Women are supposed to fall for guys in uniform, but not me. I am not sure when the fear, fascination, or phobia began, but a uniform brings to mind black-booted men with scowling faces. The Kansas Highway Patrol came to visit my school when I was in second grade. I was afraid I would see the mean and sour looking face of Broderick Crawford when they showed up, but two tall and thin uniformed men spoke to us, thumbs in their gun belts…ah, and they did not smile much though.
By fifth grade I was under my desk doing practice drills for bombs that might be dropped by invading Russians. I was so paranoid by summer that any plane overhead that I could hear sent me running to the basement to put my head under the table. By ninth grade, I was reading Anne Frank, shaking with dread that the Annex would be found. When the uniformed men did storm the stairs, I was shaking so hard from reading with panic I could hardly read the page!
When I was newly married and substituting in an English classroom at Hazelwood, Missouri, the lesson plans called for me to join with another teacher to show the classes two days of a film called Night and Fog. I think it was a French film with English subtitles if I remember right. This was real footage taken at the liberation of German concentration camps. The story of the Holocaust was still fresh in 1970 and the horror was piercing, so much so normally rowdy students never said a word. I was young, had never seen such pictures before, and was horrified by the nightmare of Nazi Germany.
It was then I began to come across book after book of Holocaust tales. I usually did not search for them; they just appeared on best seller lists or on a library shelf or maybe in a box of used books bought at a sale. DH began to read them too. I remember one book that involved a character on a train trying to escape across a border while being pursued by black-booted soldiers and German Shepherds. I would read and my heart would pound so hard my chest hurt. I would turn out the light, go to sleep and have nightmares. (DH laughed until the next week he was reading the same book in bed and said he was sweating with panic as he read!) The night we went to see Schindler’s List at the movies, I cried when the little girl in the red coat appeared. After the movie was over and the lights came up, my tears were nothing to the sobbing of an elderly Jewish man behind us.
When I taught Writing Lab, I used a powerful essay written by a young Jewish girl who had visited a concentration camp on a trip to Germany. She wrote in a powerful way about being lighthearted with her school group until she saw the room with all the shoes in it from people once confined there. Each time I read the essay aloud, I was there with her, took my students there with me, shed tears with each reading.
I always high-stepped (was that goose-stepped?) to the power and authority in my life. A siren coming from behind or flashing lights in my car mirrors made my pulse race. A couple of years ago heading to Kentucky to see a new grandbaby, DH and I took turns driving into the night. About 10:00 pm I was driving on an Indiana highway with sparse traffic. DH saw a patrolman had a car pulled over and another driver nearly hit the standing patrolman by not getting into the proper lane. I changed lanes but in only a matter of seconds, the patrol car was flashing lights at me to pull over. He stuck his face in the car as far as his hat would let him demanding if I tried to hit him. I said no I had changed lanes. DH offered that he saw the white car and we were in a green car. The patrolman never apologized, ran back to his car, and raced down the road. He was angry and scared and frustrated himself as he nearly lost his life doing his job, uniform and all.
Now me, I nearly had a heart attack at the uniform. I could barely speak. I could not drive further and needed a ditch to be sick in. DH took the wheel and said he could not understand why I was so afraid of uniforms. I shook and felt sick for at least twenty miles before a giant weakness set in for the night.
Part II tomorrow.