Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Spring 1942; the silver Empire Builder, engine surging impatiently, stood ready to jump the starting line; Minneapolis/St. Paul. Just like the huge locomotive, the entire country was pulsating with energy, ready for action. War! War! Work for everyone. In fact more work than there were workers. For a country where the devastating depression years were still very fresh, full employment for anyone was heady, a headlong, new romance.

A woman, dressed in a light-colored, patterned dress, chunky shoes, and the requisite hat plopped on her short, curly hair, boarded the train. Two girls and a small boy, followed, ducklings in a row. They settled in their seats, looked around hesitantly, excited. Clearly, it was a family not used to traveling and certainly not on a train.

"All aboard!" the conductor swung up from the platform behind a slight, pretty woman. He red curls bounced beneath the pinwheel of her hat as she marched swiftly down the aisle. She held a toddler; a little girl.

"Corrina - ! the family said - in unison.

"I'm coming too."

They knew better than to question Corrina when her sharp chin jutted out, her penciled brows knit together. Family members never questioned each other. Conversations were rarely more than superficial, spoken words were only those necessary. What made a person tick, lived and died with that person. Personal thoughts were private; not to be shared. Problems, difficulties, pain, sorrow, even violent behavior were moments in time - not to be spoken of. It's the Scandinavian way; the ice of silence.

The eleven year old girl felt sad inside. What had happeed to her brother-in-law, Joe? She liked him. He was funny. When he was around, she could breathe. Now here was Corrina again. She hated the way her older sister was always angry; hated that she had to tiptoe around her and not upset the woman who was always upset anyway.

"Just because she's beautiful. Just because she's Dad's favorite. Who cares?" Her thoughts tumbled. She was glad they were moving away. She would not miss the tiny town and all the people who knew they were poor. That her father drank and sometimes mistreated her mother. Everything was going to be different. New friends, new school, new house, new everything.

The toddler climbed beside her. The thrum of the train's wheels sung to them - "new life - new life" as they both pressed their noses to the window, giggling.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A typical story

My grandfather, had long been out of work - the Great Depression affected so many for so many years. It was the need for guns, airplanes, ships and all the accoutrements of war that raised a clarion call to millions of Americans. Still suffering the deprivations of the Great Depression, the men and women of (for a great part) rural America left their homes and rushed to cities and factories and shipyards in an unprecendented patriotic fervor released by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Historical statistics report one out of five Americans left their homes, never to return, in that momentous time.

For me to re-create the emotional excitement of those days I will use a number of - writing styles - sometimes it will be as if I was a reporter, as if I am speaking in those days, and as an historian - a lot of artistic license! After all, then was then, now is now! How can we relate to a time before email, super-duper supermarkets, and delivered gourmet meals? So I ask you to close your eyes and drift back to those days. It is important to do so to feel just what our families were going through. In history books, there is a series of events and dates. My wish is to paint a word-picture of that actual environment - on a gut level - that we can relate to our current circumstances. My viewpoint is from those left "at home" rather than from the battlefront or battleground.

Interestingly I am at this moment, watching a documentary about WWII. It is in color - that is, "colorized" black and white film from those years. Often I have thought about how the lack of color in old photographs "colors" history as dismal no matter where or under what circumstances. In black and white the past looks dull, old, and difficult to relate to. The sun shone and set then as now, trees had green leaves, and colorful flowers bloomed, bricks were red and clothes were blue, yellow, and pink. Color helps me to relate with a more current perspective. Just as knowing the thoughts and words of ordinary people helps to recreate the feelings, moods, and emotions of a particular time.

In my family, it was my grandfather who left home to seek the rewards of war-work. Early in 1942 on the urging of his son-in-law he packed up his Model-T Ford, left Gramma to hold the fort (three of seven children still at home, a house to sell, belongings to pack or sell, goodbyes to be said) until early summer.

My family is largely Scandinavian. As complements their cold background, Scandinavian people do not easily talk about personal things. Plus, it is a highly chauvinistic society. So Gramma did not complain. She simply did what Grandpa expected her to do - followed his instructions. Nor did the children ask questions; they too did as they were told.

My family's odyssey began in the village of Buhl in northern Minnesota, and ended on a tiny island in Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest. The only way to reach the island was by ferry boat from the waterfront of Elliott Bay in Seattle, the largest city in the state of Washington. Still, that island, Bainbridge Island, was closer to a city than any in my family had known. That is, except for my mother and me. We lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, which was pretty big compared to Buhl. My mother harbored dreams of fame and fortune in the fashion world. But she had gotten pregnant with me and married my father who took us to live in the big city. But Mom had no intentions of being stuck there - not that she ever discussed her dissatisfaction with my father. As was true to her background, her thoughts and desires were secret to only her. Maybe she told me - I don't remember!