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The View from the Folding Chairs, by Michala Miller

Review by Ed Quillen

Rural life – July 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

The View from the Folding Chairs
by Michala Miller
Illustrations by Jean Kashner
published in 2001 by Western Reflections
ISBN 1-890437-57-3

THIS IS A WELL-CRAFTED MEMOIR of a girl on the home front during World War II. The battles were in distant places, tracked with pins on two maps hung on the parlor wall after the family read the newspaper or listened to the news on the battery-powered radio.

But the war, even in a remote mountain valley in the mountains of Colorado, was an ever-present reality: saving tinfoil and turning in toothpaste tubes, growing Victory gardens, collecting scrap metal, buying bonds, sorting out ration coupons, reading the letters from local servicemen in the county’s weekly newspaper.

Michala Miller was eight years old when the United States entered the war in late 1941. Her family lived in North Park, where her father managed an essential war industry — a fluorspar mine. In the summer, they lived in an old stage station on a ranch near the mine, and during the school term, they lived in town: Walden, the county seat, population 600.

It was a time and place of outdoor privies, home canning, kerosene lamps, and crank-operated party-line telephones whose wires were strung across the sagebrush. None of this was unique to North Park — it was typical of the rural and small-town West in general, and there was much here that resonated with the stories my mother tells about her girlhood in rural Wyoming during World War II.

Folding Chair is not a diary or a narrative — it’s a collection of anecdotes, each a few pages long, and Miller tells stories quickly and well.

For example, here’s the conclusion of her chapter about the town’s movie theater:

One Friday night there was no movie. All the town’s people were notified by the civil defense committee to keep their kids home while we had a practice air raid alert. The local butcher, our air raid warden, instructed us to cover all windows. Even our few streetlights were turned off. At the appointed time the fire siren sounded, and the warden drove around town with his truck lights off. Someone had rigged up a portable PA system for his truck, and if light escaped from a home, everyone knew it. I would have been horribly humiliated if an announcement had echoed through the streets: “Mike and Ethel, we can see light coming from your house.”

In fact the wife of the air raid warden had allowed a sliver of light to escape from the bathroom window, and she heard her name blaring in the dark night air. Maybe I was put out because there was no movie that night, but I couldn’t help thinking, “If the enemy is trying to bomb our little town, we’ve lost the war.”

Some tales are sad, some whimsical, some poignant — told without lapsing into nostalgia or saccharine sentiment. It was a pleasure to read, and a pertinent reminder that for Americans 60 years ago, World War II was much more than Pearl Harbor and D-Day.

— Ed Quillen