small table next to the chair and smoothed her Campbell plaid dress. "Will the Kennas be shipping this furniture?" she asked.
Uncle Jonathan finished adding the lemon to his cup of tea, then sat down before replying. "Yes. There's no use keeping it here."
"Might be destroyed," I commented drily.
"Quite right again," Uncle Jonathan replied, sipping his tea.
"Dreadful weather outside," Mummy said, pouting. "Pity we can't even look out the windows anymore."
Uncle Jonathan tried to hide a smile by taking another sip of his tea. "Blackout curtains, ration books. Liam and Tristan will be home shortly. Did I tell you that?"
"Yes." I said. I tried to keep myself from bouncing on the couch.
"Eight year olds have a difficult time waiting, don't they?" Uncle Jonathan asked me.
I nodded vigorously. "Oh yes. We're impatient, we are."
The adults laughed. "Well, then," Uncle Jonathan said. "I shan't keep you waiting. I think the best way to explain is to turn on the movie camera. Danita?"
I set my cup and saucer down and jumped up to turn on the movie camera.
"Danita, you need to first turn off the lights," Mummy told me. "That way, we can watch the movie."
A movie! This wasn't an assignment? This was a great surprise! I went to the light switch and turned it off. The movie camera was rolling and in its light, I made my way back to the couch.
The camera was projecting on a white sheet hung on the far wall. Numbers flashed by...6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
"Daddy!" I squealed.
"Gavriel!" Mummy shouted, then quickly looked around as if she were afraid someone had overheard her. In the camera's light, Uncle Jonathan was smiling.
"This was the best we could do for you. We tried to get a talking camera but the territory and the occupation, well, you know," he told us. "Watch. It's short, I'm afraid."
And watch was what Mummy and me did. We saw Daddy frolicking around, a big smile on his face. He came up to the camera's eye, really close up, and said "Hello, Danita, I love you!"
I couldn't hear his words, for the film was taken from a fighter plane's camera and there was no sound. But I knew what he was saying. He told Mummy he loved her. Then he stepped back, and held up placards with what he wanted us to know he was saying.
"I miss Carmiela and Danita," read the first placard.
"I love my wife and daughter very much," the second placard read.
"As you can see, I am safe. A bit thin in the heart as I miss my family."
This placard had many hearts drawn around his words. Daddy smiled at the camera again before flipping over the next placard.
"War is unfair."
I gasped! That was just what I thought in the past week! Now I knew Daddy would come home safe--we thought a lot alike.
"I will get safely home as I promised you, Danita. That's my birthday present to you.."
Now Mummy stole a glance at me. I could see her smiling. "Even far away, he knows what you're thinking, little one!" she whispered.
"That's my daddy!" I whispered back.
On camera, Daddy was smiling at the camera, still holding the last placard up.
"The cheese is fine, as are the grapes we take off the vine," read the next one. I giggled. I supposed that to mean that he was getting enough to eat. He was thinner than I remembered him, or perhaps I merely remembered him as being heavier. I was more than a year older than when I'd seen him last and I was certainly taller and thinner. Then again, the war rations caused many people to lose weight.
"The one benefit is the sunny weather," Daddy said by way of the placard. It did look like the sun was shining as there was a truck in the background but the film was in black and white. And the camera operator had obviously taken great pains to hide the actual location.
"Wish this war would end and the two of you could come stay with me."
Mummy whispered, "Here, here." I noted Uncle Jonathan was remaining silent.
"Hear you two are quite the rave in London."
I looked at Mummy. Did Daddy know what I was doing? Did he know what Mummy was doing? He had to know what Mummy did, for she and Daddy were both recruited at the same time. But how did he know what I was doing? I was a recent addition to spying.
"Yes, Danita. I know." Daddy's placard now read. I was stunned.
"I'm quite proud of you, liebchen."
I smiled. The next placard simply read, "Zane."
Ah! It was Daddy who'd sent Zane around to us! And Zane had never breathed a word. Maybe he didn't know we were related to Daddy, or maybe Zane didn't meet Daddy. Or maybe Zane wasn't told anything at all in an attempt to keep as many secrets as possible. That seemed like the best explanation but until Daddy could explain it more, I'd be left wondering.
"Carmiela. How often I say your name at night as I watch the stars shining bright."
"I know they shine over you. If you wish upon the star at the end of the Little Dipper..."
"That's the star I wish on for you to see me home safely."
"Gavriel," Mummy whispered. "How I miss you!"
"The film's about to run out. I will try to send more later."
I whispered, "I hope so. I miss seeing you, Daddy."
"I miss you, Danita and Carmiela and love you with all my heart."
Daddy came up to the camera and smooched the lens. Mummy and I laughed. Daddy stepped back and waved to the camera for a bit, then he put his arm up over his head and ducked.
"Gavriel!" Mummy gasped as I shouted, "Daddy!" Then the film ran out and the end of the film was flapping.
Uncle Jonathan spoke. "It's okay. It was a daredevil RAF pilot dropping some supplies. Gavriel's fine." He got up to reset the film in the camera.
Mummy exhaled a sigh of relief. "That's good to know. When was this taken?"
"About a week ago. The letter was written two weeks ago but took longer to get here."
"You're kidding!" I exclaimed. "Last week was when I thought, war is unfair."
"He knows what you're thinking, liebchen," Mummy said. "May we watch it again?"
"But of course," Uncle Jonathan said. "Let me rewind it."
"How did the film get here?"
"The same way the letter did."
"By dogfighter plane?"
"Dang, we've got some good pilots!" I exclaimed and the adults laughed. The film was ready to play and this time Uncle Jonathan left Mummy and me alone so we could watch Daddy once again.
As Daddy kissed the camera lens for the second time, Liam's voice said, "Kissing the camera! Ewww!"
"Liam!" I mockingly scolded him. "That's my Daddy!"
"He'll get back safely, you know," Liam told me authoritatively as we watched the ending once again. This time around, we weren't surprised when Daddy put his arm over his head to protect himself. We knew it was just a supply plane.
"I know. He told me I always get what I want."
"Tristan will get back safely, as well, because I always get what I want."
"You bet I will get back safely," Tristan said, as he turned on the lights. Uncle Jonathan went to rewind the camera.
"Good afternoon, Mrs Weissman, Danita," Tristan said. He was an older version of Liam, with the same carroty hair and freckled skin. "My flat seems to have transformed into a movie theater. I don't mind, of course. Rather neat way of sending messages, if I caught the meaning correctly."
"Are you going to send us a message like that? Mummy would like that," Liam wanted to know. He poured himself a cup of tea and added a lemon slice, then sucked on the lemon slice. He made a face at me. I couldn't help myself: I stood up and went to get a lemon slice to suck on.
"I would think I'd be able to," Tristan said as he looked at Uncle Jonathan.
"We had a devil of a time getting this out but it's possible," Uncle Jonathan replied. "Do you know where you're going?"
"Scandinavia, at first," Tristan replied as he too helped himself to tea. "I think it's to be Sweden."
"Denmark is overrun now," Mummy commented. No one needed any further explanation as to who had overrun Denmark.
"Oh, I nearly forgot," Uncle Jonathan said with a smile. "The movie projector is yours, Carmiela."
With all the force my eight year old voice could muster, I squealed, "Truly?"
"Yes. Truly. They couldn't very well send you a film without any way to replay it at your convenience, could they?"
I shook my head. "It was taken by one of those dogfighter cameras," I said to Liam.
"Neat!" Liam said as he popped another lemon slice into his mouth.
"I can't thank you enough, Jonathan."
"At your service," he responded.
Mummy clapped her hands. "Well. Danita and I have a treat for all of you." She pulled out the phonograph records.
"Glenn Miller!" Liam said, spitting his lemon slice into his hand. "I love his band!"
"And Billie Holliday," I said with a smile. "She's a jazz singer from America."
And for the next few hours that late January day, Uncle Jonathan, Tristan, Liam, Mummy and me danced in the living room to the music of America. At the end of the party, I said my goodbyes to Liam and to Tristan, hoping I'd see them again after the war. Uncle Jonathan would bring letters from Liam but no one was sure about Tristan.