Three quarters of a century ago, today, Melville Jacoby took a brief break from his radio broadcasts for NBC, his writing and photography for Time and Life magazines, and his chaotic search for a panda -- yes, a panda -- to write to his mother and stepfather about life in wartime Chungking, or Chongqing, then the capital of China.
Though the two-page letter was heavy with detail, Mel apologized for not writing more.
"Please say hello to the family for me," he wrote. "I just can't possibly write now. Perhaps a little later after bombing season."
Bombing season. Think about that for a second. A time of year when enemy bombers were such a regular sight overhead that you never fully unpacked from air raid evacuations. You became used to the idea that an air raid will regularly interrupt your day, as if it's an inconvenience like the 4 p.m. Southern Pacific train that slows your commute. You reach a point when you can't help but be reminded of bombs even when there aren't enemy planes overhead, as Mel did every time he fell asleep in Chungking's Press Hostel:
"I can see the sky from my bed quite clearly, but we call it home," Mel wrote of the compound where many foreign journalists lived and worked together. It was an uncomfortable home, one that a shift in Japanese tactics made less comfortable by the day, but it was still home.
For more about Melville Jacoby, wartime Chungking, and life in the Press Hostel, check out Eve of a Hundred Midnights.