Little Egypt Heritage Articles
© Bill Oliver
9 December 2007
Vol 6 Issue: #47
O’siyo, Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen of Little Egypt,
7 December 1941 – Last Friday was December 7th – the day that was to be
"the remembrance of the ‘Day that shall live in Infamy'." Those who are
living and were old enough to understand the significance of this day
are getting fewer and fewer. My own memory of this day is still quite
vivid. As I have mentioned before in these articles, I was sitting on a
hill in Bermuda looking out over the harbour at Hamilton observing a
German mother ship tending to submarines. As military dependants, we US
Citizens were evacuated from the Island on the first of January 1942. We
were put on a luxury liner flying the British flag. We had quite an
escort all the way to the New York harbor – US Navy cruisers and
destroyers and as I was told, German submarines. I do remember seeing
periscopes out beyond the escorts. The three countries known as the Axis
are now our allies and that affects the ‘remembrance' of those who did
not live at the time.
The Second World War began that day for the United States. The attack on
Pearl Harbor were regarded as a dastardly "surprise attack" and an act
of "infamy". During the months and years to follow, every effort was
made to keep its memory bright. Posters, popular songs and other media
were staples of wartime popular culture, and regular memorial services
were held to commemorate the dead. Flags that had flown at the Capitol
and White House on 7 December 1941 were raised over fallen enemy capital
cities. The citizens of this country made many sacrifices to concentrate
all attention on the war effort. All this has nearly faded from the
consciousness of the nation and all the pictures in the various papers
show mostly ‘senior citizens'.
In remembering that return trip from Bermuda to New York a few memories
stand out. Paramount was the fact that due to the crowded situation of
many families being evacuated from foreign soil, we in Bermuda were the
last to be picked up. The ship was crowded and due to this, men and
women were separated, so that more people could be accommodated. My
sister, Skip, and Mom were in one cabin and I was placed in another. Mom
was not much of a sailor as she became sea sick easily. Thus, it became
my responsibility to take Skip out on deck and ‘air us'. Skip was a
‘tom-boy', she had absolutely no fear of anything. She loved to hang out
through the ‘railings' and watch the ocean waters. She was outfitted
with a harness and strap. She must have trusted not only her sense of
balance but my ability to pull her back in case she leaned too far out
over the side for with much glee she bounced around on deck and leaned
out between the cables that formed a ‘railing'. Me, I was scared to
death that she would fall and I'd not be able to hang onto the ‘leash'
or that it would break. To this day she yet thinks it is/was hilarious.
There is ‘justice' in this world though. Skip has never been able to
face a ‘needle' without passing out. I take great delight in her anxiety
when I know that some inoculation needs doing.
This past week we were remembering these and many other things that
siblings do when they get together after long periods of absence. The
occasion was a visit to celebrate the ninety seventh birthday of our
Mother's oldest sister. Dad always teased this Aunt because he was
seventeen days older than she. Each birthday he would call her and by
phone congratulate her on catching up with him in age.
It is wonderful to see a person of this age smile and laugh as they
remember incidents in their life. There were five girls in Mom's family.
Our Aunt told of the dance halls they frequented and how they each had
to chaperone each other. Sometimes due to the shortage of male dance
partners, the sisters would dance with each other. Our Aunt smiled
broadly at remembering that she ‘led' and that was had to remember when
she did dance with a ‘boy'.
When four of the sisters lived in New York State [near Albany] the road
that they lived on was quite a hill from the main road and the girls
would sled down it frequently. One time the youngest sister, who was but
three or four, and her playmate were sledding down the street when at
the bottom a log wagon with two teams was bringing a load to the saw
mill. Grandma standing at the top watched with parental fear as the two
forces came together. Somehow the sled with children aboard slid beneath
the huge hooves of those huge horses. The children thought that this was
just great; however, Grandma didn't.
Our Aunt says that she was the quiet, serious one of the sisters. Well,
she was the oldest. Our Mother and the other sisters were quite the
opposite – a bit of daring and stubbornness in each of them. I well
remember the middle sister casting a ‘dare you' eye at any who might
‘cross' her. Once she was cast as a butterfly in a school play. The look
in her eye said, "not a word from you!" She was the sailor in the family
and any pictures taken of her about sailboats exhibited the greatest
smiles. The fourth sister was the dare-devil, always into some adventure
or other – she rode the sled between the legs of those horses. Our Mom
was the coquette. Mom wore a curl in the middle of her forehead when she
was in high school. She was teased that when "she was good, she was
very, very good, but when she was ‘bad' she was horrid". Though Skip and
I seldom saw it, we knew Mom had a temper. There were a couple of times
that she let our Dad know it.
Grandma was one of and the eldest of eight sisters and there was but one
brother in her family. You can imagine how that brother was dotted upon.
Her family would giggle and laugh at least every other sentence. I have
never known folk to laugh more. One of the granddaughters of this Uncle
left a note at her passing which said in effect, "Don't cry for me,
Laugh remembering the good times!" Great Aunt Nell, when she introduced
her sister and herself to our youngest daughter said, "This is Myrtle
and you can call me Turtle", and giggled. I suspect that this is where I
got my silliness with words. Whenever this side of the family got
together, there were side-aches from laughing so much.
Our Aunt was laughing like this during our visit. We hope her birthday
this week brings her many more laughs.
e-la-Di-e-das-Di ha-WI NV-WA-do-hi-ya NV-WA-to-hi-ya-da.
(May you walk in peace and harmony)
"Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our
lives ..." Alexander McCall Smith, Dream Angus
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