Pearl Harbor! PEARL HARBOR!
Packed with fear and sorrow, these two words resound through my earliest memories. Blackouts instilled a fear of the dark in children. Talk of war and bombs made everyone flinch at the slightest unfamiliar noise. Family members went away, then came back injured and afflicted. A great many never came back. Parents and brothers and sisters mourned.
Massive loss of ships and repair facilities at Pearl Harbor, followed by a declaration of war, caused somber rethinking about distribution of ship building ports and repair yards. Thus, a serious need for excellent welders and metal workers brought several families of my clan to Eureka. My math genius father grew up knowing how to make things of metal. He drew endless weld “beads” in lines straight and true, and often reminded us that a sheet of metal would break before his welded seams broke or leaked.
The stage is set.
We know it is wartime, but we will talk no more of war or ships. Instead, we will consider people who neither make war nor fight in it, but are affected by it all the same.
* * * * *
During wartime blackout,
Mother gripped the steering wheel and stared through a streaked windshield into foggy darkness. Tiny droplets, suspended in the coastal air, reflected light back toward the car. She laughed. A kind of nervous chuckle. Auburn curls bounced when she turned her head toward me. Almost unperceptively, she shook her shoulders and stiffened her backbone.
“Don’t tell me you’re scared. No daughter of mine who’s almost three could possibly be scared!”
Her clear blue gaze pierced my fear.
“Get ready. We’re going on an adventure!”
A somber child, I had my father’s pallid coloring with dark hair and hazel eyes. I stood at the center of the bench car seat between Mother and my teenage cousin Goldie who were close friends and very nearly the same age. Should Mother hit the brakes, Goldie was prepared to fling her left arm across my mid-section to block my fall.
The single dashlight turned my pink dress a mud color. My bare legs, shoes and socks were tinted a sickly yellow. A sallow reflection in the split windshield showed the midsections of my companions.
Mother put the car in gear and directed her attention into the darkness beyond.
The car proceeded downhill at a crawl.
She leveraged herself up higher to lean farther forward over the steering wheel. Under a slight frown, she peered through the windshield. “Between this damned blackout and the fog, I can’t see a thing. How are we going to stay on the road?”
“I don’t know, Bon, maybe I should get out and walk alongside.”
The two young women rolled down their side windows and peered into the dark. The car filled with sea air scented with fresh caught fish and a residue of diesel exhaust. Darkness and fog could not constrain a spell of conspiracy against nature and war. They looked at each other and laughed. More hearty and braver than before.
“We’ve got to find a way to get through these blackouts or else we’ll be stuck at home forever. Crack open your door, Goldie. You watch for the edge of the road and I’ll look for the white line.”
The car crept downhill at a snail’s pace. With her right foot, Mother tapped the brake pedal. Goldie’s arm slammed against my stomach and pushed me tight against the back of the seat. At this declaration of their control over destiny, they laughed.
And so it went as the car crept downhill. Mother and Goldie talked and laughed their way through the foggy blackout. Often recalled when I drive at night in dense coastal fog, this memory has remained vivid for seventy-some years. At times I have wondered where we were going and from whence we came. But, I never asked, so I will never know.
This short vignette is the complete memory jogged to the fore by national politicians too young to have expierienced the horrors of war carelessly contemplating the possibility of lobbing bombs at people in far away places.
* * * * *