Growing up in a Victorian farmhouse was not as romantic as one might think. For one thing there was only one bathroom and it was near the back door in the former “wash room.” In the days when the outhouse was the standard for toiletry this room accommodated the basin and pitcher for indoor cleanliness. When indoor plumbing was added the fixtures were installed in that same room. It was a long way to go from there, across the dining room, up the stairs, down the hall to the cold bedrooms. Are you envisioning nice carpets on the stairs and floor? Don’t. It was wood or linoleum. Warm and fuzzy on my bare feet it was not.
Many nights I was lying in that bedroom awake and cold watching the light beams from passing cars scan across my bedroom walls. The worst nights were shortly after we got our first television set.
All the other kids had had televisions for years but we were TV-less because my dad thought it would be a bad influence. I was in seventh grade when my uncle from Chicago, a TV repairman, took it upon himself to deliver a used Motorola and hook it up. Dad couldn’t object to his brother-in-law, and soon he was watching television along with the rest of us.
It was then that I saw the pictures of the Holocaust for the first time. I could not sleep. I would lie there in that lonely room shaking, shivering, unable to put the thoughts of the emaciated bodies and evidence of intense hatred and cruelty in any comfortable compartment of my mind. These feelings, those images and fears are embedded and come to mind every day, but Sunday it was even stronger.
It was Holocaust Remembrance Day and as I switched channels there was a film about the Red Cross visitors to Theresienstadt concentration camp. The German captors staged a normal-looking town, with sports activities, children playing on rocking horses, good food and pleasant living conditions. It was all a deception, of course. One survivor interviewed said, “The next week there were no more rocking horses—and there were no more children either. All to the gas chamber.”
Earlier in the evening on “60 Minutes” we had heard the eloquently expressed thoughts of grieving parents whose children had been murdered in the Newtown massacre.
It reminded me of the day after that tragedy when I came to the office, my co-worker with two children at El Morro agonized, “I didn’t want to send them to school today. Will my kids be safe? The hope that it won’t happen here is not enough to feel safe.”
These parents are pleading for some change in our society to prevent these killings. Background checks for gun purchases, limits on numbers of bullets that can be fired quickly, mental health upgrades. . . Still, resistance to any change is tremendous, even after our nation has been confronted with gun-related tragedies time after time.
Our children and we are not safe. Our kids are not all right. We say we have an improved society, yet these Newtown victims are just as unjustly dead as those of the Holocaust. We don’t invest in mental health. We allow unbalanced individuals to roam without restriction. We don’t prevent dangerous weapons from falling into their hands. As one of the parents said so well, “Someday it will not be someone else.”
Will we act, or just cower and wait for that day to come?
Landscape architect Ann Christoph grew up in the Midwest.