The other day, I was having an imaginary tea party with a kindergartner and was showing her how, long ago, British ladies like me would daintily lift their pinky as they sipped from their tiny china cup. “You’re British,” she said, “I know about the British. We say the Pledge of Allegiance every day.” In a loud, clear voice, she recited it, her right hand on her heart, then added, “They play it in the school. We have to say it everywhere, even in the toilet, even when we’re pooping.”
“Do you know why you say it?
“How do you know?”
There’s a British American Girl doll and an American American girl doll. They have a story.”
“Yes,” I answered. “The British came to America to find land and they stayed there for nearly two hundred years. Then the settlers didn’t want the British because they made them pay money to the king of England.”
“You are smart,” she said. “You are too smart.”
We sipped some more “tea”.
“So when you recite the Pledge of Allegiance, you are saying that you will protect your country and fight for your country.”
We stared at each other for a while.
“What else do you do in kindergarten?”
“We have lock-in. We line up and we go somewhere and the teacher takes the key and locks us in. We have to be very quiet. If we are quiet, we get a feather. When we get a whole lot of feathers and our jar is full of marbles, it’s Doughnut Day. We have a party and we eat doughnuts.”
“That’s a nice treat. Do the kids in the other classes stay still?”
“No, they are noisy and they didn’t get any feathers. Their marble jar is empty.”
I remembered way back, to 1940. The siren made a whining noise that went higher and higher as our parents rushed us down the stone steps to the basement. There we slept, in iron beds, until the sirens sounded again, starting high, then winding down to silence.
We children survived the war. Now I wonder: with guns everywhere and elementary schools an easy target, will my kindergartner friend survive the American peace? Will the Pledge of Allegiance that she recites every school day, swearing loyalty to her country’s flag, protect her? Will she be a grandmother one day herself, sharing with her offspring the quaint British custom of lifting the pinky when sipping tea?