A 7-year-old girl, Pearl Harbor Day and Zaidy’s watch

This isn’t the column I originally wrote for today. You can read that next week. Instead, I’m adding my story to Jerry Kasten’s great column of last week, the day before Pearl Harbor Day.
Dec. 7, 1941. Believe it or not, I remember it well. I was 7 years old, wearing a maroon taffeta dress, all fancied up because I was old enough to go to the special luncheon honoring my mother’s father for his service to the Knights of Pythias Lodge. I didn’t even know what a lodge was, but it was exciting to see Zaidy get a gold pocket watch with his name and the date engraved on the back.
A man gave a speech. Then Zaidy got up to read his thank-you when all hell broke loose outside. Everyone ran to the windows, and there were people screaming hysterically. The news had just broken: The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
It took quite a while before things quieted down, and when my Zaidy finally stood up again, he tore up his own speech, looked around the room and pointed to each of his five sons sitting there. “All of you will go,” he said. “And I hope all of you will come back.” And then he cried. I never saw my Zaidy cry before — or any time after.
Yes, they all enlisted — the very next day. But before they left home, they took the watch to the jeweler and had him add “Remember Pearl Harbor” to the engraving. Uncle Ben, Uncle Srol, Uncle Yos — all joined the Army, serving (in this order) in Africa, Italy and Belgium. Uncles Lou and Nate went into the Merchant Marine, and sailed to places I’d never heard of before. And, yes — they all came back.
When they did, my Boubby the Philosopher removed her Five-Star banner from the front window, and her sons pooled their money to buy a really big house for their really big family. We’ve looked up the sale: three floors — seven bedrooms — very large living room, dining room, kitchen: $4,100 in 1945. The family’s first dinner there was on Thanksgiving Day that year. Imagine what a Thanksgiving that was.
Maybe I’ve told some of you all of this in the past. Maybe I’ve even shown you the watch — because I have it. After Zaidy and Boubby passed away, after Uncles Ben and Yos and Nate and Lou had joined them, Uncle Srol, the only son left, gave it to me — the oldest child of the oldest child in that family of 12 children: my mother.
Uncle Srol (Yiddish shorthand for his Hebrew name, Yisroel) is now 96, a proud World War II veteran. And healthy. He still drives — but not at night. He still works — but it’s his own business, so he can do as he pleases. And he still lives in that big house, all by himself, so that anyone in the family who comes “home” to visit has a place to stay.
And I wear the watch now, on a gold chain, on every patriotic occasion, and tell its story to everyone I can. I speak about it to groups, and when individuals notice and comment on it, I tell them, too. So maybe you’ve seen it and heard about it already. But if not, look for me whenever there’s a day to show the flag; I’ll be showing the watch as well. Keep an eye out for it.
But now: Do the math. I was 7 years old on the real Pearl Harbor Day, so I wonder today about what to do with the watch when it’s my time to join that crowd somewhere other than where I am now. Who should get it? My daughter Devra and my first cousin David are both my Zaidy Dave’s namesakes. (But of course, a girl would wear it on a chain…)
Jerry: Keep on keeping on, with my heartfelt thanks to you.

Leave a Reply