Monday, October 19, 2009

Lola's Diary, Part I

Thanks to everyone who read my last post and commented. To clarify, I wasn't trying to say I'd never write about my Mom again in my blog...I just don't want it to be what I mostly write about. I think if I write about it some it is good for me as far as helping me to reflect on things; but if I write about it TOO much it's not good because I can get depressed if I think about it all the time. I hope that makes sense.

Anyhow, we are now going to begin my new project, which I am kind of jazzed about, and skip back sixty-five years or so:

This is a scan of the cover of the journal my grandmother began writing in the middle of World War Two. My father never even knew she kept a journal; we found it after she passed away in the late l980's and to my knowledge it's never been seen by anyone other than her children and grandchildren.

Lola (or "Wowo" as she was nicknamed by us grandkids) was a great and very doting grandmother but she wasn't always what you'd consider the model of demurring Southern charm, either. She never had a problem saying what was on her mind. I am not trying to paint her in a negative light at all; just trying to give a complete picture. I think my father and I both inherited a streak of stubbornness from her...anyhow, she was a very smart lady.

In spite of the fact that neither of Lola's parents ever got more than a grade school education, they recognized the value of education for THEIR children, and Lola not only graduated high school (something that was not widely common back then in small-town Texas) but also went to Texas Women's University and graduated from there also (at the time I think it was known as Texas Women's College, and awarded diplomas rather than degrees.) I think she received the equivalent of an associate's degree, which was something pretty rare back in those days, especially for women. She lived near the college but not close enough to walk to, so she used to ride a horse to school side-saddle to attend classes (I believe this would have been just after 1910.)

Lola got married in 1915 when she was twenty years old. That's fairly young now, but I'm sure it was a common age for people to get married back then...I was doing a bit of research for this post, and I discovered that the average life expectancy for people in 1900 was only fifty years old. I suppose it's not a surprise that today, people are putting off getting married and starting families until they're older (especially since it's so expensive to raise a child today.) At any rate, Lola had three children, all boys, spread out over about 14 years after she got married; her youngest son was my father, born in 1929.

For the most part, I will just be transcribing what my grandmother wrote when I'm doing these posts. All of what she wrote I will publish in italics so you know it's her writing...if I need to expound upon anything, I will switch back to normal text. Also, I may occasionally intersperse her writing with regular posts of my own (for instance, I may be doing a road trip later this week, so I may post something about that if I have net access where I'm staying.) Finally, I probably won't scan further pages of the journal (although it might not be a bad idea to preserve it, long-term) since I think it will be much easier to read if I just transcribe the enjoyment of doing this, for me, is going back over what she wrote way back when.

As I mentioned, the journal starts in the 1940's, and continues intermittently through the late 1950's...she didn't write in it super often, and it's not a huge thick journal, but I'm sure it was a comfort to record things as they happened. Almost all the pages are intact. Starting in the 1960's, she started having some trouble with arthritis and it became harder to write longhand, so while she did continue composing letters and so forth, it was by typewriter and not in a journal. I'm glad that I have the writing I do, though, as it allows me to see a side of one of my ancestors I might otherwise not have known.

So, without further ado, here is the first entry:

March 21, 1944

Today I am starting a sort of record of things of importance that happen in my family. I will go back to Nov. 10, 1941 for the beginning for on that day the tenor of our lives was changed. Earl, my husband, to whom I was married on Oct. 27, 1915, died in the Denton Hospital. He was buried Nov. 11, 1941 at the Odd Fellows Cemetery here in Denton. At that time Wallace Harper, age 19, was in college in Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He flew home (his first trip by air) and got her on Saturday night (Fred Harper met him at the Dallas airport) and was with us until Earl died Monday. Earl recognized Wallace.

Wallace was my uncle, who was recognized at a very young age to be an extremely talented musician. He played flute in the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. for many decades after he finished school.

When Earl died, I did not know what to do. I was so desolate and despondent I was also sick for some time.

According to my father, Lola had a nervous breakdown after my grandfather's death. I don't know all the details of it, but she evidently recovered fairly quickly. I can't imagine how hard it must have been on my father, to lose his father when he was twelve and go through all this upheaval with his family. It does make me appreciate some where he was coming from when I think about it.

Wallace stayed at home a week and returned to school. Mama came down and stayed with Charles and me. Charles was only 12 at that time. Mama has remained with us since that time, later renting her own apartment. Earl left me $5000.00 insurance but I, of course, knew that would not last and felt I should find work.

According to an online inflation calculator I referenced, $5000 in 1941 is the equivalent of $72,349 today. So it wasn't a trivial amount of money, but neither was it a huge sum.

Against the advice of some of my friends I decided to try and manage the Retail Merchant's Office, keeping Earl's job. I am still doing that at this time and have had splendid cooperation from the merchants.

On Dec. 7, 1941, while Mama and I were listening to the radio in the back bedroom we heard the astonishing news flash that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. We were stunned and of course, our first thought was for Wallace who was the right age for a soldier. Several Denton boys were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor - our Navy was badly damaged and we were dealt a crippling blow. Our country declared war on Japan the next day and we entered a state of preparation for war unheard of in the U.S.

On Christmas 1941, I let Wallace come home even tho' it had been only one month since he had left. We were very sad, of course, and had a very quiet Christmas. Robbie and Wilbur and Martha came up from Dallas for the day. Wallace stayed ten days, and returned. He was very thin, he was working for his room and board for a Mrs. Hobbie, and she was too stingy to feed the child.

It's funny to read that last couple of lines now, since when I knew Uncle Wallace he was always very overweight, to the point that he couldn't tie his own shoes. I guess he had gained a lot of weight after he stopped smoking in the 1950's. This didn't stop him from playing some mean classical flute, though!

The spring and summer of 1942 camps for soldiers were constructed all over the U.S. A large camp was located at Gainsville and was Camp Howze. When Wallace came home from school in the summer of 1942, he got a job at Borden's retail ice cream store and worked hard all summer. He had to work until 1 and 2 AM and would come in exhaused. He saved $140 and returned to Eastman in the fall.

Just before his 20th birthday, he went to Dallas and joined the Air Force and returned to school until they called him. He played in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra under Iturbi and made enough money to pay most of his expenses. He came home Christmas of 1942, and that is the last time he has been home. In March 1943 he was inducted into the Army - was inducted in New York and sent to Keesler Field in Biloxi Miss. for one month. He was very miserable there but was sent to Toledo, Ohio May 1, 1943 and spent four months on the beautiful campus of the Toledo University. While he was there, Charles and I went to see him in June 1943. We had a grand 4 day visit with him. We had a hectic trip but enjoyed it on the whole.

In the spring of 1943, Mama, Charles, and I had a grand garden. We canned and canned and enjoyed all our vegetables, especially our tomatoes, beans, and corn. Charles worked for Jim Barns on weekends in the spring of 1943. That summer he mowed yards and made all his spending money. Charles is a good boy and is a joy to Mama and me.

In September 1943 Wallace was sent to San Antonio for training in San Antonio Aviatiion Cadet Center. While he was there Charles and I went to see him twice - once the last of September and on the 15th of December. In September we went with Mr. Oliver, Charles Oliver and his wife. We stayed in a lousy tourist station. In December we took food and stayed with Dorothy and Clayton Hendrey, and cooked Wallace two good home cooked meals. The only thing wrong with that trip was that we almost froze to death and I caught a dreadful cold. Christmas 1943, was our first Christmas without Wallace. Robbie, Wilbur, and Martha came up from Dallas and spent Christmas Day with us.

Wallace was sent to Bruce Field in Bollinger Texas in January 1944 and was there nine weeks in Primary training. While there he soloed and got 65 flying hours. His instructor was Manuel Abrams. Charles and I went there to visit him March 10, 1944, just as he was finishing his work there. We went to the field and saw the setup and were with Wallace that night until 10:00 P.M. Saturday he got off at 5:00 P.M. and spent the night at the hotel with us. Sunday we went to church at the Babtist Church there and hear Porter Bailes preach. After church we went over to San Angelo and went to see Mrs. Roberts. That afternoon we came back and Wallace listened to the symphony and we took him to his field. We went back to the hotel and that night I went to church again, but Charles went to the show. Monday, March 13, we came home - had a puncture at Brownwood. That day Wallace was sent to San Angelo where he is now in Goodfellow Field in Basic Training.

At this time shoes, sugar, meat, canned goods, gasoline, butter, lard, cheese and other things are rationed. All sales on refrigerators, tires, automobiles, radios, lumber, irons, typewriters and many other items are frozen and production stopped. Coffee was rationed for a while but its not now. Each car is allowed 2 gal./week of gas on pleasure driving - if you can prove need you can get additional coupons. Each person is allowed 2 pair of shoes per year and 1/2 lb. of sugar per week. The sugar situation hurts us the most for we do like desserts. None of it is a hardship - we are all too fat and eat too much. There is no fussing about it and everyone tries to do his part.

Wages have increased at an amazing rate. There are two plane production plants - one North American at Grand Prarie and Consolidated at Ft. Worth that employ many Denton people. They pay high wages and employ skilled laborers. People who before the war were glad to work for $2.00 per day are now drawing from $60 to $90 per week. They also use trained men - paying all an enormous salary. Pauline's husbind, A.W. James, who has a M.A. Degree, is employed there and has been there since before their marriage in June 1942. Geneva's husband, Jess Boydtron also works there. Many of the workers live in Denton and go back and forth. There are also many Camp Howze officers living in Denton. All this produces a crowded living condition, unheard of in Denton. Property has skyrocketed and lots of houses have sold for far more than they are worth. There are absolutely no rent houses in Denton and people are forced to buy if they find a place to live.

The prices of food have increased - for things not regulated by price ceiling by the government such as sugar, flour, canned food. On the other side meat and vegetables are VERY high - steak 55 cents per pound, roast 35 cents per pound. Stew meat 28 cents - butter 50 cents - box tomatoes 30 cents, etc.

All articles made of metal and rubber are off the, elastic, etc. Japan seized our rubber supply the first thing and plants for the manufacture of synthetic rubber have been built all over the U.S. but the supply in not adequate for civilian use and for the Army also, and of course the Army needs come first. I have had two of my tires re-capped but they are not very good.

Well, that's all for now. See you next time, once again back in 1944!



Merujo said...

Very cool, Chuck. What a wonderful slice of life from another era. Thank you so much for sharing it.

Heather Meadows said...

Wow. That was really neat to read, Chuck :)

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read more - thank you so much for sharing this with us! :) My grandmothers both told me tales from WWII when I was a child, and my Mom (still) has very vivid recollections of that time from her childhood.

Suldog said...

That's superb stuff, Chuck. I love reading journals from that time. My Mom, a pre-teen then mostly, wrote one and I got a great kick out of it. I'll have to follow your lead and transcribe it someday on my blog.

Looking forward to further installments!

Chuck said...

Merujo - You're welcome!

Heather - Glad you liked it.

Thimbelle - More posts are on the way!

Suldog - It's fun to re-read and transcribe things again. It had been a long time since I read it.

Samatakah said...

Stumbled across this from the Nov. '09 blogroll. Thank you for sharing your grandmother's journal with "the world." I am bookmarking your blog today.

I want to mention that while there are a lot of memoirs and journals written by men and histories of men's experiences, particularly in wartime, there are just not that many records of ordinary women's experiences, partly, as you mention, because women weren't as well educated as men and upper class women (i.e., Abigail Adams). There are a lot of reasons to thank you for transcribing this. I encourage you to scan all the pages for preservation purposes at least.

Chuck said...

Samatakah - Thanks for visiting! There are copies of the journal that have been made, but not scanned. I will definitely consider doing that in the future, though.