April 12th started out like any other day in the week.
Mom awakened me at the usual time for school. I slid down the wood floor in the hall to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, washed my face, untangled my hair, and pushed in a barrette to match my outfit for the day. I made my bed and straightened my room (that was a must under pain of death). I headed down the stairs two at a time through the dining room into the kitchen. Mom probably had either toast with her preserves or cereal, milk, and fruit. That finished, I was out the door for my 30-yard walk across the playground to school.
The school day always began with the pledge of allegiance. First instruction was catechism, then reading, penmanship, and arithmetic. We were dismissed at 11:45 for lunch. Almost all the class walked home. There were a few from the country club area who packed. They ate their lunches at their desks and then were allowed to play on the playground. I always tried to get back early to play.
On this particular day, my lunch was waiting for me. Mom was dressed to go shopping downtown. Judy, my little sister, had morning kindergarten and was going with her. They were riding the streetcar. Dad had our car for work. Even if the car was available, Mom probably wouldn’t have driven it because of the gas rations. I was told they wouldn’t be home when I was dismissed from school. I was to come home alone, change to play clothes, and stay in until they returned. That was fine with me. I could listen to my favorite series, “Hap Harrigan” and “Green Hornet.” I also would have free, unsupervised run of the kitchen. Mom kept a hidden stash of treats for her, and I knew where they were.
I turned on the radio, settled back on the couch, stack of treats in hand. My program was interrupted with a special announcement. President Franklin Roosevelt had died at 1:00 PM at his retreat, called the Little White House, in Warm Springs, Georgia. It was where the president could sit in the hot springs and ease the pain that he suffered from the after effects of polio that left him wheelchair-bound. He died of a massive brain hemorrhage.
When I comprehended what had happened, I ran out our back door to tell some workmen that were building a porch on our house. They didn’t believe me. They said I didn’t know what I was talking about.
A few moments later, Mom struggled up the back alley. She had Judy by the hand. You could hear her sobbing. Poor little Judy looked so scared.
I asked Judy recently if she remembered anything about the episode. She said she did.
She told me they were walking along the sidewalk in town between stores. A commotion started about a block behind them. The sounds came closer and closer until it caught up with them. People were crying up and down the street as the news of the Presidents’ death hit like a tidal wave. Mom and Judy got on the streetcar for home. The car was filled with sad, emotional people mourning their beloved leader.
The country was in mourning. Our personal losses were very painful from the war. Now our leader was gone. Somehow I think we the children felt the seriousness of the times even though we didn’t understand it.
God bless America.