My parents, nearly ninety, have a paper posted on the wall just above
the phone on the kitchen counter.
I typed it myself a couple of years ago.
“Important Numbers” it says, and leads off
Below that comes the number of a saintly neighbor, then all my various phones,
my brother’s, the local GP–
On this visit, I’ve noticed a new paper–a small purple index card really–
taped up just next to the phone numbers; it reads,
scribbled in my mother’s thin hand:
“50 million – WII.
20 mill Russians
6 mill Poles
6 mill Jews.”
As my mother trudges into the kitchen
increasingly trying to catch up to
the reason she’s there this time,
her eye lands upon the purple card:
“Do you know how many people died in World War II?” she asks
expectantly. “50 million–can you imagine that?” her voice rises in both
horror and wonder. Her voice becomes almost strident
with deserved significance—“20 million
Russians, 6 million Poles, 6 million Jews–can you imagine it? And
that doesn’t even include the Japanese.”
(My mother, having lived a couple of years
in Japan shortly after the War, is particularly partial
to the Japanese.)
“I think it does,” I say.
“Oh yes,” she says, leaning over the jars of nuts, the foil bags
of dried fruit, the salt and pepper, to stare more deeply into the card–
“Yes,” she says quietly. “I guess that’s right. 50 million