The Way It Was| Part 8

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.
While loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

Editor’s Note: Above is a quote Eshrink found while doing research for this series of blog posts: The Way It Was (a glimpse into how he saw life growing up during The Depression and WWII). He said it might be his all time favorite quote so I decided to put it at the top of each post in this series as a reminder of the power of words and the power of love. Eshrink’s writing illustrates the power of both! In case you missed earlier posts in this series, I’ve provided links below.

Welcome to Part 8 of The Way It Was from Eshrink. In Part 7, Eshrink covered Pearl Harbor “A day that will live in infamy” and the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II (the war to end all wars). We left off with the Allies struggling as Hitler dominated Europe. 

The turning point of the war began with the invasion of the German-held countries.  The date of the attack continues to be referred to as D-Day.  In spite of massive casualties on both sides, there was a new-found sense of optimism that we were no longer on the defensive (and that the paper hanger with the Charlie Chaplin mustache would soon get his!). Editor’s Note: This is referring to Hitler. When I searched, I found this book online about underground humor in Nazi Germany…back to Eshrink.

I must be a latter-day Rip Van Winkle for it is impossible that 75 years have passed since that fateful day when we were all transfixed in front of the radio hoping for good news, convinced rightfully so, that the fate of the world was at stake.  There were massive casualties on both sides, but landings were eventually successful.  One of Barb’s favorite uncles later reported to her that he carried a photo of her in his wallet as a good luck charm as he landed on Normandy beach.  It must have worked for he survived.

The War in the Pacific

Meanwhile, the war in the pacific had turned around following the naval victory at Midway, but the heavily fortified islands of the pacific were being stubbornly defended by Japanese troops who were products of a society in which surrender was dishonorable, and death was preferred.  In desperation, their leaders had ordered suicide attacks on our ships, and there was a lot written about these Kamikaze attacks as planes loaded with bombs deliberately crashed onto the decks.  Each island was taken with heavy casualties in an inhospitable climate.   Eventually, MacArthur was able to fulfill his promise, “I shall return,” with carefully staged filming following the retaking of the Philippines. 

kamikaze fighter pilot wwII

kamikaze before slammkng into uss essex 1944We heard much about unfamiliar places like Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.  The fighting was fierce, often hand to hand.  In Okinawa, for example, 12,500 Americans were killed,  an estimated 100,000 Japanese and at least that many civilians. There must have been more newsmen imbedded in the Pacific as I recall viewing more footage in the Movietone newsreels shown in local theaters (click here to watch the video recording).  There seemed to be more disturbing footage of the Pacific Theater than the European. One that has stuck with me all these years was of a soldier using a flamethrower at the mouth of a cave and the subsequent scene of a Japanese soldier running out totally enveloped in flames.  On the other hand, we cheered wildly at the footage of the now famous flag raising on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima. Editor’s Note: Iwo Jima was the deadliest battle in Marine Corps history with 7,000 soldiers killed during the 36-day battle.us marines 28th regiment of fifth division raise flag atop mt suribachi iwo jima costliest in marine corps history 7k soldiers killed 36 days fighting

us marines go ashore IWO JIMA japanese island feb 1945

Caption: Marines go ashore at Iwo Jima, Japan, in February 1945.

mcarthur wwII oct 1944 phillippines

Caption: General McArthur in the Philippines circa 1944.

A Country Simultaneous United and Divided 

As our troops in Europe advanced to reach the prison camps where an estimated 6,000,000, or perhaps more, Jews were killed, we saw more pictures of the horrific condition of the starving prisoners and of the open mass graves of thousands.  Perhaps this opened our eyes to the dangers of racial prejudice.  At that time, Jews were still not treated well in our town, for example they were excluded from membership in the local country club.  There was also the instance in which a shipload of Jews who had escaped from Germany were refused entrance into the U. S. and were forced to return to Germany.  There seems to be no information as to their fate.  I also recalled all those conversations about the “New York Jews” and was struck by the fact that we were fighting to liberate people whom it seemed we did not like. 

Although the country was perhaps more united than it had ever been politically, we were still divided along racial and country of origin lines.  There were usually a few black kids in the schools that I attended, but my interaction was limited, not by any conscious effort on my part.  I naively thought that they just enjoyed being with their own.  We were not openly segregated as in the deep South, but everyone “knew their place” so to speak.  The fact that there was a separate public swimming pool for “negroes” or that they did not eat in restaurants, that they always sat in the balcony at the movies, or that there was only one night of the week when the skating rink was open to them “was just the way things were,” and I didn’t think much about it. 

Segregation in the Military

As for the military, things were not much different than they had been during the Civil War.  Black troops lived in separate quarters and were organized into different companies which were of course led by white officers, except for those who were assigned duty as stewards or mess hall workers.  There were some exceptions and when given the chance, they proceeded to disprove the notion that they were lazy, stupid, and cowardly. 

Two of the 150 students in my medical school class were black, one of which was Bob Garrison, a very quiet unassuming guy who seemed a bit older than most of us.  A few months ago, I learned that Bob had died after a long career as a family physician.  I managed to secure an obituary and found to my surprise that Bob had been one of the Tuskegee airmen who had distinguished themselves in combat.  It was not until 1948 that Truman would desegregate the services.  Bob had followed the tradition of WWII vets and had not told anyone in our class about his service.  

Some time in the 50s, I happened to be reading an article in an old Reader’s Digest written by the first black guy to be commissioned as an officer in the Navy.  The story was about his rise to this unheard-of position, and the problems he encountered.  There were some enlisted men who could not salute a black person no matter his position.  His problems mounted when he was assigned to sea duty, which meant living in close quarters with a bunch of white guys.  He reported that there was one fellow officer on board who was supportive, and helped him survive the bigotry.  The surprise for me was that the person he named was my second cousin whom I hadn’t seen in years.  It was a nice feeling to know I was related to this person who did the right thing, a sense of pride somehow, even though I hardly knew him.

Women and The War Effort

rosie the riveter dads ww2 blogThere is little doubt in my mind that the war was an additional impetus for opening up opportunities for women.  After all, it had been barely 20 years since women were granted the right to vote.  Although they continued to be treated unfairly in many ways, they were at least given the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to do “man’s work.” It was inevitable that with the incredible expansion of manufacturing for the war effort coupled with the problem of 16 million men serving in the armed forces, there would be a shortage of manpower.  One answer to the problem lay in the attempt to recruit women to leave the kitchen and go to work to support the war effort.  There were posters glorifying “Rosie the Riveter” showing an attractive young woman working on an airplane assembly line.  As I mentioned previously, my mother was a Rosie who seemed happy to return to her kitchen after the war.

In previous wars, the only women directly involved were nurses, but this time a movement was begun to create a women’s branch of the army.  With a great deal of hesitation, the Woman’s Army Corps (WACs) was established soon to be followed by the Navy’s version called Waves.  They were to fill non-combatant roles designed to free up more male soldiers for combat.  The Air Force version of these “helpers” was never inducted into the Air Force and remained civil service employees.  They were to be involved in non-combat missions but nevertheless suffered some casualties.  Although they were never to be involved in combat, some missions, delivering airplanes to a war zone for example, often put them at risk. 

As I reflect on the pre-war days, it seems to me that the greatest change from the war was with women.  Those changes were monumental for them and catastrophic for us guys.  The oft asked question of who wears the pants in the family took on new meaning since women were now routinely wearing pants, which among some groups had previously been considered sinful.  The war finished off those Victorian values that had survived the Roaring 20s. Although detailed discussions remained off limits, a person could now use the word sex the in polite company without being thought “dirty.” Women openly smoked cigarettes, which had always been the province of men, and no longer made any attempt to hide their pregnancies.  The “sugar and spice and everything nice” characterization of females no longer seemed appropriate.  Although the “battle of the sexes” was still in full swing, the stage was being set for the unconditional surrender of our masculinity and admission of defeat.  The evidence is everywhere.  For example, when I went to medical school in the 1950s there were three women in a class of 150 (Class of 1957), while in this year’s class women outnumbered men.  Then, there is that spectacle of all those women in positions of power at the State of the Union address.  Its enough to make a macho guy like me tremble.

There had been certain positions felt appropriate for women such as secretarial work, domestic help, switchboard operators, and cleaning.  School teachers, especially those in the lower grades, were almost all women.  They were usually unmarried, chaste, and expected to remain so.  The nursing profession had a long-held tradition as exclusively female.  Additionally, their long-held position in society as nurturers was felt to make them well-suited for the job.  Some cynics insist that it is more likely due to men’s aversion to emptying bed pans.

American Industry and The War Effort

Meanwhile, this newfound talent participated in what at the time seemed miraculous.  Indeed, some historians have suggested that the war was actually won by the massive mobilization of American industry.  Planes that previously took weeks or even months to build, were now turned out in days.  We heard much about liberty ships designed to carry all the desperately needed instruments of war to Europe.  In just a couple of years, 2,710 such ships were built, and they were sitting ducks for the German U-boats.  I remember hearing much about their dangerous voyages, but it was not until writing these memoirs that I learned more than half of them (1554) were sunk.  It was said that we just decided to build more ships than the Germans could sink.  A new shipyard was built in 150 days and the record time to build a ship was an unbelievable 4 days 15 hours and 25 minutes.  Yankee ingenuity had used Henry Ford’s assembly line procedures and huge sections of the ship were produced in factories all over the country, and sent by railroad flatcar to the shipyard where the sections were put together and the ship was sent on its way.

Editor’s Note: Thanks for reading “The Way It Was: Part 8” I hope you will tune in for the final installment next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brief interruption of the “The Way It Was” Series as we return to “Shrink Stuff” | Personality Disorders 101

PERSONALITY DISORDERS

The other night while dining with friends, I was asked for my professional opinion as to the mental health of our President.  My response was not very professional as I responded “I think he is nuts!” There is a caveat, especially important in our business, that one must carefully consider any pre-determined bias before rendering a diagnosis, and my response suggests that I had violated that rule.

In retrospect, I realize that my friend was asking for a less flippant answer to his question.  Anyone who owns a TV (or uses Twitter) would probably agree that Mr. Trump’s behavior is different from what we are accustomed to seeing in our politicians.   His detractors suggest this is evidence of significant mental disorder while his supporters applaud him for being earthy and “unconventional.”

I have previously written (click this link to read that post from 2016) about Mr. Trump in not very flattering terms concerning his mental status, and the non-position taken by the American Psychiatric Association of which I am a lifetime member.  Those mental health professionals who insist that Trump is mentally impaired and therefore unfit to hold office in most cases make a case for the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  After the conversation with my friend, it occurred to me that most people might be unfamiliar with what signs and symptoms might lead to such an impression

In the first place, it may be helpful to explain what we in the shrink business mean by the term personality disorder as people sometimes overuse a term and its true meaning from a psychiatric standpoint gets watered down (for example: a person who might say upon having a bad day or disappointing day, “I’m so depressed” when in reality they aren’t clinically depressed, just a little down).

Personality Disorders | Definition by Psychiatrists

The general criteria listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM which is now in its fifth edition. The definition of personality disorder as summarized in DSM IV is “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture” (not caused by such things as drug abuse, or other medical problems).  Unfortunately, for me the criteria as listed in DSM V are more complex, and since I am a simple-minded person I will stick with DSM IV in my discussion (but perhaps more to the point I am reluctant to invest a hundred bucks in another 900 page dust collector for my bookshelf).  In either case, it is clear that those who suffer from a personality disorder are very different.

Signs & Symptoms of Personality Disorders

Signs of personality disorders characteristically have been present for long periods usually from childhood.  These patients are difficult to treat.  Although some psychotropic medications may be helpful, the gold standard remains long-term intensive psychotherapy, a commodity which is in short supply these days.  The symptoms usually serve a protective function. Consequently, patients in treatment have difficulty giving them up.  An even bigger problem is that in many cases people who need treatment most are those lacking in insight. Consequently, they are convinced there is nothing wrong with them.  This is especially true in cases of narcissistic and sociopathic personality disorders.  They believe they are perfect in every way so why in the world would they need a psychiatrist?

Narcissism | Signs | Symptoms | Cause

The term narcissism is from the Greek myth about Narcissus who fell in love with his image while gazing into a pool of water.  This did not work out too well for him for he eventually committed suicide when he realized his true love was himself.  A bit of narcissism is not a bad thing…as a matter of fact most therapists would probably report that low self-esteem is one of the most common problems they see and that they spend a great deal effort trying to help their patients learn to like themselves.  But as with most things in life, it is the extremes which cause us problems.  We all know people who are arrogant and self-centered, but those with a narcissistic personality disorder take that to the level where their self-image is so far removed from reality that it approaches the delusional.

He/she of the narcissistic personality disorder is the master of the superlative.  He is never simply good at something, he is the best.  Others are not bad, they are the worst.  Everything in life is measured against the perfection that only he possesses.  The need to maintain this distorted image of himself dominates his life and leaves no time to consider the needs of others.  He is convinced he is special, and deserves special treatment.  He courts admiration or subservience in relationships, and is pathologically intolerant of criticism.  This preoccupation with self, frequently distorts perceptions and may affect judgement.

As with many mental health problems, the causation is up for grabs.  There may be some abnormality of brain function, environmental factors, or both.  Some postulate that excessive adoration by parents is the cause, while others feel the opposite, namely that excessive criticism is the culprit.  Whatever the cause, most agree that such extremes of narcissism serve the purpose of protecting a very fragile ego.  His need for attention is never satisfied.  Indeed, the tenacity with which the narcissist holds onto and nurtures these false opinions of himself leads one to suspect an underlying desperation at the core of his being.  The most readable synopsis of narcissistic personality symptoms I have found lie in a pamphlet distributed by the Mayo Clinic as follows:

  • They have a sense of entitlement and require constant excessive admiration
  • Have an exaggerated sense of self importance
  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerate achievements and talents
  • Preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
  • Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them
  • Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
  • Insist on having the best of everything (for instance the best building, golf course, yacht, wife, etc.–the examples are my words NOT Mayo Clinic’s example–they used car and office)

Narcissism & Trump

So, there you have it – all you need to make a diagnosis.  You Trump watchers have certainly observed enough behaviors to decide if the shoe fits.  If you conclude that the diagnosis of Personality Disorder fits, you should be concerned as to the fitness of POTUS to handle the job.  Those so diagnosed are prone to react in irrational ways when their distorted view of themselves is threatened and consequently are very sensitive to any kind of criticism, often reacting with over-the-top rages.   Mistakes are never acknowledged for to do so would shatter the myth of their perfection.  They react poorly to stress and to change, and there is no doubt that POTUS must be under mountains of stress considering all the investigations currently underway with many of his former supporters on their way to jail.

While in the midst of writing this, I was directed by one of the friends I mentioned in my opening statement to a YouTube presentation by John Gartner, a Ph.D. psychologist at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Gartner is convinced that Trump is demented.  Gartner is adamant in his diagnosis and convinced that he should be removed from office.  In spite of Gartner’s intensely verbalized political views, he does make a good case for an Alzheimer’s type dementia.  However, I believe the evidence he presents is not unusual for one afflicted with a narcissistic personality disorder who is under threat of losing that shield, which protects him from facing the reality of his deficiencies.

Narcissism Exposed (“s#@t hits the fan” time)

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, my major concern is that the current investigations will turn up things which he will not be able to deflect with his usual strategies of denounce, deflect, or deny.  Recently, he has seemed less rational with a 2- hour long rant at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and the strange attempts to demonize John McCain months after his death.  In the so-called Twitter storm from last week, he seems enraged at everyone within range.  It appears that his only respite is the campaign rallies at which he is able to bask in the attention accorded him, confirming to him that he really is “The Greatest.”

Some say our President is “crazy like a fox”.  It is true that he has turned self-promotion into a very successful career, even becoming the world’s most powerful man.  Those same talents have served the additional function of satisfying insatiable ego needs.  I believe that Trump’s narcissism governs every aspect of his life, and explains the “crazy” things he does and says.  I believe that he is psychologically vulnerable and likely to demonstrate irrational and impulsive behaviors if his defenses are destroyed.  With that in mind, I hope all these investigations do not burst the President’s fragile ego for that could be disastrous.

Editor’s Note: I was slow on the editing of Eshrink’s post and so much has happened since he originally wrote this article. The Attorney General released a 4-page summary of the Mueller Report on a Sunday while many of us were watching our brackets bust during the NCAA basketball tournament.  I kept asking why the full report wasn’t being released to the public (the taxpayers paid for it, as POTUS continues to remind us in the context of money wasted) or at least released to Congress (it seems Nancy Pelosi wonders that, too.) However, Eshrink’s post about Narcissistic Personality made me think maybe the inner circle knows more than we think about the stability of POTUS and his psychological vulnerability that could lead to an even worse outcome. History will tell the tale… I’m sure those working inside the Oval Office will have plenty of great material for books once this crazy time in our republic’s history is behind us–if the Republic survives that is. God Bless America. We need all the help we can get!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Way It Was| Part 7

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.
While loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

Editor’s Note: Above is a quote Eshrink found while doing research for this series of blog posts: The Way It Was (a glimpse into how he saw life growing up during The Depression and WWII). He said it might be his all time favorite quote so I decided to put it at the top of each post in this series as a reminder of the power of words and the power of love. Eshrink’s writing illustrates the power of both! In case you missed earlier posts in this series, I’ve provided links below.

Welcome to Part 7 of The Way It Was from Eshrink. We pick up where we left off in Part 6, where Eshrink describes the mood of the country before the USA was foisted into WWII.

THE WAR YEARS

The debate about America’s neutrality was dramatically resolved December 7th 1941 with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a day which according to Roosevelt “will live in infamy.”  The memory of that day has never dimmed with every detail remaining firmly etched in my brain.  We were visiting my Maternal Grandparents, and had just finished one of my grandmother’s fabulous Sunday dinners of chicken fried in that old cast iron skillet, which was where she worked her magic.  Dad had recently completed wiring of their house and their new Zenith radio was playing as we sat finishing the mince meat pie.  Suddenly Dad jumped up and ran to the living room and turned up the volume.  Grandad was severely hearing impaired so Dad shouted in his ear that we had been attacked by the Japs.  On our return back to our house, our radio was blasting out the bad news.  The “sneak” attack had come without warning.  Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor_Japanese_planes_viewSeveral of our ships had been sunk, but there was no accounting yet of the number of casualties.   I went upstairs and laid across the bed aiming my brother’s 44-40 Winchester at our backyard vowing to take out any of those slant-eyed devils who might show up.

The next day, not much could be accomplished in Mr. Davidson’ sixth grade class so he used the entire day to discuss current events.  Our morning Pledge of Allegiance was so loud, it was almost boisterous.  When Roosevelt’s speech to congress was broadcast over the school intercom, the room became deathly quiet.  With the completion of that speech, I was even more eager to take up arms.  I was not alone, for recruiting offices all over the country were swamped with potential enlistees.  Two days later, war was also declared on Germany and Italy.  Both countries had joined Japan in an agreement that came to be called the Axis Powers Act and therefore they were assumed to be aligned with Japan.

Fear and Anger

The sense of security we felt due to physical distance from our adversaries had been replaced by fear of invasion.  With our Pacific Fleet decimated, there was concern that the Pacific Coast could come under attack, and those living in coastal area were urged to be alert.  There was not only fear, but anger.  There were rumors of saboteurs not only amongst Japanese residents, but those of Japanese ancestry.  Conspiracy theorists promoted the perception that all Japanese were by nature devious and that their loyalty would always be to the Motherland no matter their status in the United States.  This would later lead to the shameful internment of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry in total violation of The Constitution that we were defending.

forced-internment-japanese-americansMany years later, I would come to know a fellow physician who had begun his life in one of the internment camps.  He had little memory of the experience, but told how his parents and grandparents had owned valuable land in California that was sold for taxes while they were interred.  They came out of the camp destitute.

The next day, December 8, the Japanese invaded the Philippines.  The Rape of Nanking had already gained the Japanese a reputation for cruelty, which was confirmed by what became known as the Bataan Death March.  Somehow, news had reached us about the barbaric treatment suffered by our soldiers following the conquest of the Islands, and our anger morphed into hatred.  Roosevelt’s insistence that we were woefully unprepared for war was proven correct.  However; it seemed as if the country had turned on a dime and the “war effort” was instantly in full swing.

The War Effort

It seemed that almost overnight factories all over the country were converted to producing war materials.  Automobile manufacturing was instantly converted to the production of jeeps, trucks, ambulances and tanks, and planes.  Soon warplanes were rolling off assembly lines in numbers no one had ever imagined possible.  New factories were built in a matter of weeks rather than months.  There was hardly any industry that wasn’t involved in providing war materials.  Almost instantly, military training facilities became tent cities as the number of draftees and enlistments skyrocketed.  Draft boards were busy categorizing potential draftees as to who should be deferred due to each person’s importance to the war effort as civilians.  Those ineligible or unfit for service were classified as 4-F while those whose card was stamped 1-A would soon be on their way.

All In | Everyone Participated in the War Effort

There were many ways for all to contribute to the war effort, and the of feeling of being united in the grand cause undoubtedly did much to contribute to morale and patriotism.  And patriotic we were.  We kids collected scrap metal, paper, and rubber.  There were paper drives in school.  We saved our pennies to buy war bond stamps to be used in the war effort.  We were deluged with propaganda from radio, newspapers, posters, and perhaps most effective of all, the movie newsreels.  Hollywood also got into the act with movies featuring our heroic fighting men and the demonic behavior of the enemy.  It was all very effective and probably necessary in order to mobilize and unite us.

Rationing cards were distributed to cover some foods, in anticipation of the needs of the those in the armed services.  There was also rationing of gasoline, and other petroleum products, along with shoes, and clothing.  I recall that restrictions on coffee and tires were particularly stringent.   Tires were especially important in those days since they were made exclusively of rubber which was imported.   As the war went on, tires became more precious and it wasn’t uncommon for a person to awaken to find his car on jacks without tires.  When a car was wrecked, the first thing salvaged was the tires.  When I worked at Dad’s service station during the later years of the war, I remember we did a brisk business patching tires and tubes in an attempt to get a few more miles out of “bald” tires.ration card gas

Not All Ration Cards Were Equal

Every household had their ration book and every auto had a sticker on their windshield announcing their status.  The A sticker was for those without special needs, the B and C stickers were for those whose driving was essential to the war effort.  There were no self-service gas stations in those days and it was the attendant’s job to collect the appropriate stamp along with the customer’s money.  Likewise, the station would be responsible to match the stamps to the amount of gas sold.

The Good. The Bad. And the Opportunists.

It has been said that war brings out the best and the worst in people, and it was inevitable profiteers would emerge from the midst of the patriots.  It didn’t take long for a vigorous black market to develop.  Although; I had no personal experiences in that regard, it was clear that those people were considered unpatriotic.  Certain things were particularly valuable.  For example, nylon stockings had recently been invented and were highly prized.  Unfortunately; nylon was also needed to make parachutes and the resultant scarcity made the stockings very valuable.   Likewise, a tire with little tread left could bring much more than the cost of a new one.  A guy with a gas can and a siphon hose could find ready customers for his product.  Car care became important for there would be no new cars until the war was over.

Actually, there were ample opportunities for profit without skirting the law.  Companies with government contracts, which included manufacture, construction, and transportation were billed on a cost-plus basis.  Consequently, there was no need to cut costs because the nature of the “cost-plus basis design” meant the higher the costs, the more the profit the company being contracted.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Thrived

There were many rags to riches stories, but my favorite took place in my own town.  He was a Hungarian immigrant who still had trouble with the English language and was frequently seen in the streets all over town pushing a wooden cart mounted on two wagon wheels.  He scoured the neighborhoods for any trash of value.  As the war progressed, the need for metals of all kinds increased, and Harry had a large stockpile in his back yard.  There had been many complaints about Harry’s messy place, but as the scrap and paper drives went into full force, Harry became the go-to guy who could buy and sell the scrap.  He became quite wealthy.  His son was in my class in High school and was the only kid to come to school in a suit and tie.  He subsequently became a lawyer, moved to Hollywood, and used his considerable inheritance to invest in the motion picture business.  One newsreel in particular sticks with me.  It must have been early in the war as it showed groups of solders training with wooden replicas of rifles.  The film was to demonstrate the need for scrap metal of all kinds that could be melted down to make guns.

Support and Spirit AND Opportunity

It seemed that everyone was involved in the war effort as it was called.  There was the USO whose volunteers were present wherever there were uniforms, passing out coffee and donuts and schmoozing the troops.  Women were busy knitting socks and scarves and sending “care packages” hoping the cookies would survive the trip.  Women were entering the workforce and doing jobs never felt appropriate for them in the past.  rosie the riveter dads ww2 blog“Rosie the Riveter” was hailed as a heroine.  Factories were in need of more employees as most began running three shifts.  The word was that there was big money to be made in the defense plants sometimes as much as a dollar an hour.  This got Dad’s attention besides, they needed him in the war effort since he was too old to serve so he quit his man killing job, and went to Akron where he went to work the second shift at the recently built (in record time) Goodyear Aircraft factory where they were turning out Corsair fighter planes at a record clip.

goodyear aircraft ww2 dads blogpniswv0620goodyearhistoryspotlight goodyear factory maybeGoodyear_HangarMany had the same idea as Dad and housing was very scarce, but he found two rooms behind a barber shop on the south side of Akron (not exactly a posh neighborhood) and called for us to come join him.  Mom got a job on the same shift doing some clerical work, and even my brother, who had just turned 16, worked there filling vending machines throughout the plant.  Schools were so crowded that classes were only held in two four-hour shifts per day.  Initially, I enjoyed the solitude of being home alone.  I was able to spend my evenings in the darkened barber shop watching the occasional fights outside the beer joint across the street.  I even had free reign to sample the many hair tonics.  School in Akron was a bummer.  There was a lot of racial tension largely due to a an unusual number of southerners who had migrated north to cash in on those high wages, and were  unaccustomed to dealing with uppity black folks.

I was unhappy and my request to go live with my maternal grandparents was honored, but that is another story (which I have written about previously). Editor’s Note: The story of Eshrink’s experience during WWII while he stayed at his grandparents’ farm is available as a free pdf download at this link or you can purchase the hard copy here. It’s a great read…it makes me feel like I’m catapulted back in time.

Blue Star Families

Almost immediately after Pearl Harbor blue stars started appearing in windows, and soon many would be taken down in favor of gold ones.  Parents lived in dread of the appearance of a Western Union messenger praying that he would not stop at their house with the “we regret to inform you…..” message in the pouch they carried.  My brother graduated from high school in May of 1944 having reached his 18th birthday in April.  In October he would find himself pinned down in the famous Battle of The Bulge.  What letters received were by V-mail, a system in which written letters were reduced in size and printed on very thin paper in order to reduce the amount of space and weight required to ship them.  Although soldiers were forbidden to say where they were or what they were doing in combat, it soon became obvious to my parents that he was there, since no letters had arrived in a long time.  The plight of the troops was big news and Mom and Dad sat by the radio listening to their favorite commentators at every opportunity.  I believe they attempted to minimize the danger in order to protect me, but our family was among the lucky ones for whom the telegraph never came.

The First War Correspondents

Print media was still king of the news gathering business, and correspondents like Ernie Pyle soon became household names.  He put himself in the midst of the action, and sent home stories of personal hardship and bravery on the part of the GI Joes.  His stories were always on a very personal level, harvested from direct observation or conversations with those spending time in fox-holes.

ernie_pyle_marquee2
Ernie Pyle Wearing HelmetAfter covering the European theater, he moved on to The Pacific and was killed by Japanese machine gun fire.  Of those who commanded our rapt attention on the radio, the most famous was Edward R. Murrow, who broadcast from London during the Blitz.  quote-a-nation-of-sheep-will-beget-a-government-of-wolves-edward-r-murrow-35-44-23He recorded his experiences on multiple bombing missions over Europe, and at times one could hear the sound of anti-aircraft.  These flights were not without danger…over 2,000 planes were lost prior to D-Day, according to war department records. After the war, Murrow made the switch to television once that new medium was introduced.

Early in the war, things did not look good.  The Japanese were having their way in the Pacific, England was vulnerable, and invasion was felt to be imminent.  Air raid drills were conducted routinely, even in our small town in the Midwest.  In fact, my future father-in-law was an air-raid warden.  In spite of all this we were deluged with propaganda touting the certainty of victory, not only due to our physical strength, but the righteousness of our cause.  It was fashionable to show Churchill’s “Digital V” for victory sign, and difficult to find a place where there was not a poster with Uncle Sam pointing his finger: telling you to buy bonds, conserve, collect, contribute, or sign up!

Winston-Churchill Victory sign

i want youEditor’s Note: THANKS for reading! Stay tuned for the next installment where Eshrink walks us through the turning point of the war…spoiler alert (the good guys won!)

 

 

 

 

 

The Way It Was| Part 6

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.
While loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

Editor’s Note: Above is a quote Eshrink found while doing research for this series of blog posts: The Way It Was (a glimpse into how he saw life growing up during The Depression and WWII). He said it might be his all time favorite quote so I decided to put it at the top of each post in this series as a reminder of the power of words and the power of love. Eshrink’s writing illustrates the power of both! In case you missed earlier posts in this series, I’ve provided links below.

Introduction: Welcome to Part 6 of The Way It Was from Eshrink. In Post 5, Eshrink wrote about his memories of the late 1930s (pre-war for Americans, but wartime for Europe). He also described everyday life, the values and customs of the day, as well as working conditions that he remembers from his dad’s stories working at a tile factory. In Part 6: Eshrink will write about his first experience with death, which is one reason he posits that he remembers this pre-war period so clearly.

The Way It Was: Part 6

Death | Funerals | Customs

Meanwhile,  ”across the pond,” the German panzers were on their way to achieving their goal of world domination.  In October 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. I recall the name Neville Chamberlain being disparaged, but later learned that his sin was in attempting to appease Hitler in order to spare England from attack.

chamberlain and hitler dads blogIt seemed that everyone except him knew that there would be no stopping the Germans until they had punished all of Europe for Germany ‘s defeat in WWI.  Those dates are remembered by me since the death of my paternal Grandfather was during the Russian invasion of Finland, which happened three months after Germany conquered Poland.  As we listened to the news, I was enthralled by stories of how, although hopelessly outnumbered, a few brave Fins had held off the entire Russian army with soldiers attacking on skis.  That would not be the last propaganda we would hear designed to bolster our spirits.

FInns on skis fighting russians dads blogDeath

My Grandfather’s death was illuminating in several ways.  This was my first experience in dealing with death, and I didn’t like it.  I visited him with Dad just two days before his death.  He was on his death bed as the saying goes and suffering from pneumonia, which has been called the “old man’s friend.”  In years to come, I would hear Dad express regrets that he had not complied with his Father’s last wish to bring him a bottle of Muscatel wine.  As was the custom, when my grandfather died, he was laid out in the parlor for all to see. There was a steady stream of visitors to offer both regrets and food.  In spite of the sadness of the occasion, I was enamored with all those goodies the ladies left on the kitchen table.

The burial was scheduled for three days after his death, which I have been told is just in case of a resurrection.  Ostensibly, for the same reason, it was mandatory that someone stay with the body night and day during the “showing.”  In this case, his children and their spouses took turns standing guard.  I have since read that the custom actually originated due to the fear that rats might undermine the undertaker’s efforts and spoil the whole show.  This particular death is also memorable because it was the only time I ever saw my Father cry.

It was customary to “take leave,” an exercise which took me by complete surprise!  The entire family was herded into the parlor, the door was closed, and suddenly as if on cue, everyone began to sob.  It was so loud that I cringed, and one of my aunts, who was famous for fainting at every opportunity, slipped from her husband’s arms and fell to the floor.  Just as I thought of a way to escape, the sobbing suddenly stopped. Again, as if on cue, eyes were dried, the undertaker closed the casket, and we headed for church where Scud’s virtues were briefly extoled and we made ready for the short walk to the graveyard behind the church (grandad’s real name was Jesse but known in the community as Scud).  Most of his friends would probably not even know his real name.  One’s given name was only to be used by strangers.  It had been a tough day, but all that pie and cake back at the house almost made up for it.

One of my regrets is that I feel as if I had never known either of my Dad’s parents very well in spite of having vague memories of visits there.  Although Grandad apparently had serious problems with alcohol, it now seems to me that he has not been given credit for some major accomplishments.  My one fond memory of him was when he introduced me to sugar on my tomatoes, which converted me to a tomato lover.  At the viewing, one of his acquaintances referred to him as a “tough old bird” which might contribute to him becoming the subject of another blog in the future.   It seems strange that I remember Grandma’s sister but little about Grandma.  The sister hosted the annual family reunion at the large dairy farm where she lived in a grand farmhouse.  We looked forward to these celebrations as they were great fun.  There were cousins galore and an abundance of the participants’ favorite recipes.  One of the highlights of the day was the performance by my great Uncle, who was an award winning “old time fiddler.”

Pre-War America as I Remember It.

During those prewar days, Europe took little notice of my small part of the world, but we were very concerned about what was going on over there.  There was vigorous debate as to what extent the US should be involved.  FDR had managed to increase military spending, and wanted to sell weapons to England.  The isolationists were successful in their opposition to even peripheral involvement by US.  Their view was that we were safe from attack due to the 3,000+ miles of ocean between–an idea that was soon to be squashed.  FDR in one of his fireside chats announced that he was implementing a program he called “lend lease” in which we would lease rather than sell arms to England.   He thereby by-passed Congress and everyone knew that Hitler’s submarines would be gunning for any transport of arms to Europe, which would inevitably lead to war.  I was old enough to understand some of this, and listened to some heated debates on the subject.

Meanwhile, the Germans were gobbling up property as fast as their tanks could take it.  They were conquering France with little difficulty, along with lesser countries.  France had felt themselves impregnable due to the Maginot line; a series of fortifications lining their border with Germany.  Dunkirksoldier1It was a marvel of engineering which I had read about in history class, but its effectiveness was lost when the Huns simply went around it, picking up Belgium in the process.  With that they were able to surround the French and English forces leading to the disaster at Dunkirk as in the recent movie by that name.

 

 

 

The Way It Was| Part 5

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.
While loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

Editor’s Note: Above is a quote Eshrink found while doing research for this series of blog posts: The Way It Was (a glimpse into how he saw life growing up during The Depression and WWII). He said it might be his all time favorite quote so I decided to put it at the top of each post in this series as a reminder of the power of words and the power of love. Eshrink’s writing illustrates the power of both! In case you missed earlier posts in this series, I’ve provided links below.

The fifth installment of The Way It Was picks up after Eshrink illustrated how the technology we have today has made life so easy by describing how they did things and what they didn’t have in the 1930s in his previous post: Part 4. 

The Way It Was: Part 5

We humans are very adept at making stuff, but not so good at predicting their consequences.  When I was a kid we spent most of our free time outdoors only because we had no play stations, cellphones, or TV.  There were no traveling sports teams, other than in high school, and kids were expected to be creative enough to find ways to occupy themselves.   We were free to fight, make up, make friends and enemies, in other words learn how to socialize.  In the January issue of Scientific American is an article titled: “Evolved to Exercise,” which posits that humans must be active to remain healthy, which made me think of the recent statistics regarding what some refer to as an epidemic of childhood obesity.  An even more frightening stat is that Type 2 diabetes, formerly a strictly adult disease linked to obesity, is now being seen in children.

In my own case I lost my super stardom in the 4th grade when we left the little farm and moved to town.  As a matter of fact, I did not feel accepted and became shy.  I was bullied and in response became something of a wimp.  I was saved from the bullies who were routinely taking my lunch from me by a kindred soul who had some intellectual deficits and a speech impediment that left him a few grades behind.  Fortunately for me, he was large in stature and came to my rescue.  This story will be quite familiar to my gang as they have heard it many times and it was featured in the “Papa Stories” which I wrote long ago for the Grandkids.

News of the Day

There are only snippets of memories of those days in the late 30s, but since I had no friends after we moved, I must have spent more time listening to the news on the radio and even reading the newspaper.  I do recall hearing stories about Father Coughlin who was a Catholic priest, one of the first to use the radio as a platform for preaching.  Now 800px-CharlesCouglinCraineDetroitPortrait dads blogsince looking up his history, I realize Dad had disliked Coughlin not because he was Catholic, but because his preachings had become anti-semitic and pro fascist.  Coughlin heaped praise on Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito, and felt Hitler was correct in blaming Jews for his country’s problems.  His programs had taken this turn apparently due to his antipathy toward Roosevelt whom he had initially supported.  He is said to have had 30 million listeners to his weekly program, many of whom had joined his “National Union for Social Justice.”  He was forced off the air when the war started.

In like fashion, I used Wikipedia to fill in the blanks of my foggy memories of the German American Bund, which was a pro-Nazi organization formed at the behest of Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s right-hand man.  It’s goal was to form a Nazi party in the United States.  Membership was limited to those of German descent and even some American citizens were members.  Until now I didn’t realize what a formidable organization they had become with uniforms, Nazi salutes and even the establishment of military style training camps.  I was amazed to learn that this organization was allowed free reign until 1942, well after war had been declared on Germany.

During those prewar days of the late 1930s, there was a lot going on with much concern over Germany’s rearmament.  The news reels showed footage of massive displays of armaments along with thousands of “goose stepping” troops giving the Nazi salute as they marched past Hitler.   Roosevelt’s fireside chats warned of our lack of preparedness, but his entreaties were ignored by the isolationists who had barely recovered from World War I with its millions of deaths.  The veterans of the war who continued to suffer from wounds, disease, or the sequelae of exposure to poison gas were daily reminders of the horrors of war.

Working Conditions & Unions

It must have been sometime in the late 30s when Dad became involved in attempts to unionize his workplace.  His complaint was regarding working conditions. He worked in the “press room” of the tile factory which was said to be the most dust ridden area of the plant.  Indeed, he arrived home from work every day covered in white dust so thick that one could barely distinguish the color of his clothes.  Our town had at one time been world famous for the production of ceramic products of all kinds, and also a place where there had always been a lot of “lung trouble” which was often fatal.  There had recently been studies in which there was shown to be a link between such dust and pulmonary disease and an increased susceptibility to tuberculosis.  This disease was also found to be prevalent in those working in foundries (they used a lot of sand in molds), and recently has been found to be the major culprit in the black lung disease which afflicts coal miners.  It was called silicosis after the silica which was shown to cause it.

The late thirties was the hey-day of union activity following passage of the Labor Relations Act, another of FDR’s New Deal legislations in 1935.  I have rather vivid memories of several evening visits to our house by a union organizer.  There were intense discussions and he left a lot of literature including scientific publications about silicosis.  I thought that stuff was cool.  There were pictures of X-rays, and lungs that had been cut out of people.  I presume that my Father was chosen to head up the campaign to organize the plant because of his reputation of being outspoken.  I recall one discussion about exhaust systems which could remove nearly all the dust in the plant.  Dad was particularly angry to find there were solutions to this problem which the company had ignored.  After all, he knew several people who were disabled or dead as a result of that dust.

The first step was to try to be the first to punch his time card out in order for him to station himself outside the gate in position to pass out literature and talk to any one who would listen.  It was strictly forbidden to do any campaigning on company time and even discussions were grounds for immediate dismissal.  In spite of his best efforts, the vote to join the union was turned down.  I remember Dad saying they were all a bunch of “chickenshit suck asses.” He suffered no immediate retribution, as I think the law protected him from being punished for union activities, although I am sure there was no effort to make things easy for him.  He did have a great deal of respect for his foreman, they had become friends and I suspect he may have attempted to shield Dad.  The company remained in operation for many more years and of course never did anything to ameliorate the dust problem.

As for me, I have always felt a kinship to the union movement.  In spite of the excesses they perpetrated in later years, they did much to not only create a blue-collar middle class but also help improve working conditions.  There is a family myth (might even be true) that my Mother’s great uncle, who was a charter member of the United Mine Workers, once escaped from a group of strikebreakers with noose in hand by climbing out the rear window of his house as they broke down the front door.  Now the UMW is a toothless tiger and once again mine safety regulations are being ignored.

Values

Before proceeding to the war years, I feel it important to elaborate on some of the values and behaviors held important then.  There was great emphasis on manners which extended to the deferential behavior towards women.  We boys were trained that the female was a delicate flower which could be easily destroyed either physically or emotionally, and to strike a woman was not only unmannerly but unmanly. It did seem strange that our Mothers, though obviously female, were tough as nails, and to disrespect her could well unleash not only her wrath but also Father’s wrath.  Discussions in mixed company of anything remotely connected to sex, even the word sex, were strictly for bidden.

All these and other conventions were supposed to be a mark of respect, yet respect in the workplace was lacking.  Women were barred from positions of leadership, and mostly limited to jobs that involved positions in which they were subservient to men, which was also mirrored in their marital relationships.  In general, they were felt to be too emotional to make decisions and to handle responsibility.  We thought we were being respectful, but now I am told the opposite was true.  The war soon to come would shatter many or those stereotypes as women were given the opportunity to demonstrate they were capable of more than nurture.

The Elderly

There was a great deal of respect shown for one’s elders (I was born too late for that).  The rule was that they should always be addressed with the proper prefix (Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc).  The proper suffix should be used in in responding, such as: yes sir, no sir, yes Mam, and they should never be addressed by their first name unless permission was granted.   In private however; they would often be referred to as old geezers or worse.

Table Manners

Table manners were high on the agenda and dinner was always punctuated with instructions as to how one should use the tools, pass the serving dish before spooning out a serving for oneself, and keep elbows off the table.  Eating with fingers was a definite no-no, and to not eat every speck on one’s plate was to insult the cook, not to mention all those starving children in India.

Seen and Not Heard

In the presence of adults, children were to “be seen and not heard” which always left me wondering why we were there in the first place.  One particularly difficult place for me was my dad’s brother’s house, whose wife always impressed me a being “stiff as a board.”  They were childless, their house was immaculate and extensively populated with breakable items.  Upon arrival, I was always directed to a plain chair near the corner of their living room.  I don’t believe she ever talked to me but did occasionally talk about me.  At the same time, I was petrified and scared to move a muscle.  I bode my time by reciting numbers in my head (“a thousand one, a thousand two, and so on until I hit 100, then started all over again.  I remember asking my Dad why they had no children and he answered, “He is a dry bag.”  I only had an inkling what he meant, but didn’t pursue the subject.  In his honor of my Uncle, I named our most recent adopted dog, Floyd.

In marked contrast to Aunt Florence was Aunt Toad, (I never knew her real name, nor how she came to that nickname). She was also childless, but she couldn’t get enough of my talking.  She always greeted me as if I were the most important person on earth and after stuffing me with cookies, cake, and her home squeezed grape juice, she would ask me all kinds of questions, and I would talk non-stop, confessing to all my dreams of being a private detective or airplane pilot, or whatever grandiose scheme came to mind on a given day. She would listen attentively.  She never appeared to doubt my capabilities to do any of those things, and I felt comfortable telling her anything that came to mind.  I think she would have made an excellent psychotherapist even without the cookies and cake.

What We Wore

You may have noticed there are few walk in closets in houses of this vintage or older.  Usually all the space needed was room for a Sunday suit a couple of shirts and maybe a pair of “good pants”.  The suit was for church and funerals.  The pants for family reunions and eating in fancy places. Of course, there was no air conditioning and the suit was mandatory on Sunday no matter the temperature.  A pair of good shoes was also necessary.  Although May 1st was the magic date at which we kids could shed our shoes for the summer, we were forced to stick our swollen feet back into shoes we had probably already outgrown in order to go to church or even a movie.

Men wore hats no matter the occasion, almost always felt, but there was an occasional flat top straw seen in the summer.  No hats of any kind were ever to be worn in doors, and anyone who crossed that line was in trouble.  Hair was worn slicked back, and brilliantine was the most popular way to accomplish that.  It also smelled good which was nice since weekly or less frequent shampoos were the norm.

Editor’s Note: Stay Tuned for “The Way It Was: Part 6” where Eshrink chronicles the pre-war years (WWII) from his perspective as a child. Not only will he discuss “the mood of the country” as he remembers it regarding the war in Europe, but shares personal stories, such as the first funeral he attended when his grandfather died and remembrances of the people who shaped his life.

 

 

The Way It Was| Part 4

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.
While loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

Editor’s Note: Above is a quote Eshrink found while doing research for this series of blog posts: The Way It Was (a glimpse into how he saw life growing up during The Depression and WWII). He said it might be his all time favorite quote so I decided to put it at the top of each post in this series as a reminder of the power of words and the power of love. Eshrink’s writing illustrates the power of both! In case you missed earlier posts in this series, I’ve provided links below.

The fourth installment of The Way It Was is about school days in the 1930s, winter, and the simple pleasures. ENJOY!

The Way It Was: Part 4

Anyone who grew up in those times will understand that if you had an older sibling you would never experience the feel or smell of new clothes.  Thus, when I was sent off to my first day in school in my brother’s hand me downs, I was reassured by Mom with: “You’re clean anyway”.   I have carried that phrase with me all my life and passed it on to Barb.  In remembrance of Mom we have frequently used it when the kids complained about the way they were dressed.

School

My introduction to scholarly pursuits was particularly inauspicious.  Having never been known for lightness afoot, it is not surprising that during the first recess of the first day at school I fell and scratched my knees in the cinders which covered the school yard.   To make matters worse I cried long and loud which did not help me to gain the respect of my classmates.  As a matter of fact, I heard one of the older kids taunt me by calling me a baby.  Much to my surprise, my brother, the person who had spent my entire life teasing and punishing me, came to my rescue and held his handkerchief over my wound.

That entire first year is a blur, but I do remember being jealous of Jim Jones (not his real name, he might still be alive and I would not like to give him the satisfaction), for he stayed in the first row (for those of you who don’t know what that means, keep reading), and he was athletic.  Grade school was much different in those days.  A few years ago, I visited one of the kid’s elementary classroom and was amazed to see all those kids up running around the room, all seeming to be involved in different things.  There were some working together at tables, it was noisy and the teacher was all over the place.  It looked like a really good deal compared to my school days.

When I was in school in the 1930s, all of our desks were bolted to the floor in rows facing the blackboard.  If one had something to say or a question to ask, he/she raised their hand, otherwise they remained mute.  Requests for a trip to the rest room required that you raise 1 or 2 fingers in the air depending upon the need. Whispering or passing notes were considered capital offenses, which could result in a trip to the principal’s office.  There was no hesitation about initiating corporal punishment for chronic offenders and cheating on exams was unforgivable.   Unless called to do something in front of the class one could expect to sit at their desk until recess lunch or dismissal.  Little wonder that there was always a wild celebration when school was let out.  Seating was arranged to maximize competition for grades.  The row of seats nearest the window was for the A students.  I never made it past row 3 and that Jones kid was always sitting in the first seat in the first row looking so very smug.

Sometime in the thirties Dad was called back to work at the Mosaic Tile Co, and it seemed as if we were doing relatively well.  We moved again to a house with an acre of ground and a small barn.  Somehow Dad was able to acquire a milk cow which he pastured on a neighbor’s farm.  We also had a few chickens and a couple of pigs.  There was a large vegetable garden and room to plant enough corn to feed the pigs and chickens.  We moved there when I was in the second grade and as the saying went in those days we were “living high on the hog”.

2nd Grade | Living High on the Hog

We lived only walking distance from another village consisting of a general store and a filling station.  For my second grade I was enrolled in a one room school.  There were six rows of kids, for six grades.  My uncle was the teacher who seemed determined to emphasize that my brother and I would not get special treatment.  It was definitely old school (pun intended) and my clearest memory is of hearing the bell toll announcing the start of the day and the tin cups each with a name written hanging on a wall which was standard equipment in order to get water from the hand pumped well.  Fortunately, the well was strategically located at some distance from the male and female privies (the outdoor potties for the youngsters reading this).

One of my clearest memories of that year of one cold night is of riding home from the city in our model A Ford.  I was in the backseat surrounded by what seemed to me at the time to be a truckload of groceries which had been purchased at the A & P store.  My parents were conversing and Dad was complaining about the price of groceries.  They had cost $12 which would not leave much to live on since he made $24 dollars a week (he worked 48 hours), and the monthly rent of $12 would be due in another week.   Nevertheless, he continued wiring houses after work and on weekends (when his customers would allow him to violate the sabbath).  We ate well, although I must admit that was largely due to Dad’s resourcefulness…I had never gone to bed hungry even in the worst of times.

3rd Grade | King of the Hill

The third grade was probably my greatest success in life.  The one room school was closed and we were sent to a consolidated school a couple of miles away.  We were introduced to school buses, which had allowed the latest innovations in education to proceed.  It was back to a room for each grade, and I excelled largely because I became the teacher’s pet.  My teacher was Miss Starkey.  She was a middle-aged spinster who lived on the family farm with her bachelor brother.  He was a music teacher who tried unsuccessfully to teach me to play the piano.  He would be called “sissified” in those days but now his sexual orientation would probably be called into question.  I excelled at sports even though when running I often tripped and fell due to my pigeon-toed stride   It would not be an exaggeration to say that I was “king of the hill.”  I must have thought I was quite intelligent for I liked to use big words when talking to adults.

My position as scholar of the year was solidified during a visit to Varner’s store.  It was a vintage country store with horse collars hanging on the wall.  It was a combination dry goods, hardware, clothing, and grocery store.  Among the items I had been watching was the display of Levi jeans which were the hottest fashion item at Hopewell school.  I saw my chance to score in that regard when Dad began showing my report card of all As to everyone in the store.  In spite of my embarrassment, I would not let this opportunity pass.  To my amazement when I hit him up for the Levi’s, he immediately shelled out the $1.69 and I had escaped from the curse of hand-me-downs, and rushed home to dispose of those sissy knickers that displayed my skinny legs. The lesson learned: scholarly pursuits do pay off.

The Simple Things (a brief digression)

A few minutes ago, I interrupted my writing of this tome to adjust the thermostat.  We are now in the midst of an unusually severe cold wave which led me to think about our prior coping mechanisms.  In general, our long-term memories are very forgiving in that those retained are more likely to be pleasant with the exception of extremely horrifying experiences which lie so near the surface that they may be relived as we see in cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This phenomenon along with our yearnings for youth results in we old folks, with our penchant to reminisce, to ignore or not remember the negative aspects of the daily lives of our youth.  With that in mind I have decided to digress from my own personal accounts of the “good old days” to focus on some of the less pleasant aspects of day to day living.

Winter

When I think of my winter childhood days there comes a flood of memories of sled riding, building snow men, snow ball fights, and school closings.  There was the sense of absolute freedom in lying on one’s back in the snow and making snow angels.  As I cranked the thermostat today, I remembered the down side of winter storms during that era. In the 1930s, central heating was considered a luxury and most homes continued to heat their homes with fireplaces or stoves.  Where central heating existed, it was via hot air delivered through large sheet metal pipes as in Darrin McGavin’s character in A Christmas Story.  For those without a central heat source, there was usually only one room where the cold could be managed.  For those with indoor plumbing frozen pipes were an ever-present threat.

Heat

For most homes, there were only stoves or fireplaces.   Later, most furnaces and fireplaces were converted to natural gas, but when I was a kid coal was really king.  Those houses in which there were furnaces usually had a room reserved for coal in their basement. For others, coal was stored in a shed or in a backyard pile.  This meant that to keep the fire going, one would make periodic trips outside to fill the coal bucket.  It required a considerable amount of effort to keep the fire going, not only by feeding it the right amount of coal to keep it going without causing a chimney fire or melting the stove pipe (the pipe from the stove to the chimney), but to keep the fire smoldering through the night in order to avoid the task of gathering newspapers and kindling wood to restart it in the morning.  It was mornings, by the way, which were the most adventurous.  When bare feet hit the linoleum after Mom’s entreaty turned into an ominous command, there was a mad rush toward the living room with clothes in hand in order to dress near the stove.  With a bedside glass of water frozen solid, there was no time to waste.

Sleep, by the way, was a good way to cope with the cold, but it required some preparation.  With the onset of winter, sheets would be replaced by thin blanket sheets.  Layers of comforters, quilts, and blankets gave a feeling of security, although the weight sometimes made it difficult to move.  There were tricks to minimize the shock of crawling in bed before it warmed.  Sometimes hot water bottles would be dispatched under the covers prior to entry, but my favorite was when Dad would lay a brick on top of the stove until it was very hot, then wrap it in an old blanket, and slip it under the covers a bit before bedtime.  In addition to curing the cold feet problem it afforded an opportunity to enjoy being tucked in without being forced to admit it.

Bathing

But the greatest torment by far was the Saturday night bath, an absolute necessity in order to attend Sunday School so Mom could send us off as “clean anyway” even if the clothes were a little ragged around the edges.  I believe some of the houses we lived in had running water earlier, but I don’t recall hot water via a faucet or tub or shower until was 11 or 12.  Prior to that we relied on “spit” baths, which in winter meant bathing in the living room while standing as close as possible to the stove.  There was one incident of my very young childhood which for many years caused me to avoid bathing as much as possible.

Spring Cleaning

The end of winter was not the end of its demands however, for there were ashes to dispose of much of which had been spread on the sidewalk ice.  There would soon be spring cleaning, a chore with a long tradition resulting from the aftermath of all that coal dust and smoke.  Nearly all rooms in those days were covered with wall paper and by spring the designs would be much less distinct.  There was a brisk business in a product specifically designed to clean residue.  It was very much like the consistency of playdough but I came to hate it in later years when I was called on to help in rubbing this stuff all over the floors and ceilings.

The Way It Is: The Simple Things Made So Much Simpler

It seems likely that editor Maggie will disapprove of my insertion of this vignette about Eshrink and the thermostat in this otherwise marvelously choreographed historical document however; the way this old head works if I don’t say it when I think it, it is soon gone.  The thought of the power that this one pinky of mine can harness to obviate nearly all the problems outlined in the previous paragraphs is one that fascinates me.  But of course, it doesn’t end there for we live in a pushbutton world.  Available buttons include those on this computer.  With them there is no need for trips to the library.  I no longer need my library card for I will have access to more information than thousands of libraries could hold.  I have a button to open and close my garage door, and a button to start my car, and to lock or unlock it, tell me where I left it, and even start it remotely so that I won’t need to get my tender body chilled.  I push a button to make my coffee and keep it warm.  I can microwave my oatmeal in 90 seconds by pushing a single button.  My TV operates mysteriously with buttons pushed from across the room which I operate from the comfort of my lift chair, which not only gently lifts me to an upright position, but reclines me to any position I require (I respectfully declined the model with built in butt warmer and massage).  There is also the myriad of buttons on the car I purchased last year.  I have no idea as to the function of most of them and consequently am afraid to punch them.

With this overuse of our digits, I am surprised that we don’t see more repetitive use injuries of our fingers similar to those assembly line workers experience.  Fortunately, Siri and Alexa have arrived on the scene and have initiated action to rescue us from the horrors of finger fatigue.  As voice recognition programs evolve computer keyboards will likely become as obsolete as carbon paper.  I can then talk to my thermostat and control the temperature of my house “without lifting a finger.”  Yes, we certainly have come a long way since the days of the coal bucket, but talking is somewhat tiring, and some have predicted that some-day we may be able to issue commands by just thinking rather than verbalizing them.

The thermostat thing is only one of thousands of ways our lives have been changed by technology, and my nostalgia in no way means I would like to give up all those conveniences I have come to enjoy and on which I depend.  I have been an all-out advocate for progress, and have been able to see up close and personal how advances in medicine, for example, have done much to alleviate suffering.  In that regard, I am especially grateful for without those innovations I would have been dead years ago, long before I began writing blogs. 

Thanks for reading. Editor Maggie is working on Part 5 of The Way It Was.

 

The Way It Was: Part 3

Editor’s Note: Eshrink (my dad) was motivated to chronicle his childhood memories by his son Peter (my brother), who is a history buff. My brother and I both think there is immense value to have an account of everyday life during The Great Depression and WWII: the decades when the people who have been dubbed “The Greatest Generation” grew up. In Part 2, Eshrink recounted conversations between his dad and friends that he overheard while the men met to help each other find work during the Depression. He also told us about his near death experience when he fell into the Licking River as a little boy. In this post (Part 3) Eshrink tells us about his other near-death experience and gives us a glimpse into the entertainment world of the 1930s.

Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 2.

The Way It Was: Part 3

In addition to the near drowning experience, I had another close call as a child. While not as dramatic, this event was equally frightening for those who witnessed it.  I had accompanied my Grandfather to Reilly’s store in the village which was a short walk from my grandparent’s farmhouse.  Mr. Reilly had given me something of which I was very proud, I think it may have been a banana (which was considered a luxurious item in those days).  Grandad was always careful to walk facing approaching traffic due to his hearing problems, which proved to be a problem in this case since we were walking on the side of the road that was opposite from the house.  The entire family was sitting on the porch and I was eager to show them my new-found treasure.  I managed to break away from my grandfather’s hand and started across the road just in time to collide head on to the front fender of an oncoming car and was just seconds away from being run over.  The next thing I saw was Dr. Wells standing over me as I lay on the couch in the parlor (a room that was ordinarily reserved for important events) announcing that I would be just fine while expressing concern about my Grandfather who still hadn’t recovered from fainting. 

 All the recent discoveries about the long-term effects of concussion leave me wondering if that brain rattling experience may explain a lot about me.  Perhaps it can be an excuse for the previous paragraphs of autobiographical meanderings when this paper was to be about historical events.  But perhaps you can take comfort in knowing that narcissism is not exclusive to our nation’s capital.  In any event, I will take pains to avoid further digression and proceed with the topics Peter suggested. While my close call with the fender of the car wasn’t newsworthy enough to make the radio, I will attempt to explain the importance of that media (and others) as I remember it as a young boy.

How Radio Changed Our Lives

In previous blogs, I have written about journalism.  The rise of radio in my day challenged newspapers in the business of reporting the news much as has TV, and more currently the internet, does today.  Nightly radio newscasters became famous and the networks competed for listeners.  Since FM came along much later, we only had AM radio with sporadic reception that was affected by atmospheric conditions.  During thunderstorms, static made listening impossible.   At times, one could listen to a station hundreds of miles away. Other times we would have trouble tuning to a station across town.  Some stations were licensed to give a stronger signal strength than others.  I recall listening to KDKA in Pittsburgh, which was the first commercial station to be licensed.  Radio was still in its infancy during my childhood, but rapidly became an essential part of our lives.

blog zenith adv 1930 radio

Entertainment| Soap Operas + After-School Programming

The standard status symbol of the 1930s was a Zenith or Fairbanks-Morse radio.  There were many styles of table models, and very large console models for the affluent or ostentatious.  There was something for everyone.  zenith radio 1930s blog picture

As previously mentioned, we had both local and international news.  For kids, there were after school programs like The Lone Ranger, Jack Armstrong, Terry and the Pirates, The Shadow, and The Thin Man to name a few.  For women, there were daytime soap operas which were serialized so that viewers could Jack armstrong coverlook forward to listening to the exploits of their heroines daily.  Even those moms committed to 24-hour service to their families planned their daily activities around the schedule of their favorite soap opera, and friends knew not to call during that time frame.  Among the more popular ones were The Guiding Light, Ma Perkins, and General Hospital.  If you were listening to a baseball game at one of those times you were best advised to leave the premises.

Sports

Sports fans were able to hear play-by-play descriptions of their favorite teams and players.  A new profession called sportscasting emerged as people talented in describing the action became as famous as the players.  Ronald Reagan was one who got his start in show business reagan2 baseball radio blogcalling baseball games.  At a time when things looked bad, many looked for a hero to follow.  This was the time of Babe Ruth, Jesse Owens, and Joe Louis for whom some records still stand.  Everyone loved “the Babe.”  the brown bomber blogSadly, support for the Brown Bomber (Joe Louis), the guy who was heavyweight champion for 12 years, winning 66 of 69 fights 52 by knock outs was lacking.  I am saddened to confess that even as a child I was one of those bigots who wished for a “great white hope” to defeat him.  Championship fights were promoted vigorously and supplanted normal programming.  All ears would be immersed in the action, and we could almost feel every blow.  Radio forced us to use our imagination to picture the action in much the same manner as books do.  Indeed, I believe there is some truth to the idea that television has helped to “dumb down” us viewers.  

Fireside Chats from the White House

Radio had been ignored as a political tool, but Roosevelt was to change that.  Soon after taking office he initiated a series of broadcasts which would come to be called fireside chats. The first one, delivered 442px-FDR-April-28-1935-fireside chat blogonly a couple of months following his election, was designed to reassure the country and outline his plans to deal with the country’s financial crisis   His informal style of speaking was well received, even by republicans, and subsequent broadcasts would be carried on all of the networks throughout his presidency.  They were particularly useful in maintaining morale during the dark days of the horrible war soon to come.  Somehow, we were among the 40 percent of families to have a radio. Consequently; we usually had as many interlopers show up for the fireside chats as we did for the Joe Louis fights.  As for me, I recall being angry that all this furor kept me from listening to my favorite show: Gangbusters.

Movie Theatres: The Great Escape

Radio was marvelous until movies came along to completely capture hearts.  Talkies were fairly new to the scene in the 30s, but they soon became our ultimate divorce from reality.  Movie stars became the rich and famous at a time when poverty was the norm.  It has been said that the enormous appeal of movies may have been related to their ability to allow us to remove ourselves from the misery and hopelessness that we witnessed continuously during those days when hope was in short supply.  The venue itself, sitting in a darkened theater, allowed us to totally immerse ourselves almost as if we were living the story we watched.  I suppose that might be why television never supplanted movies as many predicted during the early days of TV.

 In a previous blog, I mentioned that when I was a kid there were five movie theaters in our town where less than 30,000 souls resided. One of the theaters was ornately decorated with frescoes and thick carpet.  It even had a pipe organ which during sing-a-longs would miraculously arise from the orchestra pit.  During intermission, the audience was encouraged to sing and follow the “bouncing ball” as it followed the lyrics that were projected on the screen.  They employed a fulltime organist in addition to a projectionist, ticket takers, and ushers.  Movies were shown continually, and one could be seated at any time and stay as long as he wanted (a boon to those homeless folks who could scare up a quarter and manage to look a bit tidy).   It was common to arrive in the middle of a movie and stay to watch the part missed.  Summer attendance at the movies was bolstered by the presence of air conditioning since it was the only place in town where it could be found. 

The format of those movies was different, but predictable.  Following the previews there was a newsreel where the audience could actually witness what they had been reading about in their local papers.  This was always followed by a cartoon.  One of our theaters specialized in western movies.  They had taken a page from the soap opera writers, and added a short serial movie to the main feature which would end with the hero in crisis followed by a caption to return next week to see the conclusion. Of course, the next week’s episode would end in another crisis, and kids would immediately start planning how they could find a dime for the next episode.  

My First Movie

The first movie I saw was “Mutiny on the Bounty.”  It was by far the most amazing experience of my young life and I still have vivid memories of that marvelous day.  I recently looked up the date of the mutiny on the bounty poster blog

movie’s release and found that I was only five years old. It was made even more spectacular by the fact that my Uncle Don took me (my mother’s younger brother).  We even stopped at a downtown soda fountain where I had a cherry flavored fountain coke.  Uncle Don was my hero.  He was Mr. everything, an excellent student and outstanding athlete.  I marveled at how he threw 100-pound sacks of feed around as if they were bags of feathers.  He was very soft spoken and modest, which was the Van Horn family’s style.  For example, when he graduated from high school as valedictorian and with multiple medals for his athletic accomplishments, his Mother was asked why she didn’t seem more proud of him.  She replied that she was proud, but she didn’t like to see people “going around bragging.”

A night at the movies was a fairly cheap date.  Tickets were 25 cents and with a buck a guy could have enough left to have chocolates sundaes at the nearest soda fountain.  The problem was that many young men only made a dollar a day.  According to Wikipedia there was a minimum wage of 25 cents per hour in the 1930s; however, I am sure most employers paid little attention to that. 

Throughout those darkest days Dad would take any work available and he was not shy about professing to be an expert at whatever chore was available.  He billed himself as an expert wallpaper hanger in spite of never having done it before.  I recall sitting on the floor watching as Mom pasted and he struggled to get the paper in place.  In 1936, FDR provided another opportunity by establishing the Rural Electrification Administration with a goal of providing electric service throughout the country.  Over 90% of rural residents were without electricity and their use of kerosene for light and heat made Rockefeller one of the richest men in the world long before gasoline was the predominant petroleum product.  The REA as it was called soon began stretching wires to the far reaches of the US, and true to form Dad declared himself master electrician and was soon busy wiring houses. 

The year 1936 stands out to me. Maybe because it was my first year in school. I also remember our neighbor across the street bought a brand new shiny black Chevrolet.  I don’t recall what he did for a living, but I do recall his position was rare enough that it produced envy throughout the neighborhood.  Another major event that year, which would be unthinkable now, was when my Dad confronted that neighbor about an alleged affair.  My Father was never reticent about expressing his feelings, even though many would suggest he mind his own business.  jesse owens olympics 1936The other big event of 1936 was the Olympic Games. Specifically, the performance of Jesse Owens. His ability to put Hitler’s claim of Aryan supremacy to shame was wildly applauded even though “he were a nigger” (sorry to offend, but that is the way it was in those days).  Later, I would watch multiple news reel accounts of Jesse Owens at the Olympics.  My hero Uncle Don would tell the story of how he was congratulated by some black guy when he won the 440 in the State High School track competition.  When he asked someone who that guy was, he was told it was Jesse Owens.