Friday, December 7, 2012

Peaceful Sunday Afternoon

Seventy-one years ago today, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I was upstairs in a rented house in Penn Yan, New York.  (I mention the village just because it has such a fine name.)  A magazine was running an essay contest with a first prize of $50, twice what my father earned a week as a factory superintendent. So I was at my typewriter, a Royal portable that had no 'zero' or 'one' --you typed a capital 'O' or a lower-case letter ' l'.     
I seem to be getting off topic pretty fast.  Okay, what I remember is going over to the top of the stairs, a steep straight enclosed flight in the middle of what I just realized must have been a very old house.   I can still see Daddy standing at the foot of the stairs, the radio is on, and he is looking up to shout that “The Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor.”  
I had no idea why he was telling me, what or where Pearl Harbor was – only a vague idea of where Japan was for that matter.  No thought of how our lives, all the rest of my teen years, would be affected.  I just went back to the typewriter.  But there must have been something in his voice that made it one of those “remember where were you when...” moments.      

At school on Monday, we all trooped over to the Junior High, a new (1930s) building that had an auditorium (our old Academy didn't have one.)  A loudspeaker had been installed for President Roosevelt's address to Congress -- and the nation.  My co-editor on the (mimeographed) school paper, the Penn Yan Key, challenged me to take down the speech.  No fair, she was taking shorthand.  But Roosevelt, a gifted orator, spoke with majestic deliberation, and I got it all: 

“Yesterday... December 7... 1941... a date which will  LIVE..(I can still hear the emphasis and the pause) INFAMY... the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately ATTACKED...”

I won the contest and the essay was my first published magazine article.  



  1. "But there must have been something in his voice that made it one of those “remember where were you when...” moments."

    I remember being in our car, and dad was driving me somewhere (which was unusual in itself). We were on Elmwood near the 12 Corners, when he just (uncharacteristically) spoke out loud in response to something on the radio. He said "Well would you look at that, Johnson is dropping out of the race". I too was oblivious, but it was 1968 and he was referring to Lyndon Johnson dropping out of the race for re-election. ""But there must have been something in his voice that made it one of those “remember where were you when...” moments.""

  2. I was lying in bed reading that night when you and Norm came in and stood in the doorway, still wearing your coats, excited, saying "Weren't you listening? Johnson isn't going to run." I can still see THAT moment. And I remember thinking, too bad Avi is in Mexico, he enjoys the news so (enjoys isn't the right word) and he's missing all kinds of really big news these days.

  3. So can you find a copy of the essay to publish, as a period piece??

  4. Your whole story is great, especially the essay prize. Incidentally, how did you end up spending your $50? Did you put it all into your college fund or something else equally useful, or did you spend at least a bit of it on Max Factor red lipstick and other frivolities?

    Re: Pearl Harbor, my mother (who would have turned 91 this past November 8) was at Wellesley College at the time. (My grandmother married money the third time around, and my step-grandfather took a shine to Mom and decided she should have a proper education.) Mom left us the story of a fellow student racing down the dorm hallway shrieking hysterically, "The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor!" and getting the entire corridor into an uproar. Definitely something in that voice that made Mom remember!