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“Thoughts by a Country Woman” by Clara Mack

Watch Tower

By Clara Mack

1950

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The tower of the Advent Church in Springwater NY.

In this year of 1943 we have a new wartime ruling. The men who are trying to win this hellish war believe the enemy might possibly try to blitz our important industrial cities with airplanes and bombs, and as a precautionary measure, ‘round-the-clock watches have been set up throughout the countryside. Springwater’s watch is located in a small cupola on top of Town Hall, and even though the idea seems far-fetched, I have offered to take my 4-hour turn in the tower.

After I had climbed the four, short, narrow flights of stairs I was in the tower room behind small open windows, taking a long look across town. The sky has an Indian-summer murkiness and there are signs and smells of Autumn. Hemlock Lake, to the north, is blue-grey, and the hills on either side show a forest-fire haze. Flashes of red maple and wine-colored sumac bobs are beginning to show among the pines.

It seemed reasonably sure that no enemy planes would come out of the sky, but I had thought, once I got into the watch tower, in some miraculous way the war would be closer to me, and that I would be able to grasp a new, stronger sense of duty to my country, perhaps a deeper love for her.

But the watch-tower fails to reveal even the slightest sign of danger. Every foot of land and sky and water looks safe. There is peace in the patches of vegetable gardens with their purple beet-tops and bright green cabbages; peace in the flower gardens of red asters, orange marigolds and pink gladioli. There is only tranquillity in the McCarty children playing quietly in the back yard, a gayety in the way the Donovan children ride their ponies down East Avenue. I can see a variety of village roof-tops, the pointed spire of the Methodist church, the belfry of Advent Christian church, where dozens of grey pigeons are nesting, a pair of big transport trucks turning the corner toward Webster’s Crossing, a tractor raising a cloud of dust on the Edward’s farm.

From the watch tower I cannot see a thing that is warlike . . . no dog-fighting in the smoky September sky, no Red Cross ambulances darting across shell-pocked battlefields; no straight-shouldered troops doing “squads right” in Main street, below; no hungry urchins fighting over a crust of bread from a garbage can; no armless, eyeless Marines resting on the steps of the hardware building. Nor can I hear any battle sounds from the watch tower . . . the hissing of steam from a giant wartime factory, the rattle of machine gun fire, the moans of wounded men. It is as if no war were being fought, anywhere; as if the newspapers and the radios have been telling us a hideous, frightening lie. The breeze that blows through the tower windows is cool and clean and scented only with autumn leaf-smoke. Off to the south I can hear the lazy chug-chug of a freight train.

Possibly I am like a million other Americans. I do not yet realize we are at war. Living in peace, I see only peace. Living in security, I cannot visualize danger. Living in plenty, I cannot imagine want.

At any rate, no startling patriotic awakening came to me in the watch tower, but looking out upon the quiet village I did gather one important thought . . . the realization that our men in service are fighting, suffering, dying, to keep the very peace that shows so clearly from the top of Town Hall. They want us to continue to have vegetable and flower gardens in back yards; happy, carefree children on the lawns; steady freight trains; tall church spires; wide free highways; and skies that are devoid of enemy planes.

Editor’s Note: Clara Mack wrote a column for the Wayland Register between 1935 and 1950. She published her articles in a book called “Thoughts by a Country Woman” in 1950. In 1938 she won second prize in a national contest for the selection of the best country newspaper correspondent for the year.

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