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The Keepsake

The Keepsake

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By Robert L. Hall I was told about the book by my wife, who had heard about it on the local news.

So I got a copy.

The book arrived in the mail and I unwrapped it, turning it in my hands. It had a plastic spiral spine and a cardboard-looking cover.

More like a cookbook than anything else.

I read it through, savoring both the deep sadness of it along with the study of the human condition which always strives. The total involvement I experienced upon reading it gave me a profound feeling that I had just experienced, more than simply read, what another had experienced.

The forward of the book is what my eyes fell upon first.

There was a statement there that it was a product of a grandmother’s love; a keepsake for her children and grandchildren.

Something for them to have as a memoir of her. It was her own story told in her own way.

For the story began in France prior to World War II.

Just days before the war, she lost both her parents due to heart rending tragedies that had nothing to do with the war, but nevertheless left her an orphan, with only distant relatives remaining.

Left as a young girl, she had to find her own way.

Then, only days after her last parent died, France fell to the Germans.

Now she not only was bereft of parents, but bereft of a country.

For the socialists who had taken over in that foreign field swept into her own land and took control of her own beloved France.

She became circumspect in her ways.

And had to find work where she could, including leaving the tumult that was occupied France and go to another country to be a maid for established foreign families in order to support herself.

That is because finding work where she was became impossible-especially since her own parents were gone and she had to assume her own support system at a tender age.

Adding to the tension of the times, foreign soldiers with odd names and rough manners were in the streets of the town, shouting orders and issuing ultimatums to the folk.

Fear was in the eyes of everyone, and no one knew who to trust, or who they could talk to, confide in or turn to for solace or support. The fabric of the country was stretched to the near-breaking point, barely functioning and then only at the behest of the conquerors of the town.

Sprinkled in the pages as well were old photos, reproductions of the farmhouse she was raised in, her pet dog and old family shots as well. They gave life to her story, personalized it, and made it a tender storybook with snapshots of a bygone time.

The Occupation of France. The loss of art, of social norms, of dignity, of security and stability. All that was swept away under the tide of an imposing socialist invader.

You know, it was said in an ironic tone during this time in history that although the Italian dictator, Mussolini, was a terrible tyrant, that he kept the trains running. Brutal leaders can do that. That is because everything is owned and operated by the state. There is nothing that is not run by it. And if you don’t like that, you might find yourself in a concentration camp, or wake up and find yourself dead, as the old irony goes.

Back to the book… in the context of this young girl’s tribulations during the devolution going through Europe, this is clearly seen.

Especially during one scene from her book where she is walking along in the midst of soldiers who stop her and are mulling whether to let her go or not. She knows some of their language and picks up from their conversation that they consider she might be a spy.

Indeed, she might possibly not survive the encounter.

At this point, she does not know if she will live or for how long.

Now, she obviously did endure, and eventually at the end of the world conflict, she married a G.I. and came to America as a bride.

To the land of the free and home of the brave.

Where today, some young people say that they prefer socialism.

Let me say this as kindly as I can: If you are a young person entertaining the idea of playing with socialism, please take the time to read about the war, or about the Gulags-the forced labor camps of the former Soviet Union, or the starvation of whole segments of Chinese society during the last century, or the killing fields of Cambodia. Even today it’s not like you can’t find ample evidence of the failure of socialist programs worldwide: There are the re-education camps in China, the disappearances of political and media persons in Russia, the slavery of Cuba, the collapse of the economy in Venezuela.

And there’s this little book…a keepsake handed down from a concerned grandmother to her lineage…a tale of a girl who grew up in a time of socialist horror in her own country and who wanted to pass along her personal knowledge of that to kin as a warning.

I know they are saying, “Thanks, Grandma.”

Robert L. Hall is a resident of Marion and has a Bachelor’s Degree in music from the University of Memphis and a Master’s Degree from Florida State University. He is the pianist for Avondale Baptist Church and a writer of fiction on Amazon eBooks.

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