Iowa Writes

MARTIN R. BIRO
I Was a Preschool War Widow


At the age of four I was a war widow.

Don't feel too badly for me, for I was rather content, possessing a personality well suited for widowhood. My husband was just a vague memory, and his presence was not sorely missed. From birth I had been not only comfortable with solitude, but also desirous of it, needing bouts of alone time the way other, more hyper kids needed constant adult supervision. I also had a cozy cottage located in the playground of St. Mark's where in-between outdoor playtime sessions I lived out my less exciting role as a preschooler. But during playtime I was able to indulge in my other self, whom I pictured as being a comfortably plump mid-fiftyish woman bedecked in an apron with her hair pulled back into a bun. How or why this particular game of make-believe had developed is a complete mystery to me, though I suspect that even back then that it had simply sprung up organically. My imagination led me to a variety of constantly shifting and diverse roles, and this was simply one of many. And while most little boys my age were indulging in appropriately hetero role-playing, adopting personas such as Superman or perhaps a bulldozer, I crossed the threshold of the miniscule playhouse and instantly adapted the most logical role that presented itself. Instant war widow.

At the age of four I was a war widow.

Don't feel too badly for me, for I was rather content, possessing a personality well suited for widowhood. My husband was just a vague memory, and his presence was not sorely missed. From birth I had been not only comfortable with solitude, but also desirous of it, needing bouts of alone time the way other, more hyper kids needed constant adult supervision. I also had a cozy cottage located in the playground of St. Mark's where in-between outdoor playtime sessions I lived out my less exciting role as a preschooler. But during playtime I was able to indulge in my other self, whom I pictured as being a comfortably plump mid-fiftyish woman bedecked in an apron with her hair pulled back into a bun. How or why this particular game of make-believe had developed is a complete mystery to me, though I suspect that even back then that it had simply sprung up organically. My imagination led me to a variety of constantly shifting and diverse roles, and this was simply one of many. And while most little boys my age were indulging in appropriately hetero role-playing, adopting personas such as Superman or perhaps a bulldozer, I crossed the threshold of the miniscule playhouse and instantly adapted the most logical role that presented itself. Instant war widow.

The war aspect of the game was less my invention than the other boys'. They were involved in an ongoing game known by the generic title of "War." I was never directly involved, but from what I observed through the glassless windows of my cottage (really just square cutouts in the cheap plywood), War involved them running around, crouching, and building up an unappealing sweat under the noonday sun. I far preferred the cool confines of my playhouse, which was well stocked with plastic dishes, which through the powers of my mind I filled with various home-cooked food that I whipped up in my spare time. I needed the food for my steady stream of visitors, for while I spent the majority of my time alone puttering about the place, the boys would pop in now and then. They arrived remarkably in character: sweaty, disheveled, and somewhat breathless; soldiers just escaping the front by popping into a local farmhouse for a few minutes. 

Upon their arrival I would launch into action, coaxing them to eat and clucking over the terrible state of things, this beastly ongoing war that had taken the life of my poor nameless spouse (far too old to enlist, but who could talk him out of it? There's no fool like an old fool). For their part, the boys would gratefully accept my invisible offers of food, luxuriating in the shadowy ambience of my cottage, happy to cool off and have a momentary respite from the ceaseless battle raging outside. They gave me deadly serious reports from the trenches, mostly about the progress of the troops and the latest body count. More often than not they bore secret messages that needed to be conveyed across enemy lines. In truth I understood little of what they said and cared even less. Accordingly, my grandmotherly exclamations of concern and lamentations for my dead husband seemed to fall on deaf ears. It was if we were speaking two different languages: solider and housewife, gay and straight. Only we were young enough that it somehow worked, that my domestic scenarios and their bloody battles were able to blend. The judgment, the suspicion regarding a boy more content to play the role of a middle-aged woman than a warrior hadn't yet cropped up. They were happy to visit and I was happy to have them—as long as they eventually left. After all, as much as I enjoyed the bouts of company, I didn't want them always underfoot. I had cookies to bake and dusting to do, and can you imagine if they were to chip some of my fine china? My latest visiting solider would finish up his food and dash back outside to rejoin the fun, and I would turn to my imaginary stove to check on whatever was simmering away.

Outside, the war raged on.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


MARTIN R. BIRO

Martin R. Biro is a native of Northern California, but has spent the last two years as a student at the University of Iowa. He will graduate in December 2007, putting an end to a long and arduous college career.

This page was first displayed
on December 27, 2007

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