September 1, 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland, conventionally has been called the day World War II began. Of course, the roots of the war lie much deeper and further back, as Joan’s diary illustrates.
In honor of the 75th anniversary of the start of the war, today’s post looks at an unusual topic, but one which Joan uses to ground a poem commemorating the start of World War II.
Catalpa Trees and Out of Fashion Vegetation
I had never even heard of a catalpa tree before I read my mother’s diaries from the period before and during World War II. Today this species is making headlines. A recent article, “You’re Planting That Old Thing?”, extols old vegetative species, while pointing out their deficiencies and drawbacks.
First, for those who, like me, are new to the glories of catalpa trees, here’s a photo.
And do view this slideshow of “old-fashioned” plants.
There is even a (“non-existent”) Catalpa Tree Appreciation Society.
The author of the Times article, Michael Tortorello, writes that “Almost no one appreciates the catalpa tree, and few gardeners have planted one since the financial crisis. The one in the 1930s.” Exactly when my mother was writing about catalpas. Two of the 19th-century catalpa enthusiasts came from the midwest: Ohio and Illinois where Joan grew up.
Catalpa came out of fashion — even though it was beautiful and the wood was vital for railroad ties — because it could be messy with its seedpods.
Perhaps what we need now is an analysis of the catalpa in literature and war. For Joan, it was a symbolic tree, linked irrevocably with the start of World War II.
In Memory – August 31, 1939 [Age 16]
I remember standing in the crooked shadow of the Catalpa tree
The August-September night it started.
White moon on the grass and moon mist over the fields.
Even then. It was so still.
The crickets sang farewell to summer.
And the smell of a golden reaping
Was rich in the air.
Even then. While we were so still
Somewhere the guns were beginning to boom
And another crop was being harvested.