Drama at the Bird Feeder

An Oasis in the Backyard

It was a beautiful balmy summer afternoon and the gang was busy making preparations for granddaughter Emma’s surprise birthday party. There had been a temporary hiatus in the COVID warnings and such get togethers were no longer frowned upon.  I had escaped the chaos and responsibility associated with major decisions like whether the balloons should be tied down or allowed to escape to the ceilings by sneaking out to the back deck.  I settled into a comfortable chair hoping for some peace and quiet.  My favorite son-in-law (I can use that term without offending anyone since he has no competition for that honor) devotes nearly every minute of his spare time working in his yard.  The result is a carefully choreographed weed-free wonder of plants and flowers surrounded by patches of manicured grass in the front of the house, but my favorite place is the back yard which he has converted into a beautiful wildlife-friendly oasis.  It all began when he planted some shrubbery and small trees around his back lot line in order to provide some privacy.  As is his style, he soon immersed himself in learning all about landscaping, and the fence line around his backyard began to widen at the expense of the lawn due to the addition of more varieties of flora.  The diminutive pond fed by a trickle of water, at Jim’s behest, now got its fill from a more substantial flow which emitted a mesmerizing lullaby as it cascaded over a series of carefully placed stones into a small pool stocked with koi.                                                                                                                                                  

Indeed, as I settled into my adirondack chair, I felt at peace and somehow comforted. My knowledge about flowers, plants and trees is very limited, but I was impressed that all this stuff seemed to look as if it belonged.  There was all manner of shades of green in various shapes and sizes.  There were delicate ferns dwarfed and shaded from the assault of too much sunlight by their taller brethren who turned their leaves to face the sun’s rays head on, gratefully absorbing all they could get.  In the midst of this sea of green was the contrast afforded by those plants who seemed to compete for attention by showing off their ability to produce vividly colored flowers.  Presiding over this show was a backdrop of several varieties of tall trees silently dominating the scene. 

Let the Games Begin!

The quiet was soon interrupted as mother nature raised the curtain and the show began with the clarion call of a squirrel who was barking at me from his safe perch high up in a tree.  He was staring at me and his bushy red tail was swishing back and forth as he told me in no uncertain terms that I was invading his space.  This guy, I will call him Sammy, soon lost interest in me when a smaller version whom I named Freddy appeared on the scene. 

Freddy was aggressively attempting to access all those goodies in the bird feeder.   Never mind that the feeder was designed to be squirrel proof, Freddy was not to be denied.   He initially decided to attack from above and slid down the wire which suspended it, but with nothing to hold onto, slid off the top and fell to the ground.  Undaunted, he immediately was back up the tree.  Having changed to a strategy of frontal assault, he opted to leap from the trunk of the tree directly onto the feeder.  This time he appeared to have some success even managing to briefly reach paydirt by contorting his body around the feeder, but alas with nothing to hold onto and with the feeder swinging back and forth wildly he once again did a backflip and hit the ground.  However, his efforts had not been in vain for bird feed now littered the ground.  His good fortune was short lived however: as Sammy who had been preoccupied with my presence suddenly became aware of what was happening directly beneath him. 

Sammy had apparently decided that the immediacy of Freddy’s attempt to steal his cache of sunflower seeds and stuff represented a greater threat than did my presence consequently; he attacked poor little Freddy who was barely half his size.  Since I had been bullied as a kid, I had great sympathy for Freddy, and was rooting for him to kick Sammy’s butt, however Freddy was no dummy and took off running with Sammy in pursuit.  Their speed and agility was amazing as Freddy raced through the trees with Sammy on his tail.  Freddy’s diminutive size allowed him to leap onto small branches which would barely support Sammy, advantage Freddy. 

While those two were fighting, a flock of sparrows saw their opportunity and swarmed around the feeder determined to take advantage of the absence of those hair covered monsters.  In order to lessen the chance of being grabbed by some predator hawk or eagle, these guys opted to land, take a bite, and quickly fly away to seek refuge in the foliage of a tree.  Speaking of bullies, at this point a couple of blue jays showed up squawking and shoving the smaller sparrows out of the way, but it was not long before Sammy, after dispatching his adversary, was back at the bird feeder determined to reclaim it as his personal domain. This time he used his size to grab the birdfeeder with his front paws and somehow anchor his rear legs to the tree, thereby gaining access to the goodies.  It appeared to be a successful strategy until my little hero, Freddy, reappeared.  He slid down the wire and holding onto it with his hind legs was able to hang on since Sammy had stopped the feeder from swinging back and forth.  Needless to say, Sammy was a very unhappy rodent.  He reacted by attempting to reach Freddy, but in the process lost control and the feeder began swinging loose again.  You guessed it Sammy and Freddy both fell to the ground and took off running up, around, and through the trees.  They had barely disappeared from view when Charley the chipmunk showed up to clean up the spoils of war which had been left on the ground. 

Soon the sparrows who had been waiting unseen in the trees also showed up to share in the bounty.  Charley seemed to have no problem in sharing his find, and the birds seemed comfortable with him.  I guess they all felt there was enough for everyone.  I sat in place for a time waiting for Act 3 to begin, but neither Sammy nor Freddy showed up, besides it was time for me to return to my nest where I could participate in a different life drama which would be equally loud and raucous, especially following the arrival of the guest of honor.    

The Miracle of Life

The drama that I had witnessed on the patio merged with the realization that Emma the birthday girl was to be honored for 30 years of life, barely one third of the time I had been alive.  There was of course nothing new about this revelation, except that it awakened me from my usual lack of appreciation for the miracle of life in spite of the fact that our environment is teeming with it.  I believe most of us take our own lives for granted except for those of us who are more at risk of finishing our stint such as old men like me or those suffering from other possibly fatal conditions.   It has been said that awareness of our mortality leads to a more zealous appreciation of life, and my own personal experience confirms that to be true. 

In spite of endless speculation, observation, research, meditation, and spiritual inquiry, there is much about life that remains unknown or perhaps even unknowable.  There is not even agreement as to its definition.  I have spent nearly all of my life studying various aspects of life and the more I learn the more I become awed and humbled by its complexity.  We are told that life had its origins over 4 billion years ago, only a mere 250 million years after the earth was formed.  It is said to have originated from random chemical reactions to form amino acids which combined to form proteins. The proteins coalesced, and became encased in a semipermeable membrane.  Thus, the cell, the basic building block of life, was formed.   

Those “Why” Questions

Evolutionary biologists have provided extensive evidence as to how life has progressed from one cell to its current state of development, yet do little to explain why it all happened. Why questions only lead to more why questions and in the end can only be answered by God.  Reproduction is Job One for all living things, including the participants in Jim’s backyard drama, in order to assure the continuity of life.  An individual’s life is finite, but life goes on, at least it has on this planet. Since life began on earth there have been 5 cataclysmic events that have resulted in mass extinctions, but some type of life has always survived.  Some ecologists suggest that we are now entering into a human caused period of mass extinction. They base that conclusion on the large number of animals that are now seen as endangered mostly due to loss of habitat and climate change.  Some feel that all life including that of homo sapiens is at risk. 

No matter the current threats to our lives we need to remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote:

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

Eleanor Roosevelt

To follow that admonition is likely to earn one the epitaph of a life well lived, but for millions throughout the world such reaching out proves to be very difficult.  Ben Franklin who had something to say about everything was only 40 years old when he wrote in POOR RICHARD’S ALMANAC: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.” When Ben wrote the almanac, the average life span was 33 years old so I’m sure 40 must have seemed old to him.  As a bonified oId guy, I can personally attest to the brevity of life and to the urgency one may feel as one’s time winds down. 

As a physician who wore many hats, first as a general practitioner and later as a Psychiatrist I have been witness to many deaths, all of which were sad, but perhaps none more so than those who died from suicide.  It is true that in spite of its wondrous qualities, life can present us with pain that can be so intense as to be intolerable.  There is also the recent phenomenon of the so-called suicide bombers who are conned into killing themselves along with others for political reasons. We Christians honor life, but ignore the Biblical commandment “though shall not to kill” by sanctioning executions and wars. 

In spite of its difficulties, life is a marvelous state of being as evidenced by the fact that even those whose lives we consider to be horrible cling to it.  As a matter of fact, during my stint as a shrink I witnessed so much unremitting pain that I was surprised there was not more suicide, but nothing was more satisfying than to see one who had suffered that torment return to experience joy in their lives. The human spirit is indeed resilient.

As for me, every morning I look on the wall of our kitchen and read a plaque which was given by a Grandson.  It is the best advice I have ever been given:

            THIS IS THE DAY THAT GOD HAS MADE

            LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT

Floyd the dog

The Annual Christmas Letter

Editor’s Note: The holidays are typically so busy, I intentionally decided to post Eshrink’s Christmas letter AFTER Christmas. Yes. That’s it! I didn’t forget to post it. I’m not suffering from menopausal A.D.D. or anything like that. I decided Eshrink readers deserved a good laugh to end this crazy year of 2020.

Dear Friends, Family and Christmas letter afficionados,

We are living in another one of those times which “try men’s souls”.  In our case both our souls survive in spite of the isolation imposed by this damnable virus, and we remain in possession of all necessary body parts.   Our efforts to avoid the bug have included cancellation of the annual Smith vacation, and Thanksgiving by Zoom.  It is not looking good for Christmas either.  The kids did conspire to throw a big outdoor family party for the old man’s 90th B-day complete with balloons and posters, but lacking in hugs.  When I am not hobbling around the house with my cane complaining about my aches and pains in fruitless attempts to elicit sympathy, I can usually be found at my desk writing a blog, a stupid Christmas letter, updating my obituary, or dealing with Floyd the devil dog. 

That latter activity has become a full-time job.  Those of you who have visited us have undoubtedly met Floyd whom we rescued from our local dog pound 3 years ago, for he is a very gregarious outgoing mut of undistinguished lineage.  As a matter of fact, his welcomes can be overwhelming at times, as it was for a rather staid elderly widow who after seating herself on our couch was enthusiastically greeted by Floyd via his leaping over the coffee table to land directly in her lap (did I mention he is very athletic?).  His other favored method of greeting a visitor can be even more problematic.  Some who read this may have been conned into helping Floyd exercise his fetish of having his belly rubbed without realizing that when he enters into that state of ecstasy his bladder sphincter also relaxes and the one who rubs will find themselves in the direct line of fire.   

In a previous letter, I believe I mentioned some of Floyd’s past exploits.  I could tolerate his digging up a well-manicured lawn, constant barking, burying our newspapers, and even the embarrassment of his leaping into the mail truck, but those behaviors are minor compared to his more recent attempts to kill me.  He is quite capable of feigning affection while possessing the heart of a cat killer (another story).   He has even attempted to break up my marriage by refusing to allow me to even come into contact with Barb.

Floyd’s bona fides as a devil dog were confirmed by his ability to make Barb and I the neighborhood pariahs.  Although he is in many ways very gregarious and welcoming to other dogs, he has decided that they are not to be allowed to walk on our street, and he routinely stands guard barking at the many dogs that are walked past our front yard.  Until last Memorial Day he was contained by an underground electric fence but on that day which will live in infamy he decided to brave the shock to run through it and launch a vicious attack on a neighbor’s dogs.  Needless to say, our neighbor was not happy.  A week later, in spite of my cranking the fence shock level up to the max, he again attacked the same dogs – this time drawing blood.  I learned that the middle of a dog fight is not a good place to be nevertheless; I managed to pull Floyd away from his victims but ended up flat on my skinney butt holding onto his collar.  I barely had time to get up off the ground when an ambulance arrived followed minutes later by two cop cars and the dog warden.  The ambulance guys seemed disappointed that I was not hurt, the sheriff deputies were amused, the neighbor was only mildly homicidal, and the dog warden gave me a serious lecture and a ticket to appear in county court.  All the players in this little drama were unmasked, by the way. 

Peter, always the good son, insisted on accompanying me to the court appearance even though I assured him I would be allowed a phone call before they locked me up.  The court appearance was an illuminating experience.  The room was packed with fellow criminals, but I decided to play the gimpy  old geezer card and made sure my cane was on full display as I hobbled up to the podium to plead guilty.  I was surprised to learn the judge had a rather comprehensive description of the events leading up to my appearance, and was impressed that I had paid my neighbor’s vet bill ($242.90).  I assured him that we were lo longer depending on the underground fence and were in the process of hiring a dog walker.  He seemed impressed and suspended my sentence and told me I would only pay court costs of $50.00, but when I checked out I was told I owed $98.00.  I didn’t complain out of fear that I might be charged with contempt of court or something equally disgraceful.

Floyd’s absolute favorite activity is riding in a car, and a recent episode in which he attempted to engineer my death explains why.  With the covid thing, Barb and I have spent time exploring some of the less traveled back roads of the county.  Though he feigns ignorance when convenient, Floyd seems to be electronically gifted for he learned some time ago that he could lower the car window by tramping on the button.  On this one particular trip I neglected to set the window lock button, and when I slowed to turn off the road, he was instantly out the window and racing down the middle of a heavily traveled 2 lane country road.   As soon as I could turn around, I succumbed to Barb’s pleas by going after him, but when I caught up, he turned and ran in the opposite direction.  I turned again, and this time he had stopped to investigate something in the middle of the road.  With deep ditches on each side of the road, I was forced to stop in the traffic lane.  Barb got out to retrieve the scoundrel, but found we did not have his leash.  It was obvious that a gimpy old fart like me would be of little help, but as I attempted to extricate myself from the car, I was saved by a guardian angel.  This person was not your stereotypical angel.  He had no wings, but of course you can only know an angel by what he does, not by how he looks.   He stopped his pickup truck in the lane opposite mine, and stepped out – a man mountain with biceps the circumference of my thighs.  Meanwhile, cars were backed up in both directions, but amazingly no one was rear-ended.  I knew this angel must be heaven sent when he got his female boxer dog out of his truck,  Floyd found her irresistible.  When the devil dog approached to check her out, my angel scooped him up, dumped him in my car and drove away before I could even thank him.

The angels who look after my family have also done a good job.  Barb is still a delightful companion (most days) and everyone has escaped the ravages of the covid virus except for Emma whose case was mild.  Caroline’s roommate has contracted the disease and Caroline is in quarantine but so far remains negative.  Everyone is gainfully employed in spite of the pandemic.  Barb and I remain perplexed as to how we managed to end our lives surrounded by such a marvelous group of people, and what I have done to deserve the longevity with which I have been blessed.  We can only assume divine intervention was involved.  Therefore; with love for all and in the spirit of the season Barb and I  WISH FOR YOU THAT YOUR ANGELS WILL KEEP YOU SAFE AND BLESS YOU WITH THE MERRIEST OF CHRISTMASES AND THE HAPPIEST OF NEW YEARS.

Funny Image about Aging Disgracefully

AGING GRACEFULLY

The idea of aging gracefully is an admirable trait. It is also an ideal that I have failed miserably to achieve. Although Barb has forbidden me to use that dreaded three-letter word, denial is no longer possible. It is time to admit that I am O-L-D.

Of course, it is also true that I am not only old but I am getting older, which is the good news for as has oft been said, the alternative has little appeal. As a matter of fact, that alternative looms larger with each passing day as my circle of friends dwindles. This was brought home to me recently when a person who had been a friend of mine for more than 60 years died. I could count on him to call at least once a week just to chat, discuss politics, or whatever else was on his mind. He was a champion story teller, but as his memories faded (which happens with tired old brains) the stories were becoming repetitious and I sometimes complained to Barb, especially when those calls came as we were having dinner. She admonished me by reminding me that I should be grateful to have such a friend. She was right because I now miss those phone calls and the those stories.


PLAYING THE “OLD GEEZER” CARD

Old age is a mixed bag. It does allow one to get away with stuff. For example, one can be insulting with little risk of physical retaliation. I have learned to take full advantage of people’s tendency to be deferential or even patronizing to an old geezer like me. A prop of some kind is helpful in perpetrating this kind of fraud, and the use of a cane will frequently get you a free ticket to go to the front of the line. Another advantage of aging? Permission to fail…all kinds of screw-ups are typically forgiven as a sign of impending senility.

RESPECT YOUR ELDERS?

When I was a kid I was taught to “respect my elders.” I never did understand this axiom, but suspect it was a hold-over from the days when ours was an agrarian society where vital information was passed down through generations…which is in marked contrast to today where we old folks can’t even program our TV remotes. Today, society seems ambivalent towards old people. On the one hand we venerate those who reach certain milestones yet when they become a burden they are frequently dumped in an institution.

Much of the blame for this conundrum lies at the foot of the medical profession for it is clear that we are now living much longer, but at considerable cost. In a previous blog I have written about the exponential increases in medical costs as we age. We take a lot out of the economy, but don’t put much back. It could be said that we are living too long. If that is true, I hope they will make an exception for old bloggers.


IT’S A SUPPLY and DEMAND SITUATION

In the U.S., there are a lot more widows than widowers, partly because women live 5 years longer than men on average, while in Canada (a socialized medicine country by the way) both sexes live nearly 4 years longer than in the good old U.S. of A – go figure. (Click here for source link) Consequently, old guys can take some comfort in the availability of replacement chicks if the need arises. This only seems fair since we men contribute to our early demise with risky behaviors designed to attract and impress our mates. Throughout the animal kingdom, men must do stuff to be noticed while women only need to look good (sorry Maggie). 

 

AFTER 40 IT’S JUST PATCH PATCH PATCH | AGING AIN’T for SISSIES

It seems clear that time does take a toll on the human body. There are undoubtedly multiple factors which conspire to damage organs only some of which are self-inflicted. In my case 50 years of tobacco use added a couple of cancers among other things to my medical record. But even you who have had the good sense to take care of your bodies and are looking forward to retirement should realize that there is some truth in the adage that “getting old ain’t for sissies”. You will find that in spite of your best efforts, organs will not work as well as they once did. A pain free bowel movement becomes a cause for celebration.


Other excretory functions will likely also become impaired. Prostate glands loom large in old men’s lives both literally and figuratively resulting in difficulty eliminating urine while women experience the opposite problem. Diminished bladder capacity means prolonged road trips must be calibrated carefully to include proper pit stop planning. Old folks who, like me, are prone to flatulence, may find themselves at risk of becoming social pariahs for such explosions may occur spontaneously without warning. This can become a particularly acute problem as you find yourself attending more funerals where a strategic exit is not possible. You can only hope that it will not occur during a moment of silent prayer.


With the exception of a few very emotionally disturbed people, everyone dislikes pain, and as you enter the “golden” years you will likely become well acquainted with that sensation. Athletes say that the legs are the first to go, and indeed since they get the most work, they do go quickly and the knees are the most vulnerable part of the lower extremities. When you see a gimpy old fart like me hobbling along with his cane it is usually a safe bet that he has a bad knee or knees. Not to worry, for you can get a new one for the paltry sum of $57,000 on average. It is not clear if you get a quantity discount for doing both at once.  


But the knees are merely the introduction to what is to come. You soon learn to appreciate the wide spread density of pain fibers throughout your body, and come to a greater understanding of the term chronic. Archaeologists tell us that a major factor which led to man’s dominance was his learning bipedal locomotion, yet with age walking upright becomes a liability. The National Institute of Aging reports that falls by those over 65 result in 2.8 million Emergency Room visits, 800,000 hospitalizations and 27,000 deaths each year. The latter statistic is personal for me as I have lost two friends from falls. The loss of lower extremity muscle mass also limits agility. Thus, to fall when alone even though not injured can be serious if you can’t get up. The agility factor also affects some of the simplest of activities. For example, before senility set in, I sneered at those who went to a Podiatrist to get their toenails trimmed. I now understand.


Funny Image about Aging Disgracefully

RETIREMENT?

As one gets a few years behind them, the retirement thing becomes an issue. It may seem like a godsend, but for some it can be a death knell if you believe that well warn maxim about how indolence will hasten a person’s demise. Conventional wisdom is that one should prepare for retirement by planning activities of some kind – travel, hobbies, volunteering, or even a second career. I initially retired at age 70 however; I was one of those people lucky enough to like what I was doing for a living, consequently, I decided to go back to work.
Although it is true that shortly after I retired for the first time Barb said: “I don’t get anything done when you are around here all day”, the real reason I went back to work was that I missed my patients and colleagues. Besides, there was a serious shortage of psychiatrists and all those people who were recruiting me to come work for them made me feel important. Barb did have some plans for our retirement, but I assured her I would only work for a year or two until they found a replacement. A replacement could not be found, and time goes fast not only when you are having fun, but when you are old consequently; I had hit the trifecta. I finally hung it up for good 12 years later.

Travel?

A desire to travel is a common theme I have heard from those planning retirement. I have not traveled a great deal, but what I have done has left me feeling that it is overrated. My few trips to Europe have not been as exhilarating as have those of PBS’s Rick Steves. The idea of spending long hours squashed into plane seats which would have been marginally comfortable when I was 10 years old in order to stand in long lines to catch a glimpse of some famous object or place has even less appeal. For a guy who can remember a time when getting there was almost as much fun as being there, the idea of such a trip sits right up there along-side waterboarding as one of my least favorite pastimes.


This retirement protocol is upside down anyway. If retirement is to give one the time and wherewithal to have fun, then it makes little sense to bestow it on us when we barely have the energy to make it from our lift chair to the bathroom. Why not retire first and go to work later? On second thought that would present a number of problems. For example, after having all that fun would we ever be interested in work? There does seem to be some inherent need in most humans to be productive, or is it simply a learned behavior (perhaps a good topic for a blog).


YOUTH WORSHIP (AND I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT CHURCH CAMP)

The opposite of old is young and the latter seems to be the most highly valued time of life. The myth of a fountain of youth has been around for thousands of years. Herodotus wrote about it in the 5th century BC, and the search continues. In 2018 Americans spent $16.5 billion dollars on cosmetic surgery and $49.2 billion on cosmetics alone. Most, if not all these efforts, seem to be designed to promote a more youthful appearance, and are not confined to women alone.


The worship of youthfulness is not the exclusive province of those with idyllic childhoods, for many of my patients who had endured horrific experiences as kids also did what they could to present a youthful appearance. People who choose healthy lifestyles in order to promote longevity are to be admired, but I daresay there is a much larger group who are more preoccupied with how they look, and in particular with all those drooping and wrinkling tell tale signs they are getting old. The question arises as to whether they are trying to fool the world or themselves. After all, an appointment with the grim reaper looms larger each day, as the walls of denial crumble.

90 on the HORIZON

When my age is revealed I often get the response: “You don’t look that old.” I don’t know if I should thank them, apologize, or be insulted. In a couple of months, I expect to have completed 9 decades of residence on this planet and get ready to start my 10th, and the kids are already planning to make a big deal of it. For no particular reason other than we have used the decimal system for a few thousand years, we tend to make a big deal out of any figure which ends with a zero. Birthdays have always been a mixed blessing for me because my son has the same birthday, and I have always felt that my birthday took something away from his celebration. It has never seemed that he should have to share a cake.

Although 90 years seems like a long time, in my case it is not nearly enough, and I would like a bit more. I first became interested in this phenomenon we call life about 75 years ago and it became my life’s work. In spite of the monumental discoveries of the past century, it remains a wondrous mystery, and I am convinced that a total understanding of its complexities is beyond our ability to comprehend. No doubt, I will continue to complain about the vicissitudes of old age (how else could I get any sympathy) in spite of having witnessed first-hand suffering far beyond what I can even comprehend, not to mention the horrors endured by millions of others around the world.  Indeed, it is clear that I can no longer deny that I am O-L-D, but it has caught me by surprise for it happened overnight.  Little did I know when I first saw light on that autumn day in the midst of the Great Depression that I had hit the mother lode and was destined to be blessed with the most wonderful life imaginable.

By the way, does anyone know how to blow out candles while wearing a mask?

ANNIVERSARY REVIEW by ESHRINK


This morning, I happened to look up at the top of a tree growing next to my patio and was amazed to see how big it had become. I guess it must be nearly 50 feet tall. It stands in full view of its lower half from this little office where I compose my literary masterpieces. I have probably spent hours looking out at the lower portion of that tree while trying to organize some great truth, yet today is the first time I remember looking up at its top.

 

It has been 35 years since I planted it. It was a scrawny thing with a bulbous out-pouching around its base. I have no idea as to its species, but it has become a good friend. It has used all that energy from those years in the sun to grow into this magnificent specimen which now shields me with its shade. One of the reasons I was shocked to take in its full size is that its trunk does not appear to be large enough to support a giant upper body.

 


Fortunately, I had preempted Barb earlier in the day by wishing her a happy anniversary before she had an opportunity to put my failing memory to the test for, I have a history of forgetting such important dates. Barb on the other hand has one of those minds which has allowed her to catalog not only birthdays and anniversaries of immediate family, but of anyone else we have ever known. Actually, I had prepared for the event by squirreling away an old card which I planned to recycle for the event, but I misplaced it–thereby losing my opportunity to be a real hero.


The day held little promise of anything exciting, especially since there is not much about the number 67 to generate enthusiasm, but just as we were on the verge of declaring this anniversary a washout, son Peter called to say he and Sue were on their way here. They brought flowers, Pete did some of my chores, and got takeout from Bill’s Barbecue, which we enjoyed on the patio. Trudy had called previously to tell us they would be coming to spend the weekend of Father’s Day with us, and after Pete and Sue left we retrieved a voicemail from Maggie and a text with her flattering epistle about us old buggers and our marital style.

 

As for Maggie’s analysis of our “discussions” she mentioned, I am sure most of them ended with my surrender for I am still no match for Barb. But on the bright side she fights even harder FOR me. It is easier to find a lover than a friend, and to spend my life with someone who is both makes me a very lucky guy. Later Barb and I did some reminiscing, which was sort of like looking up at that tree to see whole thing.

The view was pleasing.

 

 

 

The Smith Crew circa 1969

The Smith Crew circa 1967

 

60th Wedding Anniversary Dinner

Prepping for 2020 during Christmas 2019 Photo Shoot!

The progeny: The only thing better than perfect children is PERFECT GRANDCHILDREN

 

Barb and Darell Smith wedding

Happy Anniversary Dr. and Mrs. Eshrink | 67 YEARS!!!!

Barb and Darell Smith wedding Mom and dad circa 1978

 

Editor’s Note: Hello Eshrinkblog readers! Today is my dad and mom’s wedding anniversary and I’m hijacking his blog to share what I’ve learned from watching mom and dad as a married couple. I learned about loyalty, respect, appreciation, but also about the secret to effective arguments and all the red flags that come from ineffective arguments between couples or even the lack of arguments: resentment, emotional distance, loneliness, etc.

 

But before I share my perspectives, you might check out earlier Eshrink blogs about Marriage and his Valentine (the post “My Valentine” is the winner for the most read blog post on the eshrinkblog.com network)

LESSONS I’VE LEARNED from MY PARENTS’ MARRIAGE

These are just my perspectives from watching an incredible couple grow, change, and adapt throughout their life together as a married couple while taking that “death ’til we part” thing to heart.

 

ARGUING with a PURPOSE

It’s been my experience that I’ve learned more from the bad stuff than the good stuff so I’ll start there. My mom and dad argued. I hated it when they argued, but they didn’t hide it, which I guess made my little kid brain think it was okay or normal. I found out later that my parents’ style of arguing wasn’t the norm. I would hear about double binds, put downs, identifying the source of the hurt feelings, owning your feelings, etc. I didn’t understand half of it, but the arguments were usually at the kitchen table and lasted a long time (at least in little kid time it seemed like they lasted a long time). Somehow, listening to those “discussions” (that’s the term they would use when I would bring them a picture I drew and tell them I didn’t like it when they argued), I learned the “action” or incident that sparked the argument wasn’t about the action at all. Rather, it was about the feelings that action generated (i.e, leaving the dirty socks on the floor isn’t about the socks on the floor it’s about inconsideration…how it can make the other person, the one who is the primary “cleaner in chief” feel like they’re not important or appreciated or their role is undervalued somehow). Mind you, mom and dad never argued about socks on the floor…but you get the gist. The argument has a root cause that is about feelings associated with a particular action.

 

More importantly, I got to see them make up and resolve the argument. Even if a resolution wasn’t total and complete, it seemed the argument was worthwhile in that it was not only an opportunity to share grievances openly and honestly, but it allowed them to reach a renewed understanding or different perspective. It wasn’t about who was right and who was wrong. It seemed their process actually made their bond stronger.

 

RESPECT for the INDIVIDUAL. RESPECT for the UNIT.

As for the good stuff: my mom and dad have always seemed to have a deep respect for each other as individuals and an appreciation of their differences. Mom is an artist at heart. My dad has always been more practical and technical. They were equals who were different. Not equal as in the same, but their interests and differences were equal in importance. While I would say mom and dad had traditional gender roles for the time in most ways, it seemed they supported each other in broader interests; my mom’s belly dancing classes, art classes, bowling league, her decision to start a small business, The Tortoise Shell, etc.

 

And even though I don’t think I ever saw my mom mow the lawn or fix a leaky faucet, I do remember my dad cooking and doing dishes when it needed done…and not in a begrudging way, but just because it needed done…to boost the other half of the unit who needed a respite (since raising four children and keeping a house is more than a full time job). As I discussed in the argument section above, I sensed they had a respect for their choice to be a married couple…respect for the unit…and had decided the whole was greater than the sum of the parts (not sure I have that quote right, but they were better/stronger together as a unit than individually).

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APPRECIATION

My mom’s appreciation of my dad was always apparent to me. I would hear her brag about him to other people. She would correct people when they called him Mr. Smith instead of Dr. Smith, which would totally embarrass me. However, when she explained to me, “We worked hard for your father to get through medical school and become a doctor. He IS a doctor!” I started to understand why it was so important to her. Note the “we worked”…they shared in each others accomplishments because they did “do it together”… they built a relationship with the space for each to grow and achieve and explore. As for med school, my mom worked full time as a nurse to make sure they could get through and still have food to eat (dad’s always had a big appetite…it’s genetic on the Van Horn side of the family) haha.

 

I remember dad’s appreciation of mom, too, but maybe in more subtle ways (I remember us as being a genuine and authentic family…phony accolades weren’t our thing). I remember sitting at the dinner table with us four kids rolling our eyes and grumbling about the night’s dinner of cubed steak or chipped beef and gravy (shit on a shingle was dad’s name for it). Dad would go out of his way to make sure we heard him thank mom for making dinner or say how great the meal was. He also showed his appreciation for her ability to create beauty all around us…from flower arrangements, to gardens, interior design. He appreciated, not only the talent she has always had for those things, but how she continued to learn more and maximized those talents to bring beauty to everyone she touched. Later in life (back to that growing thing I discussed, dad would tap into his artistic side with the help and encouragement of mom, when he started framing pictures for her shop, The Tortoise Shell).

 

RESILIENCE and ADAPTABILITY

My mom and dad, both as individuals, but as a unit, seem to be resilient no matter what life throws at them. I’m not saying it has been easy or equitable. Sometimes one of them seems more resilient or open to change than the other, but overall I’ve noticed they don’t spend much time looking back…at least not looking back in a “good ole days” way…When I’ve noticed them look back, it seems to be to learn from the past (somehow they taught me…if you learn something about yourself or a situation when you make a mistake, then you nullify the mistake in a sense because the knowledge you gained will serve you in the future). However, there was always the caveat that we didn’t want to “overdo” this particular method to gain knowledge and wisdom 🙂

 

My parents seem to be in a constant change of learning and growing. I used to think people got fixed and rigid as they got older, but I’ve watched my parents continuously learn, grow, and change. New interests. New perspectives. New appreciation.

They take life as it comes and grab the happy when it comes. They celebrate the wins together. They grieve the losses together, but they never give up 🙂

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! Thanks for being such great parents (and saddling me with all of this liberal guilt…haha!!).

Love good,

Maggie #4 and Proud Eshrinkblog Editor

P.S LAST BUT NOT LEAST | PDA

I’ll never forget how my mom and dad would show affection for one another. As a little kid, my dad’s flirty grab of my mom’s bottom while she was fixing dinner at the counter would be met with “Smitty!” from my mom. When I was younger, I would giggle during those brief gropes and of course be completely grossed out and embarrassed for them when I was a moody teenager. Hugs were and still are in abundance between my mom and dad, discrete pats, and kisses hello and goodbye and in between have always been the norm. Keep Rockin’ Matrimony M & D!!!

Below is the card I sent them for this year’s anniversary. The perfect card for the perfect couple.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

If you have read any of my recent blogs, you may have noticed the following quote from Lao Tsu, an ancient Chinese philosopher: “to be loved deeply gives you strength, to love deeply gives you courage.”

 

The wisdom of those words explain much about behaviors I observed and attempted to treat as a psychiatrist. Feeling unloved was indeed a common complaint and the cause of a great deal of pain and misery.  Without the experience of feeling loved one is weakened, and thus may lack courage to face even the ordinary demands of life.  This may progress to a conviction that one is not only unloved but unlovable, resulting in self-loathing, depression, thoughts of harming oneself, and according to Anthony Storr, may generate violent aggression which he says is: “a complex mask for a repressed longing for love.”

WHY DO THEY DO IT?

There seems little doubt that we are now in the midst of an era of increased incidence of depression and unsanctioned violent aggression. Mass murders by otherwise ordinary people of all ages are now occurring at a level never before seen in the U.S.  Most perpetrators have a history of relative anonymity.  Neighbors usually describe them as quiet and unassuming, a person to whom they would speak to in passing but never engage in conversation.  Acquaintances when found describe their relationship as superficial, and express profound surprise that the person was capable of violence.  There is little evidence of any closeness let alone intimacy in their lives.  Could such horrible deeds be as Storr said: a result of anger over the lack of love in their life?

THE THIRD MOST COMMON CAUSE OF DEATH

There has been an alarming increase in the number of kids diagnosed with clinical depression which is not limited to those who are disadvantaged or abused.  A recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey of young people between the ages of 10 and 24 years resulted in shocking statistics. They report 4600 lives lost each year by suicide (most experts feel the actual number is higher due to a tendency for many to go unreported), and that rate has nearly tripled since 1940.  Emergency rooms throughout the country report 157,000 young people treated for self-inflicted injuries each year.  In their Nationwide survey of high school students, the CDC reported 13% admitted to seriously considering suicide, and 8% actually made an attempt to take their own life.  The report goes on to list a number of risk factors however; at a time in their lives when they are dependent on others to establish an identity and self-worth, it seems to me that relationships deserve to be at the top of the list.  Indeed, many teen-age suicides do implicate such problems as precipitating factors.

MORE OF THE SAME, ONLY WORSE

Rollo May in his 1960’s book LOVE AND WILL, says  “Our culture pushes people toward becoming more detached and mechanical,” but that observation doesn’t come close to what we see now that the digital age has enveloped us.  The addiction of our children to cell phones and other electronic gadgets contributes to their alienation.  Consolidation of schools and overcrowded classrooms have made it easier for kids to fall through the cracks.  Social media has become a convenient vehicle through which kids can be disparaged or bullied.  They are often attacked where they are most vulnerable i.e. their lovability consequently; the common theme “no one likes you” can be devastating to developing minds.  Now we hear there has been a dramatic increase in suicides in recent years among not only teenagers but pre-teens.   Although there is no proof of a link to feeling unloved, logic suggests there often is.

DON’T CARE? SURE YOU DO

There is ample evidence that we are herd animals, consequently; it is not surprising that I spent many hundreds of hours listening to patients with relationship problems, for when people are so very important in our lives, dysfunction can present problems.  Although we often attempt to comfort ourselves by professing to not care what others think, in truth we usually do care more than we would admit.  During all those years I spent in the shrink business I must have seen hundreds of people who were contemplating suicide or had actually made serious attempts.  Although there are obviously many factors that may lead one to seriously consider killing oneself, I recall often hearing: “Nobody cares.”

DO WE KNOW WHAT IT IS?

It would indeed be presumptuous of me to attempt to explain what love is all about.  It has certainly been a popular topic for poets, philosophers, musicians, theologians, and artists, through the ages.  The stories of wonder, ecstasy, and tragedy associated with love resonate in pop culture to this day. There have been myths, and legends and attempts to define love by categorizing it (erotic, agape, filial, spiritual, etc.), but the force responsible for this peculiar phenomenon remains a mystery to me.  My favorite definition of the term is from psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan, as follows:

The validity of such explanations is confirmed by the intense love relationships experienced by warriors throughout the ages.  The myriads of reports of heroic efforts put forth by battle hardened veterans to protect their comrades, even risking or forfeiting their lives in the process gives credence to Sullivan’s ideas.  Indeed, when questioned as to why those who would in other situations have been considered unlikely heroes are questioned about their behavior, they will acknowledge that it had nothing to do with military or political beliefs, or patriotic fervor, but rather their devotion to their buddies (“No greater love hath man……”). That phenomenon has not been lost on those charged with training the military, consequently; camaraderie is encouraged and interpersonal dependency guarantees bonding.  One cannot wonder as to the part that the loss of relationships, solidified by the heat of battle, factor in the alarming rate of depression and suicide among our veterans.  Many report they worry about their comrades who are still fighting which may  also account fir the significant number who volunteer for additional tours of duty with their old outfits in spite of the known horrors they will likely confront.

WORTH THE TROUBLE?

Obviously, love has been a major contributor to the success of the human race.  Humans isolated from their kind rarely survive.  Sullivan posits that love is caring for others as for oneself and the old Chinese dude says as a result of love for each other, man gained the strength and courage to take on woolly mammoths and those guys in the next village who were trying to muscle in on their territory.  It is the latter part of that statement that has caused a lot of problems.  We seem to know a great deal as to the effects of love, but little about from whence it comes.  The neuro-physiologists and brain mappers continue to look for specific love loci, and geneticists will likely say that it is in our DNA, but I doubt that CRISPR will ever be able to install a love gene.  It would be great if such could be done, for we currently have little treatment for those who seem incapable of love, i.e. psychopaths.

I KNOW IT WHEN I FEEL IT

It may be that love is like the dark matter of our universe in that we know it exists and feel its effects even though we are unable to see, hear, smell or touch it.  Could it be that love is simply a product of evolution?  If so, how could we have survived long enough for natural selection to kick in?  The creationists insist that God snapped his fingers and we instantly appeared on the scene fully equipped.  Atheists on the other hand think the whole thing was an accident.  Others see love as spiritually endowed.  There are 4300 religions in the world with Christianity leading the pack and Muslims close behind.

WHAT ABOUT RELIGION?

Since I have been reared as a WASP, I have very little understanding of the other religions of the world or in particular where they stand on the love thing, but am pleased that love is at the core of Christianity.  When it comes to Biblical scholarship, I am a dunce, but I do find inspiration in those first few pages of Corinthians which are all about love.  The first 2 of the 10 commandments are also about love, and love is said to be the greatest of all, never fails, and is even better than faith or hope.  There is also that thing about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek, but most of all were the teachings of Christ who was all about love.  Of course, many see an inconsistency in a loving God who lets crappy things happen in spite of being all-powerful.  Since Christians are people it is not surprising to find they have found ways to subvert the love philosophy, and resort to violence with all sorts of rationalizations.

Loving others as much as oneself is a great idea, but very difficult to implement on a grand scale.  Excessive cheek turning is guaranteed to result in a lot of broken jaws.  Nevertheless, there have been many attempts to use love as a mechanism to provide peace and tranquility, which has been met with success in some instances.  In a rare instance of wisdom, our government eschewed the policy of gathering the spoils of war after WWII.  Instead they initiated a policy aiding even our enemies to rebuild their virtually destroyed countries which lead to their becoming our closest allies.   Of course, I was also around during the “love ins” of the sixties.  Although they seemed to have emphasized the erotic rather than agape version of love, they did call attention to long neglected human rights issues and war mongering.  There was also Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King who both emphasized reconciliation and learning to love each other.

We certainly could use more love in this world, but the chances of EVERYONE following the Golden Rule seem to be unrealistic.  Nevertheless, when I look back on our history it seems there has been some progress in the love department with more emphasis on inclusivity and acceptance.  Although it may seem that love is in short supply, it is alive in well and we can only hope the day will come when The Golden Rule is ever present. Even as millions of our fellow humans face horrors each day, there are millions of people who devote their lives to helping others individually and through organizations, which gives credence to the dictum that love never fails.

Corinthians 13:4-8 gives tells us everything we need to know: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…”

The Way It Was| Part 10

   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.

EDITOR’S Note:

Welcome to Part 10, the final installment  of “The Way It Was” (Eshrink’s memories of WWII from his perspective as a young boy growing up in Ohio). 

2014-07-08_New_Deal_GI_Bill_Rights_03

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) signing the G.I. Bill in June 1944.

Our conquering heroes were treated as such. Many would return to their old jobs and families. But colleges, universities and trade schools were flooded with students as nearly 8 million veterans took advantage of the GI bill which paid for tuition, and living expenses for any approved college, high school, technical, or vocational school. Many universities found it necessary to erect quonset huts to handle the influx, while others opened branches in enabling some vets to commute (the latter allowed me to start college).

Low interest mortgages and business loans were made available, along with one year of unemployment compensation if needed. There were some who objected to the policy as being socialistic along with the prediction that it would encourage laziness. It turned out that this time the unintended consequences of a government policy were positive. Teachers and professors almost unanimously applauded the GI’s for their discipline, and dedication to their studies. Employers were recruiting rather than shunning veterans.

Sociologists and economists mostly agree that this massive educational effort contributed in a big way to the post war era of prosperity and to our becoming the dominant force in the world. We gained respect for not only our military prowess, but intellectual and artistic pursuits. For example, It would no longer be advantageous to study medicine in Europe, rather Europeans would now line up to study in the US. The ready availability of an educated workforce allowed us to move ahead of other countries in industrial and scientific research, and to mold our “swords into plowshares.”

Learning from History

Of course, we had a head start in the race for supremacy considering the fact that the rest of the industrial world was in shambles having suffered the brunt of the war’s devastation. In a rare display of good judgement, we seemed to have learned from past mistakes and decided to use our new-found prosperity to create the “Marshall Plan” which was designed to help rebuild and revitalize Europe including Germany and Italy.

This was in marked contrast to the treatment of Germany after the first World War, when they were severely punished. This was undoubtedly a major factor in causing WWII a mere 20 years later. The Marshall Plan, i.e., the general strategy of helping the countries we had just defeated, was roundly criticized by many who felt we were rewarding bad behavior. However, the rebuilding of Europe combined with a similar program for Japan has resulted in the establishment of democratic governments and prosperity for all, but most of all peaceful relations which have lasted for 70 years.

Those postwar years were full of the promise of peace and prosperity. The boys had come home, were going to school, or working better jobs. My Brother and my uncle as beneficiaries of the GI bill were the first in our family to have ever gone to college. As with millions of others, they were soon starting families, and the baby boom began. In 1948 I graduated from high school and worked briefly as a go-fer at an automobile agency, where there was a long list of people waiting to buy a new car. This was true of all kinds of items which had not been produced during the war. There was building everywhere, the economy was booming, and the future looked bright, but that euphoria was short lived when Joseph Stalin entered the picture.

War Makes Strange Bed Fellows

Stalin was at least as ruthless as Hitler, and is said to have executed millions of his political adversaries with even more dying in his gulags as his concentration camps were called. Nevertheless, he had been welcomed into the fold as an ally after he declared war on Germany. He called himself a communist but his definition of communism involved the presence of an all-powerful dictator.

Yalta Conference. Winston Churchill, Franklin

Left to Right: Churchill (PM of England); Roosevelt (President of the USA); Stalin (Leader / United Socialist Soviet Republic-aka: Russia)

At the famed Yalta conference called to decide the fate of post war Europe, Stalin was granted control of Eastern Europe after suckering FDR and Churchill into believing he would keep his word about establishing democratic governments in those countries. His duplicity marked the beginning of the Cold War which would become more frigid with Russia’s development of a nuclear bomb in 1949. This led to the policy of “mutually assured destruction” (a.k.a., a Mexican standoff) and the construction of backyard bomb shelters, air raid drills in schools, and teaching kids to sit under their desks…as if that would do any good in an atomic bomb attack.

air raid picture

air raid info

air-raid advertisement

Why?

It should come as no surprise that since I am a psychiatrist I might have some interest in human behavior, Although you could legitimately question if some of our world’s worst tyrants mentioned in this paper are really human. As a teenager during that great war I was subjected to a lot of news of the atrocities carried out under the direction of these people who at first glance would seem to be free of a mental illness. One of my friends had occasion to spend a great deal of time with Saddam Hussein following his capture. He was surprised to find him quite personable. In one of their conversations Saddam stated that he acted as he did because it was necessary to save his country. I am left to wonder if he really believed that, and if is such a rationalization is common among Tyrants.

After endless years of speculation as to what makes these guys tick, they remain a mystery to me. We psychiatrists are well versed in labeling various conditions, but not so good at finding causes. I am aware and concur that power corrupts, but still after those years of mental gymnastics I remain perplexed as to how these otherwise apparently normal people can do such evil deeds. Even more puzzling is how they are able to convince masses of people to follow their lead and participate in the torture and murder of others.

Nuremberg Trials

020419-nuremberg-trialWith the end of the war members of the Nazi hierarchy were rounded up and charged with “crimes against humanity.” I was 16 years old and found time to follow the trials in Nuremberg in spite having recently found the love of my life.

Nuremberg-trials-8

There apparently was some effort to learn something about these guys for I recently found they were all given Rorschach tests (these tests are now discredited by many). Herman Goering was second in command in Germany under Hitler, and I recently found a transcript of his testimony.  He was surprisingly open about the operation of his government and freely discussed the operation of the concentration camps and how adversaries were ordered to be killed by the SS or Gestapo. He was sentenced to be hanged, but managed to have cyanide smuggled in and killed himself.

goerring 1

Although, I knew the story of Goering’s suicide it was only recently that I learned there was a very interesting and strange sequel to the story. Goering had been examined by an Army psychiatrist by the name of Lt. Col. Douglas Kelly. He apparently shared some of my curiosity as to what made these guys the way they were. He is said to hope he would be able to identify what he called a “Nazi personality” which could be identified before such bad guys could come to power. From the story it sounds as if he was suffering from a serious mood disorder, which must have gone undetected by the army. In any event, after a minor disagreement with his wife he ingested cyanide and killed himself in front of his wife and children a la Goering.

True to the Biblical prophecies we have continued to “hear of wars and rumors of wars.” I was one of the lucky ones for my brief stint in the Navy was in between wars. It seems I will go to my grave with no understanding of why we do what we do to our own species. I have some ideas, but none seem to make sense. Perhaps we should add another diagnostic category called evil people to our diagnostic manual.

Thanks for the Memories

On this cheery note I leave you all to ponder those ways of the world which are beyond my understanding. I do want to thank Peter for suggesting this topic. The reminiscences have been fun, and as I have mentioned before that is the thing we old folks do best. It has also reminded me to be grateful for having been born in a time and place where I was loved, and for the good fortune that has accompanied me all these years.

 

 

The Way It Was| Part 9

   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.

EDITOR’S Note:

Welcome to Part 9 of “The Way It Was” (Eshrink’s memories of WWII from the perspective of a young boy). This will NOT be the last chapter of our series as I had written previously. The FINAL installment will be Part 10: Life After Victory (plus, 10 signifies completeness/order…seems odd ending this incredible series on a 9). In this post, Part 9, Eshrink takes us through the end of the war. What he remembers and new information he uncovered during his research. 

The Big 3 WWII, Churchill, Stalin, FDR

The Allied Forces were referred to as the Big 3 WWII. The Big Three were Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union with their leaders being Winston Churchill (right), Franklin D Roosevelt (middle) and Josef Stalin respectively.

After the invasion of German-held countries (D-Day), things began to look up as the allies made substantial gains, although those telegrams kept coming and daily we saw blue stars in many windows turn to gold.  Patriotic fervor never wavered and with better news from Europe there was more focus on the Pacific theater (I always wondered who came up with the term theater, and if he really thought war was entertaining).

FDR

According to the FDR Library/Museum (go to: fdrlibrary.org – it is a wealth of information), this is the last picture of FDR, which was taken April 11, 1945 (the day before his death) at Warm Springs, Georgia.

As you might expect there was wild jubilation in the streets all over the country with the defeat of Germany and Italy (V-E day or Victory in Europe Day) in May 1945, almost a year to the day that my brother had been drafted, and one month after the death of Roosevelt, who had served nearly 12 years in office.

Mussolini was summarily executed and his body mutilated by partisans.  Hitler had committed suicide along with his longtime lover, Eva Braun. Actually, Mussolini was executed with his mistress, Claretta Petacci, also.

I do remember there were rumors that Hitler had escaped and the body found was not his, but there seemed little doubt about the fate of Mussolini as his body was hung out for all to see (Editor’s note: in all fairness, the caption from the picture of Mussolini and his mistress hanging in the center of Milan says the “fascists” who were executed, including Mussolini and Petacci, were hung in the exact spot where civilians from Milan had been hung a year earlier after being executed on Mussolini’s orders for being part of “resistance” activities).

In days, it would all be over and the dancing in the streets would begin with confidence that Japan would soon fall.  The most shocking of all those incidents during the final days was the death of Goebbels, who poisoned his six children before killing his wife and himself.  In some way this seemed the most heinous of all the millions of evil crimes committed by these mass murderers, and it has stuck with me to this day.  It remains beyond my comprehension how someone could kill his own kids, though it is true, he did have a lot of experience murdering innocent children.

All this took place in a matter of weeks after a woefully unprepared new President was sworn in.  Harry Truman was chosen by FDR for Vice President as one who could help him carry the Midwest.  He was not included in FDR’s inner sanctum, and it has been said they did not even like each other.  In July of 1945, the atomic bomb was successfully tested at Los Alamos and Truman was faced with the choice of what to do with it.  He was later discovered to have written: “It is an awful responsibility that has come to us”.  (This links to a series of articles about that difficult decision Truman made). He was of course referring to the decision to use the bomb on Japan.  Having served in WWI as an artillery captain, he knew something of the horrors of war.  He had distinguished himself as a Senator, was the only President of the 20th century that hadn’t attended college, although he was proud to say he had read every book in the Independence Missouri Public Library.  He kept a sign on his desk which said The Buck Stops Here, and indeed in this case, it did, for few would want the responsibility which rested on him.

With the defeat of the Germans, and the Japanese fleet and air force nearly destroyed, it was obvious Japan would not last long.  Nevertheless, there was continued concern about the fighting to come, due to the Japanese honor code, which prescribed that one must fight to the death.  Even more extreme was the requirement that high-ranking officers must literally fall on their swords if defeated in battle.  Thus, the fighting in the island jungles continued.  It was brutal but futile.  To make matters worse, Russia declared war on Japan, and Russians were not known to be very gentle occupiers as evidenced by their European conquests.

My memories of the fall of our European foes are clear, but I don’t know if we were informed as to what was going on with Japan in the time that followed.  I have since learned that Japan had indicated their desire for a peaceful settlement.  I do recall the term “unconditional surrender” voiced a lot by our new President, and I believe I heard the term used once by General MacArthur, the chief of military operations in the Pacific.  An invasion of Japan was in the planning stages and expected to result in as many if not more casualties than in Normandy.  The potential for invasion was achieved during the Battle of Okinawa when we took the island of Okinawa, which proved to be the most bloody conflict of the entire war as mentioned previously.

With the taking of Okinawa, the Japanese mainland was within reach of our bombers and Tokyo was basically destroyed with a firebombing even more devastating and with more loss of life than either Germany’s Blitzkrieg of London or our firebombing of Dresden.  In researching for this blog, I was surprised to learn that those saturation bombings of Japan had killed more people by far than both atomic bombs.  In spite of the obvious hopelessness of their position, the Japanese showed no sign of surrender.  Their kamikaze pilots continued their suicide missions, and many of their soldiers chose suicide rather than capture.  With that in mind, our military predicted invasion of Japan would result in an even higher body count than previous operations.

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 with the name Enola Gay would become famous as the first plane to deliver an atom bomb.

It flew from the Marianna Islands to deliver the most efficient killing machine yet.  Indeed, we had come a long way since those days of one-on-one killings with clubs or spears.

Little Boy The Atom Bomb used to end WWII

The Atomic Bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” before it was loaded onto the Enola Gay.

When the bomb dubbed “little boy” went off, the entire city of Hiroshima, along with 80,000 people, were incinerated.

But that was only the beginning for untold thousands who would subsequently suffer from various forms of cancer, organ failure and genetic diseases in the years to come.  Three days after Hiroshima, Nagasaki would suffer the same fate.

Over 50 years later, I found myself treating a former Navy medical officer who was one of the first to enter the ruins where that city once stood.  He was still tormented by memories of what he saw there.  There is no denying that in spite of the horror of those two days, the strategy was effective. Just a few days after Nagasaki, Emperor Hirohito ordered the “unconditional surrender” demanded by the Allies.

Truman Oval Office announcing surrender of Japan

President Truman in the Oval Office announces the surrender of Japan.

The term “celebration” does not do the public reaction justice, and was probably exceeded only by the elation felt by those troops who were already preparing for the assault on the mainland of Japan. They must have been aware of the thousands who had died on the beaches of Normandy, and there were expectations that a mainland invasion would be even more deadly.

Celebrations in Times Square

The image that has become the symbol of the end of WWII. This was made famous by LIFE magazine. It was taken in Times Square upon the announcement that Japan had surrendered.

The movie newsreels showed images of the wildly spontaneous celebrations throughout the country, but they also showed a mushroom cloud (filmed at Los Alamos) as it rose ominously toward the heavens.  In some ways, that enthusiasm was to be tempered by the implications raised with the development of such an unbelievably destructive weapon.

As more news became available as to not only the deaths but possible long-term effects of radiation exposure, Truman’s decision to use the bomb was called into question by many.  Later, we learned that Germany had been on the verge of developing their own version and the scourge that continues to haunt us was inevitable.  We were now well on our way to developing the power to create our own version of an apocalypse, and the cold war soon began with Russia.

Our boys, as we called them, were soon on their way home to be greeted as heroes.  There were home coming celebrations everywhere.  The patriotic fervor persisted or even increased.  The 4th of July celebrations were spectacular and veterans of all stripes were treated as special.  The marriage business flourished as the vets were reunited with the girls they had left behind, and many brought wives home with them. There were happy days, except for those who returned with injuries or illnesses suffered in the fighting.  Even the politicians were united and nice to each other in spite of some differences in opinions or policies.

My Brother

My brother died a few years ago and at his funeral was an 8×10 photo of him in uniform with an army issue Colt 45 strapped to his waist.  I was amazed at how young and innocent he looked, and I realized that we really had sent kids off to fight a war.  Upon his return, two years after that picture was taken, he had aged beyond his years.  Like most combat veterans, he never wanted to talk of his experiences.  But I once heard him talking to another vet about the cruelty exhibited by some of our soldiers, and in particular one solider in his squad who was ordered to take a prisoner back to the POW camp.  Soon after leaving, they heard a gun shot. The soldier returned with a smile on his face and said “he tried to escape.” This confirmed my opinion that war does terrible things to both the victor and the vanquished.

My brother’s discharge was quietly celebrated.  I was particularly enthralled with the contents of his G-I duffel bag, which proved to be full of all kinds of goodies including a luger pistol which had been confiscated from a German officer.  Then I noticed a blue box with the U S Seal on it, which he quickly took from me saying something like, “That is just some of that junk the Army passes out.” Of course, I would never let that sort of thing rest without my perusal and when I opened it, there was a Bronze Star with the citation that he had made his way through enemy lines at great danger to himself to notify headquarters of his company’s location, which resulted in the rescue of his company that was surrounded by superior forces.  He also brought with him a special gift for me, an attack of scabies, took little note of my protests, and reported that such things were standard issue to dogfaces like himself.

Editor’s Note: Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Eshrink’s final installment, The Way It Was: Part 10, where he touches on the aftermath of the war, the good and the bad.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!)