This was Ursula’s war.
She lived through the first world war and its aftermath on her father’s mental health. She lived through the second world war and its impact on her son’s life choices.
But her own war, the one she could choose to fight, happened early in her marriage. And its most devastating battle ground was her own home.
Ursula’s husband, Sydney, held deeply his belief in the supremacy of the white race. From our historical distance, we find this disgusting. In Sydney’s world it was commonplace. It was in the air Americans breathed, the reason their nation meant so much to them. White Europeans had wrested the land from sea to shining sea from the indigenous people who they’d found upon arrival on this beautiful, richly resourced continent, after all, in order to civilize it.
(Before we judge Sydney too harshly – and he should be judged, after all, his own wife was able to see through the nonsense about racial superiority although she was in the same time and place as him – let us remember that we, too, are being told limiting stories about our own situations. Let us remember that we, too, are susceptible to vicious stories that divide humans into categories based on the random facts of where, when, and to whom they were born.)
Ursula held equally deeply her belief, based on her father’s religion, that all humans were equal in the sight of God.
She could not leave her husband, not now that their second child was on the way. Not ever, really, not with her own susceptibility to the limiting stories about women, motherhood, and marriage that swirled around her.
But she could stand up for her belief. And if that meant damaging her marriage, Ursula considered, such damage would be minor compared to the terror being visited on the colored members of her community.
When she heard the group in her parlor – the same parlor that her now-deceased mother-in-law had opened to all the town’s gentlemen for brandy and conversation – when Ursula heard the chanting emanating from that once-gracious room, she was overcome by memories.
She recalled standing outside that room as a girl, overhearing the stories of sea monsters and mine strikes. She recalled the smell of sulphur from the barrel in the cellar. She recalled the sunny safety of the widow’s kitchen.
Ursula squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and pushed open the parlor door.