Today is Pearl Harbor Day. The sneak attack was 72 years ago and killed 2400 Americans in a bombing that sank the battleship Arizona. I was a little over a year old at the time. The news stories today reminded me of my encounter with the father of a sailor who died in the attack.
When I was eleven years old, my family was living in a tiny town in Minnesota called Dovray. My dad was the contractor on a Norwegian Lutheran church being built in that farming community of 100 people. The town was really behind the times in 1950. My younger siblings all went to school in the one-room school house down the hill. (I've often felt envy that they had that experience while I had to make a one-hour long bus ride over to Westbrook for 7th grade.)
There was a general store called Smestad's Mercantile a block away. I was sophisticated enough that I knew how old-fashioned the store was compared to other places we had lived. It was just like the general stores I saw in old cowboy movies. On one side of the store the old man and his wife sold "dry goods" like flannel shirts and four-buckle overshoes. On the other side they sold groceries from a counter just inside the door.
There were open cardboard boxes of cookies and sheets of saltine crackers standing by the counter. The customer could take a brown paper bag and fill the bag to be weighed and priced. With no air conditioning and sealed packaging, the cookies and crackers were often stale. I don't remember if I was in Smestad's for cookies that day but I remember standing by the counter as he told me that his boy had been at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed.
He was terribly sad and I was very confused. I'm not at all sure that I responded appropriately. Being a kid, with the off-kilter sense of time kids have, ten years seemed so very long ago that I wondered why he was talking about it.
Now that I am 73, I realize how very recent his loss was and how much he was still hurting from that dreadful day.
Elephants, Part 2
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