One day in March of 1944, at 2626 P Street in Lincoln, Nebraska, Mother sat by the dining room door next to the radio, laughing along with her cousins and then in conversation with her Aunt Imo so that she didn’t see the car from Western Union pull up to the curb and the still-faced man get out and close the door and come up the walk. Someone answered the door and he asked for Susan Miller, and the cousin came back in and said there’s a man here for you Susie and everyone got very quiet while Susie got up and made her way past them, the Hummels looking down from the knick-knack shelves in the silence. “I’m Sue Miller,” said Mother and the man standing in the foyer gave her the telegram that said her husband Kenny had died on the first day of that month in Sardinia, the telegram that sat by a box of handkerchiefs and costume jewelry in her dresser drawer in Nebraska and Virginia and California, and sits there still. The cousins made their way to their cars, the muffled sound of their heavy doors swinging to out on the street in the light March air. Such things were happening all over the country, all over the world, all over Lincoln for that matter – but it had happened here in the living room at 2626 P, a deeper silence still, a dread and a failure. “Oh sister,” said Nell. A few weeks later Mother took a job with the Red Cross as assistant to a man who had lost an arm overseas, and who wore the shirtsleeve of his left arm pinned up – his wife would pin it for him every morning. The local VFW paper called him and the other wounded vets in the area “Martyrs on the Altar of War” which made him laugh. Their office was in Goodhue’s beautiful neo-Gothic Capitol Building in Lincoln. As summer ended and then fall, at the ends of the day, Mother would go down the long polished corridors to the handsome porte cochère at the side entrance to drive through the darkening winter streets back to her parent’s house, the dusk compounding on dusk.
(from Chapter 7, “War Surplus”)