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!

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