Memoir #1: Bobby Martin; First Steps

(First Steps, Benicia, California; Summer, 1942)

Bob started his adventures at an early age

Trousers, shirts, underwear, and dishtowels moved gently on the close line in the breeze that early afternoon summer day, hardly a cloud in the sky. It seemed an idyllic, peaceful setting.

"Bobby. Bobby. Where are you?" his mother called.

His father, coming through the garden gate to join the family for lunch was immediately involved in Stella’s search, and with a hint of concern in his voice asked, "Where is the little tyke?"

"After you left for work this morning, I dressed him in his sailor's play outfit. We went out into the garden, talked for a while, and soon he became absorbed with his toys. I watched him for a while, and then went inside to continue with the laundry.

"I frequently checked on him, and each time he was fine. Later, after hanging out the laundry to dry, we had warm coco milk together and he had lots to say about what he was doing with his toys. Then I went back into the house again to prepare lunch.

"Not long after that I looked and he was there absorbed in one of his picture books. So until now, it couldn't have been more than ten minutes since I last saw him."

Bob said, "You stay here, just in case he shows up. I'll check around with some of the neighbors, at the shops on the next block, and make a visit into the Greyhound Bus Station. I won't be long."

Mrs. Martin was worried, but agreed to stay around the house. She knew that Bob senior was very thorough and would cover more ground in a short period of time if he traveled alone and he seemed to know everyone within blocks of home.

"Hello Tony, have you seen little Bobby? Stella and I think he left the garden about 10-15 minutes ago."

"You know Mr. Bob, I have been outside here most of the morning, and haven't seen the little guy. Maybe he went in the other direction, down toward the bus station; but if I see him, I'll bring him back. Good luck. I hope you find him soon."

"Thanks Tony. If you haven't seen him this far down the block, he probably is down towards the bus station."

Bob made a U-turn and ran back. There was a corner grocery story and a tobacco store with a wooden Indian outside just a few doors up from the station.

Frankie, tobacco store owner and local racetrack bookie, had a reputation for knowing just about everything that happened in his part of Benicia.

"Have you seen little Bobby any time today?"

"Was he out to buy a good Havana Cigar or placing a bet on the daily double?"

"I wish it were as simple as that Frankie. Stella noticed that he was missing from the backyard a short while ago. You know, that little guy walks fast for his age, he could be almost anywhere within a two block radius."

"I understand Bob, I know you and the misses must be worried stiff; but I haven't seen the little guy. Try the Greyhound Bus Station. If he went that way, you'll want to check before the two buses filled with military service personnel pull out in the next ten minutes or so. Those young fellows will be shipping out from San Francisco for the Pacific."

"Thanks Frank. I'm heading down that way right now. I'll see you about that daily double a little later."

During the war years, the Greyhound Bus Station was the busiest place in town. Its waiting room was often filled with military personnel and civilians, seated, standing, seeming just a general milling around.

Ticket windows and refreshment stands all had lines and there was an expectation in the air for the next announcement over public address system. For most of the service personnel, it meant one step closer to some small atoll island in the Pacific where fighting raged in a hotly contested land, sea, and air war.

Bob bypassed the information booth, its volunteers were handling three lines of eager information seekers, backed up several deep. He stopped momentarily at one of the boarding gates. The ticket puncher knew Bob and waved him through to where the San Francisco bound buses were idling.

The first bus didn't yield any results. With minutes left before the two buses were scheduled to depart, Bobby was off one bus and into the second. In the front portion of the bus little Bobby was seated in one of the few unassigned seats, talking to an army-recruiting sergeant with a chest filled with ribbons and medals.

"Mister, is this new recruit part of your unit?" the sergeant asked Bob.

"Thanks for occupying the little tyke. His commanding officer is waiting for him back at the base. After hugging him, she'll have a few choice words for him before he chows down."

"He was eager to join up with me at my station," said the sergeant, "but at this point, he'll have some difficulties with the height requirement, even if we do fudge the numbers a little."

Bob picked little Bobby up and gave him a hug, and said, "Your mother has lunch waiting for us."

— Copyright © R. M. Martin; Benicia, California, First Steps, summer 1942

Memoirs Directory for Robert M. Martin.