[I grew up as a kid reading Howard Vincent OBrien in the Daily News. On re-reading him now, more than sixty years later, I cant believe how good he was and how simply he expressed profound thoughts. I already gave you one, describing when his son left for the military service, for what was then known as the Army Air Force. Here is the second column out of three that Ill give you from OBrien.]
It was a bright October morning. Nature smiled through her veil of green and gold and scarlet.
I had no appointmentsnothing exciting on the days calendar. The infant was being readied for school. The cook was dressing for her day out. Grandma was starting for the grocery.
Then the phone rang. Four times before anybody answered it.
There was a choking silence at the dear, familiar voice. Only an hour between trains, Mom. Yes, it was sudden. These things always are. Yes, Im committed. No, I cant tell you. England, I think.
There was a mad scramble into city clothes, a race for the train, a ride that never seemed to end.
He was waiting for us at the officeso straight, so gravely gentle. The navigators wings gleamed on his tunic and there was a droll little wisp of a mustache under his nose, hardly visible against his clear skin.
In one respect he hadnt changed. He was broke. He grinned when he told us.
He kissed his mother and patted her on the shoulder. Her lip trembled but she caught herself quickly. Your face needs washing, she said, just as if time stood still.
Furtively, he glanced at the watch on his slender wrist. It wouldnt do to be late, he said. The Army might call it desertion.
The hands on the station clock seemed to be spinning. We talked against time, pressing out the words. There was so much to be said, so many questions to be asked. But one forgot what one wanted to know. Or perhaps one really didnt want to know. My fingers shook a little as I wrote down his serial number.
We skirted the reefs on which our thoughts were. We wanted off to other waters, aimless but safer. We talked about the new gyro compass, the accuracy of flak, the merits of the B-17 against the Liberator, the cold at thirty thousand feet, the chance of a broken leg when bailing out.
One listening might have thought we were really interested.
The silence grew longer. We just looked at him and he looked awaynot at us, not at the restaurant walls. He looked far away and I do not know what he saw.
He was close to us thenand oh, so very far away! I thought of Noel Cowards poem about the bombers droning in the nightI could only remember one linesomething about well never know.
I asked him if he would be glad to find it was England. He said hed rather go to the Pacific. I dont think I like Japs, he said.
That was all he said. I think his mind was on his school days in Germanyon his classmates, especially the blond, blue-eyed boy who led the Boy Scout troops when he went camping in the Alps
the boy who held him when he slipped on the edge of a crevasse.
There was a long silence. He looked at the clock. You have all the dopeabout the insurance, I mean?
Yes, I said. I have it all.
Then I think I better be going.
He kissed his mother as he got into the taxi. Then he did a strange thing. He turned and touched his lips to my cheek. And with a faint little smile he said to his mother, Dont let the Ancient One worry too much, will you, Mom?
That was all. For a minute I felt a little sick and my eyes hurt. Then I went back to the days work.
[I dont think youll read anything like that in the current newspapers. Why not? You tell me. Too sentimental? Too politically incorrect? I mean with the mention of the Japs the `40s colloquial reference to the Asian enemy? Too gravely serious for these entertainment-addicted times? Too patriotic for these days when skepticism and doubt is popular with the elites? Your comments, please.]