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Archive for September, 2009

In my senior year, my Dad earned $3200. It helped me get Federal Grants for college for sure, but it made life pretty hard that year in my family of 5 kids. My Dad was a laborer in the local Union. I remember my Dad getting up and calling the Union to see if there was work for him that week. It was a requirement of unemployment and Union benefits that he contact 2 new employers each week.The phone call to the Union counted as one call.

The family’s only phone was in the living room. We were all embarrassed for my Dad having to make those calls – especially when the answer was “no work” –  so we ducked out of the main room of our house each Monday morning. He was willing to do anything to support his family, but the unemployment rate was quite high.

My Dad had much time on his hands and also a problem of trying to figure out how to feed his family. His solution was part therapy from being unemployed, and part survival skills from having gone through the Depression. As a result, we had the area’s largest organic garden in 1974.

The Apple Orchard

The Apple Orchard

I grew up on 7 acres in Ohio. We had 13 apple tress, 2 cherry trees, a strawberry patch mixed with rhubarb, a grape harbor, blackberries in the field, and a 1/2 acre garden. We lived off the land.

Taking care of the soil was the secret ingredient. He composted our food scraps and lawn rakings. Fertilizer was easily accessed from area farms. My Dad tilled the soil, mixing all the components together to make the soil ready to bear fruit. As inadequate as he felt when calling to inquire about work, he knew what he was doing when preparing the soil.

The garden started with seeds in early March – getting their start in egg cartons. When the seedlings were a few inches tall, they would be transplanted into their home in the rows of  rich soil. My Dad tended those plants, perhaps compensating for his inability to tend to our family’s financial requirements.

My Dad on his gardening tractor (my VW Beetle in the background)

My Dad on his gardening tractor (my VW Beetle in the background)

No chemicals were used in his garden. Bugs were kept away from the tomatoes by planting marigolds next to them. How creative he was. We had the first personal watermelons. We had greeen beans that were purple until they were cooked and turned green. Others in the county would come to inquire about growing asparagus like he did. Apple branches were grafted to improve the yield. He grew horseradish and ground it. He even tried to make dandelion wine – not for the faint of heart.

So we survived the recession of 1974. My Dad traded bushels of apples for eggs from the local farmer. We bought milk from the dairy farmer down the road after selling gallons of apple cider. We canned, made pickles and relish,  froze vegetables and made it through the year with unemployment and the fruits – literally – of my Dad’s labor.

I can still remember coming home from my first fall away at college. My Dad waited until I pulled into the driveway and then trotted to the garden to pick the largest tomato to give to me for a treat. I realized then that he was giving me more than a tomato. He was caring for me the best way he knew how.

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My Dad wouldn’t talk about his experience in the war much. It was possible that he never could comprehend the situation that he was in – even 35 years after it happened. It was also possible that it was so horrible, it was just best to not talk about it. Every single one of his children knew not to ask. We knew that coming from the farm and reporting to duty in Europe was a stretch for our father at age 20. It changed his life.

Before his service

Before his service

 

My Dad entering the Army in 1942, 20 years old

My father graduated from high school in 1940 and two years later, he was drafted into World War II. In November, 1942, he reported to Camp Wheeler Georgia for basic training. After three months, he went overseas to Tunisia and then to Sicily. He was in the 9th infantry and was on the front lines. He was in all the famous battles of WWII in Europe and survived to not talk about it.

My father died in 1982. Before he died, we didn’t ask him too many details about his war experience. He wouldn’t answer the few questions that we asked him. He did tell us about kissing the ladies in the streets of France when VE happened. He talked about playing poker in the trenches to pass the time. He talked about sending his checks home to his mother and asking her to put the money into his bank account. We remembered that his mother needed the money and when he arrived home, his bank account had no more money in it than when he left for the war. We sent off for his war records after he died to trace his battle fronts and found that his records were burned in a fire in 1974 in St. Louis. My sister and I have detailed from letters from our aunt, books about the 9th Infantry, and telegrams from his injuries which battles he was in, when he was injured and even what his military life might have been about.

My dad trained as a BAR man, which stood Browning Automatic Rifle and would have weighed 60 pounds. My dad was a football player in high school and in very good health and fitness, so it makes sense that he would have been chosen for such a task. He won an award for his sharp-shooting in training and we believe he was a sniper on the front lines. In Sicily, Dad was wounded in the left thigh while on Mt. Etna. We have the telegram sent to my grandmother that he was wounded in July, 1943 in Sicily. She received the telegram in September (2 months later!) telling of his injury. He was hospitalized and returned to active duty in October, 1943. He had three brothers in Europe in the war and they all got to visit him during his hospital stay. He received a Purple Heart in October, 1943 for his injuries and his part in serving his country during that war.

Newspaper article about my father's injuries and Purple Heart Award

Newspaper article about my father's injuries and Purple Heart Award

Dad was part of Operation Overlord – the invasion of Normandy, but because he had combat experience, went in on D-Day +4 on June 10th, 1944. The less experienced men went in on day one.  I can’t imagine his experience going ashore four days after the initial battle. I have seen the movie Saving Private Ryan and if that movie is as true to fact as they say, it must have been horrific. My dad would have been 22 then.

My father was injured July 13, 1944 during the battle at St. Lo, France. It was an 8-day battle and he was hurt on day 2.  He was hit with shrapnel which struck behind his right hear. They never removed this shrapnel, though he return home with the shrapnel from his earlier wound in the thigh.He returned to duty soon. It’s remarkable to me that after getting injured twice that he wasn’t sent home. They needed all men and if were able, they put you back with your unit for more battle.

My Dad wrote several letters to his sister Bert and talked about his socks rotting away and never having to go longer than 2 months without brushing his teeth. He wanted to know if any of his old girlfriends asked about him. He served in Belgium after France in the Battle of the Bulge, and remarked how cold it was. He was injured the third time in Germany on March 7, 1945. At this point, he was a driver for officers in his unit – possibly due to his previous injuries. Still – he was a target from the enemy as before.

After victory in Europe, he was assigned to a contingent who was to report for duty on the Pacific front. The atomic bonbs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and kept his from having to serve time in the Pacific. He was discharged in September 1945 after 2 years of service to his country. He received a disability check from the government due to the shrapnel left behind his ear.

My father was the only one of his brothers who served in the war who never advanced beyond Private First Class. He told the story that he had to dig a foxhole for an officer, but during an attack, he jumped in the foxhole (he had none). He was demoted for this offense, but he lived to tell the story.

What was it like to live in rural Ohio, never traveling out of the county, and then called to serve your country on another 2 continents? My father was a bashful young man before the war, and a quiet, wise older man after.

Many of my father’s fellow war veterans told their stories at the 50th anniversary of WWII. They were honored and many published book and agreed to be interviewed about their experiences. As my sisters and I piece our father’s story together, I wish he had lived to tell the story himself.

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My grandparents after they were first married. My grandfather first row on the left, my grandmother in the second row, second from left.

My grandparents after they were first married. My grandfather first row on the left, my grandmother in the second row, second from left.

My grandmother on my father’s side had her first child at age 15, a boy said to have weighed 13 plus pounds. Afterwards, her doctor told her she would not have any more children. I guess he didn’t exactly know what he was talking about, since she had 13 more.

My grandfather married my grandmother when she was 14 and he was 39. I hesitate to tell people that because  it would surely be labeled child molestation now. But in 1912, there were no classifications of the kind. My grandfather had been married before and had a son who had disabilities. My grandmother was hired to care for him when he and his first wife divorced. My grandmother  was put out of her house when her mother died and her father remarried. It made sense for my grandmother to marry my grandfather. There were no orphanages and she didn’t have a home. And he needed a caretaker for his child.

My grandmother was a remarkable woman. She took in ironing and boarders (where did she put them with so many children?), as well as helped with the farm and raised all those children. I have a photo of the clothesline at my grandmother’s house. I can’t even imagine what her daily laundry load was or when she had time to do it. She worked well after all of her children were grown, since her husband was ill for many years. He died at the age of 92 when I was 6 years old. I remember going to visit him and sitting on his hospital bed. He frightened me then.

My father's entire family. My father is in the second row, third from the left.

My father's entire family. My father is in the second row, third from the left.

My father was born on February 2, 1922. He was so proud to be a 02-02-22 baby. He also liked that his birthday was on ground hog’s day. He didn’t have much supervision when he was very young except from his older sisters. He told many stories of his mischievous deeds. His childhood was short though. He started working on area farms during the Depression. He was a strong teenager and worked from daylight to sundown, and brought all the money home to his family.  My father was the family jokester, a trait that persisted until the day he died. He needed attention, like most people need water. He simply couldn’t thrive without it. He joined the army during WWII and served for 4 years. He earned a Purple Heart while there. He was injured 3 different times, once requiring a 9-month hospital stay. Fortunately for him, he had 3 other brothers in the European front at the time who could visit him in France while hospitalized.

25 of my 50 first cousins with my Grandmother and Grandfather. I am standing to the left of my grandmother.

25 of my 50 first cousins with my Grandmother and Grandfather. I am standing to the left of my grandmother.

There were so many people on my father’s side that they couldn’t all fit in one household. My grandmother found a park and started a tradition of the annual family reunion. This was great fun when I was a kid, since I had 50 first cousins close to my age. I have pictures of my father holding me at the reunion. He loved that I had red hair and would carry me around when I was a baby during the reunion, unless there was a horseshoe pitching contest going on. There were as many as 300 relatives at these reunions and they still continue to this day, even though all but 2 from my father’s generation are gone. They just had the 60th family reunion. Pie, potato salad and family communion like you can’t imagine.

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I have always been fascinated with family stories. Mine, in particular, but other people’s families too. These stories constitute the fabric of which we are made. It’s the story-telling that intrigues me.  As Frank Delaney says in Tipperary “Memory is a canvas – stretched, primed, and ready for painting on. We love the ‘story’ part of the word ‘history,’ and we love it trimmed out with color and drama, ribbons, and bows. We always decorate our essence.”

My grandfather's store, their house was in the back.

My grandfather's store, their house was in the back.

I’ve told you about my train-robbing grandmother – Archiving the Photos AND Telling the Story: Ruby. As a result of Ruby robbing a train, my mother had a difficult life. She grew up in the Depression in the mountains of Tennessee. She was raised by her father, a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. Even though she had three older brothers, she was doing most of the housework at the age of 5. Their house had no electricity or running water, so the boys would bring in the firewood and the pails of water.  My mother was in charge of cooking, doing the dishes, and the family laundry down by the springs. Every night, they had beans and cornbread. Every night, she washed their 5 plates and spoons. After dinner, she would read by lamplight until bedtime.

My mother, age 8, in her woolen cap

My mother, age 8, in her woolen cap

My grandfather had his hands full with teaching and running a grocery store and though he loved my mother, he didn’t have time to participate in her life much. I have a photo of my mother wearing a cap, with very short hair sticking out, about the age of 8. No one washed or brushed her hair and by the time her father realized that she was extremely infested with lice, the only remedy was to cut off all of her hair and put a woolen cap on her.  Her brothers taught her to smoke cigarettes at the age of 10 and laughed at the silliness of it all. She wore her brother’s hand-me-downs, not owning a dress until her teen years. My heart aches for my mother as a young girl, living this hard life.

My mother loved to tell the story about her Christmas gift one year. Her father gave her a $5 bill. She asked her father to keep it for her. For one entire year, she would approach her father at the store and ask him for some of “her money” for some candy at the store. Her father played along with it, even though they both knew the money ran out well before a year.

During the Depression, my grandfather extended credit to his customers as well, and ended up loosing the store to his creditors. Their house was attached to the store, so they lost their home too. My grandfather took his 4 children and moved into an abandoned log cabin. The chinks were gone between the logs and my mother remembered it snowing on her bed.

So this explains some of the grit of my mother’s personality. I often say that I’m from a long line of wild women. I am often amazed at how well she mothered us – considering her background. She cared for us in extraordinary ways, considering she grew up without a mother during very difficult times.

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Ruby and Tim before my mother was born.

Ruby and Tim before my mother was born.

My mother at 6 months old - just weeks before the train robbery.

My mother at 6 months old - just weeks before the train robbery.

As the story goes, my grandmother robbed a train. My grandfather found out that she had a boyfriend and told her that she needed to leave town. She was a mother of four – youngest child was six months old. So off she went with the boyfriend and the nursing baby (my mother). She was on her way out of town and she helped rob a train. She was convicted and sentenced for 4 years and my mother was put in an orphanage.

The mountains of Tennessee had no phone and little outside communication in 1924, so it took six months for my grandfather to hear of the news. He found out where the orphanage was that housed my mother, and traveled with his sister to help with the baby and the boys. My grandfather Tim Campbell taught in a one-room schoolhouse and raised these children through the Depression all on his own.

My mom called her mother “Ruby” and had little communication with her in her life. I only saw my grandmother two times before she died. I met her when I was in eighth grade and then went to her apartment in Washington, D.C. when I was 25 to visit with her a second time.

I wanted to ask two questions: 1) How do you rob a train really? and 2) How could you leave your children behind?

Picture This! will help you create the gift of a lifetime.

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Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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