I can’t sleep. I could if I tried but trying would be boring. Mommy looks tired tonight. If I were smart I would go to sleep but smart doesn’t equal adventure and I need an adventure. Ali sleeps in her crib. I lay tucked in bed listening to the night. Even our old house is quiet tonight. Maybe all the activity of the day tired it out the way it has my sister. I slip out of bed, feeling the cold green linoleum under my feet. My silky green night gown glows pale green in the diffused light. The window that leads to the ally is shut tight. It’s a fun escape but Mommy would kill me if I opened it and went out. Sadly, the window to the back garden is out of reach. If I’m really quiet and careful, I can sneak out of the nursery and across the hall into the sun porch where the dogs sleep.
Quietly, I open our door and step into the hall. The old floor boards creaking out an unmistakable alarm.
“Eleanor Eva what are you doing?” Mommy sits at the kitchen table, her eyes locked on me.
“I can’t sleep. I need sleepy tea.” I look down at my bare feet, my hand resting on the nob to the sun porch. Sadie and Arrow look up at me expectantly, their tails wagging through the glass.
“So why were you going to see the dogs?”
“They looked lonely.” Dropping my hand I walk to the table and sit down.
Giving me a look that should scare me back to bed she asks, “I suppose you’ll need toast with your sleepy tea.”
“And butter and honey.” I add, carful that nothing is missed. I watch Mommy take the scissors from the drawer. We slip into sandals and walk out into the starlight, Arrow and Sadie running ahead. I love our garden. It’s magical. All gardens are magical but ours has fairies. I haven’t seen one yet but it’s just a matter of time. We walk to the fence where a giant mound of mint grows. It smells like heaven, its heavy scent drifts towards us on the hot summer breeze. We cut enough for a pot but before returning to the house Mommy pulls three green onions from the dirt.
Inside I watch her wash the mint and the onions. Mommy sets a saucepan to boil, sprinkling the fresh mint into the water. We watch it turn green. Then we slice the onions length ways and soak them in a glass of cold salt water, their green tops hanging over the side of the glass.
I squeeze honey from the honey bear onto my toast as Mommy pours tea into our mugs and we sit down together. The tea is hot, so hot that I move my face into the steam letting the sweet fragrance bathe my face. I hear the crunch of onions and looking up I see my mother with her green onions and a thick slice of cheddar cheese.
“I used to live on these during the war,” she says, holding up the green onion. “We lived off our little garden. The government rations were so small that we were forced to live off what we grew.”
“Were you always hungry?”
“Yes. We were surrounded by farms growing mountains of food but everything they grew went to feed the troops and the country. Everything was rationed and shared but there was never enough. I used to steal condensed milk from the pantry. My Grandmother Eva would get so angry but I just couldn’t help myself. Condensed milk is still one of my favorite things. I can eat it with a spoon.”
“That and strawberry jam,” I say with a laugh. I’ve caught my mother several times eating jam from the jar with nothing but a spoon. “What other things do you love to eat?”
“Snickers bars and Coca-Cola?”
“I like Ham sandwiches and black tea with Granma and toast and mint tea with you.”
“I love ham.” Mommy looks suddenly so hungry she could eat a pig. “I still remember the first time I had ham.”
“Was it the brave ham?” I ask with a smile.
“Yes. Your great uncle Frank knew the villagers were starving. He went to Bovington Camp and he asked the Americans if he could have their food scraps for his pigs. They brought out a huge barrel of food waste and just gave it to him. He loaded the barrel onto the back of his milk cart and drove it into the village. Inside they found whole hams with just a few slices cut off and potatoes that had only a few black spots. The barrel was filled with food. We ate like kings off the food the Americans were throwing away. We fed a whole village.”
“And that was the first time you ate ham?”
“Yes. It was American ham, brought across the Atlantic on a U.S. convoy.”
“That was one…BRAVE…ham.” I laugh. It’s an old joke that’s been told many times. It’s our joke and our history all boiled down to a one liner that never fails. It’s why we’re here smiling over mint tea in the middle of the night. We’re here because of smart old uncles, because of brave sailors who ran convoys through Nazi subs, because of solders who fought for hearth and home and also, because of one brave ham.