For the life of me, I cannot remember the move we made in December, 1943, from New York City to New London, Connecticut. I've tried, but the place where that memory should be is as empty as a rain barrel after a 12-year drought.
One minute, I'm in New York and the next, I'm in New London.
It's like a "Twilight Zone" episode in which you suddenly find yourself in a new and strange environment.
And, strange it was for a kid from New York City. Lines of two-family Victorians stood on streets cut into the side of a hill that paralleled the Thames River, a mile away. The cellars of the houses on the high side of each street stood even with the roofs of the houses on the low side.
Worn, slate sidewalks ran along streets lined with hundred foot elms, but unlike the sidewalks I was used to seeing, they were empty of people except for occasional stragglers bundled up against the bleak New England winter.
Frowning through the living room windows of my strange new home, I watched some kids playing touch football on the next street down the hill from ours, just visible through an empty lot next to a mom-and-pop grocery across the street.
Below that stood a sea of roofs, each row of them lower than the one above it.
Beyond the roofs I could make out a frozen pond and a railroad track, on which coal burning engines chuffed out smoke, as they hauled long lines of freight cars.
Half a mile beyond that flowed the blue waters of the Thames, broken now and then by the white wake and slim gray shape of a submarine making its way out to the war in the Atlantic or returning home to base.
Stranger yet was what I ran into when--after several days of nonstop prodding by my mother -- I finally ventured outside the house, across the street, and down a set of wooden stairs to the football game I had been watching on and off.
I had been dreaming of this day, ever since I found I was moving. They were not happy dreams, believe me.
In New York City, you see, moving to a new neighborhood was a nasty experience. In the old neighborhood everyone knew exactly who could beat up who.
It was a settled issue, determined by years of scrapping--and that included fighting your way to and from school each day. The result was a sort of armed truce.
Unless you did something stupid, you would have no more than -- oh-h-h -- three or four fistfights a week.
But, moving to a new neighborhood? Oh, me! That meant fighting every danged kid that was even close to your own size, and not just once, but five or six times.
Because we had just moved the year before, I had just lived through eighteen months of that. Here I was, right back in the middle of it again because of our move to Connecticut.
Expecting the worst, I stood off to one side of the touch football game until someone noticed me and stuck me on one of the teams.
So far, so good. I ran around with the rest of the noisy, happy kids, content to have missed my official introduction into the neighborhood, but certain it was coming when the game ended.
To my unmitigated joy, something intervened to spare me. An argument cropped up about some play or other, with everyone, even the kids on his own side, telling some kid he'd been tagged.
He was not a big kid, in fact, he was short and spoiled-looking. I was surprised he kept arguing as I stayed quiet and waited for someone to belt him and get it over with.
Then the danged fool escalated things by snatching up the football, which was his, and saying he was taking it home.
I cringed! I actually felt sorry for the poor kid.
There were more than ten guys there. I thought he was going to get the hammering of his life, but to my profound amazement he was allowed to just walk off. And so did everybody else. Even me! I was thrilled! No fight!
The next day, however, was a school day. I got dragged off to Nathan Hale, an all-seventh-grade junior high and enrolled by my mother.
Taking one despairing look around, I concluded that I was one dead ex-New York City kid. I was wearing knickers, which was normal for New York kids in those days, but I was the only boy in the whole school wearing them.
Talk about being a marked man!
Recess. I moped around in the school yard in my red corduroy knickers, awaiting the inevitable fight and just hoping they would let me take them on one at a time. But I got a reprieve. Two kids got into an argument and began yelling at each other, drawing attention away from me.
"Oh, yeah?" one of the kids yelled.
"Oh, yeah?" the first kid yelled again.
Let me interject a comment here. In New York City you could answer "Yeah!" to an "Oh, yeah?" just once. If you did it a second time you had better be ducking or swinging as you said it.
I listened as the second kid answered "Yeah!" again, but nothing happened.
Not a thing! In fact, they went back and forth with that "Oh, yeah?--Yeah!" thing until recess ended. Then they just walked away from each other.
I could not believe my eyes. I absolutely could not believe my eyes! It took me a while--a couple of weeks, in fact--but I finally caught on.
Unlike the city kids I had known all my life, these more-or-less-country kids weren't interested in fighting all the time. They had other things to do.
Oh, sure, everyone had a fistfight once in a while, including me, but then that's life.
So I learned what the "other things" were, did them, lived happily ever after, and here I am--as far as I can get from New York City without having to be in California--bu