Amazing Kids! Magazine

Kyle’s Surprising Hero

By Sean Traynor, Editorial Advisor and Contributing Writer


Maybe if I just hide here a little longer, I won’t have to go, Kyle wished as he dug deeper beneath the pile of stuffed animals in the corner of his room. The fur was tickling his neck and he wanted to jump out and shiver the feeling away, but he resisted the urge.  Peeking out between Smokey the Bear and Mickey Mouse, he could just barely see his mother rounding the corner towards his room.

Once again she announced, “Kyle, we have to GO! Great Grandmother is waiting.” She peered into his room and began to chuckle.

Kyle realized now his mistake; he had covered up the top half of his body but as he glanced down he realized his bright blue converse sneakers were still sticking out of the stuffed animal pile like a flag alerting the enemy to the captain’s headquarters.

“Come on Kyle.  You know how much your great grandmother loves you coming to visit. It will only be for a few hours,” his mother cajoled in her most guilt-provoking tone.

“But Mom, you know how BORED I get when I go over there.  Can’t I just spend the afternoon with Jimmy?” Kyle asked pleadingly. Jimmy was his best friend down the street and Kyle thought this option was his best bet for getting out of the sentence of a few hours with his great grandmother. She was a nice enough lady, alright, but SO ancient. He just hated how his mother forced him to run over to him and sit on her lap. She always gave him a big hug that took his breath away and he was forced to bear that “old-lady” smell that made him pull away slightly.

“No, Kyle. You know Nana looks forward to you coming. Grab your coat.”

Kyle shook himself out of the stuffed animals and made a spectacle of stomping his way out of his room. He sat in silence all the way to Nana’s house, wishing for the day to be over. Every Sunday he was forced to visit his great grandmother, and he was done searching through the old bin of toys that were at least four years too young for him. She didn’t let him watch television, and what’s more, she wanted him to “chat” on the couch with her. Why would a 9-year-old boy want to do that? He plastered his frown even more firmly on his face and stared out the window of their minivan at the changing leaves on the trees, a sign that fall was in the air.

Upon arrival, his mom gave him one slight little shove towards his great grandmother as she reminded him that she’d be back in a few hours. She looked expectantly at him and he turned and went over to his great grandmother, climbing next to her on the couch. Just as she had always done, she leaned over, kissed him on the top of his head and gave him a big hug. He scrunched up his nose, turned his head slightly away from her neck and mumbled, “Hello, Nana.”  With that, his mother turned and left the house.

For the next hour, he searched fruitlessly through the playschool baby toys to find something to entertain himself. He let out a frustrated sign and listened for his great grandmother. He could tell by the clinking of the pans that she was busy in the kitchen preparing lunch for the two of them.

He slinked up the stairs, pretending to be an army corporal scoping out the enemy territory. There to the right of the stairs was a small door he hadn’t noticed before. He pushed on the side and a spring pushed the door open just a few inches. Surprised, Kyle slowly opened the door to reveal an entrance to the small attic of the house.

Oh well, he thought. At least this will be better than playing with Tickle-me Elmo. And he climbed inside.

The attic had a musty smell and the dim light made him squint to make out what was inside. He slowly climbed between old boxes labeled “Christmas” and “Old Clothes” and darted his eyes side to side to see if there was anything interesting to explore. He saw an old rocking chair and an old mattress. Next to that was a beat-up old mirror that made his reflection look a little wobbly around the edges. He sat in the rocker and swung his legs back and forth, imagining a fighter jet streaming through the sky. His foot kicked a pile of old blankets off to the side, shifting them askew. Underneath the blankets was revealed an old plain chest. It was army green and had a brass plate.  He hopped off the chair and knelt in front of the chest.  Using his sleeve, he wiped off the plate, but the only thing revealed was his grandmother’s last name.  He lifted the latch and opened the lid, not sure what he expected to find. Inside he found some old uniforms, name tags, hairnets, and a photo album containing black and white photos that smelled funny and had faded to a ghostly gray.

Hearing his great grandmother calling him, he pulled out a uniform and the album and tucked them under his arm. He slowly closed the old trunk and made his way downstairs. Placing the items on the edge of the sofa in the living room, he made his way to the kitchen to eat his lunch.

“Hi Nana.  Thanks for making my favorite – grilled cheese,” Kyle said as he gave her a genuine smile. He was enjoying this visit to his great grandmother’s house, now that he had found an interesting treasure to explore.

They finished their last bites of the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and returned to the living room.

“Why Kyle, what have you found here?” his great grandmother asked with a surprised tone. “I haven’t seen these things in many, many years.”

“I’d love it if you could tell me about these things, Nana,” Kyle implored. “Were they Great Grandpa’s from the war?”

“Well, not exactly…” his great grandmother began as her voice trailed off. Her hesitancy made Kyle even more curious.

“Please Nana, tell me what they’re all about!”

She patted the side of the couch next to her and Kyle excitedly plopped himself down next to her and put his arm inside hers.

“Well, you see Kyle, Great Grandfather went off to the war during World War II and I was left home all alone.  There were many other wives that were left in the same situation. We felt helpless and wanted to aid somehow in the war effort. The army had put out fliers and posters that they really needed people to fill in for the men that had gone off to war.  You see, they needed people to help in new jobs as the factories were converted into producing things for the war like airplanes, uniforms, and other supplies.” She paused a second, then added, “Let’s go upstairs and I can show you what I mean.”

He jumped up off the couch and reached out his hand to her. Hand in hand they made their way up the stairs to the attic entrance door and he gently put his hand on her back as she made her way inside at a snail’s pace. His anticipation was high and he wanted to bolt inside the attic, but he let her take her time, understanding that she had kept these stories hidden for many years and it might be like pouring cold honey from a jar when she finally released them.

She took her place in the rocking chair and motioned for him to open the lid to the trunk. “Find a rolled up poster in there,” she said while pointing.

He scampered over to the chest, used his hands like shovels through the materials inside and laid his hand on a paper object. Pulling it out he slid off the string and unrolled the paper.  There, staring at him was a woman with her bicep curled, stating “We Can Do It!”  The determined look on her face left no doubt in his mind that whatever she wanted to do, she could do. He glanced over at his great grandmother beginning to ask her a question when he stopped, mouth open, as he looked back and forth from the poster to his great grandmother.  His great grandmother had that same set in her jaw line. It was as if the frail, feeble old woman had been transformed into a determined prize fighter.

Looking at the poster must have brought her back in time. “Yes,” she continued, “we all knew that we were meant to help out – we had to help out – to help our men return home. In May of 1943 I saw that woman on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post magazine stomping on Hitler’s discriminatory book entitled ‘Mein Kampf’ and I felt something change inside me. The President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, implored us to get involved. Although I had never worked before, I knew I could learn. I went down to the local automobile production factory that had been converted into a munitions factory and signed up to go to work immediately.”

She lifted up the uniform and hair net and laid them on her lap. “These were a uniform of honor then. Instead of comparing sewing patterns and recipes, my friends and I talked about the fastest ways to generate higher volumes of torpedo and grenade parts. We became technical experts on artillery and could handle drills, welding torches and other tools just as well as the men standing by our sides. It didn’t matter that we were paid less than the men; we knew that our efforts were supporting the war effort to help keep us free.”

She took a deep breath and continued her reverie, “The clothing, food and gas were rationed so we valued our uniforms and made our way around town by walking or riding our bicycles. We assisted in scrap metal, aluminum cans and rubber drives and searched everywhere for things that could aid in the war effort. During the spring of 1942, we were issued ration stamps that were used to buy our allotment of everything from meat, sugar, fat, butter, vegetables and fruit to gas, tires, clothing and fuel oil. We all tried to follow the motto, ‘Do with less–so they’ll have enough.’ With shortages everywhere, the government asked us to plant ‘Victory Gardens’ to provide our own fruits and vegetables. Our little neighborhood here got together and pooled our resources, bought seeds and planted different kinds of foods. We shared amongst ourselves, all in the name of patriotism.”

Now Kyle knew why the old packets of seeds in the trunk were lovingly tucked away inside the nicely embroidered handkerchiefs. To Nana, they were a symbol of life when the threat of death loomed around every corner. He picked up some old coins and let them jangle in his hand. They were only a few cents so he thoughtlessly tossed them back into the trunk.

Nodding to the coins, Nana relayed, “Even with us scrimping by on so little, we all tried to support the war effort by buying war bonds. You see, that was a way of the government getting money to help pay for the war.”

Kyle wanted to pick up the coins once again, realizing now how valuable they must have been to her during those days.  He resisted and started sifting through the items in the trunk once more. He looked at each item thoroughly. As if using Nana’s voice to tell their story, the items seemed to come to life with his touch.

She leaned over and longingly looked at an old radio in the chest. “To you, my boy, that may seem like a piece of old junk. But that radio kept my hopes high in those days. We would sit around it and listen for the latest news. Just like your songs make you happy, we had songs like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy to keep us optimistic. Occasionally we would go to the movies together. At the beginning they would have the latest news of the war conflict and we all would sit, white-knuckled, worried that we would get bad news about our husbands.”

“I changed during those several years, Kyle. You never know what you can do until it is necessary. I hope you never have to experience a conflict like I did to help you know what you can accomplish. I felt I did a little bit to help win that war. I know it helped me get through the time that Great Grandpa was away – and for that I am forever grateful.”

A slow tear streamed down her face as she picked up the photograph of her and Great Grandpa. They were both staring out happily – he in his uniform, her in her pants and blue shirt. Now he understood that she was wearing her work uniform. Based on the happy smiles on their faces, that must have been the day Great Grandpa returned from the war.

After Nana finished the reflections from her times during the war, Kyle gently placed the items back into the chest. He asked Nana if he could keep one of her name badges from the trunk that said her name and the title “Welder.” She nodded gently and he placed it inside his jean’s pocket. They slowly returned downstairs and Nana claimed her usual spot on the couch.

Just then he heard a car pull up outside and he went to the door and opened it for his mom.

“Hi honey, are you ready to come home?” his mother asked.

Instead of his usual routine of bounding out the door at the sound of her tires, he said, “Just a minute Mom,” and returned inside.

Kyle ran back to the couch and scrunched up next to his great grandmother once again, slipping his arm into hers. He leaned up and kissed her on the cheek whispering, “I love you, Nana.” He sucked in a deep breath and nuzzled in deeper.

“I love you too, Kyle.  I thought you didn’t like my perfume very much,” she said with a slight giggle. “I try to remember not to put it on when you’re coming over, but Great Grandpa brought me back that White Shoulders perfume after the war and it so reminds me of him. You’re beginning to look a lot like him now.”

He hugged her again and thought, I sure do love that smell. “I love you just the way you are, Nana,” Kyle whispered, sending a smile to her lips.

“We have to go now, Kyle,” his mother said, looking at him with a puzzled expression.

“Bye, Nana!” Kyle said. “See you next week, okay?”

With that he turned and smiled at his mother, grasping the nametag in his pocket. We have a real hero in our family and my mom doesn’t even know it, he thought. He turned once again to give a loving look to his great grandmother and no longer saw the frail, old woman of earlier. Now he saw the brave soldier for freedom that she truly was and he puffed out his chest in pride and strode out the door.