Monday morning, second week of school. Wanda and I stepped out of our buildings at the same moment and began the short walk to school. We’ve known each other for many years. Her parents are very strict and make her spend so much time with her studies and practicing her violin that she has little free time to spend with friends. That probably explains why she’s so shy. Wanda is three inches shorter than me and a little plump, taking after her mother. She wears her hair in a ponytail and her parents never let her wear makeup.
“I won’t be able to walk home from school with you this week,” I said. “My mother needs my help with a project and she’ll be picking me up at school.”
“What kind of project?”
“She told me not to tell anyone yet. I promise to tell you as soon as I’m able.”
“A top secret project? Sounds exciting.”
It isn’t exciting. With Max joining the army, everything I had overheard my parents discussing about the war seems more real. I don’t know what to expect. My parents were young during the Great War, but they remember it. I remember my grandparent’s stories from when I was younger, but over the years they stopped telling them. I’m actually glad my parents decided to begin preparing for the worst. This gives me something to focus on instead of worrying about guns and bombs.
Mother met me after school and we went to a market I had never been to before. She decided that it was best to spread our purchases across several markets so we don’t draw any attention to ourselves. The list included candles, matches, rice, flour, sugar, bacon, canned goods, tea, coffee, salt and other seasonings, kerosene lamps and oil, soap, shampoo, light bulbs, aspirin, first aid supplies, and empty bottles for water storage. There's a note at the bottom of the list to keep an eye out for other items that she hadn’t thought of. My mother brought a small shopping cart with her, and when we arrived at the market we started filling the cart. The clerk was watching us, wondering what we were up to, so we hurried to finish our shopping.
The cart was heavy so we both pulled it along the sidewalk. Several people looked at us but Mother just smiled, nodded, said “good afternoon,” and kept on walking. We finally arrived home and unloaded the cart. While I was at school my mother had cleared a lot of space in the kitchen cabinets and pantry.
“Your father will be bringing home some empty boxes he found at the office," she said. "He’ll also make sure we have extra money and our valuables stowed away in a secure hiding place.”
After we finished, she prepared the ingredients for tonight’s soup dinner, set the pot on the stove to stew, and sat at the kitchen table going over her lists, figuring out what we already had and what we still need to purchase. “You should finish your homework before dinner is ready,” she said.
Father arrived home with a couple of empty boxes. He decided to just take one or two each day so no one would notice. He had also stopped by the liquor store and purchased a case of wine. My mother asked why he was wasting our money on wine and he said that she’ll be glad later to have it. He put the case of wine on the floor in the back of Max’s closet. Since Max wasn’t here, we ccould use his room for storage, putting items mainly in the closet to keep them out of the sight of any visitors.
And that’s how the week continued…school, shopping, unloading, homework. By Thursday we seemed to be ready for just about anything. Mother was still going over her lists again and again, worried that we missed something. Shortly after my parents went to bed, I went to the kitchen for a drink of water. I passed their bedroom on the way back to my room and I heard my mother crying.