[Following is an essay written by my father, Paul Arnold Bredenberg, in 2003. A further explanation will follow. ARB]
A Yearbook Encounter
By Paul Arnold Bredenberg
It started with a newspaper clipping sent by my brother, who still lives in my old home town. The story was a tribute to Naz Servideo, an old acquaintance of mine who died recently. He was a basketball star on our great high school team of ’38-’39, the team that almost won the state championship. We lost by four points. I always felt that we would have won if Naz, our best shooter, had taken just three more shots. Do you suppose that loss is long forgotten and has entirely ceased to hurt? Think again — it’s been only sixty-four years. A fellow needs time.
I was a student manager for that team, and the players treated me like one of the family. How many times had I taped Naz’s ankles before he went out on the court? 1 just had to get out my yearbook and find the team picture for that year. Maybe not one of my better ideas, but I couldn’t help it.
There they were. What athletes! Two of them, who also played football, went on after the war to play the end positions (offense and defense in those days) on the New York Giants first team. Both are also now deceased.
But what happens once your yearbook lies open? Your finger turns page after page, you see row after row of those clear young faces, most of them hauntingly familiar. Your finger stops now and then under pictures of the smart and talented and, in my case, of a few girls who caught my eye, gave me “ideas,” but seemed unreachably distant. I found, however, that they had signed their names beside their pictures, so apparently I was not hopelessly shy.
My finger paused for some time under Vito’s picture. It seemed I had always known him. His father had been my barber as far back as I could remember. The next pause was for Archie — tall, raw-boned, tough — but as gentle and kind a friend as you could ask for. The thing is, I knew that Vito and Archie never came back from the war in Europe.
The picture that held my attention for the longest time was the one of Stanley. Seeing that strong young face, with the expression that always seemed to me slightly cynical, my thoughts spun back in time more than sixty years. Stanley was the kid next door, my companion on neighborhood adventures. We walked to school together and were about as close as teenagers can get.
When the war was over and I had received my discharge from the Navy, I went home for a brief visit with my parents before going back to work on my college degree. Approaching the house, I looked down the driveway between our place and the neighbor’s; then upward against the sky I could see the line running between the second floor windows of the two houses. I smiled.
On my first trip upstairs to my room I went over to my desk beside the window. There was my little apparatus, just as I’d left it several years before. I’d put it together with scrap wood, metal and wire. Adding a store-bought lantern-type battery and a buzzer, what I had created was a kind of telegraph terminal. Stanley had put together a similar rig in his room across the driveway, and we had strung a two-way insulated wire through our room windows connecting our “terminals. ”
What we had in mind was to send messages back and forth by Morse Code. But first we had to learn the Code. Perhaps we thought it might be worth a Scout merit badge. We went to work on it and got to the point of being able to chat back and forth at about ten words per minute, maybe more.
Now, years later, 1 thought to myself, just for the heck of it, let’s try it out. Surprisingly, my buzzer worked just fine. I raised my window, pressed my key, but couldn’t tell for sure whether Stanley’s buzzer was sounding.
I found my mother down in the kitchen.
“Mom, I just tried to get a signal to Stanley. Do you know whether he’s home these days?”
Her hand flew to cover her face, as it always did when she was surprised or embarrassed. “Oh, my Lord,” she said. “I forgot to tell you …. His parents got word, oh sometime last summer, I think …. that he was missing in action. Then a few months later someone came to tell them that he … that he would not be coming back … from Europe.”
She reached out her arms to hold me, her eyes watering. “I’m so sorry … I know how you and Stanley ….” I held her close and didn’t try to stop my own tears. The wound was as dose to the heart as any that war would bring me.
Back in my room I sat at my desk a long time, looking down that telegraph line to Stanley’s window. My youthful sentiment at the time was that in the years to come there would always be a kind of connecting line between us, even though one of the terminals lay under a small white cross on a gentle green slope in the north of France.
Nearly sixty years later, that line is still there. It carries no messages in code tapped out with finger on key, but one can tell movement on the line by pressing a finger under a certain small picture in an old high- school yearbook.
[The essay quoted above was published in 2003 in the newsletter for Whitaker Glen, the retirement community where my father and mother, Paul and Gladys Bredenberg, were living at the time. During his last several years, my dad began doing some writing and published a series of essays and poems in the newsletter. I always wished he had done more writing and that he had sought broader publishing venues, but near the end of the life he seemed satisfied to reach his small audience there at Whitaker Glen. This was always my favorite of his pieces, and recently some family members said they would like to read it again. So here it is.]
ARB — 14 November 2015