Gun Owners Claim the Holocaust

The faded blue numbers on her Grandmother’s forearm. That’s what she’d see. Then she’d smell the bread.

The weeks of endless grey rain that often came just before Easter always brought back the fresh baked bread smells as her Grandmother pulled the pans out of the oven. The faded blue numbers on her Grandmother’s forearm guiding the golden warm bread to the kitchen counter. Closing the oven door, as if she had conquered something unspeakable, her Grandmother would let out a breath and say, “Well, that work is done.”

Julia would be sitting at the worn maple kitchen table. As a girl, all bony knees and elbows. Drawing pictures on scraps of paper her Grandmother would deliver from nowhere. Then, years later, as a young woman writing poems in a spiral notebook her Grandmother had given her, ‘just because.’

“Why do you have the blue numbers, Grandma?” Julia tossed her long black hair back and asked first when she was eight years old. The question came on a Good Friday. On a day when the city was blanketed by a sad, lonely grey rain that made you think that there must be parties going on in other places. Parties that would never, ever, ever, include you.

“The numbers help us remember, liebchen,” the Grandmother said.
“Remember what?”

“Remember so many stories, that none of us on our own has the words for them.”

“Good stories?”

“Well darling child, why don’t you tell me a good story and we’ll find out?”

And Julia would launch into an account of something that happened at school that day. A complicated transaction of trading lunches that ended up with her getting 3 chocolate cupcakes.

As the years past, Julia would return to her question. “Why do you have the blue numbers Grandma?” Each time, the river of their ongoing conversation in the kitchen would shift more and more to her Grandmother’s stories. And Julia would listen.

Names like Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Cousins lost. Those who made it out. Stories, her Grandmother explained, where the words still struggled even after all these years, even through the generations, the words still struggled to match the horror.

“That is why,” her Grandmother would tell her, gently, with the bread buttered, still warm from the oven, “That is why we don’t forget. That is why we keep trying. Why we keep looking for hope. And most of all child, why we do our best to tell the true stories.”

Julia didn’t get the part about true stories for a long time. Making up stories was much more fun. And one day, because she had been taught to be direct, she told her Grandmother, “I like making up stories! Can’t I do that?”

And her Grandmother did something she couldn’t ever remember her doing. She stopped moving. Stopped working. Came over to the table and sat down next to her Granddaughter.

“Julia. Of course you can make up stories. There can be just as much truth, more truth, in made up stories than there is if you were to look out the window right now and tell me about the rain.”

“Then how will I know I’m doing this right?”

“Here’s how you’ll know. You’ll make sure your words never loose their meaning. You’ll make sure that when you compare one thing to another, that the comparison is true! Child, let me say that again, cause it’s so very important, words must have meaning. Hold on to that meaning with your very life breath. And when comparisons are made that are not true, not real, then battle that back for all you are worth. Words must have meaning!”

The old woman with the kind eyes laced with an unfathomable sorrow got up from the table, looked out the window at the rain, and walked over to the sink to start scrubbing out the bread pans.

Julia’s Grandmother never got to meet Paul. So just before the wedding, Julia took him to the grave. A sweeping green hill in a light rain northwest of Chicago.

As they knelt down before the stone, Julia made the introductions. “Grandma, this is Paul. I wish he could have known what it was like to sit in your kitchen when you baked bread. I wish you two could have known each other. But this will have to do.”

After some silence the young couple walked back to the car and circled out through the drizzle to the entrance of the cemetery. Julia saw a newspaper machine and said, “Stop for a second, I want a newspaper.” Looking for stories to distract. Looking to bring her mind back to the world from the fields of distant sorrow, she knew the paper would help.

She ran out and put the money in the slot and then back to the warmth of the car. The young couple didn’t speak as he drove south to the rhythm of their windshield wipers. Julia paging through the paper.

It was Good Friday.

“Some days,” Paul said out of nowhere, “Some days I think are just supposed to be sad.”

“Mmm,” said his soon to be wife. And as she said that, her eyes fell on a story in that paper.

The group” Guns For Life” has compared the plight of gun owners who do not want their names to be made public, with victims of the holocaust. State Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the Illinois State Police are calling for the names of gun owners to be public. The headline, “Madigan’s List.” A play on the book and movie “Schindler’s List.”

Julia started reading the article to Paul as he drove. And he kept interrupting. “Wait. That doesn’t make sense. That can’t be true. So what they are saying is that keeping gun owners names private deserves to be compared to the holocaust?”

“That’s what they’re saying.”

“Jesus.” Paul said. “I know it’s 10 in the morning. But maybe we should find a bar.’

Julia smiled.

“Later,” she said. “I gotta write a story.”

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