Friday, October 23, 2015

June 2, 1942

Wenonah, Don and me, with Don's best friend, Bud Bickford (L)

In spite of my mother’s prodigious memory, she always saved things that reminded her of people and events. She started as a child, with a little box of keepsakes: the little red donkeys off of Grandpa’s chewing tobacco wrappers, the little crucifix that Pappa sent her from San Antonio, and the string of beads she bought with the dime Pappa gave her to spend when she went to the district meet in Ada, Oklahoma.

When Wenonah was older she began to take an interest in politics. I guess that was natural, since her older brother Snip, short for Homer, was a state senator. She saved newspaper clippings that mentioned him, and also stories about other prominent people and notable events. She must have got that from Mama, her mother, who had newspaper articles dating back to 1910.

Anyway, Wenonah’s dedication to preserving memories has been a wonderful thing for me, because I’ve inherited her keepsakes, pictures, letters and newspaper clippings. She started making memories for me on the day she brought me home from the hospital, by buying a newspaper and saving the front page.

It was Thursday, June 2, 1942, and it makes fascinating reading.

There were no less than twenty stories related to World War II. For example:

Midwest Warned to Expect enemy Air Raids: Wichita Cited Among cities Now in Danger.
Assassins’ bullets Thursday brought death to Reinhard Heydrich, No. 2 man of the Gestapo, whose ruthless tactics gained him the title “Der Henker” - the hangman.
British Dislodge Rommel from Libyan Stronghold
Nazis Stalled on Red Front
Senate Votes Balkan War: Resolutions Passed Against Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania
Gas Rationing Ires Congress
Commemorate Pearl Harbor In Celebration Here Sunday: Six Months Anniversary

There were only two front page stories that didn’t concern the war: The news of Charlie Chaplin’s divorce from Paulette Goddard, and that of an unruly elephant which had been banished from the Wichita zoo and relocated to a nearby farm.

It seems remarkable to me that Wichita, Kansas, would be expecting an air raid. The long range bombers of the day had a maximum range of 2000 miles or so. Neither Japan nor Germany had an airfield close enough to even bomb our coasts, let alone Wichita, 1500 miles inland, but this is the degree of panic that gripped the country at the time.

The second page of the paper had several stories that concerned our family more directly. Property owners were protesting the freezing of rents, which had risen to outrageous levels because of the shortage of housing for workers at the aircraft plants, and the renters were protesting being evicted on flimsy grounds so that property owners could raise rents. Wenonah’s landlady used a different tact. She burned her trash next to the clothes line where my diapers were drying. Wenonah wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper about her:

The World’s Meanest Landlady

A Home Town News reader writes that she has just discovered the “meanest landlady.” The woman burned her trash in the incinerator directly beneath the clothesline where a line of baby’s diapers were hanging. The baby’s things had been carefully washed with a mild soap, boiled, rinsed over and over again, and finally disinfected. “To a mother,” the reader writes, “that was nothing short of a crime.”

Still getting no cooperation, Wenonah told Don she that she couldn’t take it any longer, that she had to get away from that woman. So Don and Bud looked for us a house. We couldn’t afford to buy one, but they located a little house for rent in a nice neighborhood, and we moved. The house was on S. Bluff. There wasn’t much of a yard, but there was no incinerator next door either.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


(These last few posts continue Wenonah’s Story from the point where the book ends, and so they’re bound to raise questions – questions about all these characters: Boyd, Everett, Kaliteyo, Oteka, Lahoma, Lacquanna, Dr. McNeill, Bud Bickford, Mr. Pepper, and there will be more. I’ll explain as best I can, without giving away the story told in the book.) 

After Pearl Harbor, Uncle Boyd, my dad’s older brother, joined the army. He was put in the artillery and made a lieutenant because of his ROTC training. Within six months he had been promoted to captain and was in the middle of the fighting at Guadalcanal. I think my dad would have volunteered too except that my mother pleaded with him to stay with her. She had missed a period and believed that she was pregnant.

Wenonah didn’t get much support for her diagnosis at first. Dr. McNeill, the doctor who had cured her stomach cramps and constipation, told her: “No. Little Geronimo’s not coming yet.” He was wrong, but the name stuck, at least for a while. I was “Little Geronimo” until I was born.

My mother’s first and only pregnancy was pretty hectic. My dad’s best friend, Bud Bickford, had quit Pepper’s and had gone to work for Boeing Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas. As soon as he was settled, he wrote and told Don that he should apply for a job there. Mr. Peppers still hadn’t moved Don into his accounting department, and he was tired of working in the refinery, so Don went up to Wichita to check out Boeing.

With the country gearing up for war, Boeing was turning out fighters and bombers as fast as they could, and hiring people in every department. They told Don he could go to work in accounting as soon as he could get to Wichita, so he and Wenonah packed up their Packard and headed north.

I remember that Packard. It was big, and black, and it had a running board. My parents owned it until I was seven or eight. I used to think it would be fun to ride, standing on the running board, but Wenonah wouldn’t let me.

When Wenonah and Don got to Wichita, they had trouble finding a place to stay. With so many people being hired at Boeing, apartments were scarce. Finally Bud and his roommate moved out of their apartment, so that we would have a place to stay.

My dad’s first job at Boeing was to compile manuals and procedures for their expanded accounting department. Wenonah told me his chief worry about her upcoming delivery was that I might turn out to be a girl. She told him that you treat a little girl just the same as you do a little boy. My name would have been Emily if I had been a girl, after Grandmother Paul’s mother.

I was born a boy though, on May 31, 1942, and Don sent out telegrams to both Grandmother Paul and to my Gunning grandparents.

Grandmother Paul was the first to reply. I think she was still having a hard time believing that Wenonah (Jim) had really gotten married. Everyone thought she would remain a career woman, and a spinster. 

Dear Don,                                                                                                      June 2, 1942.
I received your telegram. Am glad it is over. Let me know how Jim is, tell her that she has done herself proud. I am proud of her. Lots of love. Jim, who would have thought it, the world is getting good. The name is Geronimo, the world’s greatest Indian.
Proud and anxious Grandmother Victoria.

Soon afterwards came a letter from Grandmother Gunning:

Dearest Don Jimmy and Robin                                                                 June 6, 1942.
I am so anxious to go up to see you all I hope you are doing fine Jim. I know Robin must be a grand baby. From his father’s description. Don, have a little patience you can see the baby all you want to when you get them home. (The maternity ward visiting hours were very limited and Don would get to the hospital early and sit on the steps until he could get in.) I had thought I would be up there this Sun. but on second thought decided as they are so strict at the hospital I had better wait till next Sunday then you will all be home and I can see the baby and hold him too. It will be hard to wait that long but I will be seeing you sure soon. I am so glad your sister can be with you for a while when you get home (Aunt Kaliteyo). Mother (Laura Boyd, my great grandmother) has gone out to Alta’s (my great aunt) for a few days. She has been here quilting on Robin’s quilt. J.E. (My uncle J E was in highschool then) got the announcement. He was thrilled felt quite honored. He is sleeping this A.M. was out to a hop last night. Let us hear from you. Lots of love to all.
Mother Dad & J.E.

My great grandmother Boyd was still living then, although I don’t remember her, and she made me a quilt.

In the meantime Grandmother Paul had written again:

Dear Don and Jim (Wenonah).                                                                 June 4, 1942.
Received telegram Mon. & letter just now. So glad everyone is happy & that Jim and Geronimo are almost ready to go on the warpath. I am especially proud of the name you gave the Baby (Robin Rosser) & I believe you both will make excellent parents. Or Teachers. I am busy trying to finish the quota that I signed for & I think I will resign then that will be this month. This work takes all my time. I am tired. (She’s referring to her Red Cross work here, but she didn’t quit.)
            I have a nice little Garden. & you should see the day Lilies. They are as high as my head. & Madonna Lilies & Tiger Lilies. I have every kind of Marigold that was in the catalogue. I am canning everything that I have to can. You all can load up if you ever have time to come down.
I am planning to go to Anadarko. Lahoma is going to dance (Lahoma, Aunt Kaliteyo’s daughter, was representing the Chickasaw tribe as princess) She is as large as those big squaws.
Say, Tom has a perfectly beautiful little Girl. Her name is Lacquanna. (My cousin Lacquanna was born just two months before.)
Excuse haste lots of love & good luck with Son. Jim write when you can. Haskell and Lahoma are thrilled about the baby. Don write. I am sending announcements to the boys.
Love, Vick

Wenonah had been at a loss as to what to call me. I guess she figured the male names in her family had all been used up, so she started searching for new ideas. It was my dad who came up with the name Robin. It was springtime and the robins were singing and building their nests, so he said, “Why don’t we name him Robin?”

I haven’t been completely happy with the name of Robin. There are too many girls with the name. I would have been happy with “Don,” after my father, but he squelched that idea, or even “Geronimo,” although that one would be a little hard to live up to. My middle name Rosser came from the sir name of my mother’s beloved grandfather.

My dad said that every morning it was his job to change me and that I would pee on his shirt, so I guess I was getting even with him for naming me Robin.