1943 Mar 5, 2010

by Tania Kupczak

Yesterday morning I got a phone call from my mother. She had received word from Austria that her cousin, a woman I called an aunt, had died. In 1943 my mother was 6 years old. She and the rest of my family had been moved out to the countryside after an Allied bombing of Innsbruck destroyed their apartment building and killed her sister. When my mother talks about the war now, her memories are of the farm life, of how her siblings and cousins all played together in the barnyard and helped their grandfather tend the beehives. They are memories of an idyllic landscape, the War an abstract idea left behind in the crumbling city. I was already thinking about these things when I sat down in the theater last night to listen to Songs of Wars I Have Seen. I knew practically nothing of what to expect from this piece, but Gertrude Stein's text, spoken by female members of the ensemble, immediately felt familiar. Tethered to the present moment by blips and whirring from a digital source, the dimming and brightening of the floor and table lamps echoed my mother's stories of the black outs, alarms that warned a city into darkness. And here, now, were all these women, playing instruments and speaking this history so deftly, with a care that erased all triteness. As the piece wound to a cinematic conclusion, I was still wrapped in my own family's history, thinking about how a war changes a childhood. My mother said that her cousin, a devout Catholic, wouldn't be buried as was the tradition. Instead, she wanted to be cremated and her ashes taken to the family farm. For them, 1943 was a good year, full of honey and homeschooling. In sitting in the darkness last night, listening to this brilliant music, I appreciated Stein's careful words and the complexity of a war's effect on memory.