The Newcomer

Remembering Pearl Harbor

You know you've become part of history when you're the only one sitting at a table of four adults who was alive when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Granted, I was a kid. But I remember the day well.

On that particular Sunday in Walla Walla, there were three of us-my widowed mom, her fiancé and me-with our stockinged feet resting on the open oven door of our wood-burning cook stove, toasting our toes and reading the newspaper.

My attention was drawn from the 'funny pages' more by the reaction from the two adults than from the solemn voice on the radio.

Their shocked faces and mother's gasp told me something was up.

The only words that made any impression on me were "Pearl Harbor", and that only, I think, because my middle name is Pearl, a name my mother used for me only when I was in deep trouble. And she would say it in much the same impending doom tone of voice as that used by the radio voice.

Little by little, the impact of that radio announcement seeped into my little kid's world. Most of the men in our lives went away. We kids collected scrap iron along with the adults, and neighbors competed to see who would have the biggest scrap pile at curbside for pickup. My head about burst with exaggerated pride when our curbside contribution was a big, old iron stove (no, not our own cook stove, but one a young uncle had dug up somewhere). Somewhere along the line, gold stars began appearing in the windows of neighbors

We saved our pennies that we turned into dimes that went toward buying war bonds. I've kind of forgotten how that process went, but I seem to recall sliding the dimes into slots into little booklets. . . or pasting stamps into same little booklets (or was that Green Stamps later?).

I remember more clearly, the stunned look on the face of my third grade teacher, a nun, when I turned in the scrapbook she'd assigned us to make. The cover of mine featured a picture of a pile of green hand grenades, which I had labeled "A nice bunch of pineapples", which is what everyone was calling grenades in those days.

World War II took my mother and me to North Sacramento, California, where she worked at McClellan Field putting together war planes. We stretched our food and gas coupons as far as they would go, and mother vowed that, when the war was over, she was going to have enough butter to fill every little indentation of her breakfast waffle.

I remember when the war was declared over and mother and her girlfriends took me with them into Sacramento where the streets were crammed with screaming, crying, laughing people, and soldiers and sailors grabbed the girls, kissed them and passed them on down the line for more kisses. I felt confused as I saw my mother whirled off, protesting, into the throng. I stood my ground. Pressed in on all sides and too young to be snatched away for kisses, it wasn't difficult to do.

My mother, well-kissed, found me later in the crowd.

We never returned to that kitchen with the cook stove-and neither did my mother's fiancé. He lies in a grave in France.


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