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!)

 

 

 

 

 

The Way It Was| Part 5

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

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

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

The Way It Was: Part 5

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

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

News of the Day

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

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

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

Working Conditions & Unions

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

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

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

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

Values

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

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

The Elderly

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

Table Manners

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

Seen and Not Heard

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

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

What We Wore

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

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

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

 

 

The Way It Was| Part 4

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

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

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

The Way It Was: Part 4

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

School

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

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

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

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

2nd Grade | Living High on the Hog

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

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

3rd Grade | King of the Hill

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

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

The Simple Things (a brief digression)

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

Winter

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

Heat

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

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

Bathing

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

Spring Cleaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Way It Was: Part 1

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.

While loving someone deeply gives you courage. 

Lao Tzu

                  My son Peter, the history buff, has requested I write something about my childhood with emphasis on my remembrances of World War II, and events preceding it.  He believes others may be interested in that subject in spite of the millions of chronicles already written of those times he suggested that I do my own version in a blog with emphasis on the experience of growing up in that era.  The most impressive oral histories of the thirties were carried out by the Federal Writer’s Project a division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under the auspices of one of Roosevelt’s New Deal creations.  Although designed to chronicle the travails of ordinary people living during the depression, it is best known for the verbal histories of former slaves.  Those manuscripts now repose in the library of congress.Federal Writers Project American-guide-week-fwp-1941

It is true that much of recorded history had its genesis in oral accounts passed on from one generation to the next.  It is also true that it has been shown that memories are frequently distorted, and further colored if they are passed on verbally through a series of listeners.  In an article on oral histories published by History matters, the impetus for verbal history taking is outlined as follows: “…..for generations history-conscious individuals have preserved others’ firsthand accounts of the past for the record,  often precisely at the moment when the historical actors themselves, and with their memories, were about to pass from the scene.”  I can only hope this was not Peter’s motivation in encouraging these reminiscences for I am not ready to “pass from the scene!”

In my own case, I often thought of events which occurred during my father’s lifetime and regret that I didn’t encourage him to talk more about his childhood.  My father was born in 1904 just 10 years prior to the onset of World War I.  It would have been interesting to compare notes for I was born 11 years before the onset of the next “great war to end all wars” and arrived only a few months following the Stock market Crash of 1929 which ushered in what came to be called The Great Depression.

My Mom & Dad

My parents had little to lose when The Depression hit, but what they did have was gone.  Dad had grown up in poverty, with an alcoholic father and a long-suffering mother whom he adored.  He had quit school in the 8th grade, and went to work as a common laborer in order to help the family.  He had three sisters and an older brother, who was rather passive by nature. My dad became the adult in charge, a role which he would occupy the rest of his life.  One of the more poignant stories of his childhood I remember was his explanation of why he was fixated with having eggs in the refrigerator.  He told me that when he was a kid, his mother sent him up the alley to the neighbor who kept chickens with a penny to buy one egg.  He was embarrassed and vowed to always have plenty of eggs when he grew up.

My mother, by the standards of the day, was well educated having spent a year at a local “business collage” learning secretarial skills which she would never utilize.  Although her father (one of my favorite people) was relatively uneducated, he was a strong believer that women should be able to “stand on their own.”  I suspect that for her time she would have been considered liberated.  Model T FordI recall seeing a photo of her standing beside a Model T Ford that she had been driving that she had rolled over on its top.  In those days, for a woman to be driving a car would have be en unusual if not scandalous.  That experience must have left her shaken for she would never drive again and her back seat driving performances were legendary.  In similar fashion, she would cede much authority to my father while firmly retaining control of her department, i.e. keeping house and raising kids, a very common arrangement at the time.

Their marriage began well and a year later my brother was born, an event which was followed three years later by the greatest financial crisis in the country’s history.  As a wedding present mom’s father, a carpenter, had provided them with the labor to build a house.  Shortly after that fateful day in 1929, dad lost his job and subsequently the house was repossessed.  To make matters worse, a year later I entered this already complex picture.  I am told that I was welcomed although I am sure another mouth to feed was one of the last things needed.  Just as my kids have endured the repetitive nature of my stories of their early life, so have I endured the following story of my birth hundreds of times.

Hello World

I was born in what was called Dr. Wells’ hospital located in the village of Nashport, the name originating from the fact that Mr. Nash had settled the area as a port on the Ohio canal in the early 19th century.  To call the facility a hospital was a bit of an exaggeration even in those days for it consisted of an extra room attached to his office.  Nevertheless, Dr. Wells must have been a progressive practitioner who had abandoned the practice of home delivery in favor of modern facilities.  In my mother’s case, he even offered her the choice of anesthesia, and my father confidently volunteered to “drop ether” (a term used by anesthesiologists for inhaling ether as an anesthetic).

Fortunately, mother and I both survived the procedure which was reported to have been difficult as I weighed in at 13 pounds and have been told I was “long and skinny,” a term that would be used to describe me throughout my childhood.  Dr. Wells is said to have remarked “look at those ears, he is a little Spinney.”  Spinney was the nickname of my Grandfather who was famed for the large ears which protruded from his skull at right angles and were probably made more noticeable by the irony that he was significantly hearing impaired.  I know little of what happened in my earliest years, but it is certain that there will never be a plaque on the door of Dr. Wells hospital commemorating it as my birthplace for the building was later razed and the village was moved to higher ground in order to make way for a flood control project.

My First Memories

My family’s history for the first few years of my life is hazy, but I did learn that they had moved frequently during my toddler years.  Whether this was due to evictions or looking for a better deal I can’t say.   Alfred Adler a Freudian psychoanalyst placed great importance on our first memory stating: “The first memory will show the individual’s fundamental view of life, his first satisfactory crystallization of his attitude.”   In my own case, this pronouncement may ring true for my first memory was of my introduction to Crackerjacks while watching a baseball game in a bleacher with my parents most likely around 3 years of age.  Indeed, I see it as a prophecy of my life to come, which has largely consisted of a search for the toy hidden among the tasty morsels of everyday life even though the occasional unpleasant experience of biting down on a kernel which hasn’t popped, is inevitable.

There is another pleasant memory of that time-period which competes with the Crackerjack story for first billing.  The standard tool for mowing lawns in those days was the person powered push mower with its rotating blades which could be disengaged by turning the mower upside down.  The incident must have occurred when I was less than 4 years of age based on the timeline of where it occurred, but the memory remains clear.  My Father had placed his folded coat on the mower and I was sitting on it as he pushed it down the sidewalk.  Of course, at the time this was simply a fun time for me, but later I would learn that he was cruising the neighborhood soliciting lawns which he could mow.  I now suspect that my presence may have been designed to add to the pathos directed at potential customers.

Dinner Time

The remainder of my preschool years as you might expect are clouded and I have no way to place these in any logical sequence.  In retrospect it is clear that some of these experiences related to the extreme stresses under which my parents labored.   It is clear that we were very poor and at times they were desperate for food, a fact of which I was blissfully unaware.   In recent years my brother reminded me of times when our parents did not join us at the dinner table and chose to eat later.   Since no one had money, food was cheap, and farmers had little incentive to produce more than they could consume.  City dwellers with backyards planted vegetable gardens, and Mothers learned to preserve the produce by drying or canning them.  An apple tree in one’s yard became a valuable asset.  Even some city dwellers kept chickens in their yard which were carefully guarded lest they become someone else’s dinner.

There were occasional distributions of food via the local “relief” organization, so named as part of FDR’s Federal Emergency Relief Organization.  Food was distributed at regular intervals at the local relief office.  At a time when independence and the ability to “paddle your own canoe” was valued it was embarrassing to be seen standing in the long lines when it was announced that food was about to be distributed, and many chose to suffer hunger rather than to be known to be “on relief”.  The type of food given must have depended on whatever was available to the states at any given time for I recall my Father, having braved the disgrace, coming home with a huge bag of rice.  Mother was talented at finding innovative ways to prepare food, but in spite of her best efforts the steady diet of rice dishes for what seemed like eternity to a kid, left me with an abhorrence of rice that took me 50 years to overcome.

Stay tuned for the next installment of “The Way It Was” where Eshrink gives us a glimpse of the camaraderie between his dad and his friends as they searched for work each day during the Great Depression of the 1930s; conversations overheard about survival, politics, world affairs, and morality; and the close call that almost ended his life.

LEST WE FORGET

In a previous blog I mentioned our local newspaper, and recounted “the good old days” when our small town had three competing daily papers. I subsequently made a number of disparaging remarks about our one remaining paper which was purchased some time ago by Gannett. Nevertheless, my day usually begins with a cup of coffee and a perusal of the Times Recorder. It doesn’t take long. The front page usually has some local human-interest story which I don’t find very interesting so I usually proceed to page 2 and the obituaries which is the real reason I continue to subscribe to the thing.

WHY THIS SUBJECT?
Barb insists that it is absolutely morbid that I choose obituaries as the subject of this blog, but I feel it is both important and timely. Long before he had reached my present age, my Father wrote his and my Mother’s obituaries. He was always one who liked to be in control and I am sure he did not have much faith in anyone getting it right. Regardless of his motivation, it turned out to be a blessing for we survivors.

As you may have surmised motivation for my daily obituary searches has much to do with the fact that at my age I now see more familiar names on page 2 than I have in the past. Indeed, my contemporaries are dying at an alarming rate. I have no plans to write my obituary as we have an experienced obituary writer in the family. Before leaving for less green but more lucrative pastures in the big city, Maggie was in charge of obituaries for the TR (don’t you hate acronyms?). She tells me it is standard practice to assign that job to cub reporters, which says much about journalistic priorities.

BORING!!!
Sadly, most obituaries are boring recitations which are little more than death notices which say little more than when and where he or she was born and died along with a brief chronicle of their life with a focus on their occupation. This is followed by a list of family members living and dead, and information about funeral arrangements. It does appear to me that those traditions are gradually being swept away as I see many instances in which there is only a graveside service restricted to family members, but that’s another story. For many families cost may be a factor in the length of obituaries as they usually charge per line of type. In larger cities it is much more expensive. For example, the New York Times charges $263 for the first 4 lines and $52 for each subsequent line. Each line contains only 28 characters and is printed in very small (7 point type).
WORTH REMEMBERING
In spite of the brevity of the average obituary in our paper there are some which give hints as to the nature of the subject’s life. Just this morning I read the obit of a 96 year old woman and found the loving portrait inspiring. She was said to have had a “long well-lived life.” She was described as a “feisty woman who lived life to the fullest and enjoyed the thrill of playing slot machines.” She also enjoyed her grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. She had worked in a factory all her adult life and attended church which was “just up the road from where she was born.” Most important was the statement “She was a loving woman who will be missed by family and friends throughout Morgan and Perry counties.” In my opinion, to be missed allows one’s life to continue in others’ thoughts; consequently no one wants to be forgotten.

FORGETTABLE
Throughout history it has been important to immortalize our heroes with statues and other icons so they will continue to inspire us, and not be forgotten. It is also not unusual for the living to build their own monuments. Likewise, it is common for people to prescribe in detail the hymns to be sung, the burial method and even the entire process of the funeral with the possible exception of the eulogy. This is done in spite of the realization that they will not be a witness to the festivities. In the old days one could easily identify the most affluent buried in the graveyard by the size of their gravestone. Now modern cemeteries are devoid of monuments expressly to be more egalitarian, but coincidently eliminating impediments to mowing the grass.

In spite of our best efforts, we will in all probability soon be forgotten. The odds of our being remembered for longer than a couple of generations is probably much less than winning the power-ball jackpot. Millions have gone before you and failing extinction of the species millions will follow. You will need to be very, very famous to stick out in such a crowd. Even a famous blogger is not likely to make the cut. Although your name will be recorded in various places you will have been long forgotten until someone encounters your name as they work on their genealogy, and they will wonder what it would have been like to-know you.

FAVORITE OBITS
It is true that obituaries have a certain utilitarian value in that they not only announce the death but list those to whom you might want to send a sympathy card, provide the time and place of the funeral, etc., but I find little information which would help me to know the person. There have been some examples in which anecdotal information has provided me with an idea as to a person’s identity, and a feeling that I would like to have known them. One such case was a single statement in an otherwise generic obit of an elderly woman as follows: “Edna’s family gathered at her home for Sunday dinner at 1 o’clock every week for over 60 years and welcomed all guests with open arms. Edna will be remembered for her peach-pecan and pumpkin pies, noodles, and birthday cakes, her patience, kindness, and unwavering and unconditional love for others, and most of all, her heart of gold.” In the annals of motherhood, it is difficult to imagine anyone topping that record of nurturing. I felt as if I would like to have known Edna. Maybe I could even have wrangled an invitation to Sunday dinner.
My all-time favorite obituary was one which kept me laughing. It was written by a daughter who began with a quest for anyone interested in dinner plates. It turned out that her mother had been a collector of all kinds of different items, including dinner plates, and the daughter was overwhelmed. She went on to describe all her mother’s quirks in a most loving and tender but funny way. It was my all time favorite and I consider it a masterpiece. I tried to save it, but since we have a rule in this house to never lose anything unless it is important it has disappeared.
WHY THE IMPORTANCE
For those of us who will not have a bronze likeness in the courthouse square, our obituary will be the most lasting chronicle of our lives. It will probably be written or directed by someone who loved us and thus emphasize our better natures providing a template for living a full life. Obituaries remind us of our mortality which is not always a bad thing as such awareness can be a powerful motivator.
Obituaries have been with us since Roman times but as print media is replaced by the internet, obituaries are likely to follow suite. One such example is “The Blog of Death” written by Jade Walker who was formerly a chronicler of the deaths of the rich and famous in the New York Times. She was also hailed for producing a publication of the obits for all the victims of the nine eleven attacks. She describes her blog as: “…featuring the famous, infamous and interesting unknowns.” Undoubtedly, major newspapers will continue to publish obituaries deemed newsworthy. One often cited example is the Los Angeles Times preparation of Elizabeth Taylor’s obituary two years before her death presumably in order to be ready for the great event. Ironically, the person who wrote it died before it was published.
With the demise of local newspapers throughout the country, I assume that their archives containing millions of obituaries will be lost. There are organizations which profess to have access to nearly a century of published obituaries; however I am not sure how that is done, e.g., do they simply access newspaper archives? For most of us our obituary is all that remains of us to be remembered for longer than a few years.

SAVED BY THE CLOUD
As Jade Walker points out, the internet provides opportunity to include pictures, personal anecdotes, and experiences which could allow us to relate to lives that are gone. In an era when there is data available to unravel the human genome, keep track of who and where we are, who we talk to, and what we buy, it does not seem unreasonable to catalog obituaries. Perhaps the information could be managed by the Library of Congress, and the millions of wondrous stories which are now literally buried could be available for all to see. It could even contain the recipe for Edna’s peach-pecan pie

THAT MOTHER THING

These days, it is difficult to forget Mother’s Day as there are plenty of reminders on TV, radio, newspapers, billboards, and now even the internet.  Although the holiday (it even seems disrespectful to call it that) has been a boon to florists, candy companies, and greeting card businesses, it also generates a type of sentiment not found in other celebrations.  According to Mr. Google, there have been times set aside to venerate mothers and motherhood since ancient times, but our modern version is said to have its origins in Grafton, West Virginia in 1908, when Anna Jarvis promoted the idea of a day to honor mothers. She was soon to be disappointed when the day which was sacred to her became commercialized.  Anna spent the rest of her life attempting to correct the image which she felt dishonored her Mother, and died penniless in an institution.

DON’T MESS WITH MOM

We are all aware that motherhood is necessary for the propagation of the species, but the relationship between a mother and her offspring is like no other.  Mothers will fight to the death and endure any amount of hardship to protect and nurture their offspring.  This is true for most of the animal kingdom, but especially for humans.  Most animals who have live births nurture their young until the kids are able to make it on their own, but human moms never stop mothering.  You might think since they are around for a couple of decades it might be that they simply become like an old pair of shoes which you don’t like to get rid of, but there seems to be much more to it than that.

Back in the old days, when country doctors did pretty much everything except major surgery, I delivered a lot of babies.  Many times I would hear my patients in labor crying out that they would never go through this pain again, but when that baby was delivered into her arms the room would brighten with her smile.  The ordeal of birthing would soon be forgotten and often at the six weeks checkup there would be talks of having another child.  The mother of my children describes her feelings of holding our babies as a feeling of joy which she could not find words to describe.

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Kids do grow up and leave the nest, but they carry a piece of Mom with them for the rest of their lives.  No one or no other relationship will have such a profound effect on their lives.  Without nurture, it has been shown that children will grow up with significant deficits similar to those seen in Harlow’s monkeys when they were deprived of maternal contact.  With that in mind, it seems clear that mothers’ roles involve much more than merely giving birth and providing sustenance.

When children are born, they have no sense of who or what they are.  One can see an infant at times appearing to discover his toes and other body parts.  Likewise, in their early years, they will need help to develop an identity, and to do so, they will depend upon those with whom they spend the most time. However, perhaps the most important issue they learn concerns their lovability.  In my practice, those who felt as if they were unlovable were among the most unhappy.  They found it virtually impossible to establish meaningful relationships.  They lacked self-esteem, often to the point of self-loathing; consequently, they were vulnerable to exploitation of all kinds.  They were often used and abused, which they felt they deserved.  This opinion of self, which appears to have its origins in childhood, resists change and seems to persist throughout life even when told their picture of themselves is inaccurate.

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE

Obviously, the only way one can know they are lovable is to be loved, which brings us back to the subject of mothers.  Traditionally, they are the ones in charge of loving.  Their love is constant, unremitting and lifelong.  They continue to love even when their children are total jerks or perpetrate the most dastardly of deeds.  It has been said that a father’s love is conditional.  I have always resented that characterization, for I felt I loved the kids as much as did Barb, yet I must admit that her capacity for forgiveness and tolerance exceeds mine.  After all, I was only an observer and not a participant in their entry to this world.

If you think mothers are lovers, take a look at grandmothers.  With the responsibilities of teaching kids manners, discipline and societal survival skills gone, there comes an avalanche of unimpeded love.  For me, grandparenthood has been an opportunity to enjoy the kids without feeling any responsibility.  I have concluded that grandparenthood is God’s reward for enduring the vicissitudes of parenthood.

It is true that in the past mothers have received a bad rap from we psychiatrists.  Mothers have been accused by us of causing everything from autism to homosexuality.  This fad began with Freud, who attempted to unravel some of the mysteries of early childhood.  Although his work provided an impetus to learn more about the effects of childhood experiences on later life, many of his conclusions have been discredited.

IT DOESN’T GET EASIER   

In the past, motherhood was a full time job.  Although mothers would engage in activities outside the home (my grandmother helped with the milking), their primary function was to care for their families.  Today’s mothers amaze me in that a majority of them also have full time jobs outside the home.  That puts an exclamation point after the time honored phrase “woman’s work is never done.”  Granted, fathers are now more involved in domestic activities than in the past, but I seem to remember reading something about a study that indicated the duties of the woman of house have changed little over the years.  Without our so-called modern household conveniences, it would probably be impossible for the hardiest of souls to accomplish what these warrior mothers do.

However, the most amazing mothers, to me, are the single moms who take on the total responsibility for feeding, clothing, teaching, disciplining and loving their children.  The fact that many single mothers accomplish this without any outside help is inspiring, especially when one considers the number of kids who grow up to be good people.  Unfortunately, these mothers are often derided rather than praised.

THEY AREN’T ALL MUSHY

You should not be surprised to learn that I too had a mother.  She loved me for no good reason that I could fathom, and I loved her too (although I would never admit it when I was growing up).  Mom was not a hugger.  She was a patter—i.e. when she was glad to see me, or pleased with something I had done, she would wrinkle her nose and pat me on the arm or shoulder a couple of times.  I suspect this was a result of her childhood, for her family was not demonstrably affectionate and never wanted to be “showy.”  She was a great cook and enjoyed feeding us.  In later years, a visit would see her “throw together some leftovers” with little obvious effort, and they would always be delicious.  I was a child of the Depression and barely recall my parents on occasion telling my brother and I they wanted us to eat first.  It would be years later before l realized why they did that.

SUPER MOM

It has been my good fortune to meet and marry someone who was born to nurture, and I have watched her in action for quite a few years.  When we were married, she announced that she wanted to have four children.  I thought two would be plenty, so we reached a Barb-type compromise and had four.  Since they were all exceptional from the very get go, I agreed to keep them all.  It was a good decision.

As with most mothers, Barb continues to exude love from a reservoir that never runs dry.  Every now and then, she will reminisce about those days when she had them all fed, bathed and tucked in, and how she felt “so rich.”  When we see a baby in the grocery, she tells me how she would like to hold it.  If there is a young one in a restaurant, she will approach the mother ask its age and tell her how beautiful is her baby (she seems to have never seen an ugly one).  Those tear jerking ads on TV featuring small kids do a number on her.  She insists were she a little younger she would adopt some of those starving African kids.

As for the grandchildren, don’t ask unless you have some time to spare.  It takes a while to tell you how wonderful they all are, but you will be able to see those tired brown eyes come to life.  Like it or not, you will probably also hear the complete package which includes their parents who are also “above average.”

SHE WILL JUST SAY YOU SHOULD SAVE YOUR MONEY 

Meanwhile, it is nice to send your mother flowers and stuff, but all she really wants from you is love.  She deserves all you have to give.