As an eleven-year-old in the late 1950s, I stored my clothes in the two top drawers of a marbled mahogany dresser that used to be Mom’s and Dad’s. One day, bored, I explored a lower drawer filled with black and white photos. There I found a three-inch stack of letters in their original envelopes sent to Mom by men in combat during World War II. Many were marked “free,” meaning postage wasn’t required. Others bore various U.S. stamps from the 30s and 40s, some of which were new to me. Seeing no reason why I shouldn’t, I decided to open and read the letters. It looked like somebody had drilled holes through them. So many words had been cut out, it was hard to make head or tail of what the writer intended.
I went downstairs and asked Mom, “Why do these letters look like Swiss cheese?”
Mom said, “The censors snipped every word that looked suspicious.”
“Why?” I asked.
“If someone told where their ship was located, that had to be removed. If they said something that just might be secret code to give something away, snip snip snip,” Mom answered, scissoring with her fingers in the air.
“Did the censors think your friends were spies?”
“They assumed anyone could be. You never knew. Every country tries to infiltrate, to get information that gave them an advantage. The Germans did it, so did the Italians, the Japanese—and we were doing it and so were our allies. That’s what war looks like.
“Did the Germans have censors?” I asked.
“I didn’t know anybody from the countries we were fighting so I didn’t get any letters from Germany. But, war is war, I’m sure they did,” Mom said.
“Can you make sense out of the Swiss cheese?”
Jim Ross jumped back into creative pursuits five years ago after leaving public health research. He’s since published poetry, nonfiction, and photography in over 100 journals and anthologies in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Based on one story, he’ll imminently appear in a televised, high-profile, limited documentary series. He and his wife split their time between city and mountains.