December 7, 1941 started out like many other Sundays in my life on Long Island, New York. The family, all five of us, got into the 1940 Buick and drove across the Island to Brooklyn, where my father's parents lived and were expecting us for Sunday dinner. My two sisters, Pat, age 12, and Sugar, age 8, were sulking in the back seat because they did not have time to read the Daily News "funnies" and would have to go right to bed when we returned home. There was no relief from curfew in the McMahon house, ever!
I was sixteen years old, a senior in high school, smitten by the "new boy" in town who had walked me home from the Saturday movie matinee the day before.
Ignoring the complaints from Pat, who had drawn the middle
seat, and constant sighing by Sugar, saying she really could not see anything
on her side of the car, I was happily reliving the long walk from town,
up the hill to our house. Little did I know then that this day would be
the most important day in the shaping of my life, taking me
from New York to New Jersey to Philadelphia to South Carolina and eventually to far away Reno Nevada.
8709 Eldert's Lane was a row house on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn. a short ride on the El (elevated train) from downtown New York City. There was a wrought iron fence that separated each property and contained the small patch of grass that made these houses so valuable in the early part of the twentieth century. Inside the fence and to the left of the steep stairway that led to the front door was a path that led to the cellar entrance and to the small ground level window that opened to the coal chute. Houses were heated by burning coal in a huge black monster of a furnace that was fed regularly by shovelfuIs of coal kept in a "coal bin" at the bottom of the chute. This corner of the cellar was always dark and forboding to children, particularly when the furnace door was opened and the fire was visible. If you had any doubts about Hell existing, they were erased on viewing this burning, crackling inferno! Coal ashes were collected regularly and used to throw on snow-covered sidewalks in winter and to feed the rose bushes in summer.
Up the stairs to the front door, the house consisted of two identical floors that went from front to back with no inside windows. These were called "railroad flats." The front room was the parlor used only for important guests and occasionally for viewing deceased members of the family. Toward the back were two bedrooms in a row and then the big room and kitchen which had windows overlooking a fenced-in back yard. This yard was a square of grass surrounded by a concrete path with flowers and vegetables planted against the board fence. There was a gate to the "alley," a dirt road running the length of the block where the garbage collector came once a week. We were never allowed out in the alley. Kidnappers might be there!
We always visited in the big back room which had a large round pine pedestal table underneath a Tiffany chandelier that must have been thirty-six inches across. (How I wish I had that today!) Between the two windows was a console radio that was about forty-eight inches high and thirty inches across. On each side of the radio was a wooden rocking chair where the Grandparents sat each evening and listened to this marvelous invention that brought the outside world into their home.
On this particular Sunday afternoon, we had our dinneras I recall it was an Irish Stew with bread served in large bowlsand around four o'clock the grown ups were arguing about the NRA and President Roosevelt while the girls rolled around the floor bored to tears. The opera with Milton J. Cross announcing, was playing on the radio when a bulletin broke into the program. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and all active duty personnel were ordered to return to their base immediately.
The "new boy in town " was nearby at Ebbets Field with his father watching a professional football game. He later said the stands emptied of all military men in uniform, but the game went on. On Eldert's Lane, it was very quiet and my father said "Old men make wars but young men fight them." I did not fully understand what was happening as we got back into the now strangely quiet Buick and drove back to the other side of the island.
Father talked to mother in subdued tones, and we heard new words like "rationing," "A cards," and "invasion." The blackout was enforced, as we lived on the water guarding New York City, and German submarines were rumored ready to attack the city.
Monday was another school day. We listened to FDR proclaim the "Day of Infamy," and an eerie silence fell over the high school, although I do not think we fully realized what was happening. We were young and indestructible!
The new boy and all the other young men of the class of 1942 at Manhasset High School went off to war for four years, and many did not return. I went off to college in Massachusetts, writing every day to the new boy as he served in the Submarine Service in the Pacific. Had he gone to the University of Pennsylvania and I to Wheaton College in Massachusetts, with no war, what might have happened?
The new boy: Frank Kenyon