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This true story was told to the author by a friend some years ago.
The night before my grandmother died I was reprimanded at the dinner table and told I wouldn't be allowed to listen on the radio to what was to be the game of the year for New York City's football fans. It was early December 1941, and my father had been telling my mother and me how the dense fog had rolled in that morning. Before it was engulfed in the fog, he said, the Statue of Liberty had looked like a spotlighted Ziegfeld Follies girl with stage smoke at her feet. I'd seen the fog on the water, too, so I piped in, "Yeah, you couldn't even see Jersey."
As soon as I said it, I knew I was in trouble. We lived in a brownstone on West 44th Street, and I was forbidden to go to the docks along the Hudson. My father put down his fork. "Where did you have occasion to see New Jersey?" he asked. I couldn't believe my stupidity. "Well?" my father said, his face growing stern. I knew I was doomed. I didn't say anything. He told me to come directly home after school and stay in my room every day for a week. And then came the crusher: "And no radio, and that includes the game on Sunday."
He knew how to hurt. My team, the New York Football Giants, already Eastern Division champs, was playing the Brooklyn Football Dodgers for the second time that season. The Brooks had beaten the Giants at Ebbets Field the first time around, and as my friend Tommy, who had moved to 44th Street from Brooklyn, said, champs or not, if the Giants lost again they'd be second in the city. I told my father he couldn't do that to me. He sent me to my room.
When I came home from school the next day, there was a black crepe wreath on our front door. Before I was able to figure out why it was there. Mom came out on the stoop and told me that Nanna had died last night. "Last night?" I said, not so upset that Nanna had died as that she had died in my old bed in the room she'd taken over from me the summer before. I'd been sleeping in the room next to her when she'd died.
Nanna had been sick for as long as I could remember, and she never really did seem to know who I was. Mom said that Nanna was in the parlor now. "I thought you said Nanna was dead," I said. "She is," said Mom, and then she told me about wakes and funerals and how they helped us to say goodby. "It's only until Monday," she said, but I was scared to go into the house. Mom asked if I would rather spend the weekend with her brother, my Uncle Roy.
If I was scared to go into the house, I was terrified about the prospect of staying with Uncle Roy. Whenever he looked at me I felt like I'd done something wrong. And knowing he'd know about my punishment for disobeying, there was no way I wanted to stay there. "What about Uncle Dan's?" I asked my mother.
"You know your father won't let you go to Uncle Dan's," she said. Whenever the subject came up—Uncle Dan often would invite me—Dad would tell me to go upstairs, then he'd say to my mother, "You know how much I love Dan," and then he would go on about Dan's "ways" and how he wouldn't have me exposed to them.
"Then I'll stay here," I said. Mom said that if I didn't want to see Nanna, I could close my eyes and she'd lead me to the back stairs. I took her hand and closed my eyes.
The house smelled different. I held my breath until we got up to my room. I ran to the window, opened it and breathed in the moist air. The fog was getting worse again. "Mommy," I said, "can I stay at Tommy's?" I must have looked even worse than I felt because she immediately said, "Yes, dear, I'm sure you can. Let me call Tommy's mother."