Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The (Un)Whole Truth"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It was inspired by the "hobbies" square in my 8-1-15 card for the As You Like It Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the Granny Whammy thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some intense and controversial topics. It's a little odd because much of that is not onscreen, but offset in ways that may or may not blunt the impact for readers. Highlight the warnings for more details; some of these are spoilers. Whammy Lass and a disabled veteran named Eugene work together to create more realistic war toys. The poem includes references to war experiences, amputation, PTSD and depression, period-appropriate but insensitive language, secondary graphic violence in the form of toy soldiers with explicit damage, and other challenges. Eugene makes a slow recovery and becomes more content with his life, but it remains clear that he's never going to recover everything that he lost in the war. Consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"The (Un)Whole Truth"

After the war, Whammy Lass
came home and searched for
whatever work she could find.

Although many employers
wanted to hire returning heroes,
it wasn't always easy for a veteran
to get a job, and her superpower
made it all the harder for her.

When Whammy Lass bent steel
with her bare hands or stacked up
an armload of concrete bags
as if they were bricks, it made
people edge away from her.

So she went from one job to another,
and in between jobs, she volunteered
at the Veterans Administration.

It made Whammy Lass feel better
when she could help other survivors,
even if it also made her remember
the ones who weren't as lucky.

That's where she met Eugene Jacoby,
a young man who had lost both legs
on the beach at Normandy.

"I feel sad all the time," he confided.

"Are you worried about support?
Or maybe having a place to stay?"
asked Whammy Lass, concerned.

"My wife has a good job as head nurse at
the hospital, so Camille can support us both,
and I know I should be grateful, but I'm just not,"
he said, staring at his hands. "I'm supposed to be
the breadwinner, and I can't. It makes me feel
like less of a man. What'll we do when
Camille starts having babies?"

"I won't tell you to get over it,"
said Whammy Lass. "I will suggest
that you consider what you can still do.
What did you do before the war?"

"Nothing -- I mean, I didn't have a job,
I was studying art in college," he said.

"Your hands look fine," said Whammy Lass.
"Can you still paint, or whatever you did?"

"I don't know. I guess I could try," Eugene said,
tracing a circle on the arm of his wheelchair.
"I used to draw, and do some sculpting."

"I'll find you some supplies,"
Whammy Lass promised, and she did.

Eugene turned out to be a talented artist
once he dusted off his skills.

He started carrying a leather-bound sketchbook
and pencil case wherever he went, drawing
the other veterans and anyone else
who would stand still for it.

He began sculpting wax, forming
tiny intricate statues, because
it was cheap, easy to use, and
could be melted for reuse.

He even smiled occasionally.

"What are you making?"
Whammy Lass asked one day.

"Toy soldiers," said Eugene.
"I thought maybe I could cast them
in plastic like some of the toy companies
do now." Then he sighed. "But it just seems ...
dishonest, somehow. The toys never
show what really happens in war."

"Maybe they should," Whammy Lass said
through her teeth. "It might make people
think twice before starting another one."

"In children's toys?" he said, frowning.

"Not for the littlest children," she agreed,
recalling her own experiences with war toys,
"but the older ones who already use
miscast soldiers as casualties.
Tell the whole story for once."

"Or the unwhole story," he murmured,
and picked up his tools again.

It took time for them to work out
what they wanted to represent and how.

Then Eugene had to choose his models,
make sketches, and carve figures,
most of them other veterans.
He smiled a little more.

Whammy Lass spoke with representatives
from several different toy companies
before they finalized the contracts for
the "Casualties" line of toy soldiers.

The "Corpsmen" set for ages seven and up
featured a variety of medics along with
some wounded soldiers on crutches,
seated on stretchers, and so forth.

The "Cripples" set for teens
featured soldiers carrying each other,
casualties missing limbs, crawling casualties,
one in a wheelchair modeled after the sculptor himself,
and a homeless beggar holding out his helmet.

The "Haunts" set for adult collectors had
an American soldier stabbing a German one,
a casualty screaming over his amputated limbs,
a soldier with his fists raised over a weeping child,
one with hands outstretched toward a kneeling woman,
a soldier holding his rifle against his own chin,
a soldier cowering underneath a table,
one sobbing over a tombstone,
and assorted corpses.

Each set included a guide to the poses,
with a little information about their purpose,
to help inspire strategies and stories.

"These are impressive," said Whammy Lass
admiring the first sets of toy soldiers.
"They're heavier than they look."

"Memories usually are,"
Eugene said in his soft voice.

"Do you think the children
will like them?" she asked.

"I hope so," he said. "You're right
about how kids like to pretend that
the damaged toys are casualties."
Then he grinned. "Camille is expecting.
I'd like to think that someday I'll see
a son of mine enjoying the Corpsmen."

"Or a daughter," said Whammy Lass.

Eugene laughed. "Or a daughter,"
he said, clapping her on the shoulder.

Their toy soldiers proved enormously popular,
and a percentage of their sale price
went to support veterans.

The company representatives
asked Eugene and Whammy Lass
if they had any more ideas.

So they started working on a line of soldiers
doing calisthenics and other training activities,
with instructions on the various moves.

"People should know how much
work goes into becoming a soldier,"
Whammy Lass said, remembering
how hard basic training had been
even with her superpower.

"That's why the pudgy one is sweating,"
Eugene said with a smirk. "He was my best friend."

By the time they finished that project,
Eugene's adventurous daughter Linda
was gumming the neighbor boy's Corpsmen
and Camille had to keep taking them away
because they weren't meant for babies.

"You've done an amazing job again,"
Whammy Lass said to Eugene.

"I'm starting to think so," he said.
"Sometimes I still have rough days,
but not as many. Camille's been sick
every morning for a week, so we're
hopeful of more good news."

"Then I wish you luck," said Whammy Lass,
glad that he was finally feeling better.
"Any ideas on our next project?"

A pencil danced over and around
Eugene's slender fingers.

"I busted a wheel on my chair last month,
romping around in the park," he said.
"A policewoman helped me fix it.
I thought about branching out
from doing all soldiers."

Whammy Lass thought about
how much the police did to keep
society in good working order.

"I like that idea," she said.
"You get started on the sketches,
and I'll take care of the paperwork."

Over the years they continued to work,
bringing out more toys to teach children
about different professions and hobbies.

There were emergency workers and
citizen responders and civilians.
There were skateboarders
and skiers and dancers.

The more different kinds of figures they made,
the more types of stories the kids could tell.

Eugene and Granny Whammy began
to slow down in time, but their contributions
shaped public opinions about toys, the military,
civic duties, and many other aspects of life.

It was, all in all, a very successful campaign.

* * *


Eugene Jacoby -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short curly black hair. He is slim and wiry. Both legs are missing below the knees due to shrapnel wounds sustained during World War II, on the beach at Normandy. His military service left him prone to depression, and he struggles with that from time to time. He has five children (the oldest Linda born in 1947), eleven grandchildren (the oldest born in 1968), seventeen great-grandchildren (the oldest born in 1993), and his first great-great-grandchild arrived in 2014.
After the war, Eugene felt despondent about his injuries. In particular he hated being on disability instead of employed, although his wife Camille had an excellent job as head nurse at a hospital and could comfortably support both of them. Whammy Lass convinced Eugene to revisit art, since he had abandoned his college studies to enlist. He took to carrying a leather-bound sketchbook and pencil case everywhere so he could document fellow veterans.
Together, Eugene and Whammy Lass created the famous "Casualties" line of toy soldiers. Most of the figures were either portraits of veterans, or composites of several. The "Corpsmen set" featured a variety of medics along with wounded soldiers sitting on stretchers, walking on crutches, and so forth. The "Cripples" line (later renamed "Handicapped Veterans," then "Veterans with Disabilities") featured casualties missing limbs, crawling casualties, soldiers carrying each other, one in a wheelchair modeled after the sculptor himself, and a homeless beggar. The "Haunts" line (later renamed "The Horrors of War") included an American soldier stabbing a German one, a casualty screaming over his amputated limbs, a soldier with his gun to his chin, one with fist raised over a weeping child, one with hands outstretched toward a kneeling woman, a soldier cowering under a table, one sobbing over a tombstone, and assorted corpses. Each set included a guide to the poses, with a little information about their purpose. These figures, mass-produced with the aid of toy companies, became enormously popular and a percentage of their sale price went to support veterans.
Later on, Eugene made many other figures and became a famous sculptor of toys and memorials. Subsequent lines of military figures included calisthenics and eventually yoga, with instructions on the various moves. He introduced additional categories such as police, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders. These added even more information about the activities and professions represented. Eventually he put out lines of citizen responders and civilians. These led to sets featuring different careers, sports, hobbies, and more. Again some of these included instructions about the moves as well as a guide to poses. Eugene's contributions shaped public opinions about toys, the military, civic duties, and many other aspects of life.
Qualities: Master (+6) Artist, Master (+6) Veteran Connections, Expert (+4) Army Veteran, Expert (+4) Citizen, Expert (+4) Dexterity, Good (+2) Art History, Good (+2) Being Prepared, Good (+2) Charity, Good (+2) Imaginative Play, Good (+2) Spatial Intelligence
Poor (-2) Depressive Episodes

* * *

Unemployment can pose a challenge for veterans. Shortly after World War II, employers eagerly hired veterans, but that didn't necessarily make it easy for all veterans to find work. Today many reasons make employers reluctant to hire veterans, and some of those applied historically as well.

(Some of these links are disturbing.)
WWII casualties were the most extensive in history. See an animated video of the losses. Each war has had its own signature injuries, but illness, exposures, and other factors also caused casualties. Medical advances mean that more soldiers survive injury, which means more disabled veterans.

Injuries can make it difficult for veterans to readjust to civilian life, especially in the case of lost limbs. PTSD and depression may also contribute to unhappiness. Know how to cope with depression and help a depressed friend.

Sculpting wax is an art form that makes it easy to duplicate the sculpture. Check out a simple tutorial in sculpting a female figurine, and a page of tutorials in wax sculpting.

Toy soldiers have a rich history. Plastic "army men" first appeared shortly after WWII.  Collecting them is a fun hobby.  Although some adults fear letting children play with war toys because they think it teaches violence, this type of play has many benefits.

Recommended ages for children's toys take into account such factors as size, purpose, and developmental level. For example, these toy soldiers are recommended for ages 3+ while Tobar army troopers are for ages 5+. The absolute minimum age is 3 years for all toys with small parts. In Terramagne-America, most toy manufacturers recommend the simpler toy soldiers for ages 5+ (when children grow more interested in imaginative play) and more detailed ones for ages 7+ (when children want fancier toys good for acting out elaborate scenes). Simple casualties, such as a soldier on a stretcher or with crutches, are consistently marked for ages 7+ while more serious ones like crawling casualties, a soldier missing a leg, or one soldier carrying another are marked for teens. Graphic figures, such as a soldier being shot or a corpse, are marketed to adult collectors. Of the "Casualties" line that Whammy Lass helped to develop, the Corpsmen were for ages 7+, the Cripples for Teen+, and the Haunts for adult collectors. Bear in mind that children may develop at different speeds, so the age ranges are just a general guideline. Parents should watch for developmental milestones so as to provide toys appropriate to their child's individual needs.

Toy soldiers come in a variety of classic poses. These D-Day figures represent several different armies. In addition to the basic Army troops there were also Navy frogmen, Air Force and paratroopers, and Marines.

Casualties have appeared in collections all along, but they are very rare compared to other types of figurine. The Barclay lead sets included several different injuries. Here is one soldier in a wheelchair. This one is using canes to walk.

Support personnel also appeared. The Marx Series II American G.I.s are commonly referred to as the “Medical” set. This lead collection of Civil War soldiers portrays medical crew, walking and lying wounded. Casualties are almost always depicted as injured but alive. By providing different types of characters, these figures greatly expand the range of stories supported by toy soldiers -- not just battles now, but also aftercare.

However, dead ones also exist. Ron English made a particularly graphic set in plastic. Older examples include this dead German from the 1930s. Now players can explore loss and mourning -- which may be too heavy for some, but vitally useful to bereaved youth.

Because these are often unavailable, people get creative. Broken toys may be repaired or repurposed. This soldier with missing legs has been ground down on a belt-sander and refurbished to wade across a river. Another missing a leg was instead ground sideways to lie flat on the ground. This post details some repairs. These methods produce more satisfactory results than simply tipping over a whole soldier. Similarly, miscast ones may come out of the mold with amputations or deformities; although I could not find any photos of such online, I have seen them and indeed used them as casualties. Failures of the base and lower legs seem most common, but it happens with arms too -- or heads, a lucky find if one is fond of fielding cannons.

Casualties of War is a graphic set of four figures in very disturbing poses. If you look closely, you can see that they resemble some figures from the Cripples and the Haunts. These encourage older players to consider the real cost of war.

Here are some Marine Corps and general calisthenics. While primarily intended to show boot camp activities, these figures also open up some new possibilities on the battlefield due to their new poses. Because children like to emulate what they see, providing a brief introduction to the exercises can encourage them to try more physical activity.

Policemen and firemen are among the first responders produced by Eugene Jacoby. Note that T-America develops sets of first responder figures for all professions: police, firefighters, paramedics, search-and-rescue, SPAZMAT, etc. They may be sold in assortments or in series by individual profession.

The "People at Play" set is typical of civilian figures. T-America distinguishes between first responders (people whose job is dealing with trouble), citizen responders (people with relevant skills who are willing and able to help in an emergency) and civilians (people who are unwilling and/or unable to help and must be protected in an emergency). Due to diligent education, around 10% of the population consists of citizen responders. Now compare that to your average action movie in which everyone but the heroes is just screaming and running. In T-America, even the civilians are taught how to get out of the way if possible, or take cover if necessary.

Sport toys also encourage outdoor play. This skater pack has eight poses. Skiers may be found in this Arctic set. These are some dancers and other civilians. By incorporating figures with different colors and actions, players can again broaden the number of stories they can tell. Emergency workers, citizen responders, and civilians all contribute toward scenes set in a town or rural area, rather than a battlefield. They may give soldiers something to protect. Hobby sets continue to introduce new ideas for people to explore after reading the descriptions.

Civic duty is a citizen's sense of owing certain actions to society in exchange for benefits received. Regrettably when society lets down part of its end of the social contract, citizens frequently respond by lowering theirs to equalize the balance. One reason T-America enjoys lively participation is because it makes sure that most citizens get most of their needs met most of the time, and provides many opportunities for them to give back. However, another is that Whammy Lass spent decades encouraging it. Here is a guide to teaching civic responsibility.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, entertainment, fantasy, fishbowl, history, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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