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To my granddaughter, Emmuccia, born the year the war began

—Anna Salamone, March 18, 2003

My weekly telephone calls connect me to my mother who is living in Sicily. This morning, however, my mother called me. She has never picked up the telephone to communicate with me, choosing not to pay the high telephone rates that Italians are charged for prime-time, transatlantic telephone calls. Today was different. Noticing the questioning in my voice, she quickly told me that this was one in a series of telephone calls she made to the United States. All these calls “before the war begins,” as she put it. My mother is ninety-one years old. She has lived through wars waged on foreign soils for reasons that were not so clear to her. However, my mother, also, has lived through another war which is very real to her and which forms the basis for the fear I heard in her voice today.

That war was waged in northern Africa where she lived in 1940. She was alone and stranded in Benghazi, Libya, away from her family. She talked about seeing lights filling the night sky which, in her innocence, she thought were fireworks at a distance instead of detonating bombs. Quickly, the madness escalated forcing her to spend nights in makeshift bomb shelters, clutching her one-year old daughter to her bosom. Under the hot African sun, one morning, she left the shelter and found her world in rubbles. Her neighborhood, her home, her possessions all destroyed. Her friends and neighbors were wounded or killed. Is it any wonder that, today, my mother is frightened and is reaching out to me with what she calls her final motherly instructions. “Be careful,” she warns, “do not stay in crowds too long, and do not voice your opinions about the war to anyone.” “Real war is a serious thing,” she emphasizes. She asks me to take money out of the bank and keep extra food in the house. Each plea is punctuated with the assurance that she knows first-hand what war is like. I try to change the conversation but she redirects me to the topic at hand, getting me to promise not to drive long distances and to remain close to my family. She says she has seen it all before. “Madness,” she is sure, “is falling upon the world.” Army trucks are moving near her home transporting to the nearby base what neighbors have told her are body bags. She sees more ships patrolling the Sicilian coastline. She talks about the missiles hidden in the hills, the large radar station that monitors the Mediterranean Sea. She sees an escalation of advancing motorcades, of bellicose activities, all too familiar to her.

I remember hearing her tell us about WWII, the sequence of which became a strand of stories which transported us, as children, to another time and another place. My mother told us about the destruction of her home, the escape from Benghazi, the reunion with her family in Sicily. At one time, these were stories spun to root us in our family history. Today, I heard these stories with a new heart. Today, I heard the pain and felt the terror. Today, I heard my mother talk to me about WAR.

—Anna Salamone, March 18, 2003

Note of the Editor: The war formally started on Wednesday March 19, 2003, eastern time, exactly two days after the expiration of the 48-hour ultimatum by George Bush demanding that Saddam Hussein and his two sons leave Iraq, or else.

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