Jeanie and I sit in our upstairs bedroom and wait for the eerie sound of a rusty-hinged door creaking shut and the hollow, sinister laugh of “The Shadow” on our radio. It is 1942 and 7:30 in the evening.
“Aheeheehee, the Shadow knows!”
Our modest stucco bungalow, set close to a paved, busy street is minutes from downtown Daytona Beach, Florida. The street is quiet after 8 and a Lights Out situation becomes part of the current Civil Defense. The 2nd World War has created Captains in hard-hats; flashlight weapon in hand, they patrol the neighborhood. If you forget and leave your front porch light on, Mr. Barnett, our hard-hat neighbor, comes calling.
Jeanie and I often play jacks on the front porch and wait for Mom to come home from her Civil Defense job. She serves food to workers in an airplane parts factory on the second, ‘supper’ shift. We romp with the neighborhood kids in the cool of the evening, playing hide-and-seek, but tonight anticipation is high as our favorite radio program is about to begin.
Glued to the sounds in the safety of our upstairs bedroom, we are frightened out of our skin by that swashbuckler, Lamont Cranston and his faithful sidekick, Margo, as they set out on another startling adventure. Tonight they promise to take us into the “Land of the Living Dead” complete with nefarious zombies lurking about. During the broadcast, I know it is not safe to look over my shoulder or behind me for you never know what might be lurking there!
It is a quaint little house. Our bedroom sits in a tiny attic, nestled in the center of what was once a storage area, accessed by a narrow staircase along one side of the living-room wall. One small, screened window to keep the birds out faces the street below. In bad weather, an old, oilcloth tablecloth is rolled down to keep the rain out.
Close in age, Jeanie and I are close for other reasons I will not discuss except to say Daddy is an alcoholic and sometimes he is home and sometimes he is not. Jeanie and I adore him. He always has a ready hug and smile for us. He is a happy drunk. Mother is the “warden”, chief cook and bottle-washer and lawmaker on the premises and lays down the rules for girls with lively imaginations.
“Heeheehee! What evil lurks in the hearts of men…? The Shadow knows! Good evening, friends and welcome once again to our program, sponsored by ‘Super Suds'”.
It is here three Wizard-of-Oz midgets sing the jingle: “Supersuds, Supersuds, lots more suds with Supersuds!”
My plan forms as I gather up Dad’s old, black overcoat and hat from beneath my bed. Weaned on the “The Shadow” and “The Inner Sanctum” radio programs and old Bette Davis histrionics at our local movie theater, I am the actress reborn! I love anything overly dramatic, ridiculously soapy-romantic or terrifying. The script and sound effects on radio make my hair stand on end. Imagination allows me to go “into the scene”, and I become Bette Davis!
Saturdays are the highlight of life. Mother gives each of us a quarter; eight cents for the movie ticket and five cents each for the popcorn and Orange Crush. Our life is one of excitement and wealth!
I may become Boris Karloff or Bella Lugosi. If I sneak up on my little sister dressed in Dad’s old, black overcoat, hold it up just below my eyes and make a guttural, evil, laughing noise, she will respond with a big screech and run to tell mother I have frightened her. As mother is not home yet, my plan takes shape.
But almost there, my plans begin to stray. Just as Lamont Cranston and Margo are about to get to the most bone-chilling, dangerous part of their mission, we hear heavy feet moving up our staircase…
No answer. We both cower beneath Dad’s overcoat and wait to see what monster emerges into our little room. Whoever it is has a flashlight, waving intently, back and forth…back and forth. The light is blinding us but we recognize the voice:
“Girls! Your mom called to say she will be late tonight! Jackie, you are to make peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. There is milk in the fridge.”
Oh, my gosh… Mr. Barnett with his hard-hat and flashlight from next door!
“Stay put, girls, and behave yourselves!”
My stomach does not feel so good. I decide not to scare Jeanie, after all. In retrospect, I am learning things don’t always go as planned as we huddle a little closer to each other and wait for Mom to come home.