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Flaming Coffins avoided the mill

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By W.B. Evans

About a month had passed since that 10-pound bomb came crashing down on Mr. Ben’s front steps.You may recall, it was only pretend – a sack flour to signify that Mr. Ben was burning his lights during a blackout drill. Hey, the prospect of a Luftwaffe Heinkel “Flaming Coffin” dropping its bomb payload over Chesterfield Avenue didn’t set well with anybody in the neighborhood and Mr Ben wasn’t helping our chances.But Mr. Ben didn’t much cotton very much to all of these wartime rules and regulations. Neither did I.Maybe that’s a reason we got along. Or maybe it was his son, Little Ben, who was the source of our good relationship.Mr. Roosevelt – during a recent fireside chat – reminded us about the importance of obeying air raid instructions.We took it seriously, too. After all, Lancaster was home to the “World’s Largest Cotton Mill Under One Roof.”Most folks believed it was a given that errant German aviators entertained the idea of dropping bombs down those tall chimneys at the Lancaster Plant while flying in this area to blow up the bomb plants in Pineville.Given that prospect, every neighborhood family headed down Chesterfield Avenue Grammar School auditorium for the latest blackout instructions.Right after the first meeting, Belk’s Department Store had a run on black shades when Mama and all the other ladies went on a shopping spree.We had a time getting those shades to work, too. It only took a little tug to make ’em roll up.Plus, these new shades just didn’t properly fit into all the old windows in our house. With no other choice, we tacked double-folded, black cloth over some windows, which meant we had to burn the lights in these darkened rooms during daylight.War was such an inconvenience and air raid drills never happened when you expected them to.My folks were sitting in the living room listening to the radio when the siren on top the water tower next to the police station started blaring.There was a sudden flurry as everybody (except me) got busy, putting out lights and pulling down shades.I didn’t do much of anything except run outside, where most of our neighbors were hunkered down, talking in hushed tones so the Germans wouldn’t hear us.Every now and again, I heard the shrill echo of Uncle Walter’s air raid warden, police-type whistle. That meant that somebody had a light on or was outside lighting up a Lucky Strike.As soon as his whistle blew, just about everybody looked up to scan the skies for traces of the enemy. This is scary business, I thought, as I looked up.Lucky for us, the only thing we could see was the Big Dipper.I figured we weren’t the only ones looking up. The Home Guard was on alert, too, protecting us from paratroopers falling from the sky.We must’ve done a good job; not a single poke or bag of flour got slammed down on anybody’s porch steps that night.Even Mr. Ben’s house was quiet. He probably wandered off to bed when the siren sounded and the shade-pulling started so we could do our thing.In the upcoming war years, we pulled the shades down several times for air raid exercises.Across America, others were doing the same, quickly putting out cigarettes and turning off car lights when the sirens blew.Our soldiers must be doing a good job, too.Not a single German bomb rained down on the Lancaster Plant that night or any other one.That’s something worth singing about.“When the lights go on again,All over the worldAnd the boys are home again,All over the worldAnd rain or snow is all,That may fallFrom the sky above,A kiss won’t mean ‘Goodbye,’But ‘Hello’ to love.”I still remember that song and when it meant something.Do you?