Memory. I have been giving a lot of thought of late to memory. No, not the issue of whether I am beginning to experience senility. No, I am dealing with the odd bits of memory that become silted over with the events of each passing day until we forget about the people we knew, the things that were said, the aroma of past meals, and even the way we felt. As with, I assume most people some incident or discovery in the back of a drawer or closet will cut through the clutter until we are again in that moment from so many years ago.
What I have been thinking of is whether it is worth rekindling those memories to share with others, or whether they would better remain tucked away and forgotten. Yet, the nagging feeling for me, someone who writes, is that the memories have some relevance to the current time, no matter how insignificant they might be to others.
My life has been lived in compartments. Four marriages, five children, twenty-five residences spread over nine states, jobs in thirty countries and nearly a year at sea–a gypsy’s life perhaps. Hard to explain to many, why that happened, but it did. One of the benefits of all that variation is that the subtle nuances of place and time have not been lost to me. They exist in memory.
As a writer of espionage fiction, much of what I have observed and learned can be worked into the plot lines of each story. Names, places, the kind of food I enjoyed, the weather, the smells on the streets–they all find a place somewhere, somehow.
When I come up with plot ideas, I take them from historical fact and then weave my fictional characters into the factual framework. Some fans know that I am writing a new novel based on the German rocket program Aggregat and the work being done at Peenemünde in the 1940s. Facts are facts and so I must keep to them. Interestingly, this book is not set in Europe or the Far East, but right here in the New York Metropolitan area, where I live. Hence, it is the memory I have of this place and the knowledge that I gleaned from living here for so long that provides the fabric of the story.
My characters’ life experiences are history with a small “h”. My history began after the war ended, so perhaps it is a stretch to understand the world of 1940. But, nothing overshadowed my childhood more than the shared experiences of the Great Depression and the War. Change did come after the war, it came rapidly, but in many cases the change was like a coat of paint applied over an old billboard. The original letters still could be seen through the whitewash. As the post-war boom took old I listened to the tales of places that existed and the people who inhabited them before the bull-dozers and graders eliminated old haunts.
In and around Westfield, you can still see vestiges of the old, despite the gaudy facades that now insult the eye. The old Glenview Tavern on North Avenue is now a family-friendly restaurant, in the old days it was a gin-mill where disreputable people met and rooms renting for the hour were available upstairs. My great aunt sang at the piano bar there, high as a kite, her soprano voice, kept from the stage by an iron-fisted father, entertaining the sots. Along the Jersey Central tracks, anthracite cinders spewed from the fire boxes of the last steam locomotives littered the roadbed. The upstairs bowling alley on North Avenue half a block from Louis’ Excellent diner still had pin-boys to set the pins after each frame. Cops stood in the middle of Broad Street at each intersection to direct traffic. We had a Carnegie library, now a dress shop and bookstore, lovers drove up to Watchung park to neck and look out over the lights. Guys who wanted to put their arm around their girls when they drove installed a “necker’s knob” on their steering wheel so they could drive one-handed.
Stores weren’t open on Sundays and things moved more slowly on weekends. But that is not to say things were idyllic. Far from it. It was only that without the 24/7 news cycle what was happening half a world away was not in your face. Some of it should have been though.
Up in Andover, a sleepy burg set along highway 206 the long reach of Nazi Germany was in full bloom. It was called Camp Norland and it was festooned with swastikas and Teutonic imagery of the master race and the new world order. Just at the end of Lake Aeroflex were camping areas, rifle ranges and a large building dedicated to the German American Bund. The same organization that was doing its best to subvert US-British relations had also created a place where youngsters of German parents could participate in an American version of the Hitler-Jügend and Bund Deutscher Mädel organizations that were turning the youth of Germany into fascist storm-troopers. Out on Long Island, in a place called German Gardens the streets were named after Adolf Hitler and Herman Göring.
Seventy-seven years may seem like a long time ago, but even as memories fade, the facts remain. In this next novel, The Friends of Harry Braham, the action takes place within fifty-miles of Times Square. Places that appear on today’s real estate maps as desirable places to live were once remote forests and idyllic farm fields. Out on the approaches to New York harbor U-Boats and armed merchant raiders prowled. When war did finally come, flames from burning tankers lit up the skies along New Jersey’s beaches.
In Friends, Harry’s comrades from previous adventures arrive in New York to help him foil plans set in motion by Reinhard Heydrich’s RHSD to steal secrets from America’s research labs to make the Reich’s new wonder weapons operational. Braham is up against seasoned German agents and a gang of thugs from the Bund in his attempt to thwart them.
Look for The Friends of Harry Braham next September.
All my other titles are available at Amazon.com in soft cover and for Kindle.