(HOST) With talk, once again, of nuclear proliferation, military campaigns and preemptive strikes, commentator Edith Hunter has been reminded of a conversation that took place at her dinner table nearly fifty-seven years ago.
(HUNTER) From the expression on her four-and-a-half-year-old face, I knew that one of her long, long thoughts was about to emerge.
“Mother,” she said, “was that red stone I found today really all melted once?”
“Yes,” I said, “because once upon a time, we think our world was part of the sun.”
“Daddy says the sun is a star, only close, is it?”
“Yes. It is a big ball of fire. Somehow, our world ball, broke off . As it cooled your stone got hard.”
“Was that before Granfanny was a little girl?” she asked.
“Oh, long, long, before that. For a long time there wasn’t anything alive on our world. Then, no one knows how, things began to grow, lichen and mosses, and then tiny animals, then bigger ones, and after another long time, there were people.”
“Yes, I know,” she smiled brightly, “those were the Indians.”
“Well,” I said, “almost the Indians,” not knowing whether I had let a few million or a few billion years slip by.
“Mother,” she said, “did the Indians have guns?”
“No, when the Pilgrims came to our country -“
“Who were the Pilgrims?
“The Pilgrims had lived in England. They heard about how much land was in this country, so they came here. They had guns.”
“The Indians just had bows and arrows?”
“Yes,” I said.
“But they knew about corn,” she said, digging into her meager store of knowledge.
“Yes, and they taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn. As more people came, they wanted the Indians’ land, and the Indians and Pilgrims began to fight.”
“I know Mother. On our Common there’s a man with a gun. He was in that first war, and there are names of the ones who were in the second war.”
“Oh, did Daddy tell you about that?”
“Yes, Mother.” And, wishing to fill in the last correct detail of cosmic history, “Mother,” she said, “were there two wars?”
And then, as casually as I could, I said, “Oh many more than that.”
Lost in thought, she began to eat.
And I thought how, all too soon, she will learn about red, and white, and black skins; about the hunger for land and the hunger for power; about how much it matters what words we use about how the world began, and where life came from. Then the rest of the wars will fall neatly into place.
I did not tell her that perhaps, once again, her lovely stone will be all melted, because we know how to be almost like the sun again.
Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center.