The Woman Who Made Tin Faces
1923 The Hidden
Despite his protest, Martin was taken to the ministry to register for the benefits promised to those who had been disabled by the war. Mindy went with him every step of the way and when she promised him something, she delivered. As a result, Martin Delluiege became an advocate for her shoppe and soon new customers began coming to her shoppe. Each of them, like Martin, had lost trust in the government. She would call these new customers the hidden, because once the war was over they went into hiding. All the promises made to them as they convalesce from their injuries were not fulfilled and some of them were reneged upon once they went to collect them. Instead, they were ignored and pushed aside or forgotten. As a result these men developed a network where they managed to keep in touch with each other.
“My name is Balch.” One of the hidden told Mindy when he walked in one afternoon. Balch was missing part of his maxilla and most of his teeth after his rifle exploded when he went to fire it during a battle. The accident also cost him the main part of his nose, but he wore a tin nose given to him by one of the War Ministry doctors, but even with his tin nose, Balch’s face did not resemble anything close to human and as a result he went to his aunt’s farm where he could hide out as a farm hand.
“I am Madam la Grasse.” She sat him in her chair.
“Happened in the Argonne Forest. I did not know my rifle barrel had filled with mud, but then there were not too many places where there wasn’t any mud. Pulled the trigger and was blind for a few days.” He chatted, “When I came to, they told me the bad news.”
“How did you hear of my shoppe?” She asked as she took measurements of his face with strange angles from the missing bits. As she looked at his face, she thought before his accident, he was a handsome man, but now his face had been scarred beyond repair. He was no different than all the others that had come into her shoppe, but he did not display any resentment toward what had put him in her chair.
“Monsieur Delluiege is a friend of mine.” He smiled, but it only enhanced his horrible disfigurement.
“Do you like being a farm hand?” She asked as she pulled a mask down off her wall just for fitting purposes.
“It’s alright, I guess.” He sat there calmly as she put the mask over his shattered face. “My aunt is kind to me and she let’s me know when she is going to have visitors. I am considered that guy who lives in the attic.”
“I see.” She looked at him in the mask, but did not like the way it fit him.
“I do get lonely sometimes.” I confessed. “But some of the children who live in the area are cruel. They call me Monsieur No Face.”
“Children can be so cruel.” He pulled another mask off the wall.
“I can’t say I blame them.” His voice echoed under the face covering, “You must admit, I do not strike a very gallant figure now do I?”
“You monsieur are one of the most gallant figures I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.” She said with all the sincerity she could muster.
As she sat with Balch in her shoppe, Francois was in the park at a rally of veterans disillusioned with what the ministry had done or hadn’t done for them. Using a bullhorn, Francois spoke of atrocities committed by the agencies who had promised them things they could not or would not deliver. Shadowed by some of the agencies in charge of internal affairs of the country, the police began to show up, creating a perimeter so that any marches would be contained to the park.
Some of the crowd became nervous about their presence and feared there would be retaliation unless the crowds dispersed.
“Do not fear this show of force.” Francois shouted into the bullhorn, “It is their only means of keeping us compliant to their rules. Use of force. Use of fear. Use of anything that will keep us in our place.”
As he spoke, the police began to push their way into the crowd using their shields and nightsticks.
“I am Chief Chacon.” One of the policemen shouted into a bullhorn. “We are demanding that you all disperse immediately or face possible consequences.”
His warning was effective as some of the members of the crowd began to leave the rally on their own accord. Just another French rally on a very picturesque Saturday afternoon that resembled a Georges Surat painting, but some of the crowd did not budge from their places on the grass in front of the podium where Francois and some of his closest associates had joined him on steps of the Park Administration Building.
From the crowd, a brick was tossed, striking a policeman in the helmet, injuring him and drawing blood. Surrounded by his peers who helped stop the bleeding, suddenly an all out brawl began which would result in the death of three protestors as well as sending over three dozen to the hospital including Francois.
Surrounded by reporters as they got him into an ambulance, Francois continued to spew his discontent, “We are a republic that has a foundation on upholding the will of the people.” With his head bandaged and bloody, Francois was full of his fury and discontentment with the government.
“This was a total disgrace.” Prime Minister Raymond Poincare addressed the heads of his ministry. He had taken over as prime minister from Aristide Briand in January 1922 in hope of uniting a very divided country. Not known as a very tolerant man, Poincare wanted to put an end to the dissent he had seen in all corners of France starting with the war veterans who were still fighting for the promises given to them at the end of the war. The report of the Saturday morning riot was yet another black eye on his newly formed alliance between the republicans and socialists. The bridge proved to be a rocky one, but in this age of progressiveness, he wanted France to be one of the frontrunners in this world order. Progressiveness was a movement forward, but there were many who felt that moving forward would lay ignorance to the past. “We must come together in a unifying manner that will serve all our people.”
His words sounded noble and sincere, but Monsieur Marcel Dobbenay just shook his head as Poincare made his empty soliloquy to a roomful of men who had been charged to run the country. As the leader of the War Department, he had been privy to a lot of information coming from Great Britain concerning discontent with their own citizens over the lot of their own veterans while Germany adopting a more democratic government under Hindenburg were suffering from the inequitable treatment from the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. Spoils of war, something that had always been in the jurisdiction of the victors, was due and Germany had no place complaining about them. The war had been costly to all participants with perhaps the exception of the United States whose seventeen month participation could not possibly compare to the four plus years of both France and Great Britain.
President Wilson’s establishment of the League of Nations was a good step forward even though he could not get his own country to become a member, but it did provide an international forum to establish a lasting peace. Besides not having the United States joining the League, the organization itself would have to go through some “growing pains.” Declaring policy needed to have some “teeth” included in the enforcement if they wished to establish credibility and respectability among the participating nations. Marcel Dobbenay did not see that happening any time soon since Japan had established an Empire to challenge fragile world peace through imperialists goals of world domination.
He still felt strongly that if France demonstrated their resolve through a public display such as a parade of unity, they could claim their rightful place as a world leader. In planning, Dobbenay wanted to mark November 11, 1924, the sixth year anniversary of the end of the Great War as the date for such an event. All veterans would be invited to join in, but as a public referendum that did not offer a choice in participation.
Mindy walked Monsieur Norman Balch to the employment office that was located on the next block. Wearing his mask, Norman felt as if he was human once again and the woman at the counter did not seem to bat an eye when he appeared at her window. With his demonstrative manner and his cordialness, Mindy felt positive Norman would receive what he deserved since he was a veteran. The woman gave him an application which Mindy told him she would help him fill out. The small office was filled with all sorts of people looking for employment.
Filling out the application was not a problem, but then when he went to turn in his application, she asked him for his discharge from the army.
“I don’t have it.” He replied.
“Where is it?” The woman asked.
“I never got one.” He admitted.
“Why not?” Mindy whispered in his ear.
He turned to her, “Because I got out of the bed with my bandages on and left.”
“Left?” She shook her head.
“Oui. The doctor told me they wanted to charge me with desertion.” He sighed. “He said that I did this on purpose.” He touched his mask with his finger.
“Are you serious?” She could not believe what she was hearing, but knowing his taciturn nature, she knew if a doctor had said such a thing to him there wouldn’t be much of an argument.
“They told me a lot of soldiers were sabotaging their weapons so they would not have to fight.” She could hear the sadness in his voice that usually turned into tears.
“Did you?” Mindy asked.
“Non, I would never do such a thing.” He was now sobbing.
“Why didn’t you tell him?”
“I don’t know...I don’t know.” She put her hand on his arm and pulled him from the line of people waiting. She embraced him as he sobbed on her shoulder.
Jon Naboud had worked at the junkyard in Leon for since he had been discharged from the war in 1917 after Cambrai where a bullet entered his mouth during the offensive and surgeons tried to reattach his mandible, but were unsuccessful. As a result, Jon had to eat his meals through a straw, but his horrible disfigurement made him appear like some other world nightmare creature and thus with his discharge papers and distinguished service medals, he was able to get the graveyard shift at the junkyard. Most of the furnishings in his apartment were remnants from his occupation there. Mindy heard about him from Martin Delliuege. One night she went to visit him while he manned his station at the junkyard.
“Hard to get used to the stink.” Martin told her as he led her to Jon.
“I’m sure at some point, you'll get used to it.” She tried her best to breath.
“Not likely, but then compared to the trenches, this is like a garden.” He laughed as he knocked on the rickety door to the station. Jon answered the door. He was not wearing a mask so his disfigurement was immediately apparent.
“Jon, good to see you.” Martin replied, embracing the large man dressed in heavy clothing and boots. “This is Mindy la Grasse who I’ve been telling you about.”
“Jon cannot speak as you can see.” Martin explained.
“I cannot fix that though I wish I could.” She said after taking his hand in a professional handshake.
“Most of what he’d say would not be meant for mixed company.” Martin chuckled, “But he has a slate where he can down his words.”
Jon nodded as he held up his slate. It did not look as if it was used very often.
“He does not say a lot.” He reached over and slapped Jon on his shoulder. “The surgeons did a pretty good job considering what little they had to work with when he arrived.”
“I see.” She sat down in one of the chairs. Jon wrote on his board.
“Pleasure to meet you.”
“He wants you to make him a mask.” Martin sat next to her on chairs that appeared as if they had been pulled off the junk heap. “There are so many who want to stay hidden, because of the way they look.”
“We can fix that.” Mindy said carelessly.
“No you can’t. There is no fixing this. All you can do is cover this up.” Martian held what was left of Jon’s face in his hands. Tears filled Mindy’s eyes, but she would not give Martin the satisfaction.
Dr. Bauldaine was operating on a patient who had no mandible, but he was determined to make use of substitutes to help mend the injury. Using some morphine, he began to make some incisions along what was left of his jaw. He would cut away the remaining bone and replace it with a metal substitute. It had never been tried before, but he was confident in his surgical technique and felt that his procedure would become the next step forward. He anticipated that the healing process might prove to be a bit challenging to the patient, but to have his jaw restored and functional would be worth the minor discomfort.
“Doctor.” One of the assistants tried to get his attention as he began putting the metal jaw into place.
“What is it?” He asked. He could not have hoped for a better fitting.
“Patient has stopped breathing.” He replied. Dr. Bauldaine looked down at his patient who had indeed stopped breathing.
“Resuscitate him.” He demanded.
“Blood pressure is falling.” One of the other assistants declared.
For the next five minutes the team did their best to get the patient resuscitated, but to no avail. Dr. Bauldaine removed his gloves and threw them against the wall as they wheeled him out of the operating room to the morgue. As the unfortunate patient was wheeled out of the room, there was a clang of something hitting the floor. It turned out to be the metal jaw.
“So sorry, doctor.” One of the nurses said as she followed the parade to the morgue.
“It was not my fault.” He shook his head, “Too much morphine. We will have to try less next time.”
Mindy sat at the dinner table in silence. Solomon had some things bothering him greatly and it was clear he was not the rising star he thought he was at the SFOI. One of the problems was his wife bringing disfigured veterans to one of their meetings. Bringing them to the attention of the membership had not gone over well with Frossard as indicated in the memo.
“What is wrong, Sol?” She asked.
“I was reprimanded for what you did.” He said sourly.
“What I did?” She was aghast.
“Why did you bring those men into our meeting?” He asked.
“I wanted them to join your ranks.” She shook her head.
“They have no place in the party.” He slammed his fists on the table spilling some of the stew.
“No place? What do you mean? These men fought for their country.” She was still in shock.
“No, no, we cannot afford to be seen as the party of the cripples and the disfigured.” He stood up and walked to the sink turning his back to her.
“I thought socialism was the party of the people--all people.” Her anger was now beginning to rise to meet his.
“We are, but sometimes prudence is a far better measure.” He did not turn to face her and if he did, he would see how red her face had become. “I need some time to think.”
That was his way of telling her he was going to the bar on the next block where some of his colleagues would often frequent. She watched him go and once he had slammed the door on his way out, she fell to her knees sobbing.
The next morning when she came to her shoppe there were over ten men in line waiting for her shoppe to open. She paused and took another look just to make sure she was not delusional. Martin stood next to the men waiting.
“Brought you some business.” He pointed.
“Where have they been all this time?” Her hand was shaking as she opened the door.
“Same place the others were. Hidden.” He nodded.
“I cannot believe so many chose to stay hidden.” She opened the door. “I do not have enough chairs.”
“We will sit on the floor, madam.” One of them said without hesitation.
“You are all welcome. Come in...come in.” She watched them parade into her tiny shoppe as if in a military formation.
“Most of them are not too badly disfigured.” Martin followed her into the shoppe.
“We are tired of living in the shadows where we can’t be seen.” The man who had spoken out before said as she put her coat and bag on the hook. “We want the people to know what we’ve done for them.”
“This is incredible.” She said putting on her apron.
“There was an operation yesterday at the hospital. Dr. Bauldaine.” Martin whispered to her.
“I’ve heard of him.” She paused.
“He tried to replace a man’s jaw, but the operation killed the patient.” He patted her on the shoulder. “I know your tin masks only cover the deformity, but it’s far better than dying on the operating table.”
“It is...it certainly is.” She motioned to the first in line to sit in the chair for his measurements. Enthusiastically the man sat in the chair and raised his chin.