Monday, December 1, 1997

I Know Who You Are

          As Ralph drove the Cadillac into the diner's lot, he saw that there were no cars parked there.  He glanced at his heavy gold Rolex watch.  "It's pretty late," he thought,  "but the lights are still on in the place.  I'm going in."

          The waitress behind the counter had her slender back to him.  He noticed how her tiny waist accentuated her shapely hips.   "It's closing time," she said, without turning around.   "Don't people think I'd like to get home at a decent hour like everybody else?"  She faced him then, and he saw that but for the heavy eye make-up and the dark, almost mahogony lipstick, she might have been attractive enough.

          He placed a ten-dollar bill on the counter.  "Just a fast cup of coffee, and then I'll be gone," he said, smiling, in an effort to turn on the charm.  He saw her eye the large diamond on the little finger of his right hand.  Shaking his left arm farther out of his jacket sleeve to expose his Rolex, he placed his left hand on the counter, too.  As he had expected, the watch was well noted.

          "I'm off to find a motel near BWI Airport for tonight," he said.  "I have a very early flight out of here in the morning, and I don't want to risk missing it.  Morning  rush-hour traffic, you know.  I was looking for I-95, but I must have missed it a while back.  Then, to make matters worse, I got off the Beltway, thinking to come onto 95  from another angle, and now I'm really lost.  I thought I might get some black coffee before trying to find my way back to the Beltway.   If you pour me a cup, I promise to drink it right down and be on my way.  You can even keep the change."

          It was her turn to smile.  "Oh, you don't have to hurry all that much," she said.  "I still have some cleaning up to do."  Her voice dripped honey now.   "You drink your coffee, Handsome, and then maybe you can give me a lift home in that big car of yours out there."

          "It's a rental," he said.  "I  flew in for a meeting in The District.  But I'll be happy to give you a lift.  How had you planned to get home otherwise?"

          "Walk," she said.  "My flat's just down the highway a piece.  Sometimes I thumb a ride, but there ain't too many cars on that road after midnight.  It's sort-of off the beaten path, if you catch my drift.  Someday I'll get me enough money for a car of my own.  Maybe one like your Caddy out there, if I get lucky!"  She had already poured coffee and now pushed the mug toward him.

          He lifted the mug in salute.  "Here's to getting lucky!" he said.   "May your ship come in soon!"

          She giggled.

          "What's your name?" he asked, smiling at her.

          "Lucille," she said.  "What's yours?"

          "Pretty name!" he said.  "Mine's Ralph."

          "Hi, Ralphie!"

          "Hi, there, Lucille!"

          She giggled again.                     


          He expected to end up in bed with her at her place, and he did.  He stood at the bathroom sink now, combing his hair, and was just about ready to take his leave.  He looked at the sink's rusted spigots, and at the cracked, paint-chipped toilet seat.  "How some people live!" he thought.  "Does Alma have any idea how lucky she is?"  He envisioned her, his wife, asleep at home in their spacious bed.  Thanks to him, they certainly had come a long way, he and Alma, from that podunk little college town where they had met over twenty years ago.

          When he came back into Lucille's bedroom, he put his hand to his back pocket for his wallet, thinking to leave her the few bills that were in it, but the wallet was not there.   He looked over to her as she stood by the dresser.  She had covered her nakedness with a a short pink sleepshirt.  She held his wallet in her hand.

          "I'll take that," he said angrily.

          "Will you really now?" she said, grinning.  "Well you can have it, Ralphie.  You rich guys never carry much money, anyways, just a few bills.  The plastic wouldn't do me no good, either, because you'd just call the old 800 number and cancel them if I took them.  So take your crummy wallet.  But, hey!  It looks maybe my ship has come in after all, just like you said.   See?  I found your business cards and took one.  I also jotted down my name and address and stuck it in behind your license.  Better make sure you take it out before your wife sees it.  You do have a wife, don't you, Ralphie baby?   Sure you do!  You romeos aways have one at home somewheres!  So send me a nice fat check after you get back to Chicago, Ralphie, sweetie pie!  'Else I may have to phone your rich missus and tell her all about our big night.  She wouldn't be too happy about that, do you think?"

          He grabbed the wallet from her hand and smacked her hard across the face.  She reached for the lamp on the nightstand and raised her arm to strike him with it, but stumbled and fought to regain her balance.  He took the lamp from her and brought it down hard on her head.  It all happened in the split of a second, and suddenly he was looking down at her sprawled on the the floor, her sleepshirt twisted under her, a good deal of her body exposed.  She didn't move.


          In the car on his way to the airport, his hands trembling so that he had trouble keeping hold of the steering wheel, he could hardly believe that such a vile thing had really happened.  His heart pounded wildly at the memory of his violence.  Re-enacting it in his mind, he felt almost like an onlooker, watching a nightmare happening to a stranger, not to him at all.    He had left her where she lay, and had wiped all the surfaces he could think of  having touched, and just to be sure, even those he knew he had not touched.  He had kept his wits enough to look over the entire room, making sure he left nothing behind to link him to her.   Then he had unlocked and opened the window.  It was at street-level, and anyone could easily have broken in.   "Maybe they'll think it was a rapist," he thought, and shuddered.  

          "It might work," he thought.  "It has to!  Other than at the business meeting, I saw no one at all this trip whom I know, or who knows me.  There was no one else in the diner to see us together, or at her flat, either."   He hoped against hope that he would be lucky and get away with it.

          Alma was glad to see him when he arrived home late that same afternoon.  "Good trip?" she asked.  "How was the flight?"

           "Uneventful," he said.

           "You look awfully tired, Ralph.  Are you okay?"

          "I'm fine," he said.  He couldn't bring himself to look at her face.  He barely brushed her cheek with his lips.  "Did you get the evening paper yet?" he asked.

          "No, dear.  Will you do it, please?   It's probably in the mailbox.   I told the boy to put it there from now on.  Yesterday I found it blowing all over the yard!"

          "That's illegal," he said.  "It supposed to be for mail only.  Oh, what's the difference!  Sure, I'll get the paper."

          When he reached into the box, he didn't find the newspaper, but he did pull out a piece of orange paper, roughly the size of a postcard.   Written on it in large, bold, sloppy letters, were the words, "I KNOW WHO YOU ARE.  I SAW WHAT YOU DID!"

          Later, in bed with Alma asleep beside him, Ralph turned it over and over in his mind.   Who could have put that note in their box?  Who could have known?  Who could have seen?  He thought he would go insane.  "I could wait for the accuser to make himself known," he thought, "and then reason with him to keep silent for a price."  The idea of blackmail chilled him.  Worse yet, what if his accuser should refuse to be bought?   "Maybe I should make a clean breast of it to Alma," he thought at one point during the night, but immediately discounted the idea.  What good would that do?  With a pang, he thought of their two daughters.  What would this whole sordid thing do to them?

          "I think you should get a check-up," Alma said at breakfast.  "You look terrible!   I have to volunteer at the hospital today.  Want me to talk to Dr. Maguire about an appointment for you?"

           "No!" he said.  

          Somehow he went through the motions of getting himself to the office and getting  down to work, hoping to lose himself  in the politics of running the Corporate Office, which had always delighted him up to now.  It was just no use trying to keep his mind on the job.   Before nine-thirty, he buzzed for his secretary.

          "Mrs. Wallace," he said when she entered his office, "call Mr. Broadmore's secretary and tell her I won't be keeping our meeting this morning."  Mr. Broadmore was the CEO.  Corporate rumor had it that he was grooming Ralph to take over for him when he retired next year.

          "But, sir, do you think that's wise?" Mrs. Wallace asked.  "He might be pretty angry."

          "Then he'll just have to be angry!"  Ralph said.  "I'm not feeling well, and I am going home."

          Alma's car was not in the garage when he arrived, and it reminded him that this was her day to volunteer at the hospital.  He knew it was not her favorite thing, but it was something that was more-or-less expected of the wives of important men in the community.  She would not, he knew, be back until almost dinnertime.  All at once he knew what he had to do.  He drove into the garage, and reaching for the remote control box on the dash, pressed the button which brought down the garage door.  He let the engine idle and settled his head back.  He closed his eyes and wondered how long it would take.          

          At a bar in the farthest end of town, Stretch Neal, already slightly drunk, was telling his pals how it was.  "I go around to these classy neighborhoods, see?"  He could hardly tell it for laughing, "All those fat cats have something dark in their past to be guilty about!  So I sneak one of these little notes in their mailboxes.  Then I drive away and let them sweat!"

          His pals all allowed that it was a pretty damn funny joke.

Monday, November 3, 1997


"Angela, I'm on one step..." Franky said, and the skin on Angela's back tingled.

"Angela, I'm on the second step..."

   She knew where the tale was going.  He had recited it to her many times.

"Angela, I'm on the third step..."  She shivered in anticipation.

She was five years old, and younger than Franky by as many years.  He thought it was funny to say that they were like Woolworth's Five and Ten.  He didn't have many friends his own age, probably because he was too bright for them, so he spent much of his time with her.  Their families shared a big red house--Franky's family on the first floor, and Angela and her parents on the second floor.  All the kids slept upstairs in the attic, Franky and his big brother Joe in one room, and Franky's two older sisters and Angela in the other.

They were in the attic now as Franky continued, "Angela, I'm on the fourth step...."

"Franky, cut that out now," his brother said.  "You'll scare her to death.  Why do you always tell that stupid story of yours just at bedtime?  She'll have nightmares all night!  Angela, go back to your own room."

"But, Joe, I want to hear how it ends," Angela said.

"You know how it ends.  We all know how it ends.  He tells it a hundred-fifty times a week.  I'll tell you how it ends.  It'll be 'Angela I'm on the fifth step,'  all the way to 'Angela I'm on the thirteenth step.'  Then he'll pounce and grab you by the neck and say 'Angela, I gotcha!', and you'll scream.  Now go to your room.  Mary and Louise are already in bed.  Scoot!"

Joe was in the tenth grade, and bossed all of them, especially Franky, but he was okay.  He was big and handsome and sometimes even played catch with the four of them.

The kids up at the top of the hill on Woodward Avenue were mean to Franky and teased him, especially Johnny Morey.  He was in Franky's class at school, and Franky said he made straight F's.

"Sissy, sissy!" Johnny said to Franky one day, "always with his little baby cousin!  What do you two play, paper dolls?"

"You go home, Johnny Morey!" Angela said.  "Get off of our property, or I'll..."

She punched him on the arm.

"Or you'll what?"  Johnny said.  "You'll what, huh?...huh?"

"That's okay, Angie," Franky said.

"Get out of our yard!" Angela said again.

"So make me!"  Johnny said, and grabbed her precious Shirley Temple pin, pulling it right from her sweater.  It had come with the Shirley Temple Doll Santa had brought last Christmas, and Angela wore it almost every day.

"Give me that!" she said, but Johnny just laughed.

"Give it back," Franky said.  His voice was quiet and shaking.

Just then Joe came out the back door and took the porch steps two at a time.  "Give her her pin, Morey," was all Joe said.  Johnny threw the pin on the ground and turned and left.

Franky looked ashamed, or maybe Angela just imagined it.  "That's okay, Franky," she whispered, and put her hand on his arm, but he shrugged it off.

"Are you mad at me, Franky?" she asked.

He shook his head.  "No.  Mad at me."

"That Johnny Morey!" Angela said.  "I hate him!"

"No you don't," Franky said.

He was right.  She didn't hate him.  It was just that she loved Franky.  They were best friends.  He had already taught her to read and do sums.  He said he wanted her to be the smartest kid in the First Grade next year.  It was his goal, not hers, but for his sake, she would try.

The times Angela liked best were when Franky would invent scenerios for the two of them to play.  Other kids played cops and robbers, or cowboys and Indians, or Buck Rodgers, but Franky thought up much better games than those.  Sometimes the terrace that sloped gently in front of their house became instead the Alaskan terrain they had to climb to reach their igloo, lest they die in a blizzard that blew icy blasts of snow in their faces.  It was great fun, and she loved it.

"Mush, you huskies!" Franky would shout.

"Do we call them huskies because they are fat, Franky?" she asked.

"No, dummy!  That's the kind of dogs they are!  Like our Sheppie.  The kind of dog he is is German shepherd."

     "Oh," she said, realizing for the first time in her life why that was their dog's name...Sheppie...she had wondered about that.  She had thought Horsie would have been a good name for him, because he was big enough for her to ride when Joe held her on the dog's back.   She didn't say anything to Franky that she had just then figured out how Sheppie got his name.  Franky  would have said "dummy" again  and been disappointed in her.

Once, when Joe overheard how exacting Franky was with her, he told him not to be so tough on her.  "She's only five-years-old, for heaven sake, Franky!" he said.

"I want her to be perfect," Franky said.

"Well, nobody's perfect," Joe said.  

Still, for Franky's sake, she tried to be.

When the front terrace was not for them a frozen tundra, it was other times a desert over which she and Franky rode their camels in search of water.  Just in the nick of time, when they were about to expire from thirst, they would come upon an oasis.  Franky explained to her about oases.

Sometimes, especially in summer, the terrace, shaded as it was by the big chestnut tree in front, and soft with pachysandra that covered it, was where they sat and just talked.

"I'm going to be rich when I grow up,"  Franky said.

"Are you, Franky?  What are you going to be?" she asked.

""A priest."

"But priests don't make a lot of money," she said.

"Oh yeah?  Didn't you ever see how much money is in the collection basket?  Who do you think gets it all?"

"You're right!" she said.

"He's wrong!" her mother said when she told her.  "They give most of it to the poor.  That Franky's a nice boy, but don't believe everything he tells you."

"You dummy!"  Franky said when she went back to him with her mother's words.  "You tell your mother everything!  Just keep quiet some time!"

   "But, Franky..." she said

"But Franky nothing!" he said.  "Do you think your mother tells you everything?"


"So, see?" he said.

"But we're not supposed to lie," she said.

"Who said anything about lying?  You don't have to lie to them.   Just answer their questions and no more.  Grown-ups have their world and we have ours.  Don't talk so much to them, okay?"

"Okay," she said, but she knew she would continue to talk too much.  She couldn't seem to help it.  Besides, she didn't want her mother and father to have a world apart from hers.  Sometimes, with Franky, she just kept to herself opinions that differed from his.  She didn't want him to feel hurt.

Sometimes, on a Saturday, Franky's mother would shop at the Diamond Street Market downtown, and would take the two children on the trolley with her and drop them off at the old Art Cinema movie house while she shopped.  In those days the Art Cinema showed horror movies, not pornographic ones as it did in later years.

"Don't dare tell her what movie we're going to see!" Franky would say.

She never did.

"What kind of movies are they?" her aunt had once asked, and Franky had hurried to answer for both of them.  "Good ones, Ma," he told her.

"That's nice," she had said.

One such Saturday, her aunt finished shopping earlier than usual and wanted to get home.  She convinced the theater manager to allow her to come in to get her two young charges while the movie was still in progress.  She walked down the aisle of the darkened theater to find her niece hunched over almost double in fright, her hands over her eyes, and Franky mesmerized by what Count Dracula was doing on the screen.  That was the end, then and there, of their Saturday afternoons at the old Art Cinema.

Once she was grown, she credited Franky and his tales and the chills of the horror movies and all the wonderful magic games of childhood he had invented for them, for whatever ambition and imagination she had managed to carry into adulthood.  She missed him terribly.  He was still around, but he really wasn't Franky anymore.

He returned from serving in the Second World War to finish his last year at Carnegie Tech.  Then, after teaching himself German, he took a post-graduate year of studies at the University of Zurich.  He was, among many other things, an accomplished pianist.  Back from Zurich, he enrolled at Pitt in a masters-degree-in-education program.  Relatives began to whisper among themselves that he was afraid to make it in the real world, and chose to stay in the university community.  He did eventually try his hand at teaching school, but it was not for him.  He entered the seminary in Latrobe to study for the priesthood, and left a year later, unordained.   

In a rare moment, reminiscent of their childhood friendship, he confided to her that his life was becoming ever more confusing and that making decisions agonized him.  Finally he could not make them at all.  Stuttering became an affliction, and he spoke less and less.  He withdrew into his own thoughts.  Financially, he became totally dependent on his parents, and at their death, they left him with enough money to live in an institution where things could be decided for him.

Now she wonders if  he realizes how much she looked up to him in those days, how much she idolized him, how much she owes him.    Does he know how hard she used to try to be as good as he wanted her to be?  And if he does, does it matter to him anymore?

Monday, October 20, 1997

Tom Mix Is Dead

I turned my thoughts to other matters.  "I got my Tom Mix decoder in the mail yesterday," I said.

"Good!  On Monday I'll help you decode the message."

Most weekday afternoons at five, we listened together to Tom Mix on radio.  At the end of each Tom Mix episode, the announcer read off a series of numbers which allowed those listeners who were lucky enough to have a decoder, to decipher the clue to the next day's episode.  Joey had sent in ten cents and a box top from Ralston Cereal for a decoder for me.  

"You know Tom Mix is dead, don't you?" Joey told me one day.

" But we just heard him on radio, talking to Jane and Jimmy!"

"They're all actors," he said.  "Tom Mix, Jane, Jimmy, The Old Wrangler, all of them.  Tom Mix died years ago.  Car wreck.  He was going about a hundred miles an hour."

"The police wouldn't have let him," I said.  "They'd have arrested him."

"Not in Texas," Joey said.  "There aren't many cars there, only horses.  The roads are wide open."

Of course Joey was right.  "I wish Tom Mix had stuck to horses," I said. 

I was eight years old and thought grown-up movies were a bore.  I much preferred "Dracula" and the other horror movies I used to see with Joey when we lived in the big red-brick house.  Sometimes, of a Saturday, my aunt would shop at the Diamond Street Market downtown, and would take the two of us on the trolley with her and drop us off at the old Art Cinema while she shopped.

"What kind of movies are they?" she had asked Joey.

"Good ones," he had told her.  "They develop a kid's imagination."

One day she completed her shopping earlier than usual, and the theater manager allowed her to come in to get us while the movie was still in progress.  She found me hunched over almost double on my seat, my hands over my eyes.  Joey was enrapt with what was unfolding on the screen.  She looked up at the screen, and what she saw put an end to our Saturday trips to the old Art Cinema downtown.

No Refund

Death struck in Dallas that twenty-second day of November in '63, and memory of our sorrow remains ever vivid.  We can tell those of the generation then yet unborn, about how an entire nation had wept, and they think they know how it was, but they do not.

"Where were you when you heard the news?" my grandson asked.  "Did you cry?"

"I had just had my hair cut and was driving home," I said.  "I heard it on the car radio, and  I could tell which of the people I saw on the street had heard the news and which had not, just by the looks on their faces and the way they were walking along.  Did I cry?  Yes, dear, I cried all the way home, and, watching it later on TV, for most of the three days that followed, too.  We all did."

On that fateful afternoon, my mother was in Kaufmann's Department Store, returning a defective leather trash bag.

"It's supposed to sit on the floor of the car," she explained to the saleslady, "between the driver seat and the passenger seat, but it won't stay put.  I think some of the sand has leaked out.  I'd like my money back, please."

The clerk's face was a study in sadness.  She had been crying.  "Oh, Mam," she said, "Our President has been shot!"

For a reason known only to herself, my mother assumed the saleslady meant the president of the company that manufactured the automobile trash bags.  "How awful!" she said.  "But does that mean you can't give me my money back?"

The clerk's expression changed to one of anger.  "Listen, lady," she said.  "Our President has just been shot!"

"Yes," my mother replied.  "I heard you, and I am truly sorry, but does that mean I don't get my money back?"

The saleslady's look of total disgust made my mother pause and think for a few seconds.  "Which president?" she asked at last.

"The President of the United States, for God's sake, lady!  The President of the United States!  John Kennedy!"

"Oh, Dear God!" my mother said.

Without thought now of the defective leather trash bag on the counter top where it lay, she rushed through the first floor of the store.  "The President has been shot!" she said to everyone she saw.  "President Kennedy has been shot!"

Almost blindly, people began following her, many looking stunned, some sobbing openly.  Of one mind, they went up to the television floor, and joined those already gathered there to watch the grim history unfold.

Each of us old enough on that day in November have our story to tell.  This was my mother's.

Breaking Away

The big screen showed a camera slowly turning to face us, and the familiar music of Pathe News filled the  theater.  Usually the newsreel was just something  I had to sit through in order for the Saturday afternoon serial to begin, but this particular day, the man in the news made me uneasy.   

"Joey," I whispered to my cousin seated beside me, "what does 'seig-heil' mean?

Why did those people keep yelling that to the man on the platform?"

"Shhh," Joey said.  "This week's episode of Captain Preston is starting.  Talk to me about it after the movie." 

His mother was my father's sister, and his family and mine shared an old, large, red-brick house.  They lived downstairs and we lived upstairs.  Joey was too smart to have many friends; they thought he was weird.  He got along great with me, though, because I adored him.  He knew everything.  

"So what does it mean?" I said again as Joey and I were leaving the movie house.

"Um, it's German, I think," was all he said.

"That man scared me." I said.  "He was so loud, and kept yelling things I couldn't understand, and then he'd yell "seig-heil", and the people yelled "seig-heil" back.  It was crazy, don't you think, Joey?"

"Naw," Joey said.  "He's just the new leader in Germany.  Nothing to be scared of . Besides, we're lucky--the big Atlantic Ocean is on one side of us and the even-bigger Pacific Ocean is on the other.   We're safe here.  Nothing to be scared of."

If Joey said so, then it was so, and I stopped worrying.  That was when I was six years old.  Joey was eleven.

Joey and I went to the Saturday matinees almost every week, and saw more and more of that foot-stomping man.  Kids started making fun of him when he appeared on the screen.    With left index finger between nose and lip, and right arm raised high they would shout, "Heil Hitler!"  I thought it was fun, too.

My mother's parents, although American citizens, were living in Italy.  They always planned to come back to America, but somehow my grandfather kept dragging his feet.  A letter came for my mother one day,  and I heard her read it to my father.  

"There is talk of conscripting eighteen-year-olds," my grandmother wrote.  "War is closer every day.  Your brother will be eighteen soon.  If he serves in the Italian army, he will lose his American citizenship forever."

"My uncle is coming to live with us," I told Joey the next day.  He's coming from Italy because he doesn't want to lose his American ship."

"Don't be so stupid," Joey said.  "You mean his American citizenship.  If he has to become an Italian soldier, he won't be American anymore.  My mother told me that he was coming.  She said he will sleep upstairs in the attic with me and Larry."  Larry, Joey's big brother, and Joey slept in the large room on the third floor.

My father went by train to New York to meet my uncle when his ship arrived from Genoa.  We sat up late into the night, waiting for them to come home--my mother, me, Joey, his mother and father and brother.   I thought it was like a party.  My mother and my aunt had made lots of good food.  "He will be hungry, poor thing," my aunt said.

"Joey, why is he poor?" I asked.

"He's not; they just feel sorry for him because he had to leave his mother and father."

"Joey, what do people from Italy look like?"   I asked.

"They have really white teeth.  That's because they don't eat store-bought bread," Joey said.

I was excited to see this Italian uncle of mine.  As it turned out, Joey was right.  His teeth were very white. 


"They call him the Umbrella Man," Joey told me, "because he always carries an umbrella."  We were watching He lived with us almost a year and a half, and then my grandparents and the rest of their family came over, too, just about the time Chamberlin was telling the people in England that he hadGenoa.  Italian uncle came from Genoa to New York by ship.  My father took a train to New York to meet him, and brought him home to us.  We were all sitting up late at night, waiting.  My father finally phoned from Pennsylvania Station in  town.  "We're here!" he said.

"I wondered if my grandparents comes ever closer here," she wrote.  "Already there is some talk of conscripting eighteen-year-olds."  My grandparents, although American citizens, were living in Italy.  They always planned to come back to America, but my grandfather kept dragging his feet on it.

"I hate to ask," my grandmother's letter went on, "but could your brother Sandrino come to live with you in America?  He will be eighteen soon, and if he serves in the Italian army, he will lose his American citizenship forever."

My father had my mother cable my grandmother immediately that of course her son was welcome.  That is how I found myself one evening, at a very late hour, with my mother and Joey and all his family, waiting for my father to bring my Italian uncle home.   My father had gone by train to New York to meet the ship from Genoa.

"What do people from Italy look like?"  I whispered to Joey.

"They have strong white teeth," he said, "because they don't eat store-bought bread."

Joey was right about my uncle's teeth.  They were indeed white.  He was thin and shy, and wouldn't let me call him "zio" (uncle), because he said he was too young.  He didn't look young to me, just scared.  About the time Chamberlin in England was declaring "peace in our time,"  my grandparents came over with the rest of their children, and my uncle left our home to move in with them.

Later, we ourselves moved into our own house, and I no longer saw Joey every day.  Sometimes on weekends, my mother would put me on the trolley, and I would be allowed to go by myself to the old house which Joey and his family now filled top and bottom.  I would run all the way up the hill from the trolley stop to Joey's house, breathless to see my aunt and all the family again, but mostly I could hardly wait to see Joey.  I always had a million questions for him to answer.

Parents didn't hire sitters much in those days.  If they couldn't take their children along, or if relatives couldn't watch them, the family stayed home.   One December Sunday afternoon, my mother said she wanted to see the new movie, "Smiling Through" starring Norma Shearer, so we all climbed into our car for the short drive to the theater -- my father, my mother, my little sister, and me.   I thought grown-up movies were a bore.  I much preferred  the Saturday afternoon movies I used to see with Joey when we lived in the big red-brick house.

We were so proud of our shiny green Chevy.  We were proud of our father, too, who had taken driving lessons not two months before and had surprised us with a new car--our first ever.  We were coming out of what my father called "hard times."  Things were little-by-little getting better.  We had our own small six-room house, and now an automobile.    I was eight, going on nine, and eager for life to unfold.  I still longed for the protection of Joey's daily advice on everything, and occasionally had the need to seek out his wisdom, yet I was weathering our separation well.   My father and mother looked worried at times when they talked of what they read in the Sun Telegraph, or of what Lowell Thomas had to say at quarter-to-seven in the evening over the radio, but it had little effect on my world.  Now from the back seat where I sat with my sister, I heard a voice on the car radio, but was not paying attention to what it was saying.

I saw my father take his eyes from the road and turn to my mother.  "It's war for sure now!" he said.  My mother started to cry softly.  

I remembered the dread engendered by that newsreel of some few years past.  It was the same dread I was feeling now.  We never did see the movie, but returned home in almost total silence.

In school the next morning, Miss George, our teacher, led us in orderly file into the gym for an all-school assembly.  Most of us had heard our parents' discussions of yesterday's news, and we were hushed and subdued as we took our assigned places in the bleachers.     

"We are here to listen to a radiocast from President Roosevelt,"  Miss Ross, our principal, said.  "He will be speaking to the whole nation."   She didn't have to tell us to listen quietly.   There was little sound in the gym save that of the President's voice over the airwaves, telling us about the day that would live in infamy.  He told us that Japan had given our country no choice but to join our allies and declare war on the evil forces in Europe and Asia.

The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, and, alas, Joey did not know everything in the world there was to know after all.  From now on, I was on my own.