Pages from a Book of Years (Part Two)

Article excerpt

Part Two

I

America First or Lend-Lease. 1941. The Christmas holidays at last and New Year's Eve.

How to measure now and then and now again and in the mind

or then as now for all of them in kin & kind. And how conceive.

How to parse out features in a body of the past that took its measures...

Among the old prescriptions, bottles, and bandaids, Married Love (of 1936) moulders in a cabinet. Illustrated in a modest way for the fastidious, it's clear enough: and you yourself the end of all instruction and a digit added to the census come September. They'd listen to a fireside chat like everybody else. They'd sit beside their radio and smoke their Lucky Strikes. No Third Term they'd chanted with their friends. They're quiet now

listening to a man before the network microphones adjusting his pince-nez. He speaks the words Great Arsenal. He tries out fear: Spies already walk the streets of Washington. He says you cannot reason with incendiary bombs, and looks into the eyes of Carole Lombard sitting there with twenty others who have jammed into the little room to hear this live. Your father stands, walks out to the kitchen porch and looks up at the sky trying to imagine what it's like in London. Your mother's thinking of that night they danced to Jimmy Dorsey's band.

Or Paul Whiteman. Maybe Guy Lombardo, called by Down Beat magazine the King of Com. In the photograph you turn up in the desk, they stand beside their old De Soto parked beside the northeast corner of the house. First car. First house.

First war to be entirely theirs. The last was for the eldest not the younger sons. For Edward, say, who sits alone in darkness

in a corner of the old Glen Echo house unvisited. Doughboy with the Spanish flu, then encephalitis, he'd dance

to Guy Lombardo if he could but he can barely stand; his walk's a kind of shuffle when he walks.

Named for his father who had ridden San Juan Hill with Teddy R, the name came down on you

like some genetic ton of bricks: johnEdward. Edward. Edward Edward Edward...

But then you're not a part of all this yet. It's only New Year's Eve. Great Arsenal is still a phrase and not a thousand tanks, not a bill before the house, not a wound to Charles Lindbergh, hero isolationist, who'd flown so far it seemed so long ago.

II

They'd listen to Jack Benny once a week. Brought to you by Jell-O. They'd go out to the films: Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan chased John Brown to Harpers Ferry; Abbot got so angry that he made Costello cry. Rosebud someone told them was the codename for a German agent, not what William Randolph Hearst had called his mistress's

obscene that word if you can think of it Louella Parsons Hedda Hopper said and recommended censorship

in time of war a cenogenesis for every member cenobitical

eventually a cenotaph erected in your own back yard with every name

you'd carve on every tall Glen Echo oak in stone

Rosebud? Tricycle in fact.

Turned by MI5 to double on the Lisbon Abwehr, Dusko Popov brought his microdot to Hoover at the FBI who didn't get the import of the drawings questions diagrams regarding ammunition dumps the hangars installations on the waft the workshops dry docks airfields naval opperations in Hawaii. After Benny, newsman Walter Winchell trashed the glowering boy the sullen tot of history the corn-fed Spengler stalking through the family dining room with clouded brow a darkling child at our feast. Your mother thought he should be president; your father thought he should be shot. He flew so far it seemed so long ago.

This year Scott Fitzgerald died and Henri Bergson Kaiser Wilhelm Joyce Virginia Woolf and Robert Baden-Powell the founder of the Boy Scouts. Sherwood Anderson Tagore and Robert Bridges also on the list with Lou Gehrig and the voice of Earle Graser known to every child as The Lone Ranger. …

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