I Give Up, Where Was I?

HOWARD KLEINBERG

December 04, 1991|By HOWARD KLEINBERG

MIAMI. — Miami--So, everyone old enough remembers exactly where he was when the news was flashed of the attack on Pearl Harbor, eh? Not quite. Fifty years later, my family is arguing about it.

My father insists he was at the Polo Grounds in New York on December 7, 1941, watching a National Football League game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers. Until recently, that claim went unchallenged. But several years ago my mother interrupted the telling of his story to claim that both she and he were at my Uncle Charlie's place.

This has unnerved my father. When I brought it up to him again last weekend, his face turned red and he responded authoritatively. ''Don't tell me where I was; I know where I was. I was in the Polo Grounds, watching the Giants and Packers! I'll tell you how I know. The first announcement on the public address system wasn't that Pearl Harbor was attacked, but was a call for Wild Bill Donovan (an intelligence aide to Franklin Roosevelt). The next announcement was a call to all servicemen at the game to return to their posts. Now, you wouldn't have heard that at Uncle Charlie's place, would you?''

Sorry, dad, but if you were listening to the game on the radio -- and Uncle Charlie had a radio -- then you could have heard that.

But this is where I enter the picture. I was nine years old at the time and I remember listening to the Giants-Packers game on the radio. I remember the game being interrupted for word of Pearl Harbor. But was it in my own home or at Uncle Charlie's? I recall being in my living room, which is where we had the radio. That would have me siding with my father, because if he and she were at Uncle Charlie's, I certainly would have been with them.

The history of the world will not turn on how this argument comes out, but it does show that we often think we were doing something at a particular time, or in another way identified with a prominent person or event, when we were not.

When Sandy Koufax became a world-class pitcher for the Dodgers in the Sixties, every Jewish kid who ever lived in New York -- or elsewhere, for that matter -- claimed some sort of relationship to him. They either were first cousins, second cousins, nephews or related to Sandy's mother on her father's side. No person in America had as many relatives as Sandy Koufax.

Most everyone alive then recalls hearing the first bulletin of the assassination of John Kennedy. I often wonder how so many of us heard it when it came at a time -- mid-day -- when most of America either was at work or in school.

But back to my father. He is getting on in years and I do not really feel like challenging him on this issue. Let him battle it out with my mother. But curiosity drove me to the microfilm file of a newspaper from that 1941 day. I couldn't recall who won the Giants-Packers game and I wanted to know.

What I saw shocked me. The Giants played at the Polo Grounds on December 7, 1941, all right, but they didn't play the Green Bay Packers. They lost, 21-7, to the Brooklyn Dodgers -- a franchise that disappeared shortly after World War II.

And until this moment, I would swear I heard the Giants and Packers on the radio that day; my father insists he saw them from a seat in the stadium. And even if we were over at Uncle Charlie's, surely we would remember -- indelibly -- who played the Giants on the Day of Infamy, the day that so affected us that we all are supposed to remember where we were then.

It just goes to show you; not everyone is Sandy Koufax's cousin, either.

Howard Kleinberg is a columnist for Cox News Service.

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