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Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make Chainmail


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Because I know Nina is a huge Sandi Toksvig fan, when I saw her YA book HITLER'S CANARY on the free shelf at work, I grabbed it. It looked interesting, NUMBER THE STARSish, so I started reading it on the subway home and finished it, crying, on the train the next morning. The part that got me was the narrator’s wrap-up of the war in the last chapter, when he talks about the Danish resistance blowing up a factory that made parts for the “bombs that caused such trouble for London,” aka the V1 and V2 “buzz bombs.”

Here’s the thing: sitting on my bookshelf at home are over three hundred letters that my grandfather, Herman “Hy” Messinger wrote home to my grandmother Toby and his little daughter, my aunt Robin, during the war. They’re an incredible inheritance, made almost more urgent by the fact that I never shared this earth with my Grandpa Hy, and Toby has been gone for nearly ten years now -- but I can hold the paper that Hy held in London, in the fields of France, in Paris after the Liberation and read the words that Toby read in the little yellow kitchen in the Bronx. They’re the same words I remember my mother reading late at night, carefully matching each letter to its envelope, ordering them by the postmark date. There are two that sprang to mind as I read HITLER'S CANARY: one in which Hy says he’s in London and everything is lovely, and one in which he says he’s left London and can now tell her how bad it was there. He was coat-shopping one day when they heard a buzz bomb coming, heard the engine cut out, and hit the floor as the glass in the shop windows imploded; when everyone stood up, they found the coats in shreds on the racks.

The Danes were not kidding around -- there were more Danish resistance fighters killed in the war years than Danish Jews -- and I like to think that even one fewer bombs fell on my grandfather because they took out that factory. It’s fanciful, I know, but it doesn’t matter if it’s technically true. Sandi Toksvig has her connection to the Danish Resistance; I have Grandpa Hy; somehow they intersected at an incredible moment in history. I mean, I say “history,” but it wasn’t all that long ago when 24-year-olds have held the letters and cry over the whole mess on their morning commutes, is it?
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