Poem for Saturday: August 28, 1941

My mother and her friend Martha in the summer of 1941.
My mother and her friend Martha in the summer of 1941.
My mother and her friend Martha in the summer of 1941.

Bits and pieces from The Pittsburgh Press, evening edition, August 28, 1941

1935 Ford sedan for $95.

’33 Auburn Sedan for only $5.68 per month.

Cary Grant’s Mexican jaunt to invest $300,000 in silver mines there.

Fred Astaire is building a private golf course on his San Diego County ranch.

Steelers Make Guard Out of Dan Williams, Texas Tackle.

LifeGuard tires save lives, money, rubber.

America’s snapshots better than ever…most of them made on Kodak Verichrome film—to those in Service, send the news of your new life in the Nation’s service with the portable form of snapshots.

New York Central System, Travel in comfort, every Sunday to Cleveland $2.50.

Mt. Lebanon, New, 6 rooms, 2-1/2 baths, brick, large wooded lot, $9,600.

I can give you my word that Roosevelt, the man, has a deep personal hatred for war. Roosevelt, the president, has the task of carrying American Democracy forward under God against any resistance.~Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd.

Pirates Run Over Phillies, 12-2.

College days are with us again as students across the nation start cutting rugs and classes.

At the “New Carnegie Theater”, Carnegie, PA, Cary Grant, James Stewart in “Philadelphia Story”, also Cartoons and News.

Hitler’s Broken Promises Occupy Nearly 1,000 pages in his own words—“My New Order” from Reynal and Hitchcock.

Ten Homewood children, between the ages of 7 and 12, held a lawn fete last Friday afternoon at the corner of Gettysburg and Edgerton Streets for the benefit of the Milk and Ice Fund. Today The Press received the proceeds, $3.57.

Among the novelty high shoes this season is one of black patent leather having bowknot patterns showing an underlay of white kid.

And when we witness the downfall of dictatorship—what then? A world union of self-governing peoples to guarantee and enforce peace.~Associate Justice Owen Roberts, U.S. Supreme court.

Today’s newspaper boy, tomorrow’s leader—When Robert S. Bogda, son of Mr. and Mrs. S. H. Bogda of McKees Rocks, finishes high school, he intends to go into the steel mill with his father. He is the junior merchant who delivers The Pittsburgh Press daily and Sunday to subscribers around Ridge Avenue. Bob likes to travel and also runs errands for neighbors to augment his fund for travel.

A program that is heralded as the world’s first all-Negro opera will be previewed on KDKA at 8:30 tonight as Negro performers from all over America perform selections from “Celeste Aida”.

Bellevue couple welcomes twin girls.

But did anyone see the storm darkening the horizon?

poem copyright 2008 © Bernadette E. Kazmarski


Several years ago I pulled several things from a pile of trash at a house that was about to go up for sale. I have no qualms and no embarrassment about this because I often find not only useful items, but also things that in their own way are deeply inspiring and have been the subject of poems and short stories.

One of the items I found in this particular pile was a large oval wicker basket with handles, darkened with age. I’d call it a laundry basket, and that is what I used it for, except that it was padded in the bottom with a hand-stitched muslin “cushion” that was filled with newspapers, and this cushion was in turn hand-stitched to the reeds of which the basket was woven. A testament to the durability of things made years ago, the fabric was still sound, though dirty, and not a thread was broken on the heavy “shoemaker thread” that held it together.

The newspapers were just folded and torn pages of the Pittsburgh Press from August 28, 1941, ripped into large squares and folded to fit the makeshift cushion. I pictured a large dog who loved his bed.

I of course began to read the newspaper pages, and was intrigued at the mix of items included from news, features, shorts, ads and classifieds. Noting the date, just a few months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and our official entry into WWII, I wondered what had happened to all those mentioned in the stories. Behind a sunny image of the back porch of a white Victorian house with a woman in a 1941 house dress covered by an apron leaning down to feed a big happy dog I saw a dark cloud rising over the hill of houses behind. Instead of a painting, I wrote a poem from the strength of the image I visualized, and have since written a short story, not quite ready for publication.

In 1941 my father was 22 years old, my mother was 16, and the war molded their lives as it did all Americans and the country itself. My father volunteered early the next spring, and I shared this poem and posted a portion of the group photo including him at boot camp at Camp Lee, VA in June 1942on Pearl Harbor Day.

Today, so close to the actual date, I’m sharing a photo I found of my mother from the summer of 1941; she’s the one on the right. The lives of both her and her friend Martha were about to change dramatically as they finished high school during the first year of the war, said goodbye to so many childhood friends who went off to war and came back dramatically changed or not at all, they scrimped and saved and recycled and conserved for the war effort immediately following the deprivations of the Great Depression, and their futures changed forever with the tide in the following four years.

And looking at the social and political climate of today, I wonder if there is a cloud on our horizon to darken our days in the coming months..


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Memorial Day

Memorial Day
Memorial Day
Memorial Day

Even though Memorial Day was founded to memorialize the losses of the Civil War, it came to be an important day of remembrance for our losses in successive wars as conflicts came nearly every other decade in the century following. My parents’ generation called Memorial Day “Decoration Day”. It was the weekend to clear away the weeds, trim the grass, and spend time in the cemetery, and the graves of family members were decorated with wreaths and flags and freshly planted flowers, veterans or not. I’m not sure how it had lost the origin for them of remembering those who had died in service to their country but perhaps it had been the European tradition carried on in this country. Nearly everyone in my parents’ generation was touched by WWII, either in service or the hardships of living through the war years and the friends who had not come home.

I always focus on WWII, since that was my parents’ experience, all the male relatives in my parents’ generation served in that conflict, and the experience marked my own life as the generation following. My father suffered no emotional trauma in combat or in service, but another trauma to his body that we didn’t learn about until near his death that marked his life after service as well as that of my immediate family.

The collage above includes a photo of the veteran’s flag from my father’s funeral, a treasured artifact of mine, as well as the WWII section of the military wall in the Historical Society of Carnegie which bears hundreds of familiar names—names of businesses and owners of businesses, the fathers and uncles of kids I grew up with, and even husbands and brothers of others I’ve come to know as an adult. My father’s name, Alfons, and his brother’s names, Richard and Henry (his parents dispensed with the European names after the first three children), his cousin’s names, and the names of those who would intermarry with sisters and cousins are there as well.

The other image is a rare and interesting artifact from my godparents’ house, which had been the house where my father grew up, a hand-tinted photo of my father in uniform, and it’s so fragile I didn’t want to take it apart to scan it. His younger brother, who signed up at the same time, is to the right, but they weren’t photographed together and aren’t in proportion to each other. Their images were combined and hand-tinted like an early Photoshop collage, probably done quickly and by an amateur by the looks of it, and unfortunately my uncle Richard’s image was damaged by water and some odd abrasion. The frame is a wonderful round-cornered wood frame with a piece of convex glass obviously custom made for it. At some point I want to work on a little restoration for this, but for now I want to leave it as is since it’s pretty stable, and I’ve just included my father in this photo.

My father was an Army cook and baker, stationed in India during WWII. I have no stories of valiant combat service, but the troops needed to eat, and nothing was a more comforting reminder of home than familiar food in unfamiliar places. Bakers also made specialty items for officers and for troops, and as a baker, my father baked and decorated plenty of birthday cakes for the troops in his area. He’d been working in his parents’ bakery since his pre-teen years, and he was a little older than some other troops, entering service at age 23 and had plenty of baking experience for special projects.

All who serve bring back with them the traumas of their service, whether it’s their own experience or the injury or loss of a friend. My father, as an Army cook, wasn’t on the front lines risking his life but he had his share of losses of friends, and a loss of his own that we didn’t realize until later. My father had Parkinson Syndrome or Parkinsonism, and though it wasn’t diagnosed until 1984, once we learned the symptoms we realized he’d had the disease for years, likely from the time of his service in WWII. By the time I have any memory of him in the early 1960s he already had the characteristic shuffling step and stone face, silent except for one-word answers, but he never had a tremor and everyone thought he was “just like that”. He worked at night as a baker, often seven days a week, he was in his 40s, and he was always tired. That was understandable, but it wasn’t accurate.

Parkinson’s Disease was first identified in 1817 by Dr. James Parkinson, studied in the 1870s by Dr. Jean Martin Charcot and by this century the developing tremors were easily identified in many older people as a “palsy”. But because my father never had those tremors no one ever identified the other symptoms in him. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the chemical basis for Parkinson’s Disease was found, measuring the levels of dopamine in the brain which, as it decreased, caused degeneration of specific brain cells leading to the classic symptoms. Further studies in succeeding decades led to ever more information on other forms of Parkinsonism that did not evidence all the symptoms and could be caused by physical trauma or other damages to the brain, including viral illnesses and high fevers, and these were classed as Parkinson Syndrome conditions.

During my father’s service in India he was recorded to have had some type of malarial fever—not malaria itself, but there were many other tropical and sub-tropical illnesses that caused extended fevers and even death for troops who’d never encountered them, and in the days before vaccines were common. One of my father’s friends who came to visit now and then told my mother after my father recovered that he remembered the change after the fever, no more jokes or pranks, my father was just very quiet and very tired. That apparently continued all the rest of his life and as he aged and suffered other injuries and surgeries and the stress of working all night all the time, the decrease of dopamine killed off more brain cells.

What? Jokes and pranks? My father? No way! In hindsight it’s good to know what was the reason for the silence and lack of emotion, which in turn infuriated my mother and confused us kids. It would have been nice to grow up with that person who married my mother, and who created me. It is at least good to know the answer to something I’d always wondered, and on Memorial Day know that I am not alone in what we remember of those we loved, or tried to love.

~~~

You can also find this essay under Essays on this site.

I’ve written a few other things about my family’s experience of WWII and my father’s service in “The Thanks of a Grateful Nation”, and also others about Memorial Day, “Soldier” and “Memorial Day Parade”


Read more:   Essays   ♦  Short Stories  ♦  Poetry

All Rights Reserved.   ♦   © Bernadette E. Kazmarski   ♦   PathsIHaveWalked.com

SUPPORT MY WRITING

Visit my PATREON page.

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