Work in Progress
My mother and her family were living in Normandy in 1944. My mother, studying to be a physicist, traveled back and forth between the University of Paris and her hometown of Caen every week. It was a risky trip: in order to disrupt the transport of Nazi supplies, the Allies were regularly bombing the trains. But my mother kept on commuting.
On June 4th, she left for Paris for a week of exams; on the 6th, the Allies bombed her home. Her mother, grandmother, and sixteen-year-old sister were buried in the rubble; her stepfather and fifteen-year-old sister were outdoors, weeding the garden, and survived.
My mother’s youngest sister has never spoken of D-day, but from her stepfather, my mother learned a few details: Nicolette, the beautiful, rebellious sister who died, had refused to brush her teeth that morning. There were rumors that the Allies would liberate them any day and when her mother asked her if she’d brushed her teeth, my aunt laughed: “Why should I? We’ll probably die today anyway.”
From “The First Story,” an essay published in What Writers Do (see Books).