Feb 28, 2013

Sun, Feb 21, 1943: looked for you

"I sort of looked for you to come home this week end for some reason or other.  Guess I'm getting rather homesick to see you.  It was one grand day to-day but I was trying to get some of my back grading done so didn't get to enjoy it so much."
--Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Winfield, Kans., Sunday, February 21, 1943.  My father, my grandmother’s oldest child, was in his sophomore year at Southwestern College.

Feb 21, 2013

Sun, Feb 21, 1943: Bambi

"Sat night (last night) I took all my school to see the show 'Bambi' at Augusta.  Of course we didn't take all in our car, (there were three other cars went) but I payed all their ways.  We decided to get there before the first show started and it just happened that we all got there and sat to-gether in two rows of the balcony.  I think they were all pretty much thrilled.  Just think it was the first show the Houser children had ever seen but their folks let them go for some unbeknown reason."
--Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Winfield, Kans., Sunday, February 21, 1943.
In creating the film Bambi, based on a 1926 novel by Austrian novelist Siegmund Salzmann, the Disney studio went to great lengths to portray the deer and other animals in a natural manner.  It hired a wildlife artist to teach the animators and established a small zoo in the studio, purchased footage of wildlife and went out to film its own.  Yet, the now iconic film lost money in its initial run in 1942.  According to one assessment, "critics and audiences alike were deeply unsettled by the picture's realism.  War-weary Americans, it seems, whose husbands and sons were dying in battle thousands of miles from home, wanted to escape from reality rather than confront it in their local theatres."  Disney also faced protest from hunters who saw it as portraying them poorly.  Yet, my grandmother and her grade-school students seemed not to have had any of those concerns.  They were “all pretty much thrilled.” (Sources: Gregg Mitman, Reel Nature: America's Romance with Wildlife on Film [New Haven: Harvard University Press, 1999], 111-12; Daniela Ribitisch, "Bambi", in Philip C. DiMare, ed., Movies in American History: An Encyclopedia [ABC-CLIO, 2011], 24-25).

Feb 10, 2013

Niagara Falls, 1923

My mother's mother, Wilma Dorth (lower left), age 23, while on a cross-country trip with three other women, all school teachers.  In the summer of 1923, the four young women drove from Kansas to Niagara Falls in a Model T Touring Car, stopping along the way to camp, work in a cherry orchard, and, at my grandmother's insistence, stop and read every historical marker.  Wilma married my grandfather in 1926 and gave birth to my mother in 1927.  She died in 1943, never having mentioned this trip to my mother, who did not hear about it until the 1980s. After my grandfather died in 1983, Marge McMahon (upper left), then in her 90s, contacted my mother and told her the story and gave her this photograph.

Wed, Feb 10, 1943: obituary

“Mrs. Alvin W. Murray Succumbs Here Early Today
“The sudden death of Mrs. Wilma L. Murray, aged 43 years, wife of Dr. Alvin W. Murray, pastor of the Methodist Church, of El Dorado, which occurred here early today, saddens the hearts of the entire community. Although Mrs. Murray had lived here only two years and four months, her endearing nature, and charming personality had won for her a multitude of friends. 
"Mrs. Murray, apparently in good health, was suddenly stricken with severe abdominal pains Sunday, necessitating a major operation which was performed Monday.  Her condition after the operation was reported as good, but a heart ailment developed, causing her death."
--Obituary of my grandmother from El Dorado Times, Wednesday, February 10, 1943.
Seventy years ago, at 12:20 a.m., on February 10, 1943, my mother’s mother, Wilma Lucile (Dorth) Murray, died at Allen Memorial Hospital, in El Dorado, Kans.  She was 43 years old.  Like my father’s mother, she had been a schoolteacher as a young woman, from age 19 to 25.  She married my grandfather in 1926, and gave birth to two children, my mother, Ruth, and her younger sister, Pat.  The family of four had moved to El Dorado in October 1940, when my grandfather, Alvin Murray, became pastor of the El Dorado Methodist Church there.  When my grandmother died, my mother, Ruth Esther Murray, was a junior at El Dorado High School and about to turn 16.  According to my mother, my grandmother was never in robust health and she died from a massive infection from fecal contamination following her abdominal surgery. I’m sorry that I never got to meet her.
On Friday, Feburary 12, my mother’s mother was buried in Winfield, Kans., the town where my father was attending Southwestern College as a sophomore.  The man who helped lead the graveside services for my grandmother, Dr. LeRoy Allen, was also one of my father’s professors and had written my father a letter of recommendation for the navy three months earlier.  However, my mother and father did not meet until three and a half years later.
My grandmother died about three years before antibiotics became widely available.  My mother always said that she might have lived, if she’d had that infection a few years later.  Alexander Fleming had discovered penicillin in 1928.  However, it was not until 1940 that it was purified into a form that could be easily used in therapy.  Still, there was no way to mass produce the drug.  Five weeks after my grandmother died, on “March 14, 1942, the first patient was treated for streptococcal septicemia with US-made penicillin produced by Merck & Co.  Half of the total supply produced at the time was used on that one patient.”  The U.S. War Production Board made the mass production of penicillin a high priority and the U.S. produced  2.3 million doses of penicillin in time for D-Day (June 1944).  It had a dramatic effort on the survival of wounded soldiers.  Infected wounds caused almost no battle deaths in the months after D-Day, while they had caused 15% of battle deaths in World War I.   Through most of the war, the drug was reserved exclusively for military use.  While civilian doctors were aware of the amazing curative power of the drug, they could not get access to it.  In March 1945, penicillin finally become widely available to the general public.  In December 1945, Alexander Fleming, Ernst B. Chain, and Howard Florey received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of penicillin.
(Sources: Milton Wainwright, Miracle Cure: The Story of Penicillin and the Golden Age of Antibiotics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 14, 65, 67-68, 74; “penicillin” in Wikipedia; John Parascandola, "The Introduction of Antibiotics into Therapeutics," in Judith W. Leavitt and Ronald L. Numbers, eds., Sickness and Health in America: Readings in the History of Medicine and Public Health (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 106-7.)

Feb 3, 2013

Wed, Feb 3, 1943: register

"Dearest DeVere-- Well I suppose our boy is eighteen years old now.  I thought of you a lot on your birthday.  Did you have to register or not?...
--Letter from my grandmother, Jessie Maybelle (Berger) Brown, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Sidney DeVere Brown, Winfield, Kans. Wednesday, February 3, 1943. 
Dad was 16 when he started college and didn’t turn 18 until the middle of his sophomore year (on January 29, 1943).  Since he started college, he had seen many classmates join the military or be drafted.  His mother is apparently asking whether he still needs to register for the draft, even though he had already enlisted in the Navy on November 17, 1942.  (On draft registration, see my earlier post “Tues, Jul 21, 1942: to the army”).
            The day before this letter was written, on February 2, the German Sixth Army, trapped in Stalingrad (now Volgograd) had surrendered to the Soviets.  In the Pacific, the Guadalcanal Campaign in the Solomon Islands was winding down – part of the island-hopping campaign of Allied forces slowly advancing toward Japan.  Allied forces would gain full control of the island from Japanese forces by February 9.
            (Sources: “Guadalcanal Campaign” and “Battle of Stalingrad” in wikipedia.org; McNeill, A Democracy at War, 270-74).

Feb 2, 2013

Wed, Feb 3, 1943: some fat hogs

"...Monday Daddy took some fat hogs to Wichita and he called at the hospital while in Wichita and saw both Virginia and LaVerne....
"We had Oscar Hein butcher a pig for us.  Had sausage for supper and it tasted fine...."
--Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Winfield, Kans., Wednesday, February 3, 1943.
In his memoir, the father wrote the following about hogs on the family farm: “Our hogs were kept in some low, ramshackle buildings open on the south near the house, and wallowed in the mud just beyond when the rains came.  Leonard was an expert at hog calling, and his ‘Whooee,’ when he took the kitchen slop out brought them running from all across the alfalfa field.  They fed at a trough, filled with leftovers from the family table and added grain, to fatten them for the market, or for butchering.
“We slaughtered some of the best hogs on the coldest day of winter, when the great outdoors approximated a deep freeze locker, and natural refrigeration preserved the meat while it was being processed.  We set up equipment south of the old storage house, and had six or eight people around to do the job.  Frank Cousins and Walter Bowyer, old timers, had mastered the art of hog-butchering, and appeared with their knives to carve up the fattened hog, assisted by Leonard, and Pus Cousins, Max King, Jay Causey, and the author who ran errands as a ten-year-old.  The animal was suspended by its feet from a temporary frame, its throat cut, blood drained, and then dropped into a huge black kettle of boiling water, heated by a wood fire underneath.  The hot water made scraping the black hair from its body easier.  When the carcass was free of hair, it was suspended again from the special frame, head downward, and the butcher deftly cut it apart into pork loins, hams, bacon, and all the parts which humans consume.  The intestines were discarded, but the extensive fat portion was chopped into squares and dumped into the fresh boiling water of the great kettle, taken out, and rendered into lard.
“Cracklings--what was left after the lard was removed--were the treat of the day for little boys,.  Pork rinds they would be called today.  After the crew had left, we made soap from the lard, a mixture of lye, saltpeter, and who knows what else.  The ghastly mixture was boiled in the same huge kettle, and, after it had cooled and solidified, cut into blocks of soap which Jessie used on Monday, the universal wash day.  Tide had not been invented, or was too expensive, and our self-sufficient farm kept going with its huge white cakes of homemade soap.
“Bacon was the best part of the hog; the bacon sides were treated with salt and other things, and easily preserved.  The rest of it was preserved by some mixture of salt and spices, cloves among them, and stored in the cellar beneath the house until needed.  At one time, I believe the meat was smoked and dried in the smokehouse to take care of preservation through the winter, and I dimly remember as a small boy watching smoke come out of that building just south of the house.  When I was older the “smokehouse” was used for the washing machine, the cream separator, the butter churn and the large wooden ice box, but never for smoking meat.”  (Source: Brown, Kansas Farmboy, 114-15)