As I stepped off the boat that had taken me to France, I lifted my head high and smelled the aroma of fresh baked goods in the local shops by the port. I was so delighted to see my father, he had missed my thirteenth birthday, and I wanted him to see how I had changed. Before long I would be married and have children
¨Hurry along now Anna dear!¨ My mother called from ahead of me, talking to my two older brothers, while also trying to soothe my littlest brother Joey at the same time. “We're going to miss our train.”
¨Coming mother!¨ I called back, running down the last few steps to where my mother stood, arms around Joey, my braids swinging behind me.
¨Don’t run Anna dear.¨ That's what everyone called me, Anna dear. ¨It's not ladylike.¨
At the station while my mother bought the tickets, I sat on the benches holding my baby brother Joey on my lap. I smiled up at my brothers, excitement written on my face.
The eldest was Chris. At the age of 17 he was quite tall and very handsome with dark brown hair and faded russet eyes from all our years in London. I knew one day he would make one girl happy and be a good steady husband. Matthew, on the other hand was lanky with wild blue eyes and burnt umber hair. He wore a mischievous smile that immediately suggested that he had a mischievous soul. He had good grades and many friends that he was forced to leave behind in England. Little Joey sat on my lap, looking up at me quizzically as if to say why are we here? I just smiled down at him, and gently ruffled his soft hazel curls.
Since I was adopted I do not look a thing like my family. I have dark auburn hair falling just below my shoulders. My eyes are green, which I hate. No one has green eyes. I was relatively short for my age, which mdee my older brothers seem to tower over even more.
My mother came back to the benches, her long black curls tied back into a pretty style.
“I have the tickets for the 3:00 train. Your father will be waiting for us in Perouges.” Oh I was so excited. Father had said in his letters that he had bought the most charming little house.
When the train arrived, Chris and Matthew grabbed our luggage and headed towards the first class entrance. On the train I sat by the window and admired the French landscape before me. I loved every minute of it.
When we eventually pulled into the Perouges station, I scanned the crowd, eagerly searching for my father’s face.
Though my mother told me multiple times not to run off the train to my father when we arrived, I couldn’t help myself.
He looked older, but still the kind man that comforted me, all the times I was sad, while my mother was busy with my brothers. I leapt off the train, skipping the last step and flew into my father’s arms. I didn’t care how many strange looks came my way. I am encased in his hug. I am so happy. After all those long months, he still smelled the same. By then my mother and brothers surrounded us. He gently untangled me from him, shook my older brothers hands and kissed my mother and Joey on their foreheads.
It had been two weeks since we first arrived in Perouges. I was so glad I had been raised speaking French and English, since my Mother came from France originally. I stood outside the bakery eyeing the croissants in the window. I glanced up to see a boy about a year older than myself looking at me smiling. I smile back. I saw him vanish from behind the glass until he appeared before me. He wore a sheepish smirk that sat slightly crooked on his face. He had unkempt black hair like he was always brushing his hand through it. His teasing green eyes intrigued my sense of curiosity.
“I don’t believe we’ve met, what's your name?” he asked.
“My name is Anna, Anna Hitchall. I just moved from London two weeks ago.”
“Well it's nice to meet you Anna.” He extended his hand and I shook it. “My name is Ben. I have to get back to work, but I hope to see you again.” I nodded and he turned away.
The next time I see Ben, he is with another boy who had lots of curly brown hair in need of a haircut. He had big gray eyes and freckles seemed to dot his nose like stars in the sky. He was doubled over laughing, an impish grin stretched across his face. At that moment Ben turned around as if he had heard something and his eyes wandered until he saw me.
“Anna!” he called to me, “come here a minute, I want you to meet a friend of mine!” I slowly made my way towards him and the strange boy. “Anna.” he said when I get close enough. “This is Sam, Sam this is Anna. She recently moved here from London.”
“Ah, a city girl.” He bowed formally, I curtsied blushing. “What's it like to live in a small town like this after living in London?”
“Oh, I think it's absolutely wonderful!” I answered, laughing a little.
“Well then, would you let me buy you a Pâtisserie?” Except he didn’t wait for an answer, he just started to walk in the direction of the bakery. Ben shrugged and offered me a smile as if to say: you never know what goes through that boy’s head then he started after Sam. I followed.
I guess we’ll never know.
Over the years, we had all grown to be great friends. I was almost seventeen years old and Sam and I are madly in love. My family seemed to love him almost as much as I did, even Little Joey. But I could not ignore the fact that war had started and soldiers were needed. I prayed that Sam would not go especially because we were soon to be married. The wedding was scheduled for October 16th, two and a half months before his eighteenth birthday. I prayed that the war would be over by then.
After the wedding Sam grew closer to me. This scared me. We had time, didn’t we? Sam wasn’t enlisting, was he?
On January 1st, 1940 Sam did it. He enlists, as if he could not wait to get away from me. But I knew that was far from the truth. Sam loved me and I took pride in knowing he was willing to die in the name of France.
A month later I took Sam to the station to exchange our goodbyes. While the train left the station, I ran and jumped up onto the steps with him, and gave him a kiss. I looked into his face, his gray eyes solem with determination and a little excitement. They looked nothing like they did when we were blissfully unaware of all troubles of the world. I whispered,
“I love you.” His eyes smiled, saying it for him, I love you too. Then I stepped off the train with a feeling of raw despair I may never see Sam again. I waved goodbye pretending to be okay.
“Come home soon.” I whispered, as I let a single tear roll down my cheek.
When I returned home, I busied myself with household chores in an effort to outrun the hysteria I knew would soon consume me. But after hours of cleaning, my heart caught up with my terrible reality, and I found myself drowning in my never ending tears. I cried for the men out there, that saw and heard terrible things that no one could ever possibly imagine. I cried for the men who were lost, and may never be found. I cried for the women and children who had to live with the knowledge that their families would never be the same again.
I cried for myself. Myself. How could I be so selfish to cry for myself? My brothers’ and husband both at war, yet I cry for myself.
Two months later Ben was off at war too. My best friend and husband and brothers were all miles away, trying to defeat the Nazis. I wrote letters to them everyday, but I never heard back. What if they were dead? or missing? or even worse, being held captive and tortured? I talked to my mother about it.
“Mother what if…if…”
“Anna, dear there are so many ‘what ifs’. We can’t possibly know them all, and a great many of them could be positive.”
“Yes but even more of them are negative!” I wailed. I watched as Joey played with the wooden train father had made him. Joey could tell I was about to cry. He dropped his train, runs over to me and climbed up onto my lap.
“Joey you shou-” my mother started to say.
“Mother, it's okay.” I said quietly as I hugged Joey to my chest. He looked into my tearful eyes.
“Anna, why’re you crying?” he asked. And that's what made me tear up more, hearing Joeys small voice asking why I was upset. He was so innocent, I hoped it could stay that way. He then snuggled into me and said “Anna, don’t cry! Please.” I held Joey like he was a little baby again and slowly my tears dried. Joey stayed where he was. I looked down and was surprised to see that his eyes were closed and he was sleeping. I gently picked him up and carried him to his bedroom, where I laid him on his bed.
“Good night, my dearest Joey.” I whispered into the silent room. I closed the door and tip-toed downstairs. “I should be going Mother, before it gets dark” I explained. She nodded. I glanced back at her one last time before I left. She looked older, her soft black and gray curls sat loosely atop her head. She looked sad, scared and helpless, and had wrinkles framing her lips. I wondered if I looked the same. “Goodbye Mother” I spoke softly, then I left and head to my home down the street.
By the end of July 14th 1940, I was sitting in bed, holding a little bundle in my arms. The tiny baby boy looked up at me longingly. I suppose he wanted some more milk. As soon as the midwife had told me it was a boy, I decided to call him Samuel Ben Chevalier. My little knight. Oh how I wished Sam could have been there, he had always wanted a son.
6 months after Samuel was born, I get word that Ben was coming home. The lady who worked at the post office informed me that he had been shot in the left arm and had to get it amputated. Oh, how sorry I felt for Ben, but at least he was coming home!
“Do you know when he will be back?” I asked waiting breathlessly for her answer.
“Possibly in two weeks time, although I cannot be certain.”
One month later I still had no news of Ben until I heard a knock on the door. I felt the breath drain out of my body. I knew it must be someone here to tell me Sam was dead. No one ever came to my house. I put Samuel down in his crib and walked slowly to the front door, when I heard another knock. I reached the door, took a deep breath and opened it.
Stood before me was Ben! Ben in flesh and blood. I couldn’t handle it and faint on the spot.
When I woke Ben was hunched over me, a look of anxiety and something else I couldn’t quite decipher plagued his eyes.
“Are you okay Anna?” he asked.
“Be-Ben, are you home?” I exclaimed. “Is it it really you?”
“Yes Anna, it’s me. I’m home.” I stood up.
“Well then, let me have a look at you.”
The lady was correct, his left arm was gone just past his shoulder, which made the arm of his jacket swing loosely. Other than that he looked okay, except for a few minor scrapes and bruises. I hug him tightly. We hang on to one another as if he was my life support and I was his. The only thing that kept us from drowning in our own tears.
“Where’s Sam?” he asked softly.
“I don’t know!” I sobbed into his jacket for a while, ridding myself of the good and bad tears. Then I heard a cry.
“Oh!” I exclaimed. “I want you to meet someone.” I led Ben into Samuel's bedroom. He was crying in his crib, scared to be alone. I walked over and picked him up, soothing his cry. “Ben this is my son. His name is Samuel Ben Chevalier.” I said quietly “I named him after you and Sam.” Ben stood there for a moment speechless, then he politely asked to hold him. I handed him over. “He squirms sometimes.” Ben looked surprised, as if I was concerned to let him hold Samuel because he only had one arm.
“Hi Samuel” Ben cood. Samuel giggled.
“Let’s take him downstairs.” I suggested. Downstairs we talked for nearly three hours when Ben said he had to go.
“Oh Ben!” I wrapped my arms around him. “I feel as if this is a dream and when I wake up you will no longer be here!”
“Would it help if I came by tomorrow to prove it wasn’t a dream?”
“Yes please! I want to see you everyday as you’ve missed a year in Perouges.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow then?”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As the years passed Samuel grew. Yet I had still heard nothing from Sam. His son started to look increasingly similar to him, with the same eyes, hair and freckles. Every time I looked at my son it reminded me of Sam and my hope for his return. I felt in my heart that I would see Sam again, even if it was just a glimpse of his eyes.
On April 7th, 1943 I heard a knock at the door. When I opened it, a man dressed in a black uniform looked back at me, he took off his hat and bowed. I put a hand to my mouth to stifle a scream.
“Are you Mrs. Chevalier?” I nodded weakly, “I’m so very sorry Miss.” He handed me a telegram. On top of the envelope was a metal tag with Samuel Chevalier and below it is the number 1357 written on it. I looked at the man and barely managed a thank you for you time without bursting into tears. As the man turned and walked away, I slid to the ground and wept. Then Samuel came outside to the front porch where I sat defeated. Suddenly the man wearing black turned back to the street with his own tears in his eyes.
“Mama?” Samuel asked. He crawled onto my lap and tries to comfort me. Poor boy, almost at the age of three and didn’t know why his mother was crying. He didn’t know that the father that he had never met, was now dead, and all that was left of him was a dog tag.
I stood up, with Samuel wrapped around me and returned inside.
“Mama,” he spoke softly, “wass wong?” I looked down at him, at my son. My little knight.
“Darling, you’ll learn in time!” By then I have composed myself and Samuel wanted down. I carried him to his room, and placed him on his bed. I picked out his black clothes and dressed him. I placed him back into his crib and accordingly went to mine and Sa- my bedroom to put on my mourning clothes.
Samuel and I walked to my mother's home. It wasn’t far, just a quarter of a mile down the road.
I knocked lightly on the door. When my mother opened it she took one look at Samuel and I dressed in our black clothes and puts a hand to her heart.
“Oh Anna dear, I am so sorry!” I just fell into her, but I couldn’t cry. I supposed I had run out of tears. My mother ushered us inside and into the sitting room. Joey was sitting on the ground playing with his toys.
“Jo Jo!” Samuel ran to Joey.
“Joey, why don’t you take Samuel to your bedroom to play?” My Mother requested.
“Anna, dear. I really am sorry for your loss. I loved Sam almost as much as you did. He was such a nice young man to you.” She paused for just a moment. “You have Samuel to remind you of Sam every day.”
“Mother, I love Samuel, he is my own flesh and blood, he’s my baby, but it’s not the same!” I sobbed. “It’s not like Sam will ever kiss me goodnight or take me dancing again, Mother, he is gone, and I don’t think I can bear it. The war has been a tiresome weight on my shoulders for four years. I can’t carry this burden any longer, I fear that it will come crashing down, taking me with it.” I’m glad Samuel and Joey weren’t there. I did not want them to see me this way. Now I had to be strong. Strong just like Sam was.
I show my mother the telegram.
May 22nd 1943
543 Rue du Flour.
I regret to inform you that your husband, Samuel William Chevalier was killed in action. I extend to you my sincere sympathy. Your husband died serving his country.
Henry J. Jones. General
My mother put a hand to her face.
“Oh, Anna.” That's all she could manage. After a while of my mother and me talking about less horrible topics I had to leave.
I took the long way home to stop and see Ben. He deserved to know what had happened. Sam and Ben had been friends since first grade. Sam had said that one day at school they had brought in a snake and put it in the teacher's desk. The teacher was a lady, and she screamed and fell backwards off her chair, and the whole class had laughed.
“That was back when we were children!” Sam had said.
“Besides, we were really sorry after.” Ben had concluded after I had lightly punched each of them on the shoulder. “Your so mean!” I had scolded them, laughing.
I took a deep breath as I stepped closer to Ben's house. I felt as if each step on the cobbled street was a knife to my heart. I knocked, and waited, and waited. I was so relieved. Maybe he wouldn’t answer. I could come back tomorrow and break the news to him then.
Just as I was turning around, pulling Samuel along, Ben opened the door.
“Anna!” He called after me. Then he said it again, softer this time, as if he knew the reason I was there. “Anna, I- I’m so sorry”. I could feel him right behind me when I turned around and hugged him, pulling Samuel close.
When we finally let go of one another, both of our eyes were wet with tears.
“I loved him so much.” I breathed quietly.
“I know,” He whispered back. “I miss him, I’ve missed him since the day he died in my arms. We fought alongside one another, did you know that? He was brave, probably the bravest of us all. He got your letters too, so did I, but we were always unable to answer them. He knows that you had the baby Anna. The first thing he said to me after he read your letter was, ‘My little knight’ I didn’t know what he meant.” I smile to myself knowing exactly what Sam meant. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you this already, I just didn’t know how.” I stand there and listen to the sounds around me, the sound of a woman calling her children to supper. I looked down at Samuel, I had almost forgotten he was there. I picked him up.
My eyes said what words could not.
“May I walk you home?”
“Yes.” And we silently crept down the cobbled path that was steadily grew darker in the twilight. Before I could say anything, Ben did a military salute to honour Sam.
“Goodbye my friend.” Ben sounded into the night.