One day my youngest son Jack—I think he was in fifth grade—came home from school: “We’re studying World War Two,” he announced, not very happily. “And I have to find someone who was alive back then and interview them. How am I ever going to find anyone?”
“What about me?” I asked.
“I was around then.”
“You were? You’re that old?” These words were expressed with a mix of disbelief and awe and maybe shock.
Jack interviewed me, and as we talked I realized (to my surprise) that although at the time I was very young (four years old when the USA entered the war) I remembered quite a lot: My father in uniform, black-outs, listening to the radio for war news, food rationing, scrap metal drives.… and a lot more. I thought: I could write about this. And indeed, that’s how Don’t You Know There’s A War On? began. The title comes from a phrase very common in the time, a kind of universal answer to anything that happened.
Memories notwithstanding, I did have to do a lot of research, and was (on my part) in awe how truly this was a world war, and how the United States, for the most part (Pearl Harbor excepted) was untouched, but deeply engaged. Hence my memories.
I remember, too, “V‑J, Day,” when the surrender of Japan was announced, the war over, and the spontaneous parade in which I was a tiny part.
When I do readings of my books—which is something I very much enjoy—I always read an excerpt from this book. As a read-aloud, it’s very effective.
The book, however real its surround, is a work of fiction. But it is memorable to me because it is a love story, though the word “love” is never used. For it is about how Howie Crispers, my young protagonist, truly falls in love with Miss Grissom, his teacher.
Now the point is, “Miss Rolanda Grissom,” is one-hundred percent a fictional invention. Yet, even as my main character fell in love with her, I, the author, did too.
Who was she? Was she in any way based on anyone I knew at any age? I have racked my brain to figure that out. I never did. I had invented her, but it didn’t keep me from falling in love with her. A bit like the ancient myth of Pygmalion.
But unlike the myth, I never learned what happened to her.
Maybe someone can tell me.