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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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Nine Seconds Before

By Abba Bayer

The Magpie, Spring 1940, v. 24, n. 2, p. 73.

As I stepped up from the darkness of the subway, I glanced at the sky. It was an almost royal blue, and straight above my head I saw a crescent moon with one star fixed in the middle. The sensation was one of those things that I know I'll never forget. It somehow made me think of what I'd review as the highlights of my life if, for example, I were drowning and these were the nine seconds before. Incidents flashed through my mind with no ordered sequence as to time or relative importance...

I was about six. My father had given me on old Ingersoll radium-dialed watch, not so I could tell time, but because I liked the ticking to keep me company when I went to sleep. I woke up one morning and reached for the watch. It was still dark but I could see the numbers plain as could be. And I just knew it was twenty past four, even though I had never grasped time-telling in all the arduous hours of trying.

I was past fourteen when I climbed the castle at Conservatory Lake (Central Park West and Seventy-ninth Street) and looked down at the cherry blossoms. They reminded me of the way my three-year-old baby cousin felt the day they let me hold her—so frail and clean and almost holy. It's funny that for years I'd never remembered her as being anything but a holy terror.

There was Babe Ruth fishing a ball out of his car and shaking hands with all of us and smiling and just being so decent that we were sorry instead of proud, for the first time, that the doorman of his house thought that we were "young terrors—bad ones."

There was "Lindy's" smile, and the feeling during that scene in The American Way of having been one of those who waited anxiously for news of the three companions, Courage, Faith, and Lindy, that day in 1927.... Those beautiful paragraphs on friendship from Wind, Sand, and Stars, and all the memories of canoeing, of early dips, of bicycle rides, and the heated discussions and long talks of plans for the future with my friend.... My first long pants crowded out by the excitement, years later, of my first going out in "fish and soup." ... My Boy Scout uniform and the time our pyramid won.... Studying Egypt in elementary school and wandering away from the class at the Museum of Art into the Roman Gardens. That was the first garden of its kind I'd ever seen, and the largest goldfish.... Buying goldfish and turtles and wanting a dog.... Running through the park with some elderly lady's dog, and as thanks for exercising the dog, the best piece of watermelon.... Shoveling snow—hoping for a dime as pay and getting a seeded roll which I loathed.... Graduation and again graduation in the air.... A football, and fountain pens, and games as presents.... A camera, and fishing tackle, and Sandburg's Lincoln replacing the Juvenile gifts solicited in imaginary letters to "Santa." ... The realization that there's been so much to be grateful for, and that there'll be time someday to think back and really assemble the things that have counted most. Recollections of Cecil Rhodes' last words:

"So little done
So much to do."

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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