The picture shows me at 4 years old patrolling busy 2nd Street. It seems that I could go anywhere in town, with or without an adult, between ages 5 and 10; but my mother’s one admonition always rang in my ears, “Don’t go near the river!” It’s as if she thought she’d lose the body if I were drowned. Yet, all the other dangerous situations that I got into could easily have cost me my life. Indeed, about that time, I lost a childhood friend, Jimmy Mallory, who was run over as he darted between parked cars on Camanche Avenue. Eerily, ten years later, a high schooler living in Jimmy’s old house, Dick Delacy, drowned while swimming out in DeWitt. It happened right after he’d delivered the Declaration of Independence -- in my place -- because I had a baseball game. The way that fate changes lives is a powerful force.
However, in 1942, patriotic Rosy the Riveter had nothing on me! I fought the Second World War from my station on South 2nd Street, in front of The Revere. It was 1942, and my comrades-in-arms were youngsters Ronnie Cronacher, and Junior Iverson; and grown-ups Les Campe, the shoe repairman; Grocers Heinie and Obie Sino; Curly Pollastrini, Father Horton from St. John’s; and, of course, Pete Rastrelli. My tricycle and I patrolled the block surrounding our house on Fourth Avenue, where a small three-starred flag adorning the front window proclaimed to all passers-by that my older brothers (Gene, Jim, and Dick Herrity) really were on the front lines defending our country.
As wartime movies show, public emotions ran high and none of us could do enough to support the troops. Those war movies were liberally-laced with Allied propaganda too, but no one minded. The USO canteens across the country were packed with service-people who received an “R and R” pass. At least two movies, “Hollywood Canteen” and “Stage Door Canteen,” (recently on TCM), depict that life and times, complete with big-time dance bands and celebrity-servers. Betty Davis, Catherine Hepburn, Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie, Joe E. Brown and hundreds of others gave cameo performances in those movies.
Telegrams and cablegrams then came almost as often as today’s e-mails, yet most people dreaded getting one for fear that it was some awful news. Everyone had ration stamps for food and gasoline, and all felt a need to do their part toward the war effort; some salvaging old newspapers, some saving tinfoil or other commodities. Even little kids were encouraged to buy War Bonds, and there isn’t a person over 65 who won’t remember kneading a bag of lard with a red-colored dot in the middle, to make a spread that vaguely resembled butter. It was the first margarine, but it was not low-fat as some are today.
Deep in the farthest recesses of my mind do I remember these things and their companion shadows…. a stool in the corner, and the ice box in that first kitchen. (How far back can you recall, and what are the first fuzzy shapes that you see in your mind’s eye?)
Later, my parents made a decision to move to the Courts. It was 1944, and we moved into a Tudor-style house at 618 Kenilworth Court. Why did we do that in the middle of the war? It really wasn’t our type of house. -- Perhaps it was a need to get away from the many memories on 4th Avenue So. The poor yet warm thoughts of depression days, when families necessarily huddled as close together as possible, had given way to a colder more desolate time, a time when families were forced apart, split by war.
Wartime movie theaters were packed, showing mainly nostalgic tear-jerkers that tore people’s hearts to their very souls. Their nerves were raw, and the movies gave both release and reinforcement to the ever-present feelings of courage and patriotism that engulfed America. Maybe you recall “Since You Went Away” with Claudette Colburn, Joseph Cotton, Jennifer Jones, Robert Walker, a teen-age Shirley Temple, and the ever-present Monty Wooley. It was a simple script, loosely based upon the war and servicemen leaving their love ones to go off and fight. The unspoken yet overpowering question was, “would they ever return?”
In the 1930’s, significant others had appeared to me to be around all the time, but then in the early 40’s that changed, and it seemed suddenly that no one was ever there at all. At five years old, I could feel the emptiness that enveloped the “new house” on Kenilworth Court like a pall. If it hadn’t been for the few children like Doctor Nelken’s girls, or Ron Ferris up the street, it would have been unbearable. Across the street, too, lived Mike Brough (pronounced Bruff), who stood out like a sore thumb. There weren’t many young men in their early twenties around then, only high school boys like the Waltons, who played Santa; Dean Burridge, and a few older men like Morgan Sexton next-door, who ran KROS. Mike Brough was an unusual fellow for me to get to know. He was frail and kind. He studied a lot and wore glasses. He, too, finally went to war and he never came back. Years later, his classmates hunted for him for a reunion, not knowing that he had been killed in the war.
These were lonely, cold days, but we learned to play alone or search out friends. However, in a very short time life came back to America and people returned. It was almost like the War had never happened. 1946 was upon us before we knew what happened, and we moved again, up to the hill near St. Mary’s so dad wouldn’t have to haul us around in the car, and life went on.