by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
December 5, 2001
I REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- I remember Pearl Harbor. That was the day I went from hopscotch to knitting needles. Yes, I once knit a scarf for the boys in Greenland. Oops! I'm not supposed to mention they're in Greenland.
We knew because we were wise to the ways of brother Bill's codes in
a V-mail letter, that conservative little photograph of notes from overseas miniaturized and folded over to conserve paper and envelopes. All mail to servicemen overseas went APO, Army Post Office, destination unknown - at least to us at home.
Bill wrote asking how Dan Verdi was doing. Verdi means green in Italian and Dan was the iceman, delivering a cubic foot of ice every other day.
Why would Bill ask about Dan, who was a fixture in the neighborhood?
Let's see now. Dan? Ice? Green? Iceland? No, Greenland! Get it? Greenland. And we would tell our friends he was safe and we felt so clever. Not for long, though, because more and more V-mails arrived with a censor's blackened-out words. The letters still went APO but where Bill was remained a mystery.
In those early days following December 7, 1941, we occupied ourselves with "doing something, anything" to help the war effort. I was 10 years old, eager to help, easily defeated. My knitting was so shabby, my chore at home became no more than taping fluorescent strips around the light fixtures and doorknobs.
This didn't seem like much as I labored by day, but at night and in the dark, that incandescent greenish white piping filled me with pride. During a "blackout," the glowing border to knob and switch was a distinct advantage in locating the bathroom door or turning the lights back on when the all clear sounded.
When sirens announced a blackout, Mama hurriedly hopped on a chair in the kitchen and tacked a blanket over the window. We would sit in the darkened room and wait. There was no reason not to talk but we were quiet anyway. There were no lights. Blackouts were taken seriously and blankets covering the windows would hide the glow of Papa's cigarette or the faint light on the dial of the radio - which just might draw a kamikaze pilot to us as surely as a moth to the flame ... notwithstanding a continent and an ocean between us.
"Should we blow out the pilot light?" one of us would ask.
"If it's a long blackout, we'd be dead by morning, stupid." came the superior sister's voice.
Today we smile and say, "Have a nice day." In 1941, we somberly looked at each other and said, "Remember Pearl Harbor." We didn't know what to say. The war effort was something we had never seen before and not until recently since. And it never ended.
From my feeble attempts at knitting a scarf, to my five brothers responding to the call, we made an effort. Kids collected cans, not to be recycled into other cans but to be turned into bombs. Women mended their silk stockings because they wouldn't see new ones again until the war ended. Silk made parachutes and if their stockings looked really scarred with stitches up and down, they'd laugh and say: "Don't you know there's a war on?"
I was seeing all this through the eyes of a 10-year-old and it's that age my mind's eye takes me now. I see the Victory Garden we planted in the backyard with its three rows planted with care by Mama who was raised on a farm in Canada.
Here, in this six-foot square of soil, a hint of the sun lingering a few moments each day at noon, it was an ambitious project. We had three tomato plants, a row of carrots, a row of celery and a row of radishes. Too bad for the radishes; I was toe-to-toe with the line of them each morning and after the first week, I'd bend down and gingerly pluck one from its safe haven just to see if it grew overnight.
Our six-foot plot had the ground beneath it but just as many victory gardens were roof top and what was once laughingly called "tar beach" became "the farm." The more food we grew for our needs at home, the more supplies could be shipped to our troops around the world.
Everyone has his own memories of those war days. When I focus on the evenings, I see Mama and my sister Genevieve at the kitchen table listening to the radio, sipping tea, hearing George Hicks bring the war from the European front, absent-mindedly shuffling cards or reading Ernie Pyle's latest column from the Pacific Theater of the war.
If I hadn't lived through these times of serious concerns, conservation, total dependence upon ourselves, I wouldn't believe it was ever so.
The years since have been filled with excess consumerism, dependence upon others to do what needs to be done so we can do what we want to do, smart machines to lighten the work so we don't have to do it. Except for the occasional gas war or mild recession, the economy during the years following World War II has been booming.
Yet, I remember a popular song in 1941 was "We did it before and we can do it again." And so I could. I can grow tomatoes, I can grow carrots, I can grow lettuce ... well, let's not take it to radishes. I have a shaky confidence in my ability to resist "just a peak." I gre win that time and when Pearl Harbor was bombed the day after my 10th birthday, I knew I would never forget the moment.
How can I see myself so clearly at 10, and now as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of that horrible event realize (Holy Longevity!) I'm turning 70?
Do I remember Pearl Harbor? I not only remember Pearl Harbor but all the re-enactments in between each December 7th. Of course I remember Pearl Harbor. How could I forget? It was a time of war; it was the time of my life.