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Friday, August 28, 2015

MY FAVORITE TEACHER WAS MR. B. FLOYD RINKER. (1)

Introduction:  Aura Kruger was one of my classmates at Newton High School's class of 1939.  A few years ago she asked if I would be willing to edit a memoir she was writing. She didn’t rely on letters and journal entries as I did but used her photographic memory to record events exactly as they took place.  Visitors to this blog, prepare to be amazed. Note Aura's facility in recalling the first and last names of people she encountered, sometimes only briefly, during her long life.
October 30, 2012
      When I agreed to edit Aura's memoir, I had no idea how many months it would take and how fascinated I would become with this pint-sized teacher’s life.  She recently sent me a newspaper’s 2-page spread describing her incredible past, with her face beaming from the front page. 

                       “I Only Want a Buddy Not a Sweetheart”
“How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach...”

- from Sonnet XLIII in Sonnets from the Portuguese:  A Celebration of Love, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, published in 1850

It was the fall of 1936 and I had turned fourteen less than two months earlier.  As I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, I thought about my mixed feelings regarding starting high school that day.  Tenth grade!  I loved the sense of being all grown up and ready for this wonderful new world.  I’d enjoyed almost every moment of school from my first day of kindergarten, and I was confident my sophomore year would be terrific.  I couldn’t wait to meet my teachers and open my new textbooks.  I looked forward to exploring every page to see what I’d be learning that year and knew that by the end of the year I’d see each of my books as an old friend.
On the other hand, based on the difficulties I’d had with the transition from grammar school to junior high, I was intimidated, scared I wouldn’t know anybody.  In grammar school, I’d been with the same twenty-five students ever since we moved to Newton eight years earlier.  I knew every classmate, where they lived, who their parents were, even the names of their pets and siblings.  Junior High had been bigger and it took me a while, but by the time I’d been there three years, I felt as if I knew most of my fellow students.  But Newton High School was different, a regional school with five junior high-schools feeding into it and over a thousand students in my grade.  I was scared I'd end up not knowing anyone in my classes and, given my shyness, never make new friends.
It wasn’t long, however, before my innate optimism took hold and I stopped bouncing back and forth between enthusiastic anticipation and nervous apprehension.  I jumped out of bed and dressed in the clothes I’d selected the evening before, a skirt and sweater, bobby socks, and saddle shoes.  I hardly heard a word anyone said over breakfast, and the moment I finished eating, I rushed outside, almost running the two blocks to Commonwealth Avenue to wait for the school bus.
I’d seen it go by in the past, filled with high school students looking sophisticated and experienced.  Now that I was going to be one of them, I could hardly contain my excitement. The bus came into view and as it came closer, I saw that it wasn’t going to stop.  I waved frantically at the driver until he finally slowed down to pick me up.  As I climbed the steps, he said, “Sorry, I thought you were waiting for the junior high bus.”  How could he say that?  Wasn’t it obvious by looking at me that I was ready for high school?  Not really.  At only four feet ten inches tall, I was doomed to be mistaken for a child for many years to come.
Not letting the driver’s error get me down, I kept telling myself I was ready for high school, that my first week would be great.  And it was.  There were, however, two moments I found disconcerting.  The first occurred when I walked into the cafeteria and saw a huge, dark cavern of a room instead of the bright, cheerful lunchroom I’d known in junior high.  I was overwhelmed by the rushing crowd with everybody pushing and shoving in lines, getting food, finding a table, and cramming down lunch – all in the meager twenty-five minutes allowed between classes.  It was organized chaos, and I felt lost.
On the second day of classes, I got completely disoriented and was late to class as a result.  I was accustomed to the single building of my junior high, and the four separate buildings of high school were a maze to me.  I had just finished PE in Building Three and had to get to math in Building One.  I walked out the door expecting to see it across the street, but instead found myself by the football stadium.  After a moment of panic, I realized I must have come out the wrong door.  I started to run around a corner, hoping I was headed in the right direction.  Desperately wanting to arrive before the late bell rang, I ran so fast that if one of the gym teachers had spotted me, she would have suggested I join the track team.  When I burst out onto the street, not a soul was in sight.  
Continuing to run as fast as I could, I crossed the street to Building One and dashed up the stairs to where I thought my math room was.  Wrong again!  Due to some architectural quirk, the library and two classrooms could only be reached by one specific flight of stairs.  I had run up a different flight.  Turning to retrace my steps, I heard the last bell ring.  I was late and knew this required going to the office for a late slip.  It was the second day of school and already I was in trouble.  Fortunately, the secretary was accustomed to sophomores getting lost the first week of school.  She gave me a smile and an excused tardy slip, and I smiled back, grateful for her understanding.
As I went to my classes that first week, I ran into several students from my elementary and junior high schools, but none of them shared my schedule.  As a result, there was nobody I knew with whom I could walk companionably between classes. This made the passing periods a lonely time.  I’d look enviously at fellow students chatting  and making plans for later in the day, regretting that my shyness prevented me from finding new friends with whom I could do the same.
At least I knew a few people in most of my classes, and that made it easier.  The one exception was my single elective, speech, where I didn’t know a soul.  While that might have bothered me in my other courses, I wasn’t concerned because I loved anything to do with drama.  I’d been involved in theater ever since my mother taught me to memorize poetry before I could read.  I didn’t discover until later that the subject entailed speech writing and public speaking, not dramatics.  By the time I figured it out, however, I already loved the class and wouldn’t have given it up for anything.
My parents had drummed into me the importance of speaking clearly and concisely from the day I said my first word.  If my logic wasn’t clear as I tried to make a point, my father would tell me to think a moment and start over.  By the time I reached high school, developing arguments and writing speeches was second nature to me.
It was clear early on that I was one of the top students in speech class.  No matter how good I was, however, there was another student who outdid me.  His name was Leon Kruger, and although we moved in different circles, I knew who he was.  He hung out with the popular kids, was handsome and flirtatious with the girls, while I was too self-conscious to do the same with boys. 
One day in speech class, Leon chose to give a talk on reproduction and embryos and didn’t seem the least embarrassed.  Everyone else was.  We stared down at our desks, unable to look at him while he lectured on this delicate topic.  I would have died if I’d had to speak about such a personal matter, yet he did so willingly, acting as if it were the easiest thing in the world.  I longed to be free of my shyness, but the only time I could forget about it was when I was on stage, either acting or dancing.  It didn’t have to be a formal production for me to lose my inhibitions; any performance setting would do, ranging from the classroom to the dance floor.  Perhaps that’s why I so looked forward to my first high school dance.
It was scheduled about six weeks into the school year and every sophomore was invited to go to the gym after the last period.  All day long I’d been thinking of my favorite songs from the big bands, eager for the opportunity to step onto the dance floor.  At the same time, however, I was nervous, afraid nobody would ask me to dance and I’d be on the sidelines, watching everyone else have a good time.
Shirley Green and I had agreed to meet beforehand and go together.  Sharing my first high school dance with a friend from junior high made it a little less intimidating.  While I was standing by her classroom door waiting for her, Johnny Gahan came out and seeing me, stopped and offered his hand for me to shake.  I’d had a crush on Johnny the year before, but he’d tormented me with his constant teasing, pulling my hair, knocking my books off my desk.  I thought he was being mean, but my parents and friends told me that’s how junior high school boys behave when they like a girl.  Once I understood that, I began to like him back.
Then he ruined everything one day by calling me a “kike.”  Everyone knew that was the worst thing you could say to a Jew and it sliced through me like a knife.  As much as I wanted to take Johnny’s hand that afternoon before the dance and let bygones be bygones, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Over and over I’d hear his voice in the back of my head saying, “kike.”  I never told Johnny why I shied away from him that day, and he probably never knew how much he’d hurt me.
When I was in grammar school, the religious insults grew harshest in the spring.  During the weeks leading up to Easter, churches presented passion plays in which the Jews were portrayed as the epitome of evil.  Radio stations broadcast the Stations of the Cross as a constant reminder of the story.  Classmates who at other times viewed me as a friend would come to school calling me “Christ Killer.”
This may seem hard to believe in today’s more accepting world, but it wasn’t until more than twenty-five years later, in 1965, that Pope Paul VI issued the Nostra Aetate in which he declared, “What happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.”  Until that declaration, it was common for Christians to blame all Jews for Jesus’ death.  Little Christian children were encouraged to hate their Jewish friends and blame them for Jesus’s crucifixion.  In the late 1920s and 30s, anti-Semitism was alive and malevolently well in Newton.
By high school most of my classmates no longer indulged in throwing nasty epithets at their Jewish friends and Easter ceased to be such an unpleasant time.  Despite that, I was happy toward the end of my sophomore year when my family chose to spend our Easter vacation at Ocean Beach with Grandma Lena and Grandpa Philip.  I loved the beach during the off-season when nobody else was there and we had the endless sand and water all to ourselves.  It was too cold to swim, but we’d go for long walks during which we’d reminisce about the summer before and make plans for the one ahead.  When school was over for the year, we returned to Ocean Beach for a glorious summer, one that ended all too soon when it was time for the start of my junior year.
Shortly after school began, three boys came to my house to talk.  I recognized one of them, Herbert Rosenberg, but I’d never seen the others.  They were members of Temple Emanuel, which had recently opened on Ward Street just a few blocks from my home.  The rabbi wanted to create a youth group and was holding an introductory meeting the following Tuesday evening.  He’d asked the three of them to tell all their friends at high school.  Not only did they want my promise to attend, but they also asked me to spread the word to every Jewish student I knew.  I said I would, and that same evening telephoned my best friends Shirley Green and Estelle White, both of whom quickly agreed to join us.
The word of mouth publicity was effective and about fifty students showed up for the meeting the following Tuesday evening, almost every Jew at Newton High.  As I approached the temple, I looked for familiar faces and saw few I recognized.  In grammar school where I knew all my classmates well, I knew who was Jewish.  Once I reached high school this was no longer the case.  I assumed everyone was Christian unless they hung out exclusively with the Jewish students.
As we milled around outside, I recognized Leon Kruger from my sophomore speech class.  Surely, he wasn’t Jewish.  He was one of the most popular students in the school and didn’t have any of the physical characteristics I associated with my Jewish friends.  As we passed each other on the steps, we stopped and said at the same moment, “What are you doing here?”  In the same way I had never guessed he was a Jew, it never occurred to him that I was, either.  How well we had kept our ethnicity a secret the year before!  We both laughed and continued on into the temple together, discovering we had much more in common than our interest in public speaking.  That was the beginning of a very special friendship.
The first order of business at the evening’s meeting was to choose a board.  I wasn’t surprised when Leon was elected president.  Everybody knew and liked him.  On the other hand, I was surprised when I was named vice-president for the girls.  I realized I was well known from my theater work, but I was so  reticent when not on stage that I assumed my fellow students could never picture me as a leader.  They apparently saw in me some strengths I failed to see in myself.
The meeting ended quickly but nobody wanted to go home.  We all had permission from our parents to be out on a school night and it was still early.  Knowing how much my parents enjoyed hosting my friends, I said, “I live only a couple of blocks away.  How about if we walk over to my house and listen to the Benny Goodman show?”
Everyone thought this was a splendid idea, and about fifteen students took me up on the offer.  When we showed up at the front door, Mother and Dad were undisturbed by the sudden avalanche of teenagers invading their home.  They served milk and cookies and did all they could to make everybody feel welcome.  Their hospitality was well received and post-temple parties became the rule every Tuesday night.
Before long, our gatherings expanded to Saturday nights when we’d dance all evening to the music of the big bands.  We had a core group of three girls and six boys who danced together at every opportunity.  The other two girls were my good friends, Shirley and Estelle, both of whom I’d known for several years.  Each of us paired off with two of the boys, alternating between them when we danced.  My partners were Sumner Hoffman, who had been elected vice-president for the boys in our temple youth group, and Norman Fisher, whose twin brother Hal danced with Estelle.  Her second partner was Bobby Jamron, who had a beautiful voice and used to call me every evening to sing songs to me and ask what Estelle thought of him.  Shirley’s “boyfriends” were Leon Kruger and Archie Levine. 
Occasionally our parties were at someone else’s home, but most of the time we met at mine.  We were allowed to use the living room and sun parlor as our dance floor and Mother served snacks in the dining room.  When the boys weren’t dancing, they’d go down to the basement with Dad for a game of ping-pong.  It seemed as if my mother spent the entire time in the kitchen, happy to have the opportunity to feed everyone.  The girls would sometimes hang out with her, chatting about all sorts of things.  From the time Karyl and I were young, our girlfriends enjoyed talking with my mother, finding  that her modern attitude made her a helpful confidante and adviser.
 One night, when around twenty friends were dancing, singing and playing the piano, I went into the kitchen to help Mother.  She told me she liked Leon best of all the boys.  He was always courteous and his self-confidence gave him the somewhat unusual ability to speak comfortably with adults.  I answered, “You can’t like him best.  He belongs to Shirley.”
I knew why Mother liked Leon.  I liked him, too.  All the girls did.  He was the handsomest one there, the best dancer, the “smoothest,” as we put it back then.  But he’d chosen Shirley to be the focus of his attention at our parties and that was that.  Not only would I never dream of trying to steal a boy away from a girl, but also my insecurities led me to believe I was undesirable and thus obliged to like whichever boy chose to like me.
That meant I couldn’t think of Leon in a romantic way, only Sumner and Norman.  However, Leon and I were asked to play the leads in the Drama Club’s Christmas pageant – ironic, given that we were both Jewish – and we ended up spending a lot of time together after school at rehearsals.  At the end of the first day, I was standing outside the building waiting for my bus, shivering in the cold air, when Leon came out and said, “Let’s walk.”
This surprised me because I usually took the bus in one direction while Leon walked in the other.  When I commented on that, Leon – always the chivalrous gentleman – said not to worry, and we began to walk the two-and-a-half miles to my home.
 As we started to cross the first street, Leon remarked, “When I step off the curb in Newton, it matters in China.”  I was profoundly moved by what he said and looked at Leon in a new light, suddenly appreciating that there was more to this boy than the popular dancer who was always joking around.  Behind his extroverted persona was a deep thinker, and my respect for him soared.  I took his philosophy to heart, believing as Leon did that everything we do affects the lives of others.  It gave my life a sense of purpose and made me think twice about every decision I made from that time forward. 
By the time we approached my neighborhood, we’d discussed subjects ranging from schoolwork to our friends and our attitudes toward life.  When we got to a cemetery near my home, Leon left the sidewalk to cut through, which would save us a few blocks of walking.  I balked, shaking my head to indicate I didn’t want to go that way.  He realized I was scared, and rather than making fun of me, as so many teenage boys might have done, Leon took my hand and led me into the cemetery, assuring me we would be okay.  He suggested we sit quietly and appreciate the peace surrounding us.  After I began to relax, he said we should read some of the tombstones and see who was buried there.  By the time we’d explored the graveyard’s inhabitants and talked about what those people must have been like, my fears were gone.  What an extraordinary young man he was.
When we arrived at my home, Leon stayed for hot chocolate, called Shirley to say hi, and then walked the mile to his house.  This became our routine every day after rehearsal.  Since then, others had suggested that Leon walked me home each day because he was interested in me romanti-cally, but I never believed that.  We were buddies, friends who could talk about anything and everything.
Sometimes while we were walking, Leon would talk about his father, so different from my own.  Mr. Kruger owned an embroidery factory in which the workers were Italian women who spoke very little English.  He took care of his employees as if they were part of his extended family.  If they were sick, he made sure they got the medical attention they needed.  When they got pregnant, he encouraged them to take time off, welcoming them back when they were ready to work again.  He didn’t need a union pressuring him to be a good employer; he did it because he believed it was the right thing to do.
Despite this, Mr. Kruger didn’t object to the idea of a union.  Many employers refused to recognize the recently passed National Labor Relations Act that gave workers the right to organize unions to negotiate for better pay and working conditions.  Mr. Kruger was a staunch supporter of the law, and when the textile union came to town to sign up members, Mr. Kruger told his staff that since they couldn’t understand English very well, he’d go to the meeting for them and let them know if the union looked good.  When he returned, he announced that he believed it was an excellent idea, and not only would they be a union shop, they would also be a closed shop, i.e., anybody wanting to work there would be required to join the union.
I found myself preferring Mr. Kruger’s ideas to the more traditional stance of my own father.  I had grown up in a far-right Republican home in which everything President Roosevelt tried to do was anathema to my father.  Dad believed everyone should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and not look for help from the government.  He hated the fact that the government had legalized union activity, declaring it would be terrible for our economy, that it would drive small companies out of business.  In telling me about his father, Leon was opening up a different world for me, and I liked what I saw.
When Leon spoke with such pride of his father, I was envious that I couldn’t do the same about mine.  While I was proud of Dad as an individual, for the responsible manner in which he cared for not only his wife and children but also his extended family, for his generous nature and sharp intellect, I was mortified by his work as a racketeer running a numbers game.  I found it humiliating to admit even to myself that my father was a gangster, let alone tell Leon about him.  Adding to my reasons for silence, I’d been warned from the time I was a small child never to discuss Dad’s activities because he could be arrested and sent to prison if the wrong people knew of them.
Always the obedient daughter, I respected my parents’ wishes and protected their secret.  I lived in fear that my friends would ask what my father did for a living and I longed for the day he would leave the numbers racket and go into a legitimate business as he’d promised to do when Karyl and I started to date.  While I wasn’t yet dating per se, I was old enough to do so.  It was very dis-heartening when Dad kept putting off the transition.  He rationalized the delay by saying that although what he did was illegal, it wasn’t really bad.
“The day will come,” he said, “when the lottery will be legitimate and run by the state.”
This logic may have helped him live with himself, but it bothered me that I couldn’t share that aspect of my life with him.  I was greatly relieved a couple of years later when Dad finally stopped running a lottery and used his savings to go into the restaurant business.
As much as I enjoyed talking with Leon after rehearsals, he and I rarely interacted when we were with the group; he belonged to Shirley and I belonged to Norman and Sumner. I never viewed our gatherings as dates; we were just a bunch of friends spending time together.  Sometimes, we’d walk a mile to the drugstore for a snack, talking and laughing the whole time.  When we got there, I’d always order a five-cent Coke.  Mom had cautioned me never to get anything more expensive because the boys were treating and they might not have enough money.  I found out that my mother was right; the boys each had a quarter or less.  My girlfriends, not realizing the situation, ordered ice-cream sodas and then their boyfriends would say they didn’t want anything.  My date, whether it was Norman or Sumner, was always able to have a Coke along with me.  I appreciated my mother’s sensitivity in recognizing what was happening and in teaching me to be considerate.
          By the end of winter, we’d all lost interest in our meetings at the temple.  For a while, we continued to enjoy the dance parties with our smaller group, but then the boys stopped calling and coming over.  Shirley drifted away leaving only Estelle and me from what had been a closely-knit cadre of friends.  I felt hurt and confused.  In retrospect, I think perhaps the boys correctly read our signals that we had no intention of doing anything other than dance with them when it came to romance, and they wandered off in search of girls who weren’t as diffident about relationships with the opposite sex.  
         Not understanding why our group had fallen apart, I felt tense any time I bumped into one of the old gang at school.  The one exception was Leon.  The friendship we’d developed during our long walks home after rehearsals survived the break-up of our group.
         It was a relief when the school year ended and our family returned to Ocean Beach for another idyllic summer at the shore.  I turned sixteen in July and by August, I was looking forward to my senior year.  Best of all, as the summer drew to a close my parents began to ask me where I wanted to go to college.  We talked extensively about what I wanted to do with my life, since this would played a major role in deciding  the best school for me.
         There was no question in my mind.  I knew what I wanted and that was a life on the stage.  I dreamed of the day I could act in a Broadway show.  Mother and Dad were supportive of my dream, but Mom always said if I couldn’t be as good as Helen Hayes, who was almost as tiny as I, then I should give up. I’d need a tremendous amount of talent to receive any attention.
         As the school year got underway, I decided to look for a college program in speech and drama, believing this would give me a stronger background than a course of study that focused only on theater.  I found three schools that offered a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in speech:  Emerson College in Boston, where my parents had matriculated, Syracuse University in upstate New York, and Northwestern University in the mid-West.  I also wanted to look at Connecticut College for Women in New London because I had such fond memories of summers at Ocean Beach, a short distance away.  Mother and Dad vetoed the idea, pointing out that the campus was across the street from the Coast Guard Academy.  They said that the college girls would date the academy boys and they didn’t want me to do that, fearing I’d be attracted to someone who wasn’t Jewish.
         Although my parents weren’t especially religious, they’d made it clear that I was to date only Jewish boys.  They maintained there were enough problems in marriage without adding religious differences to the mix.  Sadly, they believed that on some level, all Christians hated all Jews, and that marriages between the religions had little chance of success.
         With Connecticut College out of the picture, that left me with Emerson, Syracuse, or Northwestern.  Of the three, I was most interested in Syracuse.  Emerson was too close to home.  I wanted to experience dormitory life, not live with my parents and commute to school.  At the other extreme, Northwestern was too far away.  I couldn’t see myself moving all the way to Chicago.
         I was excited when Mom and Dad said we’d drive to upstate New York so I could visit the Syracuse campus before making a final decision.  Since Cornell University was less than sixty miles from Syracuse, they suggested I check out that campus as well.  We set out on the seven-hour drive early on a warm September morning, arriving at Cornell in time to take a tour of the campus and meet with an admissions officer.  The campus was beautiful with its old buildings and stately lawns, but I knew it was no place for me when I saw what the co-eds were wearing – elegant dresses, stockings, and high-heeled shoes in the middle of the afternoon on a school day.  I looked down at my skirt and sweater, my bobby socks and saddle shoes, and was sure I wouldn’t fit in.  I assumed that young women who dressed so fashionably for classes would look askance at my more casual attire and deem me unfit as a friend.
             When we arrived at Syracuse an hour later, it was a different story.  I liked everything about it.  The city itself was vibrant with lots of stores, restaurants and theaters, appealing to me far more than the sleepy village of Ithaca where Cornell was located.  We drove up a long hill to the college and past fraternity row.  We walked around  the campus and listened to the Carillon.  I’d already fallen in love with the school when we got to the dormitories.  They was the icing on the cake, old wooden houses with young men and women sitting out on the front steps, dressed casually and conversing amid smiles and laughter.  I knew I could flourish in this friendly, informal atmosphere.
             A couple of weeks later, on September 21st, the New England coastline was hit by “The Great Hurricane of 1938,” worse than any in recorded history.  Over 500 people were killed and almost ten thousand homes destroyed.  Storm tides of up to twenty-five feet wiped out coastal homes from New London to Cape Cod.
In Newton, not quite at the eye of the storm but close enough to feel its power, we had no idea how widespread the devastation was.  In the early evening, when the wind first picked up, Dad asked me to help him take the porch awning down so it wouldn’t tear.  Even with the two of us working together, we had difficulty controlling it, and it took all our strength to keep it from blowing away.  We’d barely gotten back inside when we heard a tremendous sound behind us.  We looked out the window and saw trees toppling in the street before our eyes.  Seconds later, the power went out and the light cast eerie shadows on our walls.  Curious to see how extensive the damage was and how wide an area was affected, Dad took the car out for a drive.  He came home a few minutes later, saying there were so many power lines and trees down, the roads were impassable.
With no lights for reading or listening to the radio, we took to our beds.  At first it was difficult to sleep, for I could hear the wind rushing through the trees and was scared our window might blow in and shatter glass everywhere.  Gradually, however, the worst of the storm passed and I closed my eyes.
When we awoke the following morning, our electricity had been restored and we turned on the radio to find out what had happened.  That was the first time we realized that it had not been just a storm, but an extraordinarily powerful hurricane.  As bad as it had been in Newton, it was much worse in Connecticut.  Fires still raged in New London where sparks from downed power lines had started several conflagrations.
Then we heard terrible news.  Ocean Beach, only a few miles from New London, had been wiped out by the tidal surge.  Fearing the worst, we tried to call Grandma Lena and Grandpa Philip but couldn’t reach them.  We were beginning to feel desperate when I remembered that a friend from school was a ham radio operator.  I called him, gave him the pertinent information, and he promised to do what he could.  He called back within the hour to tell me he had reached the New London Coast Guard and they’d told him not to worry: the summer season was over, so no one was at the beach.  I explained to him that my grandparents lived at the beach year round and begged him to call the Coast Guard back and ask them to  search for my grandparents.
This time, my friend was more successful.  The Coast Guard dispatched a cutter to Ocean Beach, where they found my grandparents in one of only three houses left standing.  They had been through a harrowing night.  When the wind picked up, they watched the ocean waves get higher and higher until the boardwalk separating them from the beach was washed away.  When the waves got so high that their front steps also disappeared, Grandma worried about her basket of kittens on the porch and opened the door to bring them in.  Afraid to step foot outside, she tried to pull the basket into the house with a broom, only to see the kittens washed away in the surf.
Grandma realized she couldn’t take time to grieve for the kittens, for she was in danger of being swept away herself.  After struggling in vain to close the door, she called to Grandpa for help.  It took all their strength, but they succeeded, then pushed their piano up against the door, hoping to keep the water from bursting into the house.  As they finished this effort, they heard a loud crash and saw the last of their front porch.  Then an even louder crash came from upstairs, which they later learned was the sound of the roof falling in.  They fled to the back of the house, as far from the terrors of the storm as they could get, trying to comfort each other until they fell asleep, exhausted.
When they woke in the morning and looked out the window, they saw that the ocean had receded and most of their neighbors' houses were gone, remnants of them floating in water.  When the Coast Guard arrived to bring them to safety, Grandma and Grandpa refused to leave, believing that since the storm was over, they’d be okay.  They had no way of knowing that the nearby town was in flames and they’d be unable to obtain the food and supplies they’d need to survive.
When Dad heard that his in-laws had stayed in their home, he said he would drive out to get them.  It didn’t matter to him that many of the roads were still closed.  He drove over front lawns and back lawns, detouring off the street whenever necessary, determined to make his way to Ocean Beach.  It took him four days to retrieve them and when they arrived safely back at our house, they were worn out and dirty and still in shock.
Grandma and Grandpa lived with us for a year while the State of Connecticut decided whether to rebuild Ocean Beach as it had been or take the entire area by eminent domain and turn it into a state park.  When they decided on the latter course, my grandparents received enough money in the settlement to last  the rest of their lives.  Using the proceeds, they bought a home on the beach in Winthrop, Massachusetts, where they remained until Grandpa passed away many years later.
Having my grandparents living with us made my senior year of high school much easier.  I’d looked forward to this year my entire school career, but it wasn’t living up to my expectations.  I had no classes with my best friends, Estelle and Shirley, and found myself alone much of the time.  No young men telephoned each night as they had during those wonderful months at the start of my junior year.
None of my old friends were around to keep me company, but I made a new friend who became my constant companion.  Her name was Helen Meserve and I had known her since junior high school.  We had most of the same classes, making it easy for us to study together.  We were inseparable both in and out of school, walking between classrooms during the day, doing homework in study hall, and going to football games on Saturday afternoon.  Without Helen, those first few months of my senior year would have been very lonely.
My favorite class during that year was English, with Mr. B. Floyd Rinker.  He was an electrifying speaker and I hung on his every word, along with the rest of the class. He constantly challenged us to stretch our intellects, to be open-minded about what we read.  He used examples from literature to teach us life lessons, just as my mother had done when Karyl and I were small children.  He epitomized for me everything that was good in a teacher.  Because of him, I knew I wanted to teach high school English.
One of his trademarks was to write on the blackboard a quotation or “jotting,” as he called it, at the beginning of each week.  Usually it was a famous line from great literature, but every once in awhile, he’d make something up.  My favorite was this one he’d coined himself:  “He who succeeds, fails; only he who fails, succeeds.”
 For weeks, it troubled me as I tried to make sense of it.  As I look at it now, it seems obvious that he was encouraging us to challenge ourselves, even if we feared we might fail, for only then could we learn from our efforts and move on to greater success.  At the time, however, my sixteen-year-old mind had trouble embracing the concept and it wasn’t until I wrote an essay on the quotation that I began to understand it.  I was thrilled with the large “A” on my paper when it was returned to me, indicating that Mr. Rinker viewed my analysis as commendable.
                                                                                                  
             AURA KERN, CLASS OF '39

Perhaps our most difficult task in English that year was reading Shakespeare, but Mr. Rinker made it easy.  The way in which he helped us to explore Hamlet and Macbeth gave me a lifelong love of the Bard.   For the first time in my academic career, I no longer had to struggle to comprehend the words.  Instead, I was able to focus on the deeper meaning behind the phrases and appreciate the depth of the subject matter.
                                                                                                   
       LEON KRUGER, CLASS OF '39

Nevertheless I had difficulty understanding A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play selected by our drama club for its spring performance.  I had almost decided not to participate when my friend Leon Kruger talked me into it.  We were once again cast in the Christmas pageant together and had renewed our long walks home.  Every afternoon, he talked to me about Midsummer, describing the intricate manner in which all the different plot lines were woven together.  His enthusiasm sold me, and although I balked at auditioning for one of the major parts, I agreed to play an extra.
BARBARA BEYER, CLASS OF '39
 Leon tried out for Puck and with his vibrant personality, he was a shoo-in for the role.  He reveled in it, enjoying every rehearsal and capturing the attention of his fellow actors.  Then just a few weeks before our grand opening, Leon had an emergency appendectomy and had to give up the part. As soon as he was back on his feet, however, he returned to watch from the stands when we rehearsed out on the football field.  He sat there with his new girlfriend, Barbara Beyer, and we couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t spend all their time following the play. In between speeches they were clearly occupied with hugging and kissing.

Without the mathematical genius’s help, I never would have achieved better than a C from scary Mr. Walters.  From bbm diary: Friday, September 17, 1937
 The most awful thing happened to me today that has ever happened in my life.  I can’t believe it, even now.                                                                
 Yesterday I spent at least six hours on my assignment, and I felt very happy because I knew the material so thoroughly.  Today Mr. Walters gave us a test on one of the theorems.  I was pleased when I passed in my paper because I was sure it was perfect.  Then Mr. Walters started asking questions about the problem.  He asked me to give one of the statements, and I found to my horror that I had put something in that he had told us not to.  I had followed the book’s instructions instead of his. 
He nearly took my head off when I gave the wrong answer and said, “Do you know what you get on your test -- D!” Being human, I felt terribly disappointed after all the work I had done, and the tears came to my eyes even though I tried to stop them.  I stared out the window, trying to recover, but Mr. Walters didn’t give me a chance.  “Watch the board!” he roared.  Of course, this made me cry even more.  Lillian Railsback whispered, “Wipe your tears.”  “What did you just say, Miss Beyer!”  “I didn’t say anything,” I replied.
Then Lillian spoke up and said she had told me to wipe my eyes.  Mr. Walters got so mad then that he told both of us to come back after class.  I turned my back and cried and cried.  Then he started saying the most awful things to me.  I was never so insulted in my life!  Finally he worked himself into such a rage that he ordered me to leave the class.  By that time I had ceased feeling sorry for myself and was beginning to be furious with him.
I picked up my books and stalked out, slamming the door after me.
When I came back after class, I tried appealing to his better nature (if he has any) by telling him how hard I had tried.  “Don’t you have any heart?” I said.
“I don’t care how long you worked,” he replied bitingly.  Then I lost all control of myself and told him exactly what I thought of him.  I said he had no right to talk the way he did, that I was a young lady, and he should treat me as such.
“You’re certainly not acting lady-like now,” he said.
“Well, you’re not setting me a very good example,” I replied.  He stamped his foot and shouted, “You’re going to get a blue card!”
“Thank you!” I said bitterly.
 “You’re welcome!” he snapped.
  After he had made out the card, he said, “In all the years I’ve been here, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of blue cards I’ve given.”
“Well, I can count on one finger the number I’ve received,” I cried.
“Go to Mr. Foster’s office,” he ordered.
“I don’t know where it is.”
“Well, I’ll take you there.”
 I read the card and it said, “Insolence of a peculiar nature (better explained in person).” 
 I had a talk with Mr. Foster, who was simply swell.  He admitted that Mr. Walters was quick-tempered, but said he was sure we could come to an understanding.  The three of us are going to talk together next Monday.  It’s lucky I have such a good record.  Everything is on my side -- all my classmates think he was terribly unjust, and my former teachers will speak for my character.
 I got such satisfaction out of telling Mr. Walters what I thought of him!
                                                 Monday, September 20, 1937
 Be prepared for a big surprise.  I like Mr. Walters!  We made up this morning, and in class he was awfully nice; everyone said he had never been so pleasant before.  It must be my influence.

Back to fellow student, Aura Kern:
Although there was never any question of my being Leon’s girlfriend in high school, he and I grew very close.  We talked about anything and everything, sharing our dreams for the future, philosophizing about life, confiding secrets we told nobody else.  One day, while walking home, he stopped and turned to me, saying, “Aura, it’s a shame you’re not a boy.  You’re the best friend I’ve got.”
I wasn’t sure whether to be complemented or insulted. I certainly didn’t want him thinking of me as a boy, but his expression of friendship made me feel wonderful.  It meant a lot to be told he valued our relationship as much as I did.
Before I knew it, the spring play was over and everybody was talking about graduation.  I was depressed,  however, partly because I wasn’t invited to a single party.  As known as I had been for my theater work, I was never one of the popular students, and the group I’d been close to at the beginning of my junior year hadn’t ever gotten back together.  Unable to celebrate with friends, I looked to my family to make a big deal over my high school graduation.  My parents, unaware that I was feeling blue, failed to do so.  Perhaps because I was going on to college, they didn’t view my graduation as important and spoke little about the upcoming event.
A week before, however, I began to feel better when my mother took me to Boston to buy a new white dress for the ceremony.  Then, just before we left for the graduation, my parents presented me with a diamond wristwatch and a ruby and diamond ring.  Never before had I owned such beautiful jewelry.  With this spectacular gift, Mom and Dad showed me that they were proud of me after all.  I was glad that they were in the stands with my sister Karyl as I marched across the football field with 1,002 other students.
As I sat there listening to speeches, I realized I might never see my high school friends again, and I felt overcome with sadness.  The weather, as if in tune with my somber mood, turned gloomy and it began to drizzle.  Like many of the girls, I was wearing a dress of a crepe material that puckered when wet.  When we got home, Dad – knowing what the dress meant to me – took it and pressed it for me so I could wear it the rest of the evening.  How thoughtful he was!
A few days later, we packed up and left for the shore.  Since Ocean Beach had been destroyed by the hurricane and we could no longer vacation there with the extended family, Mother and Dad rented a cottage on Cape Cod for just the four of us.  Hyannis was a quiet little town, with two movie theaters, several little shops where we bought my college wardrobe, and a couple of restaurants.  It was only a short drive to Craigville Beach, where we went to swim.  Karyl and I also roller-skated and took horseback riding lessons.  Mother took us to antique shops where we’d spend hours looking over interesting and unusual pieces of art and furniture.
I spent many hours that summer sitting in the peaceful backyard, working on a needlepoint chair cushion.  All my hopes, dreams, and even fears about college were in those stitches.  I’d been accepted to Syracuse and knew I would be fine academically, but would I have difficulty making friends?  Would my shyness be a major problem?  I was going on seventeen, facing a brand new set of experiences, and not at all confidently.
In late August, I received a letter that did much to boost my spirits.  My friend Sumner Hoffman wrote to say he wanted to throw a going-away party for me at his house, and he named the date.  At first I was hesitant, having long since decided I wasn’t interested in Sumner romantically.  However, when I continued reading and saw that Leon Kruger would be coming to the party, I had a change of heart.  Any party with Leon was fun.  His outgoing, boisterous antics were a delight and I knew everybody would have a good time.  Suddenly, I wanted very much to go to be there.
When the evening arrived, I wasn’t disappointed.  All night long, Sumner played our favorite songs from the big bands.  We danced for hours, as we had done in eleventh grade.  This time, however, there was a difference.  Instead of everybody dancing with only one or two partners, the boys kept switching around.  Leon, no longer belonging to Shirley, asked me to dance with him, and dance we did.  He joked about monopolizing my time, saying he wanted to make Sumner jealous.  Whatever his reason was for asking me, I was happy.  He was the best dancer of any of the boys and I was the best of the girls.  When we danced together, it was magical.
I didn’t sit out a single number.  For the rare numbers when Leon and I weren’t dancing together, Sumner or one of the other boys insisted on being my partner.  I felt as if I were the most popular girl of the evening.  No longer did I feel shy and pitifully grateful for the least bit of attention.  I was Cinderella and Leon was the prince, even if he was only playing that role to tease Sumner.  All my disappointment at not dating for the last year-and-a-half, of not having any of my old girlfriends around, vanished that night.
Several times during the course of the evening, Leon said I reminded him of his sister Helen.  Then, as I was getting ready to leave, he pulled me aside to say, “Aura, I want you to know that I love my sister more than anyone in the world.”  It wasn’t until I told Karyl about it that I put two and together.  I hardly dared consider the possibility, but was this his way of saying that he cared for me?  Was it a line?  If so, it was one I’d never heard before.  My head was in a whirl.  Leon, the boy I’d grown so fond of during our long walks home, had treated me as if I were his date.
With that thought in mind, I began to reconsider what had happened earlier in the evening.  Sumner, when he’d written to me about the party, had said he would take me home afterwards.  During the drive to my house, he told me he wanted to see me as much as possible during the one week remaining before I left for college, and he asked me to promise I'd keep my last night home especially for him.  I could tell he was planning to kiss me goodnight when he walked me to my front door, something he’d never done before.  Because I didn’t feel the same way toward Sumner, I was relieved when Leon jumped up from the back seat where he’d been hiding the whole time.  Sumner was furious that his attempt at romance had been thwarted by roguish Leon’s practical joke.
Or had it really been just a prank?  Dared I hope that Leon wasn’t just trying to make Sumner jealous by dancing with me, and annoy him by destroying his opportunity for a good night kiss?  Given Leon’s comments all evening that I reminded him of his sister – combined with his saying that he loved her more than anyone in the world – could he truly be interested in me?
My insecurities prevented me from believing this was possible, yet I couldn’t stop thinking about Leon.  My heart jumped every time I heard him at our piano.  All week long, he’d tiptoe into the house without knocking, go to the piano, and play Beethoven’s Für Elise.  The moment I heard the opening notes and knew he was there, I’d fly downstairs to see him.  Still not daring to believe he cared for me, I assumed all of his other friends had already left for college and, and since we’d had so much fun together at Sumner’s party, he was hanging out with me rather than staying by himself.  Whatever his reason, I was thrilled that the handsome, most popular Leon was paying attention to me.  I reveled in every moment, assuming it all would be over by the end of the week.
And what a week it was!  The house was constantly filled with the laughter of teenagers.  Another time, I might have felt in Karyl’s shadow as boy after boy showed up at the front door to visit her.  This week, however, Leon was a constant visitor, as were Sumner Hoffman and my girlfriend, Helen Meserve.  The doorbell rang so frequently that my mother left the front door ajar and the screen unlocked, giving all our friends an open invitation to walk right in.  Mom was in her glory, shopping and cooking up a storm.
          One day I overheard my mother talking to Leon, asking him to find a boy at Harvard – where he’d be starting in another week – to introduce to Karyl.  Mom was not happy that Karyl was dating Lee Goodman, a twenty-year-old college man who had fallen in love with my fifteen-year-old sister.  Although we all found Lee to be charming, the age difference made my parents uncomfortable.
          It wasn’t just that Lee was older.  My mother felt as if Lee’s mother looked down on us.  Mrs. Goodman used to go for walks in the neighborhood, swinging her walking stick with her nose in the air.  Mother, who usually was outgoing around others, became so tongue-tied when Mrs. Goodman passed by our house that she could barely say, “Good morning.”  When Mother admitted to Dad how she felt around Mrs. Goodman, Dad said, “Bert, never be intimidated by others.  Remember, she wipes her bottom just like you do.”  Mother laughed and was cured.  
          This was one of many lessons my parents taught me over the years.    I’d learned much from these two people whom I loved and respected, and that’s why I felt ready to leave for college, to be off on my own despite the fact that I’d turned seventeen less than two months before.  College!  I could hardly contain my excitement.  I laid out my new school wardrobe, along with a blanket my parents had given me with the Syracuse colors.  It was blue with a large orange “S” in the center and personalized with “Aura ’43” in the corner, and I loved to imagine it spread out on the bed in my new dorm room.
AURA AND "LITTLE SISTER" KARYL
          My folks also gave me a leather notebook with Syracuse ’43 in gold embossed letters and my name in gold in the right hand corner.  Karyl gave me a silver bracelet with her name engraved on one side and mine on the other.  I put it on my wrist the moment I opened the box and it stayed there the entire time I was at college, a constant reminder of my little sister.
          I was ready.  My clothes were packed, along with my gifts.  My bracelet peeked out from under my sleeve.  All that was left was for my mother to give me what was known as, “The Talk,” in which she’d tell me how to behave while at college.  As it turned out, she didn't need to.  When our mailman delivered the mail the day before I left home, he stayed for half an hour, lecturing me.  After he left, Mother laughed and said, “Now I don’t have to give you the The Talk.”
          Later that day, Leon called to say he’d come by in the morning to see me off.  He knew I’d promised my last evening to Sumner and it would be inappropriate to horn in on Sumner’s time.  An early morning farewell was the best he could do.  He gulped when I told him Dad wanted to leave around five, but promised he’d be there anyway.  Once again, I found it hard to believe that this wonderful boy was behaving as if he cared about me.
AURA AND SISTER KARYL WITH THEIR MOM "BERT"
YEARS LATER
          Knowing Karyl wouldn’t wake up that early in the morning, we said our goodbyes as we crawled into bed that last evening.  Although we were two grades apart and our social lives had hardly overlapped, she was my little sister with whom I’d shared a bedroom ever since she was born, and I’d miss her.  I promised I’d write often and I did, sending her letters separate from those I wrote to Mom and Dad.
          As my parents and I packed the car in the pre-dawn light the next morning, I kept looking for LeonFive o’clock arrived, but no sign of him.  I wanted to wait, to give him a few extra minutes, but knowing of my father’s insistence on keeping to his planned schedule, I didn’t ask for a delay.  I felt desolate.  Despite  Leon’s words about how he loved his sister and how I reminded him of her, despite the many conversations we’d had while walking home from rehearsals all through high school, despite the hours we’d spent together ever since that magical evening at Sumner’s party, I feared I would never see him again.       
            I looked around one last time, silently saying goodbye to the home I knew I would miss, and then I settled into the back seat of the car, determined to dwell on the exciting year ahead, rather than on the fact that Leon had stood me up.  It wasn’t hard to do, for Dad was a master at planning interesting trips and I knew the ride to Syracuse would be enjoyable.  Before the first signs of hunger showed up, he’d find the perfect place for breakfast.  The scenery along the way would be beautiful, for he always studied our maps in order to pick the most pleasant route.
          It wasn’t long before the sky began to lighten in anticipation of the sunrise and I realized I'd never before seen the sun come up.  During the school year, I was never outside that early, and at the beach, it was always foggy in the morning, only gradually became lighter.  This experience was completely different.  I watched in awe as I saw that it was a sunset in reverse and viewed it as a good omen of the year to come that I was already learning something new about the world.
          We arrived at Syracuse University by the middle of the afternoon and had no difficulty finding my dormitory.  Mom and Dad helped me to move in.  While we were hanging up clothes, my roommate arrived and we liked each other immediately.  We were each amenable to the other’s wishes regarding how to set up the room and got along famously from the start.  We had similar personalities in that both of us were quiet, studious, and eager to please.  In all the months we shared a room, we never once quarreled.
          After my dorm room was ready, Mom and Dad took me to explore the city and go out for dinner.  Then they dropped me back at the dormitory and, unbeknownst to me, left for the hotel where they would spend the night.  I had been under the impression they were leaving to return to Newton, but they were concerned that their little girl would be terribly lost at such a large university, and they spent the next day following me about at a distance, watching to see that I was okay.
          I was better than okay; I thrived on the thrill of getting ready for the year.  It was a busy day as I registered for my courses, went for a physical at the infirmary across the street from my dorm, and got to know my roommate, our house mother, and fifteen other dorm mates.  I was oblivious to my parents’ presence until late in the day when I noticed that the car I’d stopped for when crossing the street was ours. I walked over to talk with Mom and Dad and when they told me of their worries, I laughed and joked that Syracuse University with its six thousand students was only six times as big as Newton High School.  We said goodbye once again and I waved to them as they drove off.
          My image of what college would be like had formed while watching movies and listening to Mom and Dad talk about Emerson.  I’d been looking forward to it for years and Syracuse did not disappoint.  I never got over the pleasure of walking across the campus with hundreds of my fellow students, looking at the beautiful buildings, and listening to the Carillon ring out every morning and evening.  I enjoyed my classes and found them easier than expected; my courses in high school had been more difficult.
          I loved life in the dormitory.  I enjoyed the other girls and the sense of being responsible for myself.  During the first few weeks, I was careful to do everything the way I’d been taught at home.  Then it occurred to me that I didn’t have to do that.  At the end of the week, for the first time I broke one of my mother’s rules.  A few minutes before dinner, I felt hungry and opened a box of candy.  I stared at the sweets, hearing Mother admonishing me not to eat just before mealtime.  Her rules were so ingrained that I almost closed the box.  But the desire was strong and, realizing I could do as I wished, I ate all the chocolate, relishing every bite.
          When I arrived in the dining hall, I discovered that the dinner was formal, with an appetizer, steak, baked potato, salad, and dessert.  As appealing as it looked spread out on the table, I was too full to participate.   Mother’s rule made sense after all.
          The weekends were special. I sat with the other freshmen at the football games, wearing my freshman blue and orange cap.  We sang the school song and I joined in all the cheers.  At the first game, snow had to be shoveled off the field, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the experience.  I learned what living in the snow-belt meant and quickly became accustomed to bundling up every day.
          Even though I was happy, I was also lonesome, and I looked forward eagerly to mail from home.  When the first letter arrived, I didn’t recognize the handwriting.  I opened it and looked for the signature, but still had no idea who wrote it.  It was signed Lee.  The only Lee I knew was Karyl’s boyfriend, Lee Goodman, and surely he wouldn’t be writing to me.  Then it dawned on me that it was from Leon Kruger.  He wrote about his first few days at Harvard, apologized for oversleeping the morning I left Newton, and signed the letter, “To the future – Lee.”  It was the first of many such letters, all of which he signed in the same manner.
          Without wasting a minute, I sat at my desk and wrote a response, happily picturing him reading it in his new setting.  I wrote about my courses and extracurricular activities, of the friends I was making and life in the dorm.  I described the Syracuse campus and told him how much I was enjoying college life.
          Later that day, several of the girls were chatting about their families and friends back home, when the subject turned to boyfriends.  Each of them shared the name of the boy they liked from high school.  When I didn’t offer a name, one of them said, “Aura, who’s your boyfriend?”  Thinking of the letter that had arrived earlier that day and not wanting to say I didn’t have a boyfriend, I said, “Leon Kruger.”  As I said the words, I realized that part of me wished they were true.  But there had been nothing in Leon’s letter to suggest we were anything other than good friends.  Clearly, from what he had written, we were still buddies, not sweethearts.
          As the letters continued to flow back and forth, I found it easier and easier to describe Leon to my dorm mates as my boyfriend.  That is, it was easy as long as I never admitted it to Leon who I thought only wanted me to be his buddy.  And if that’s what Leon wanted, then that’s what I would be.  It  took me by surprise when he invited me to the Harvard-Michigan football game just a few weeks later.  That was the kind of thing a real boyfriend did with his real girlfriend.  But we were just buddies and I couldn’t let myself hope for more.
          In the weeks before returning to Boston for the game, I settled into my life as a freshman on a college campus.  I became accustomed to the strict dormitory rules, stating that window shades had to be drawn before dark and we had to be in our house by eight o’clock weeknights, eleven o’clock Friday, midnight on Saturday, and ten o’clock on Sunday.  With the exception of our first day on campus when fathers were allowed to help their daughters move into their dorm rooms, no males were allowed beyond the dormitory living room.  Because my parents had been even stricter, it wasn’t difficult for me to follow the rules.
          We ate our meals in the dormitory except for Sunday evening.  Many of the girls went out on dates that night, leaving those of us who were dateless feeling sad and left out.  I suggested we band together and go to one of the restaurants in town and enjoy each other’s company.  We didn’t need dates to have a good time.  One of the restaurants, located a couple of blocks away from the dorm, was called the Cosmo Café.  The owner, a Greek immigrant who had come to Syracuse many years earlier, told us to call it “The Greek’s,” which we all did.  It was a combination eatery and drug store and became a favorite hangout for us, just like the ones we saw in the movies.  We always ordered cheeseburgers and cokes and loved the time we spent there, talking about our classes, life on campus, and our friends and families back home.  The owner obviously enjoyed having us around and helped us out by cashing our checks from our parents and one time, he even loaned me train fare home.
When not in class or hanging out with my friends, I kept busy with extracurricular activities.  I was a dancer in a school revue at a downtown theater in which I was a member of the pony kick chorus, like the Rockettes from Radio City Music Hall.  I worked for a campus radio show.  I was doing all the things I had dreamed of when I pictured going off to college.
Early every Saturday evening, I called home to share my exciting new life with Mom, Dad, and Karyl.  One night when I called, Leon was there as well.  He had done what Mom had asked of him and found a friend for for my sister.  He brought Herbert Kramer and Herb’s roommate, Danny Friedman, to meet her, and Herb fell in love with Karyl that first night, October 11, 1939, the day before Karyl’s sixteenth birthday.  The roommates returned many times to visit, along with Leon.  It became our Saturday night routine; after I spoke with my parents and sister on the phone, I got to talk with Leon as well.
The three Harvard men were inseparable, spending time together both on and off campus.  Leon, who started the year sleeping on a cot in the basement of his parents’ new home, moved a cot into Herb and Danny’s dorm room and stayed with them as an unofficial roommate the rest of the year.  Danny’s only complaint was that the Kern family didn’t have a third daughter so he could date one too.
When the end of October arrived, my parents arranged for me to take the train home for the football game with Leon.  I was a little nervous.  Not only had I never been on a train before, I also would be traveling alone for the first time. Snowstorms stretched the five hour trip to eight hours.  At first, the delays bothered me, but I soon learned that this was routine in the wintertime.  When the train made a stop in Springfield, I was surprised to see Grandpa Philip climbing on board.  He had taken the train from Boston to Springfield earlier in the day just so he could escort me home.  How kind of him to realize I’d be nervous and would appreciate a familiar face.
          On the morning of the game, I donned a skirt and sweater, bobby socks, saddle shoes, my Syracuse freshman cap, and a heavy coat.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the girls from Wellesley and Radcliffe who attended football games dressed in fur jackets, sophisticated dresses, silk stockings, and high heeled shoes.  It wasn’t until years later that Herb told me how shocked Leon’s friends had been by my appearance.  He had apparently been praising me to the skies and his friends, having met my gorgeous sister and knowing Leon’s preference for tall blonde bombshells, were unprepared for a four-foot-ten inches tall, ninety-pound, flat-chested brunette.
          We had a good time at the game and I enjoyed Leon’s friends.  They seemed to like me too.  He’d told them I wasn’t his girlfriend, that we were just pals.  Leon and I may have been insisting this was the case, but his friends believed otherwise, breaking out into the popular song, “I Only Want a Buddy Not a Sweetheart.”  
          Although I was happy to return to Syracuse after that wonderful weekend, I quickly began looking forward to Thanksgiving, only to have my hopes dashed when New York declared the holiday moved to the third Thursday in November instead of its traditional fourth Thursday.  State officials did this, believing it would be good for the economy because there would be more shopping days before Christmas.      
          If Massachusetts had made the same decision, there would have been no problem.  But that didn’t happen.  As a result, I couldn’t go home for the holiday.
         As disappointed as I was initially, I ended up having a happy time.  The parents of one of the local students invited me for Thanksgiving dinner and made me feel right at home. Sitting on the piano was a vase of magnificent fall flowers that I was told came from my parents that morning.  My hosts were impressed by their thoughtfulness, as was I, and I vowed I'd remember to show appreciation to people who were kind to my children.  It was one of the many ways my parents taught me by example how to have true class.
As soon as Thanksgiving was over, everyone began preparing for Christmas.  The girls in our dorm decorated our rooms and in the evenings we sat in a candlelit parlor singing Christmas carols.  One night we drew names from a hat to select a secret pal for whom we did special favors – such as making their beds and hiding candy bars for them to find.  The last evening we exchanged little gifts.  Even though Mom and Dad had always given us presents on Christmas, the special camaraderie I experienced that week at college made me realize that in our home we’d never celebrated Christmas the way they did in Christian homes.  It was so much more than presents.  It was a feeling, an ambiance, something indescribable.  I decided that when I had a home of my own one day, I would recreate that warm sense of love, giving, and sheer happiness.
          In the weeks before I was to go home for the holidays, Leon and I exchanged letters in which we planned many dates together, including New Year’s Eve.  By the time Sumner Hoffman got around to asking me, I had only a couple of free evenings available.  I knew he was jealous of Leon, but there was nothing I could do to change the way things had worked out.  Actually, there was nothing I wanted to do, for I was beginning to feel as if I really were Leon’s girlfriend, not just a buddy, and I liked it that way.
          One of the evenings Leon planned for us was a double date with his sister Helen and her husband, Henry Lerner.  They’d invited us to join them at the movie premiere of Gone with the Wind.  I looked forward to it with great anticipation, for I was eager to meet the sister Leon had said he loved more than anyone in the world.  When the three of them came to pick me up, I saw immediately how beautiful and charming she was.  How nice that Leon said I reminded him of her.  Because I didn’t see myself in that way, it was hard for me to accept the compliment, and I worried that the day would arrive when Leon would no longer see a resemblance.
The constant attention I received from both Leon and Sumner that vacation, however, made those concerns recede to the back of my mind.  I had a date every night, usually with Leon, though every once in a while with Sumner.  He was tenacious, unwilling to concede the field to Leon, and he often hung out with us when we weren’t on a date.  Sometimes the three of us along with Leon’s friend, Hugh Van Rosen, and Karyl, with her entourage of boys following her around, would gambol in the snow for hours, making a snowman, laughing as we threw snowballs at one another, and freezing as we lay in the snow, waving our arms to make snow angels.  When we got so cold we could no longer stand it, we’d come into the warm house where Mother would have steaming hot chocolate waiting for us.
One evening when Leon and I were sitting in the sun parlor, he leaned over and said, “I’ve missed you so very much.”  With that, he put his arms about me and kissed me for the first time.  Instead of kissing him back, I began to cry.  Thinking he’d misjudged our relationship and that I wasn’t interested in him romantically, he begged me to stop crying and promised never to kiss me again.
As soon as I regained my voice, I assured Leon that it wasn’t the kiss at all.  It was just that he was the first person to say I’d been missed.  My family acted as if I’d never been away and when Leon said he missed me, it made me realize how hurt I’d been by their indifference.  That evening at dinner, Leon told everyone what I’d said and Mother and Dad apologized, saying they’d behaved that way intentionally, thinking it would be easier on me not to know how terribly they’d missed me.  They’d actually had a family discussion in which they all agreed to that strategy.  How mistaken they were!  I very much needed to know I’d been missed and felt much better once I knew the origin of their apparent indifference.
I was grateful to Leon for having raised the issue with my family.  I wouldn’t have had the courage to do so, and I marveled at his ability to discuss sensitive matters so openly.  My feelings for him, already blossoming as a result of our exchange of letters during the fall term and our dates over the holidays, grew even stronger.  In the days before I returned to Syracuse, Leon kissed me several more times – sweet, gentle kisses – and any notion I had that he still viewed me as a buddy vanished forever.
When I arrived at campus, there were only a couple of weeks before exams.  Most students stayed up late each night studying, but I, remembering valuable advice from my high school French teacher, tried to relax.  She had told us that if we studied throughout the term, we’d be fine without cramming the night before the final.  If we hadn’t, staying up all night studying wouldn’t help.  She said, “Eat a good dinner, get a good night’s sleep and go in relaxed the next morning.”
I shared this advice with my dorm mates and several of us decided to go each evening for cheese-burgers and Cokes at the Cosmo cafe, where we chatted and tried not to think about our upcoming exams.  The strategy paid off.  I took my first three exams in English, French, and political science and aced all of them.  I was confident I’d do equally well in my other courses, oral literature, drama, and speech making, but I never got the chance.  Before I took any of those last three exams, I slipped in the bathtub and hurt the base of my spine.
It swelled until I could hardly move.  When I called home to tell my parents what had happened, Dad recognized the symptoms of pilo-nidal sinus, a cyst at the base of the spine, which he’d had several years earlier.  The fall in the tub had exacerbated what was already a problem.  My heart sank as he reminded me that he’d required surgery and I might need it as well.
It was obvious I couldn’t stay at school.  As much as I wanted to at least complete my exams, it just wasn’t possible.  Instead, I was excused from taking the tests, but this meant I had to accept C’s in my last three courses.  It was all I could do to manage the train ride home.  Once I arrived, I went straight to surgery and then had to stay in bed for almost a month while the wound healed.  By the time I was strong enough to return to Syracuse, six weeks had passed.
          While I convalesced, Leon, Herb, and Danny were constant visitors at our home, making the time go faster than it otherwise would have.  With each visit from Leon, whether by himself or with his roommates, I fell deeper in love and as much as it amazed me, I felt as if my feelings were returned.  One evening, he took the ring my parents had given me for graduation, removing it from my right hand and placing it on the ring finger of my left.  Was this his way of saying that some day he planned to propose?  Were we engaged to be engaged?
            Before I could figure it out, the issue became moot; the following day Leon broke off our relationship.  He told me his parents had said it was unfair for him to keep seeing me since he would be going to medical school, and then serving an internship and residency, all of which would take at least ten years.  Only then could he consider marriage, and they believed he shouldn’t expect me to wait.  With this, he walked out of my life.  I was inconsolable, never before having known such desolation.  Mom took me to the movies almost every day.  Herb came over often to visit Karyl and try to cheer me up.
WITH LEON'S SISTER HELEN LERNER AND HER HUSBAND HENRY
          A few days before I was to return to school, Leon called and asked if he could come over.  He brought with him a letter from his sister Helen, to whom he’d written describing our situation.  She advised him to ignore their parents’ advice, saying, “It’s Aura’s decision to make, not yours, not our parents.  I saw my husband through medical school, and we’re happy.”  I blessed Helen and assured Leon I didn’t consider it to be the least bit unfair to me.  With that, he hugged and kissed me and we were once again sweethearts.
          When I was finally able to go back to Syracuse, I had to run to the infirmary twice a day for a sitz bath and a dressing change.  I was behind in all my classes and working  hard to catch up.  Knowing how difficult a time I was having, Dad did something very special.  He loaned his new yellow convertible to Leon for spring break so Leon could drive to Syracuse to spend a few days with me.
          Leon stayed with a boy from our high school who was attending Syracuse.  At the end of the week, we went to the junior prom, featuring Vaughan Monroe’s big band orchestra.  En route to the florist to pick up my corsage, we were pulled over by a police officer who accused Leon of running a stop sign.  Neither one of us had seen any sign and simultaneously said, “Where?”  The officer pointed and said, “Right there.  Under that pile of snow.”  Although we were upset about getting a ticket, we had to laugh.  We tried our best to talk the officer out of it, but he was adamant.  It was a small price to pay for the wonderful evening ahead of us.
          As it turned out, however, it wasn’t so wonderful after all.  My right side began to hurt with each breath.  No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get comfortable.  We went back to my dorm where I changed to a looser fitting gown, but when we returned to the prom, I still couldn’t breathe well enough to dance.  When it was clear the pain was getting worse, we decided to leave.  It was our last night together before Leon had to return to Boston, but I just wasn’t up to partying.  Leon brought me back to my dorm and hugged me goodbye.
          When I woke up Sunday morning, I was worse.  Every time I tried to sit up, I couldn’t catch my breath.  Realizing something was seriously wrong, my roommate helped me across the street to the infirmary where the doctor immediately put me to bed.  For a week, I was told I couldn’t get up, and no one was allowed in to see me.  Even the nursing staff kept conversation to a minimum.  I repeatedly asked what was wrong with me, but the doctor refused to discuss my situation.  At least he responded when I asked if my parents knew I was sick and assured me they’d been notified.
          I was despondent.  My friends didn’t come to visit and I hadn’t heard from my parents.  I knew I must be very sick but didn’t know what was wrong.  Then, one day, the doctor taped my chest to make me more comfortable.  Just as he finished, I saw my dad standing in the doorway.  I knew he’d make everything all right.  He smiled at me, joked with the doctor, and then told me he was going to take me home for a couple of weeks so I could recuperate.
          The two weeks turned into six months.  Although at the time I was told I had pleurisy, I later learned it was a far more serious illness, tuberculosis.  While I was concerned that my friends hadn’t visited me, they were concerned I might not survive, for they knew the truth about why I was so sick.
          My father said only that we’d go back to my room to get my things before we went home.  With the heavy taping around my chest, the pain was manageable enough for me to walk across the street to my dorm.  Everyone crowded around as I sat on my bed.  The girls were packing for me.  One of them was crying.  I hugged everyone, told them not to worry, I’d return in a couple of weeks.  Little did I know that I’d never be back.
          When it was time to leave, I was in for a surprise.  Dad told me he hadn’t driven up; he’d come by train.  And we were going to fly home.  Fly!  Neither of us had ever flown before.  The plane was tiny by today’s standards, a fifteen-passenger twin-engine propeller-driven aircraft flying no more than two hundred miles per hour at an altitude of only three thousand feet.  When we landed at Logan Airport in Boston a few hours later, I could see Mother, Leon, and Karyl standing on the tarmac waving to us.  Dad and I went down the ladder like visiting dignitaries being greeted by paparazzi.  As soon as we arrived home, I was put to bed and Dad went around the house recovering letters he had hidden for Mother to find in case we crashed.  Only then did I realize how scared he’d been of flying.
          As soon as I was settled in, Dr. Goldman was sent for.  He sat by my bed and took my temperature and pulse, recording the results in a notebook he gave to me, saying I was to do the same five or six times a day.  I was to get up only to go to the bathroom and could have no visitors.  He said nothing about tuber-culosis, sticking to the earlier diagnosis of pleurisy.  In later years, when I tested positive for having had TB, I realized that the doctor had intentionally misdiagnosed me so I wouldn’t be forced to go to a sanatarium.  This was a courtesy physicians sometimes extended to families who were able to care for patients at home.
          My convalescence was much pleasanter than it would have been had my doctor placed me under quarantine.  He said I was to have no visitors and in general I was good about obeying his orders, but Leon came occasionally to sit by my bed and chat.  When the doctor returned, he looked at my chart and said, “I can tell you’ve had a visitor.”  Then he told me the exact times when Leon had been there; my pulse readings had given me away.
          It wasn’t until after the doctor’s third visit that my parents told me I would be in bed for a few months and couldn’t go back to college.  They let me call my dorm so I could speak to my friends and housemother.  That’s when I found out that they knew the day I left that I wouldn’t be returning.  Everyone knew but me.  However, since I was now near Leon, I didn’t mind having to stay home.
          Most of the time I was relatively comfortable.  Every once in a while, however, the pain in my chest became severe.  Burping and hiccoughing were especially painful.  Mother placed a bell by my bed so I could call for her whenever the analgesic wore off.  One night, when I rang the bell and she didn’t come, I tried to fall back to sleep but couldn’t, so I rang again.  After my third attempt to summon her, I felt so helpless that I whimpered, “Oh, Mommy.”  Like a shot, she was at my side.  She may have slept through the sound of the bell, but my voice murmuring her name was enough to rouse her.
          Gradually, my health returned and by the summer, I was able to walk around the house.  The doctor advised against my returning to Syracuse, and said furthermore that if I went to school in Boston, I should do so on a part-time basis only.  With that in mind, I applied to Emerson College, a short subway ride from my home.
          Because the president of Emerson had been the Dean when Mom and Dad were students and knew them both well, he felt comfortable bending the rules.  He admitted me as a sophomore with the under-standing that I’d have to take extra courses each semester to make up for having missed the second half of my freshman year at Syracuse.  He also let me attend my classes only half the time, going to school Monday, Wednesday and Friday one week, and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday the next.  His only requirement was that I maintain a B-plus average, which I had no problem doing.
          So, having just turned eighteen years old, recovering from TB, and with a course overload, I began my life as a sophomore at Emerson College, riding the subway to downtown Boston, walking around in Boston’s Back Bay, attending classes, and doing homework.  Everything about it was fascinating.  My professors were excellent and I enjoyed my fellow students, many of whom went on to careers in the theater.
          Since Emerson was a much smaller school than Syracuse, students and teachers had the opportunity to really get to know one another.  For example, when I signed up for a third year of German, I was the only student.  Fraülein Parkhurst met with me individually and we often had lunch together, speaking in German the entire time.  All my teachers liked me because they could see how hard I worked, despite the fact that I was recovering from a serious illness.  I was given leading roles in almost every play and was never happier than when rehearsing or performing.
          Although I had enjoyed living in a dorm the year before, it was good to be home, sharing a room once again with Karyl.  She was a senior at Newton High and had decided to follow in my footsteps and apply to Syracuse.  This surprised me, for we were nothing alike.  Her love was art while mine was theater.  She was outgoing while I was shy.  She had tremendous self-confidence while I had none.  She was willing to break the rules if she didn’t believe they made sense, whereas I did exactly what my parents told me to do, even after I was married.
          As a result of her interest in art, she was far more observant than I.  One night as we lay in bed talking about the day, I was telling her how handsome I thought Leon was, and that he had the most gorgeous sparkling blue eyes.  Karyl said quietly but decisively, “Leon’s eyes are dark brown.”  How could she think I didn’t know the color of my boyfriend’s eyes?  Although I was irritated with her for contradicting me, I said nothing about it, telling myself I would check the next time I saw Leon.  Then I could tell Karyl she was wrong.  The next day I looked deeply in Leon’s eyes.  Brown.  Karyl had been right, as I promptly conceded. 
          Although our conversations were never especially deep, Karyl shared with me her confusion when it came to choosing between our neighbor, Lee Goodman, now a senior at Trinity College in Hartford, and Leon’s roommate from Harvard, Herb Kramer.  She liked both of them very much and thus far hadn’t been forced to pick one or the other, for they were never in town at the same time.  Herb was there when school was in session and Lee was there during vacations.  All I could do was listen to her musings, for although I believed Herb was a better match for my sister, it was up to her to decide.
It wasn’t far into my first term at Emerson when I began to feel considerably stronger.  Leon and I went out dancing at every opportunity.  Everything and everyone else disappeared as we whirled about the dance floors, effortlessly moving through all the steps we’d perfected at our dance parties in high school.  Often, other couples stopped dancing and circled around us, watching and cheering, and then, when the number finished, they’d applaud.  Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had nothing on us.  We were gloriously happy, sharing our love of dance.
We also loved going out to eat and frequently dined with friends at restaurants all over Boston and Cambridge.  Sometimes we’d combine dinner with the movies.  In between times, we studied.  We lived the carefree college life we’d always admired in the movies,  and despite frequent recurrences of my severe medical problems. I couldn’t have been happier.
All that was needed for life to be perfect was for me to stop feeling insecure.  No matter how many times Leon told me he loved me, no matter how many successes I had in school or on the dance floor, no matter how many times my parents told me they were proud of me, I always felt as if I were physically unattractive and that one day, Leon would look around and say, “I can do better than this.”  He was such a desirable partner in so many ways – his brilliance, his appearance, his outgoing-ness, his charm – I found it hard to believe he had chosen to be with me.  It was unfathomable and I never felt secure in our relationship.
That insecurity didn’t stop me from enjoying every minute I spent with Leon.  I thus responded with mixed feelings when Dad announced he had planned a family trip to Miami Beach over the Christmas holiday.  I didn’t want to be away from Leon for two weeks and Karyl had been looking forward to the chance to spend the holidays with Lee Goodman.  Neither of us voiced our objections, however, and instead acted as if we were delighted.
As it turned out, it was an unforgettable vacation.  We drove through the major cities of the Northeast and then visited the national capital.  From there, we toured the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and on through the small towns of the Carolinas and Georgia.  Accustomed to the elegant restaurants and  hotels of the big cities, Dad was at a loss as we drove through town after town, unable to find a place where we could spend the night.  I’m sure in the big cities of the South, we would have found accommodations, but we were in the middle of nowhere.  Soon, evening turned into night and Dad got sleepier and sleepier behind the wheel.
When we drove by a small hospital, I suggested we see if they had any vacant rooms they’d let us use.  Everyone laughed, but when I pointed out that if Dad continued driving we might have an accident and end up at the hospital anyway, the others agreed to give it a try.  After a brief discussion, the hospital staff said we could stay the night, and they even gave us breakfast in our rooms in the morning.  Such was the hospitality of the south.
           Our time in Florida was so special that I dreamed of visiting again some day with Leon.  I couldn’t imagine a more romantic setting than walking the paths around the Bok Tower, listening to the Carillon playing in the background.  We strolled through the Cypress Gardens and explored the Everglades on an air-boat, intrigued by the semi-tropical vegetation and the exotic birds and animals.  We visited the beautifully landscaped town of Coral Gables with its majestic banyan trees and coral rock archways.  We went to the beach in Coconut Grove at the southernmost end of Miami, long before it became an artist community and hippie hangout in the 1960s.  At the end of our trip, we stayed for several days at the Floridian, a magnificent hotel in Miami Beach.  We arrived home in time for New Year’s Eve, which Leon and I celebrated by going to the theater with our high school friends, the Fisher twins and their dates, and afterwards we went to Norm and Hal’s house where we danced ‘til dawn to the music of the big bands.
When spring came, Leon took me to his home and I met his parents for the first time.  Helen and Henry were living there as well and the conversations were always lively when we visited.  I still felt shy around all of them, despite their kindness to me, and it took me awhile before I became at ease in their presence.
One time, as Leon and I were on our way to the Kruger house to visit, he told me he also had an older brother, Everett.  I never saw him at the house because the family had disowned him after he eloped when he was eighteen.  I was appalled by this and told Leon so.  We discussed how strongly we felt about the importance of family and he agreed that what had been done to his brother was wrong.
By the summer, Leon’s family moved once again, this time to a small two-family home across the street from Temple Emanuel, within walking distance from my home.  Helen and Henry moved to Brookline with their new baby daughter, Toby.  Leon and I visited often and whenever we did, Helen would call me Auntie Aura, making me feel welcome and accepted.  I loved holding Toby and helping to care for her.  Helen clearly enjoyed watching me ooh and aah over her little baby.  Before the year was over, another baby was added to the family when Leon’s brother, Everett, and his wife, Bonnie, had a baby daughter, Judy.  That helped bring the Kruger family back together and I was blissfully happy visiting both babies.  Being an auntie, in name if not in blood, satisfied the maternal longings I’d experienced since I was a young child.
          With the coming of fall, we started our junior years of college, Leon at Harvard and I at Emerson.  It was a happy time, filled with the excitement of school and the joy of spending time with our friends and family.  The war in Europe, which had started two years earlier in the fall of 1939, was still remote.  If it weren’t for discussions with my father over the dinner table, I would hardly have known it was happening.  He read the daily papers and weekly magazines, and listened to commentators on the radio. Then he passed on what he had learned to the rest of us.
          About a month into the school year, Leon took me to see the movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman, at Loew’s State Theatre on Mass Ave in downtown Boston.  Afterwards, he suggested we go for a walk.  We strolled hand-in-hand toward the Charles River.  After we crossed Beacon Street, we walked down to the Esplanade, the beautiful park running alongside the water, and continued until we reached a bench.  There we sat with Leon’s arm around me and my head resting on his shoulder, gazing across the river at the twinkling lights on the Cambridge side.
          Without looking at me, Leon said, “I have something to give you if you will take it.”      
          Continuing to look out over the water, I caught my breath, thinking he was speaking of an engagement ring, but not confident enough to be sure.  In a flash, my thoughts raced back to our freshman year of college when he had moved my diamond and ruby ring from my right hand to my left.  It had built my expectations up only to have them dashed the following day when he told me his parents had said he should stop seeing me.
          Not knowing what else to do, I nodded and hugged him, hoping I would find out soon whether or not I was engaged.  A few days later, Leon made his intentions clear when he brought me three rings to consider.  I was taken aback, having always pictured the moment differently, a formal proposal with a ring already selected.  First he had proposed without my having been certain he had done so, and now he was asking my opinion on rings.  This wasn’t the way it was done in the movies.
          But it was a good way, a practical one.  I told Leon that gold rings sometimes made my finger turn green.  Not realizing this was caused by impurities in the gold and that a higher quality ring would not have that problem, we settled on platinum instead.  With that decision behind us, Leon took a piece of string and measured my ring finger so he’d be sure to buy the right size.
          Then it was time to look at the three diamonds.  They were small, well under a half carat.  I thought they were beautiful, just the right size for my petite hand, and something Leon’s parents could afford.  But I knew my parents would be upset and I was right.  Not only did Dad complain that the diamonds were too small, he embarrassed me by bringing home a couple of much larger rings to show Leon and offered to obtain one wholesale for less than Leon would pay retail.  I was pleased when Leon declined Dad’s offer, saying he wanted me to have a perfect blue-white stone, and that he didn’t want to look for a wholesale bargain.  The whole discussion had made me feel uneasy  with a process that should have made me ecstatically happy.  I vowed that when I had children, I would show appreciation for whatever rings they chose and not besmirch the joyful occasion by haggling over details.
          Leon found exactly what he wanted, a blue-white diamond engagement ring, which I saw as the most beautiful in the whole world.  Its beauty was multiplied many times over in my eyes as a result of my love for Leon.  I couldn’t believe something so wonderful was happening to me.  During my morning subway rides to Emerson, I watched my ring glitter in the streetcar lights.  Listening to lectures, I looked at it surreptitiously.  In the candlelight at supper, I could see it sparkle as I ate my dinner, a constant reminder of what the future held in store.
          Leon and I had decided we wouldn’t marry until we finished college.  It was the responsible thing to do and we were both responsible people.  Knowing we were doing the right thing did not, however, make the waiting any easier.  Night after night we sat on the sofa in my living room and watched the grandfather clock’s hands move inexorably forward, knowing that at 11:45 Leon would have to leave to catch the last bus home.  .
          During those long conversations, we’d talk about what the future held for us.  Leon, despite pressure from his family to become a doctor, wanted to pursue a career in mathematics.  He had loved the field since high school and had wanted to attend MIT – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – as a math major.  His parents had other ideas and said they would only help him through college if he attended Harvard as a pre-med student.  He yielded to their demands regarding his choice of school, but unbeknownst to them declared math his major.
           My thoughts about my professional future were not as clear-cut.  I’d given up on the idea of a career on the stage, recognizing what a difficult lifestyle that involved.  I enjoyed my coursework in speech and my extracurricular time spent on the radio as a freshman at Syracuse but didn’t know yet how those might evolve into a job.  I knew teaching was an option, inspired by my favorite teachers in grammar and high school, but my strongest desire was to be a mother.  With my engagement to Leon, I finally knew that dream would come true.
          I told Leon about my favorite character in literature, Jo from Louisa May Alcott’s book, Little Men.  Jo was strong and independent and knew what she wanted from life.  More than that, she was a devoted mother and a teacher.  I shared with Leon my dream of someday having my own Plumfield, modeled after the school Jo created with her husband, Professor Bhaer.  In the book, set shortly after the Civil War, the couple housed and educated about a dozen boys and two girls, most of whom would not have had a home had it not been for the generosity of the Bhaers. Everything about that life appealed to me.
          Leon listened to me talk about Plumfield and my dreams for the future and I tried to concentrate when he spoke about mathematics, despite the fact that I knew nothing about it, having barely made it through beginning algebra in high school.  Leon’s passion for the subject was obvious, and that was all that mattered to me. I could listen for hours, never tiring of the sound of his voice.
          Often when we’d talk on the living room sofa, I’d sit on Leon’s lap and we’d cuddle while we talked.  I squirmed about uncomfortably because  his wallet or something in his pocket kept poking at me.  It wasn’t until a few years later that it occurred to me what was really in Leon’s pocket.  
          Two glorious months flew by, with my days busy at Emerson and my evenings spent visiting with Leon.  I rehearsed almost every weekend, having had the good fortune to be cast in a lead in our school production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.  The Thanksgiving holidays came and went and the weather turned cold.  On the first Sunday in December, I had to wrap myself in a warm coat for the short walk from the subway station to the theater where we rehearsed.  I loved gazing around the street as I walked, for down-town Boston was adorned with Christmas decorations and everybody was in a festive mood.
          Rehearsal was almost over early Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, when Leon arrived to pick me up.  He interrupted our work to tell us the news he’d heard on his car radio.  The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States was at war.  We sat silently, unable to comprehend what this was going to do to our lives.  Finding it impossible to continue the rehearsal, we all went home.
          The rest of the month was a whirl of activity as people around us began to gear up for the war effort.  The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 had lowered the mandatory age for registration from twenty-one to eighteen.  Leon, like many other men who were suddenly required to register, had not yet responded.  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed that.  Young men all over the country rushed to recruiting offices to register for the draft.
          When Leon did so, he learned about his options and decided he didn’t want to wait for his number to be called.  He wanted to enlist, for if he were drafted, he would most likely be called into the infantry as a foot soldier and his preference was to be a pilot.  He already had his license and wanted to fly for the Navy Air Corps.  If he did that, he would finish school before going into the military, because the Air Corps wanted college graduates.
          It was time for me to make some decisions as well.  With our country at war, I was determined not to wait a year-and-a-half to get married and I shared my thoughts with Leon over the Christmas holidays.  I suggested we have the wedding in March at the start of our spring vacation, go on our honeymoon during our break, and return to school the following week.  We could live in one of the spare bedrooms in my parents’ home. Leon agreed with my suggestion and set about to make it happen.  He went to his parents and told them the Kerns would consent to the marriage if they would.  He then went to my parents and said the same thing.  His strategy paid off and both sets of parents gave their approval.  Whether they would have, had they not each believed the other had already said yes, I’ll never know.
          My father was the one most concerned.  It wasn’t that we were young, which is what I expected his objection to be; it was that Leon was going off to war.  Dad asked me during dinner if I’d considered the possibility of being widowed as a nineteen-year-old, or having Leon come home severely wounded.  He thought it would be wiser to wait until after the war so I could be sure I still wanted to marry Leon.  It was easy for me to respond.  There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted whatever time Leon and I could have together before the war, in case he never came home at all.  I said if we waited and Leon came home incapacitated, I’d marry him anyway.  I wanted to be Leon’s wife, even if he was severely wounded.
          Still unsure whether he should give his consent, Dad called his mother for advice.  He respected Grandma’s opinion on the matter since she’d had to deal with a son in the army during World War I and with the subsequent death of her husband in a train accident.  She was left alone with six children and a seventh on the way and knew all about what it meant to be a relatively young widow.  Dad fully expected Grandma to say we should wait.  When he came back to the dinner table, he looked surprised.  She had told him we should take our happiness while we could and that Aura was a strong young woman who could handle adversity if necessary.
          With that, Mom and Dad agreed to the marriage in March, though they exacted a promise from us – the same one that Leon’s folks specified – that we complete our college educations.  Since this was what we’d intended all along, it wasn’t a problem. By the end of the holidays, Leon and I were formally engaged, a March wedding planned, and I was walking about in a dream.  I felt as if I were a debutante, with one party after another celebrating our news.  My mother-in-law threw a luncheon at the Copley Plaza Hotel to introduce me to her set.  Helen and Henry threw a party at their home for Leon’s and my closest friends.  Mother and Dad hosted an afternoon affair at our house for our classmates from Harvard and Emerson. That same day, when all the young people had left, the two extended families arrived for the most sumptuous party my parents ever gave.
          Everything was a whirl of activity as we prepared for the wedding.  One afternoon, when I was visiting Helen, Henry, and baby Toby, Helen offered me her gown, saying she would be honored to have me wear it.  I thanked her and said I’d try it on.  As Helen put it over my head, she hugged me and said, “I’ll be your matron of honor.”  My matron of honor?  I was tongue-tied.  I wasn’t planning to have a matron of honor.  My sister, Karyl, was to be my maid of honor and I didn’t want anything to detract from that.  I wasn’t even going to have bridesmaids.  Since I didn’t know how to say no to Helen, however, I remained silent.
          In the days that followed, I became more and more concerned, perusing a bridal magazine from cover to cover, underlining the rules for proper wedding etiquette, and finding nothing that indicated you could have both a maid and a matron of honor.  Since I wanted everything to be perfect, I was distressed.  Mother and Dad calmed me down, saying we could make any rules for the wedding that we liked.  There was no reason I couldn’t have both a maid and matron of honor even if the book implied that this was improper.  What a valuable lesson!  From the time I was a small child, they’d always said, “We do not care what the Jones's say or do.  We do what’s right for us.”  Here I was, nineteen-years old and almost married, and I finally understood the wisdom in their words.  It turned out to be very special that my sister was my maid of honor and my sister-in-law my matron of honor.
          As the wedding date approached, Mother took me shopping.  I would have worn Helen’s gown if it had fit, but it was much too big for me.  Instead, I found a new one that was exactly what I wanted.  Then we bought some clothes for the honeymoon.  We picked out gorgeous hats, shoes and bags that matched.  While I was being fitted for an ivory colored faille taffeta wedding gown, Mother told me that Grandma and Grandpa wanted to give me a strand of wedding pearls.
          We went to the counter in the department store where real pearls were displayed at one end and costume ones at the other.  When I started to look at the real pearls, Mother reminded me that Grandma and Grandpa didn’t have much money, so I moved to the other end of the counter to look at the inexpensive ones.  I picked out the most beautiful strand of tiny pearls I had ever seen.  Surely, these couldn’t be imitation!  I could hardly believe it when I saw that the price tag said six dollars.  I was so certain that a mistake had been made that I asked the sales clerk to double check.  She assured me the pearls were marked correctly and Mom said we’d buy them, adding that we’d tell Grandma and Grandpa they were only two dollars, since that’s all they could afford to spend.  Interestingly, when I had the pearls appraised several years later, I was told they were worth six hundred dollars.  I had been right all along.  The pearls were real and had been placed at the wrong end of the counter by mistake.
          A large wedding was planned with over 250 guests.  My whole life I’d wanted a big wedding with our entire extended family present.  I’d always been close to aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles, cousins, first, second, and even third, and I wanted them to share this joy with me.  With all the excitement and semester exams at college looming, I was not prepared for the roadblock that suddenly appeared.
          When Leon went to enlist in the Navy Air Corps, he was told they wouldn’t take married men.  Too many pilots never made it back and the government thought the risks too high for someone with a wife.  Knowing how much he wanted to fly, I offered to postpone the wedding until after he enlisted.  It was the most generous gesture I’ve ever made, since I much preferred that he be given a lower-risk assignment.  I swallowed hard and tried not to think of the possible dire consequences.
          Leon thanked me for the offer, but said he’d first check with the Army Air Corps to see if they had the same policy.  Until a week earlier, they did.  At that time, however, their ranks were so depleted that they modified their rules to accept married men.  Leon jumped at the chance and enlisted immediately.  As expected, he was told they would wait until after he graduated in June of 1943 before calling him up.  My hope was that by then, the war would be over.  We could be married after all and would then have a year-and-a-half together regardless.  A heavy weight rolled off my heart when I learned the wedding was on again.
          I went on my merry way only to be hit with another roadblock, one even more daunting than the first.  In the late 1930s and early 40s, states all over the country were instituting “anti-syphilis marriage laws” requiring a clean bill of health – as demonstrated by a blood test – before couples could wed.  We weren’t concerned, given that we both were virgins.  Leon’s sister Helen suggested that instead of just getting our tests done, however, we should go to her obstetrician-gynecologist not only for our physicals, but also for a discussion about sex.  She was convinced this was important for our marriage and my mother agreed.  In today’s world, teenagers are far more knowledgeable about such matters, but back in 1942, we were still living in an age of innocence, one in which sex was discussed as little as possible.
          Even women who had been married for years rarely talked about this verboten subject.  When I returned from my appointment with the doctor, Mother, her cousins, and her friends all cornered me to ask what I had learned from the sex talk.  I repeated what Dr. Janney had said that impressed me the most:  Experiencing sex for the first time is like having a new car.  You take it out for a test drive, see how fast it can go, how it operates on hills, and how it parks in tight spaces.  You explore your car, get a feel for what makes it drive most comfortably.  He said with sex, you do the same thing.  He advised us to get to know each other and see what made us feel good.  He concluded by saying we could do whatever we wanted and not worry about what others might say concerning what was right or wrong.
          Dr. Janney not only believed in young couples having sexual knowledge, he also defied Massachusetts law by dispensing birth control information.  When we told him we wanted to use birth control, he gave me a diaphragm and tried to teach me how to use it.  I had so much difficulty, he suggested Leon use a condom instead.  This was  important for us, because Leon and I had decided to have no children until we’d completed college, as promised, he’d returned from the war, and we were financially independent.
          Thinking my interaction with Dr. Janney was behind me, I was disturbed a few days later when he called to ask me to return for a re-test.  Assuming the only reason he could possibly have asked me to do this was that I had syphilis, I was devastated.  Helen, trying to make me feel better, called him to ask why I needed to come back.  She reported that he said the blood vial could have broken in transit or been lost, that it was no big deal.  It turns out that he had withheld the truth.  Dr. Janney needed me to take a second test because the first one was positive.
          When Dr. Janney told me the bad news, I didn’t know what to say.  How could that be possible?  He said not to worry about it until we got back the results from a second test.  I tried, but it was impossible.  What would Leon think?  How could he possibly believe I was still a virgin?  I felt as if my life were over.  If I had syphilis, then I couldn’t marry Leon, yet I could no longer imagine my life without him.  Before I had a chance to think about what to say to Leon, Dad told me to say nothing until the second test came back and we knew for sure.  Always the obedient daughter, I did as I was told.
          In the meantime, I went through the motions of attending school and getting ready for the wedding, but it all felt pointless.  Mother took me to have pictures taken in my wedding gown by one of the most prestigious photographers in the country.  She and Dad decided they would spend the extra money for a top-notch artist because I was not pretty enough to look attractive in the pictures otherwise.  Other people looking at them now see only a young bride-to-be; I see a miserable young woman filled with sadness,  afraid she might have syphilis.
          I did my best to appear to Leon as if I were having a good time as our wedding day approached.  His Harvard friends, instead of giving him a stag party, took the two of us out for a spaghetti dinner and then presented us with two tickets in the first row of the balcony for the play Louisiana Purchase.  It was an evening full of fun – for everyone but me.  I was so worried about the possibility of syphilis hanging over me that I could barely concentrate on the actors’ lines.  As we stood up to leave, I touched the balcony's railing and gave a thought to going over it.  Everyone would believe it was an accident, I would be dead, and Leon would be free to marry someone else.
          Before Dr. Janney called with the results of the second test, Mother and Dad told me they knew how I might have caught the disease.  Back in those days, people thought syphilis could be contracted by sitting on a toilet used by someone with the disease.  Grandma Kern had her sister Alice and Alice’s daughter Jeannie living with her for a couple of years, during which time we had visited.  Both Alice and Jeannie had syphilis and my parents feared they had passed it on to me.  Mother and Dad were apologetic, feeling as if they were to blame for my predicament.
          When I went back to see Dr. Janney, he told me the second test was positive and I would have to undergo treatment for the next three years.  When I asked if I would be allowed to marry after that time, he said that I would not only be able to wed, but also wouldn't have to wait.  I was free to proceed with our plans, as long as treatment had begun.  With that, he sent me to another doctor who told me I'd be receiving weekly bismuth shots in my buttocks for several years.  He warned me that the shots were painful and I quickly discovered this was true.  For a couple of days after each shot, it hurt so much to walk that I was forced to limp.
          When I got home after my first shot, Leon was there waiting for me.  Before I could tell him what had happened, he hugged me and said that his test had come back positive.  When I told him mine had, too, he hugged me again and said how sorry he was that I’d probably caught it from him.  I was so concerned about what he might think of me, given that I had the disease, it never occurred to me to worry about how he might have gotten it.  I knew he’d been popular in high school,  suave and sophisticated, so I assumed his having syphilis meant he’d been sexually active.  But I didn’t let that bother me.  I was so happy to have finally confided in him and to know that our wedding would take place as planned, nothing was going to get me down.
          What I didn’t know was that my father had talked with Leon while I was at the doctor’s and told him the whole story.  Dad assured my fiancé that I was still a virgin, which was considered extremely important in those days, and must have caught the disease from my grandmother’s sister.  He concluded by saying he hoped Leon would still want to marry me, but that if he wanted to call off the wedding, Dad would understand and take care of the details.
          At that point, my knight in shining armor told my father that the marriage would stand.  Then Leon told Dad he wanted to handle this his own way; he asked my father to say nothing to me about our conversation.  It wasn’t until halfway through our honeymoon that Leon told me the truth.  We had just seen the new movie, King’s Row, starring Ronald Reagan in the role of a man who had both his legs amputated.  I was impressed with the selflessness of his fiancée who insisted on marrying him anyway.
          In discussing the movie, we touched on our own situation and Leon said he had tested positive.  He chose to deceive me, fearing that if I knew the truth, I would refuse to marry him, believing it unfair to saddle him with a wife with syphilis.  He didn’t want me to make the same mistake he had made two years earlier when he broke off our relationship, saying it was unfair for me to be tied to a man with so many years of education ahead of him before he could support a family.  At that time, Helen had said it was my choice to make.  This time, Leon believed it was his.  He deceived me to prevent me from backing out.  As he told me what he had done, I wept, and promised myself that someday, some way, I would do for Leon what he had done for me.
          Within a few years, the medical community discovered that some people run a false positive, i.e., the serological tests indicate they have syphilis when they don’t.  Given that I continued to test positive even after I’d finished the bismuth shots, it’s clear that I’m one of those people.  Three times later in life, I had a series of penicillin shots, just to be safe, but to this day, I test positive.
          At the time of our wedding, I still believed I had syphilis, and it cast a pall over the event for me.  Nobody else seemed bothered, however, so I tried not to think about it.  Invitations went out.  The rehearsal dinner was a success.  The marriage ceremony itself was spectacular, followed by a heartwarming time in a receiving line during which everybody said wonderful things to me, and finally a magnificent formal dinner and dance.
          I was in heaven all night, feeling beautiful and enjoying the attention from my family and close friends.  My little sister was an angelic maid of honor in her pink lace gown, and Herb Kramer, her clear choice now, was Leon’s best man.  Helen made a shocking splash wearing a bright red dress with a train, unheard of for a matron of honor.  My Dad had corsages made for all his sisters, the first they’d ever received.  Mother was beautiful in gray, and Grandma and Grandpa danced the evening away.
          During the dinner, several of Leon’s pals regaled the crowd with the popular song, I Only Want a Buddy, Not a Sweetheart, reminding me of how his Harvard friends had hummed the tune during the Harvard-Michigan football game our freshman year.  How far we had come since our days in high school when Leon bemoaned the fact that I wasn’t a boy, saying what a shame it was since I was his best friend.  He certainly seemed glad I was a girl the night our honeymoon started at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. 

          When we awoke late the following morning, planning to drive to New York City, we were greeted with a major spring snowstorm.  We had to wait to get started and when we did, progress was slow.  Instead of going all the way to New York, we stopped in New Haven and checked into a hotel.  Even though we were married, I felt guilty about getting a room together, perhaps because the stop in New Haven was unplanned.  Somehow, it seemed as if my parents should have been in the next room chaperoning.  Of course, those feelings didn’t last and I rapidly grew accustomed to thinking of myself as Mrs. Leon Kruger.  I loved the sound of my new name and it sent a thrill through me every time somebody said it out loud.
          That second night of our honeymoon, we went to the movies and saw Jack Benny and Carole Lombard in the comedy, To Be or Not to Be.  When we got to New York, we stayed at the Edison Hotel in Times Square, saw three plays, a couple of movies, danced at a nightclub, ate at the Automat, bought gifts for the family with money my parents had given us, had dinner at Herb’s father’s home, and walked the streets of New York.  By the time we began our drive home at the end of the week, we felt as if we were an experienced, sophisticated, old married couple.  We were taken by surprise when a tollbooth attendant congratulated us on our marriage.  Apparently the glow on our faces gave us away.
          Monday morning we returned to college to complete our junior year.  I moved from the bedroom I’d shared with my sister for so many years to the guest room on the third floor that I now shared with Leon.  It was furnished with the bedroom set my parents had purchased when they were first married and my folks gave us a new desk so we could study as we’d promised.  We found it was easier to concentrate on our schoolwork than it had been before we were married.  Leon would sit at the desk working on his math problems while I sprawled on the bed reading.  We were deliriously happy.
          Dad bought us a car so that we could commute to school together.  Leon would drive me to Emerson in the morning, cross the river to Harvard for his studies, and then pick me up in the late afternoon.  By the time we got home, dinner was almost ready and we were able to relax. Since we lived with my parents, we had neither household nor financial responsibilities.  It was an idyllic existence.
          Our weekends were spent gallivanting around Boston with Karyl and Herb, or Helen and Henry, or Everett and Bonnie.  Our old friend Bobby Jamron from our junior year dance parties was going steady with Marcia, one of Karyl’s friends, and we sometimes double-dated with the two of them.  We had lots of parties at the house, dancing for hours the way we used to do in high school.
          When the school year ended, Dad invited Leon to work in one of his diners.  The year I left for college, Dad had finally gotten out of the lottery and used the money he’d made there and in the stock market to get into the restaurant business.  He transformed himself into the epitome of the legitimate businessman, leaving his racketeering days behind, much to my relief.  I had always hated the fact that I wasn’t allowed to talk about his work to anyone, not even Leon, and I don’t think I could have handled it if I’d had to keep up the deception once we were married.
AURA WAS RULED BY HER FATHER
WELL INTO ADULTHOOD.

          At some point, Dad must have told Leon the whole story, for I became aware that Leon knew all about it.  I assumed it didn’t bother him, since he never brought it up or asked me why I hadn’t told him about it.  I hoped that since it was now in the past, he viewed it as irrelevant.  It was years later that I learned Leon had been very much disturbed not only by my father’s illegal activities, but also by my having followed my father’s directive and kept them a secret.  If I had it all to do over again, I would have been more open with Leon as soon as it became obvious we were getting serious.  At the time, however, I was naïve in many ways, and very much under my father’s thumb.  Dad continued to rule me well into my adulthood, and my inability to break free would create future difficulties.
          After a summer working for my father, Leon was content to return to Harvard for his senior year.  Fewer and fewer young men were on the street and college campuses as they enlisted in the military or were drafted, and Leon knew his time would come.  But, for now at least, because the Army Air Corps wanted college graduates, he was free to pursue his education.  Herb, on the other hand, decided to enlist and apply to Officer’s Training School.  Glad to have a smart young man with three years of college behind him, they shipped him off to Fort Devons in western Massachusetts to start training.  Karyl was left behind to begin her sophomore year at Boston University, but visited Herb as frequently as possible.  Whenever he was allowed to leave camp, he’d come to Boston and stay with us.
          That fall, eight months after my wedding, he and Karyl decided to get married, and he took the train to New York to get permission from his father.  At eighteen, Karyl was old enough to wed without her parents consent, but men had to be twenty-one; Herb was only twenty.  Leon and I knew about the Massachusetts law controlling this because earlier that year, when we went to City Hall to get a marriage certificate, he was sent home to get his mother’s signature.  Although we found it embarrassing to be treated like children, we were able to laugh about it.
          What happened to Herb, however, was no laughing matter.  His father refused to give his consent, saying he expected Herb to remain single until he was closer to thirty and well-established. Herb returned to Boston, crestfallen.  We all sat around the fire in the living room, wondering what could be done.  Then I remembered that Leon’s brother, Everett, had eloped to New Hampshire when he was eighteen.  Dad called a friend who was a lawyer to see if that was still possible.  It was.  Karyl and Herb could be married at City Hall in Nashua the following morning.
          Early the next day, Leon and I drove Karyl and Herb to New Hampshire  and witnessed their civil ceremony.  When it was over, we called home, acting as if Mom and Dad knew nothing beforehand.  They arranged for a rabbi to come to the house that evening for a religious service, and then made reservations for a formal dinner afterward at the Kenmore Hotel.  Once all the plans were in place, Dad called Herb’s father and stepmother, told them the news, and invited them to come to Boston for the festivities.  They refused, saying Herb was forever out of their lives.
          Not letting their rejection dampen the mood, we held a beautiful wedding ceremony in our living room a few hours later.  Grandma and Grandpa took the streetcar in from WinthropLeon’s parents and a few of our neighbors joined us as well.  The mother of Karyl’s best friend Marcia played the wedding march on our piano as Karyl and I glided down the stairs.  Herb, looking handsome in his uniform, waited at the bottom with Leon.  I couldn’t have been happier for my sister.
         The next morning, Mother placed a blue star in the window of our front door to indicate that a family member served in the military.  We prayed we’d never have to exchange it for a gold star, which is what was done if a soldier died in the war effort.  Now that she was an army wife, Karyl took a leave of absence from Boston University and followed Herb from camp to camp until his training was complete and didn’t return home to Boston to finish her college education until Herb left for the Pacific theater of operation.
          Every day, the war crept deeper into our everyday lives.  There were shortages in the stores and we needed ration stamps for many items.  There were red stamps for meats and dairy products, blue stamps for other groceries.  Special coupons were issued for luxuries like coffee and sugar.  Each person could buy only one pair of shoes per year.  Gasoline was rationed to conserve fuel for the war effort.  Factories operated 24 hours a day.
          Nobody minded making these minor sacrifices at home, because we all knew that the soldiers were making far greater ones.  One by one, the young men in our extended family disappeared into the military.  Henry Lerner enlisted in the Medical Corps and he, Helen, and baby Toby left for North Carolina.  My cousins, Marshall and Lawrence Elman, with whom I had spent those glorious summers at Ocean Beach, went off, Laurie to Europe and Marshall to the South Pacific.
          Christmas of ’42 was bleak.  The war was not going well and American boys were dying.  With Karyl and Herb gone, it was difficult for us all to celebrate the holidays, but we did the best we could.  Shortly after the start of the New Year, I returned home from school to find Leon standing in the doorway with a letter in his hand and a disturbed look in his eyes.  Without a word, he handed me the missive.  “Greetings,” it said.  “You are to report for duty…”  So many pilots had been killed in action that the Army Air Corps could no longer afford the luxury of allowing young men to graduate before commencing training.  Leon was given less than a week to report to the downtown Armory.  We held each other tightly and my eyes filled at the realization that our time together was to be cut short.
          I went to school the next day, desperately trying to hang on to a few more hours of normalcy before my life whirled out of control.  When I arrived at Emerson, my friend Jolly Baker showed me his letter – just like Leon’s.  He, too, had been hoping to graduate before beginning training, only to have his hopes dashed.  Unlike Leon, however, he wouldn’t have a chance to see his family before being inducted, since they lived in Maryland.  When he told me that, I offered to pick him up at his dorm early Friday morning so he would at least have some friends with him that last morning.
          I drove home from school that afternoon knowing my life would be forever changed.  Mother placed a second blue star in the window of our front door and we again prayed we’d never have to replace them with gold.