Once the airbase was operational, the streets were overflowing with uniforms, particularly on weekends. Most, like Stella Pegram’s husband, Mark, were Army Air Corps. A few were British. They would wander the streets on Sunday mornings, staring into the windows of closed shops, hoping to be hailed and invited to dinner by some local family. We would drive by, call two or three of them over, and say, “Would you like to have Sunday dinner with us?” They would grin, nod, and pile in the car.
Such an invitation seemed as simple and as natural as asking Great-Aunt Effie to lunch. Actually, we never invited Aunt Effie to our house; but she and Aunt Grace came anyway, entering without knocking, staying forever, picking their noses incessantly. However, we frequently asked soldiers to come home with us, and we were never turned down.
They were always from somewhere up North—Steubenville, Ohio, or Utica, New York—pleasant, well mannered, full of details about home and Mom. Sometimes after Sunday dinner we would take them out to the Ringling Brothers winter quarters, where they could see and smell the animals: tigers, leopards, and panthers pacing up and down in their cramped cages; a dull elephant switching his tiny tail to chase away flies, inviting you to drop a peanut into his waiting trunk and watch him snort the treat into his mouth; the monkeys swinging in their huge outdoor cage, performing unspeakable acts upon themselves and other monkeys.
After the winter quarters, we would drop the soldiers off on Main Street, where they would catch a bus back to the airbase. Aglow, we would drive home, pleased with ourselves, pumped up with patriotism, feeling as if we’d just killed half-a-dozen Japs.