Being bashful at the time, I had no girlfriend at the barracks, nor did I have one left behind—but even so, the lyrics evoked a painful longing as if I had one, as if I recalled the sweetness of her lips:
The magic of your kiss. your eyes
And now like then, the bells do ring
Was it the spell of sunrise
Or the scent of spring?
The fading tremor of the train
Who knows if we shall meet again
In another envelope, where the corners have frayed and the paper has browned in one crumpled spot and another, my father attached a carefully cut clipping from a Newsweek article, which announced, “Today, with Europe’s musicians reaching for guns instead of violins and trumpets, with opera houses and concert halls dark in many foreign cities, the United States is expected to experience an even bigger music boom.”
I remember writing back to him, asking for a photograph of the famous Wagnerian soprano of the Metropolitan Opera company, Lotte Lehmann, whose voice had fascinated me before she disappeared, for quite a while, from the airwaves. Before Germany annexed Austria in 1938, she had emigrated to the United States—only to be declared an enemy alien here. In my eyes, this injustice made her seem like a damsel in distress, which added to my infatuation with her.
Dad had little to tell me about Lotte, because apparently, the promised musical boom had to silence certain talents, talents that were not deemed American enough by those who orchestrate public opinion. Such, I learned, was the sacrifice demanded by patriotism in times of war.
Instead of the photograph I requested, which must have been difficult to find at the time, my father sent me a clipping from LIFE magazine, dated August 1941, showing a movie starlet named Rita Hayworth, whose hair I imagined as red despite the fact she was black-and-white.
Kneeling seductively on a soft bed, she wore a white, silky nightgown that hugged her slim waist and stretched over the roundness of her hips. The black lace trimming her low-cut top gave away the curves, the ample curves of her breasts. She must have taken a deep breath just before the shot, which made her cleavage more pronounced and her allure—ever more provocative.
And her eyes, oh, the sultry look in her eyes! It was directed just a bit over me and off to the side, making me wish she would turn and once, only once, bring me into view. I pinned her above my bed, so Rita may visit me in my dreams, and promptly forgot all about Lotte Lehmann.
Then came the day I unpinned Rita Hayworth and replaced her in my thoughts with another redhead, even though I had no photograph of her to hold close to my heart.
Lenny in The Music of Us