…  I was in that safe zone before my birth, and I figured the best thing to do was simply enjoy what I was seeing and hearing and learning. I just had to be careful. I backed up and stood as inconspicuously as I could, leaning against a porch column and scanning the crowd….


“These parties,” the man said, staring into the crowd but clearly aware of my presence. “Everyone just gets drunk. They forget what they’re supposed to be celebrating.”




The man seemed surprised that I didn’t know. “Birthday,” he said. He took a final pull on his cigarette and dropped the butt into an empty highball glass. “This is the Confederate’s birthday party. He would have been one hundred and one.”


“I remember when he died.” I was faking it hard.


“Just six years ago. 1936.”


“It’s good to keep celebrating.”


The man nodded.


… I crossed to the mantel and lifted from its little display stand the baseball autographed by Babe Ruth and someone named Albert Cara, the famous and the unknown, one as immortal as you could get, the other forgotten, with an autograph that had all but completely faded years later when the ball came down to me.


Carefully, I rolled the family icon between my hands, tossed it lightly in the air, and set it back in place. I wondered how much the people on the porch really knew about my family. Or were they just here for the gin?


Hell, I wondered how much I really knew about my family. What could I learn here in 1942 that I’d never known before? … Or maybe I was ready to teach myself. This business of seeing the past, it could really be quite wonderful when it wasn’t so freaking horrible.


On the porch, a cheer went up from the crowd. Someone was playing the accordion. I crossed to the window and … craned to catch a glimpse of the musician. It was a sailor, in his blue winter uniform, though the day was warm. I left my window view and rejoined the party on the porch.


The song was an old one, a Gershwin tune, but it was a popular one, and every time the music came around to the chorus, cheers went up from the crowd and the party sang louder. Musician and singers went through the song three full times before anyone tired of it. As the music finished, men pounded the sailor on the back and shook his hand. A woman squeezed in beside the accordion on his lap, put his cap on her head and kissed him full on the mouth. She waved to the crowd. Then the partiers returned to their friends.


That ballplayer Albert Cara wasn’t the only one whose fame was fleeting.