Good Life

‘Cora, It’s War’: Retired teacher Daisy Reiter reveals WWII memories

Daisy Reiter in her home in Philipsburg on Tuesday, March 10, 2015. Reiter wrote “Cora, It’s War”, a book that shares her stories of being a child during World War II.
Daisy Reiter in her home in Philipsburg on Tuesday, March 10, 2015. Reiter wrote “Cora, It’s War”, a book that shares her stories of being a child during World War II. CDT photo

Those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it — and nobody wants to repeat the fifth grade.

Daisy Reiter was teaching at Wallaceton-Boggs Elementary School and there was a history textbook that wasn’t making the grade. It condensed the second world war’s impact on America down to a single sentence.

Reiter knew from personal experience that the real story lasted much, much longer.

A work of historical fiction that draws on Reiter’s own experiences as a child coming of age during World War II, the book aims to fill in some of the gaps surrounding a crucial period in American culture.

“People need to know that part of history,” Reiter said.

At 4 p.m. Saturday, Reiter will sign copies and answer questions about her own book, “Cora, It’s War” at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe in State College.

After she shelved the fifth-grade history textbook, Reiter assigned each student in her class a different text exploring the realities of the war. Once their reading assignments were complete, students used a push pin to mark the location of their stories on a map of the world.

What Reiter and her class discovered was that a bulk of the literature devoted to World War II took place outside of the U.S.

“I wanted people to know what life on the homefront was like,” Reiter said.

After her retirement in 1997, Reiter channeled that desire into a strict writing regimen. She got up every morning, did the household chores, and then sat at the computer for three or four hours to finesse the memories of her childhood into a work of historical fiction.

Cora, the book’s 7-year-old protagonist, mirrors the author’s own experiences growing up during a time of shortage and sacrifice.

“There’s so much of me in there and so much of my life,” Reiter said.

Like Cora, Reiter’s father was a doctor, and while her family never struggled financially, it was tough to spend much money in stores with empty shelves. Much of the country’s resources were being devoted to the war effort, which placed a strain on the inventory back home.

To this day, Reiter continues to a maintain a fully stocked kitchen, never taking for granted that today’s supermarkets will continue to remain flush with food.

“My grandkids love to see Grammy because the cupboards are always full,” Reiter said.

She knows that her circumstances were different than the ones faced by a majority of kids today — and may have been part of the reason she struggled to sell her work to book editors in their 20s and early 30s.

Reiter said that some of these editors found Cora’s character difficult to relate to or believe in, with one editor taking issue with a scene near the end of the book in which the little girl visits a church at the conclusion of the war — an event that was pulled straight from the author’s memory.

“I just felt that was a place I had to be,” Reiter said.

The fledgling writer caught a lucky break when Jill Gleeson, an acquaintance, emailed Reiter asking if she knew of anyone in need of editing or PR services.

Reiter took a chance and sent Gleeson a copy of “Cora, It’s War.”

“I read ‘Cora’ and thought it was really, really lovely and very touching and perhaps most importantly, told a story that we, as a nation, are in danger of losing — what the homefront was like during World War II,” Gleeson said.

Gleeson had a friend at King Printing in State College, where she and Reiter decided to publish the book independently, beginning with a small order of six boxes’ worth of books.

Initially sold at locations around Philipsburg, including Rothrocks Clothing and Design Hair Studio, Reiter said that she is surprised by the warm reception her book has received — especially by adults. Reiter met one woman who purchased four copies of the book to give to family and friends.

“I feel elated, amazed and in total disbelief. I never expected this to happen so well,” Reiter said.