In “I Had Jelly on my Nose and a Hole in my Breeches”; Robert McNally begins part of one of his three-book trilogy with “Dad, Mom, my sister Judy and I lived in the ‘little red house’ on Crematory Hill”. Robert was born in October 1932, and by his third birthday, had learned about death and life. The Great Depression left the family so desperately poor that Robert’s Great-Aunt Margaret gave his father a job at the crematory. At 5:00 PM when the day workers left, Crematory Hill at Mount Olivet Crescent was dark and scary. Robert’s grandparents’ home on Beers Street in Bridgeport, Vermont was much more inviting and Robert loved it there until that changed too. When his grandparents died, Robert learned of the selfishness disregard for children when Robert’s father prevails upon his mother to sell the home on Beers Street so he could buy a car and help his brother with a business. A short time later the car was totaled in a wreck as his father was driving drunk, and the business went bust. Robert and his family had to leave the big house with its large back yard and memories of his grandparents and his tomcat called “Mickey”. Robert and family ended up back in the city, this time living in “Maspeth, less than one mile from the Hill, but to me it seemed like a thousand miles.” Robert was back in the urban land of gang territory, which got him into trouble more than once. Irish, he looked Italian, and so sometimes had to fight both nationalities as well as the Polish who “picked on them both”. Then he encountered the nuns of St. Patrick’s Parochial School, who told Robert’s mother they thought “Your son seems to be listening to himself”, which would later be diagnosed as ADD “attention deficit disorder”. His dad was strong, “built like a bull” and delivered ice and fuel oil to care for the family, but he had a wondering eye and finally left the family for good, though he kept in touch with his son. His father taught Robert how to fight both in the ring and out of it.
It has been more than 60 years since his friends told him he should write a book about his memories, but even now this “memory man” remembers details so clearly, that we too are there in the immortal events of his young world. We see the fear in everyone’s eyes as war is declared on December 7, 1941 and we celebrate in the streets on August day in 1945 when World War II ends and everyone celebrates through the sultry night. We hear Vera Lynn, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby sing the well-loved songs of World War II and we too sing “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” We read about the Victory Gardens, air raids, black outs of World War II and about the young men who left to fight and did not come back. This gifted writer skillfully recreates a world long vanished from our midst.