On their anniversary Daddy surprised Mama with a battery powered radio and she placed it on top of the bookcase. For a while we used Daddy's car battery for power, which meant he had to hook it back up to the car before he left for work.
Shaped like a cathedral covered in smooth veneer the radio soon became the center of family activity on winter nights. Daddy liked to listen to the news, and if President Roosevelt came on with one of his Fireside Chats promising an end to the Depression we were instructed, "Don't talk. Listen."
I don't know how Daddy came up with the money but within a year, the radio had a battery of its own we had to regularly remember to have it charged.
"Not everyone can afford the magic of radio," Mama told us, so most Sunday nights we invited the relatives to laugh with Amos and Andy, Fibber McGee, and Gracie Allen. And when my older siblings came home from evening church services we'd all get a taste of the cake or pie one of my aunts had baked to show their thanks.
I was too young to understand everything that came from the radio, but I'd laugh every time Daddy or Mama did. I liked all the shows except 'I Love a Mystery' and 'The Thin Man'. The background music on those shows frightened me.
One Sunday night in late October of 1938 Mama, Daddy and I took our places around the radio, ready to enjoy whatever it might say.
The program began with soft music and when the announcer started talking in a boring voice, I lowered my head onto Mama's lap. Then a frightened voice said, "We interrupt this program to bring you a newsflash from Grovers Mill, New Jersey."
I felt Mama stiffen. Where had her soft lap gone?
I tried to ask, "What's wrong?" but Daddy shushed me, sounding mad. He did that sometimes. I shushed.
Later, the same announcer said something about "forty bodies lying in a field." Mama drew in a sharp breath. The announcer's tone scared me and I covered my ears. His next words sounded like he was being chased up a hill, which scared me even more. Reaching out, Mama took Daddy's hand. I buried my face between her breasts, but didn't make a sound. I didn't want to get sent off to bed all by myself.
A knock suddenly sounded at our front door. Daddy said one of those words under his breath that Mama forbid Little Robert to use and jumped up to answer the door. He hurried back with Uncle Bernie and all the other Valley View men.
"Were you listening..." I heard one whisper, then Daddy ask, "Where do you think they'll attack next?"
He sounded frightened, too, and I burrowed against Mama soft breast, my hands pressed tight over my ears. I no longer cared to hear their conversation or the radio. Even the music was scary, and the announcer's voice--
"Where are the older children? Don’t you think they ought to hear this?" Ralph asked.
"At Training Union," Daddy said, sounding impatient, and I could tell that unlike me, he didn't want to miss a word the announcer said.
"If the world really is coming to an end, I want my family at my side," Uncle Bernie said.
"You think I should go get them, Sugar?" Daddy asked.
"Bernie's right," Mama said. "Whatever happens, I'll feel better if we are all together when it does."
Daddy pulled his cap down on his head. "I won't be long," he said, giving Mama a fierce hug.
I begged to go with him. I didn't mind missing the rest of the broadcast. The announcer terrified me and from the way Daddy looked, even he was scared.
We drove the three miles to Dawson Baptist Church in no time and Daddy climbed out of the car in a big rush. Some men gathered on the church steps beneath the light shed by a bare bulb stopped Daddy to talk.
"What brings you back so soon, Bob?" Daddy's bald friend asked.
"Some unknown force is attacking the east coast and I've come to take my children home."
"Oh, didn't you hear? That was all a hoax," the man said.
"Yeah, someone else was just here," another added. "Said what you heard was a re-enactment put on by some guy named Orson Wells. He called it 'The War of the Worlds.' You must have left home right before he explained the program was a special Halloween broadcast. It just ended."
I could see that Daddy felt foolish, letting a silly radio program scare him, but since he was already at the church he collected my brother and sisters, and on the way home told them what we'd heard and why he'd come for them. They were upset they'd missed all the excitement, Little Robert especially. He thrived on talk of war and guns.
When we reached home, all the relatives were still there talking about how the broadcast had made them feel.
"What did you think about those sound effects? The realistic sound of those tanks rumbling down the street?"
"Yes, and folks cut off in mid-scream? Even the announcer's voice cut off in the middle of describing an attack."
"It was like we were right there," Ralph said, slapping Daddy on the back. "I even looked out the door to see if the sky was red, so I'd know how soon those invaders would be here."
Not one of them thought Mr. Wells' Halloween prank was funny and when we gathered for the family feast on Thanksgiving, my uncles were still talking about that broadcast.
Seventy-five years later I still remember our fear.