That date does live in infamy

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By W.B. Evans

The start of a new school year always has me remembering when and marveling at how quick time flies.

Gosh, seems it was only yesterday that me and Mama were walking hand in hand down to Chesterfield Avenue Grammar School for my very first day of school.

By the fall of 1941, I was in Miss Charlotte Jones’ third grade class. 

Everyday, she had us studying something new. 

I had finally mastered this perplexing “telling time” stuff. At home, Mama, Daddy, Uncle Harry and Aunt Bess always said it was a “quarter till”, “a quarter after,” or “half past.” 

That wasn’t the way it was done at school, where it was always “15 minutes till”, “15 minutes after” or “30 minutes after the hour.”

Figuring out all of that was hard enough. As much as I hated memorizing stuff, I finally realized that was the only way to keep up with the many poems Miss Jones made us learn and recite in front of the class.

Away from class, I was a working man. Since finishing the second grade, me and Aunt Bess had been holding regular rummage sales on the vacant lot at South White and Gay streets.

I had just about worn out the bicycle pages in the Sears, Roebuck & Co. fall and winter wish book. 

I was busy raising the funds to buy a bicycle, and was well on the way to gettin’ it, too. 

Yessir, things were going pretty good. The bicycle money – kept in the top drawer of the dining room sideboard – was growing, thanks to an occasional tip from Uncle Harry.

In late November, Aunt Bess finally mailed off a check to Sears so my J.C. Higgins Roadmaster would make it here before Christmas.

“All we’ll have to do is go see Mr. Hagins down at the Depot Railway Express Agency and pick it up,” she said.

I could hardly wait. I’m still waiting. 

Now, Dec. 7, 1941, started out as a typical Sunday morning. We ate breakfast and got all dressed up for Sunday school and big church.

We walked to services like we always did, and seems like everybody at church acted like they always did.

After dinner, I changed clothes and was playing in the yard when Mama called out to me. She was standing on the porch.

“Pearl Harbor’s been bombed,” she shouted. “It looks like war is coming.”

To tell the truth, I didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was. All I knew about war was what they talked about on the Colossus of the South, WBT. 

Sometimes, the Charlotte Observer had a picture of a bombed city in England to look at, but it didn’t really sink in.

Well, I ran into the house. Mama had already turned on the big Philco radio in the living room. The man doing the talking was saying all kinds of things. There had been two air attacks. Some of our big ships were sinking in the harbor and men were trapped under the water. An oil tank was on fire and he kept talking about all this “rising sun” stuff.

As the day wore on, the news got worse. 

The next morning, things were pretty quiet around our house.  

Nobody closed down school or the Lancaster Cotton Mill that day and things went on as usual, or at least they did here.

That Monday, Miss Jones knew we’d be full of questions and she tried to answer them as best she could. Poem learning took a back seat to war talk.

She had newspaper pictures stuck on the big blackboard and she told us about the attack.

That afternoon, President Roosevelt talked to Congress. Mama had been wrong about one thing, though; war wasn’t coming, it was here. 

In the blink of an eye, things had changed. All of us were scared. 

For the next couple of weeks, that’s all anybody talked about, even the mailman. One afternoon, the mailman had a letter for Aunt Bess with a Greensboro postmark on it. 

It was from Sears, which regrettably explained the bicycle wouldn’t be  shipped because of the war and the Army needing it.

I was crushed. I didn’t need Miss Jones telling me that war had come to Lancaster and to me, for sure. 

Mama and Aunt Bess did their best to explain things to me, but I was hopping mad. I just figured no bicycle for Christmas and let it go at that.

Seems like folks werecareful that Christmas about buying bunches of stuff. Everything was mixed up, with the war and possibility that many would have to go off to the Army.

Somehow, school kept going on. Much to their credit, our teachers kept our minds on our studies. 

As the war came home, there were more and more schoolhouse meetings to tell folks what to do about rationing, as well as blackout drills, collecting scrap metal and ways for us to help with the war effort.

A lot of local boys were going off to the military services. I had a cousin join the Navy and another enlist in the Army. 

Soon, a lot of young daddies were leaving home. One afternoon we walked down to the depot as a special railway train was loading up servicemen and taking them to far-away training camps. Some of them never made it back.

For the next four years, we lived in a state of war. Stuff like that stays with you, even some 70 years later.

I’ve written about some of them previously, but sometimes, they bear repeating. We should never forget how we fought the enemy from the comfort of our own beds and classrooms.

Unfortunately, those experiences cannot be taught, they have to be lived. Don’t you remember when the price of gas didn’t matter?

Do you remember when your parents cut corners to have the right number of ration stamps for new tires that were out of the question because there were no tires to be had? It’s kinda like the Christmas bicycle you saved for but never got.

The next time you see a couple hundred tubes of toothpaste on the drug store shelves, recall when you had to turn in an empty tube to buy a new one. 

War was still h––l. Although we didn’t dare say that “H” word in public or print it in newspaper, we knew what it was.