By Erwin H. Lerner


I can recall with clarity a December afternoon when I was a cutesy featherweight first-grader, standing fifth in a class lineup from short to tall; fast on my feet and able to heave a basketball off a rattling metal backboard, through the hoop in Bronx Public School 91’s schoolyard.

The school bell sounded typically shrill. Most of my contemporaries brought lunch from home or lined up for pre-paid institutional feed, but four score and seven of us others bailed out fire engine red hardwood doors.

I toted a leatherette briefcase and wore my year-old maroon plaid mackinaw, brown corduroy knickers, green argyle socks, scuffed oxblood Thom McAn shoes, outsized mouton earmuffs, and a cheap copy of a New York Giants at-home baseball cap. Poised, I paused in an exit alcove and fingered four nickels and a dime, contributed by my mother to buy myself a bologna sandwich on a roll with potato salad and plenty of mustard, plus a small bottle of Mission orange soda.

Slyly, I calculated: If I go home and ask my mom to make me a can of Campbell’s tomato soup and peanut butter on white bread, then I could pitch pennies after school and win enough to buy the latest Superman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Green Hornet, and maybe a Classic Comics.

When I arrived in the apartment’s doorway, my mom was on her hands and knees, wearing rubberized gloves, a shmata house dress, and a ruined nylon stocking wrapped around medium-cropped, medium brown, medium-tight permanent waved hair. Immersed in applying a portion of Johnson’s wax on a section of well-scrubbed linoleum in a narrow foyer, somehow she was pacified by the static nasality of Vaughan Monroe’s Racing With the Moon, emanating from a console radio. She yelped: “Take off your wet shoes. What are you doing home? I gave you lunch money!”

Cloaked in innocence, I fibbed: “Ma, some bastard kid stole my mittens and money from my macinaw pocket in the wardrobe closet.” I heeled off my shoes in the hallway, hop-scotched inside to my right, and swiped a backhand left to close the apartment door. At that instant, the deep baritone of a radio announcer declared: “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you an emergency bulletin.” Followed by: “Senators and Representatives, I have the distinguished honor of presenting the President of the United States.”

A rare outburst of bipartisan applause, cheers, hoots and hollers preceded a dramatic moment of profound quietude, whereupon President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, radiating grim determination and confident patriotism, opened his time immemorial speech:

“Mister Vice President, Mister Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, yesterday, December seventh, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

I can hear Kate Smith and Bob Hope as if it were only last night: God Bless America; thanks for the memories.

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