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Monthly Archives: December 2015

Silent Night: Hear “The Christmas Carol” with Lionel Barrymore and Orson Welles

Having just turned 15 years old, my mother, Joan, writes in her diary about Christmas, God, and A Christmas Carol in 1937.

Christmas Day! December 25, 1937

Hello! It’s Christmas Day! Isn’t that a lovely word—“Christmas”—the very sound of it makes you think of bright snow and blue stars and shining, laughing things—especially the “Christ” part—the sound of the word is like bright snow or sunlight. The sound of “God” makes you feel strange too. Not like “Christ,” not bright and shining, but like something glowing deep within you. Words—some of them—seem to come from the very heart of men—some bright and some deep within you. Words are terribly beautiful—sometimes.

We just heard Dickens’ Christmas Carol on the radio with Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge.

I was able to find the very  Christmas Carol my mother refers to.  It was a regular feature with Lionel Barrymore, hosted by Campbell’s Soup and introduced by Orson Welles. You can hear it all right here.

My mother continues to talk about Dickens.

Scrooge is another word that sounds like what it means. Deep and somewhat held in. I wonder if words sound like that because of the associations they bring up or because it’s really in them—not in us.

I’m sitting in the living room now listening to “Silent Night, Holy Night” and looking at our pretty pagan Christmas tree. It comes of course from a Norse pagan custom—but I guess we’re all a little pagan at heart. The tree was supposed to be the symbol of the Nordic or Teutonic nature worship and I rather think all the worshippers have a great deal of the nature god in their hearts. Anyhow, green trees and thick grass and bright growing things get me. Our religion has modified many other religions into itself and that’s what makes us come to it. We can’t get way from what is in us and nature is very close to our hearts, as are the things that have been.

Here, from Berlin about 1930, Silent Night sung by German boys and men.

Joan continues by pondering religion.

I can’t agree with myself on religion. Sometimes I read things that seem to explain it all and then it all seems to be there, but there’s something missing, I know, deep down inside of me. I think if we could understand everything there wouldn’t be any use of living. Things a little beyond are so much more beautiful. Promise is greater than fulfillment. Sometimes I’m afraid when people start to explain things—everything, it seems. But there’s something in me that won’t be explained—and that’s what scares me. And trees and the lake and the sky and rain and—me. I do get scared when I start to think. Momma says I shouldn’t worry about things—but don’t you see—I must—it’s me and I can’t dismiss it because it’s too big for me. And then things attract me that I can’t explain. We’ve got a Buddha on our table and he—just—gets me. It’s very soothing to look at him—so of course he can’t be wrong. I wonder if anything is.

Joan as the Virgin Mary in her church pageant, 1938.

Joan as the Virgin Mary in her church pageant, 1938.

My mom, Joan, concludes:

But Christmas and songs make you feel very believing in beautiful things and very sure about right and wrong. But the wondering is still there—I’m not sure about me.

A German Class Christmas Party in 1940, Schubert, and the Miro Quartet

75 years ago this week my mother, Joan, wrote about a German class party she attended at college.  She was almost 18 years old when she wrote about the fraught political undertones at this end-of-the-semester celebration for her class taught by Herr Jolles.  Her best friend, Betty, dislikes the Germans, but Joan hopes people don’t overreact against all things German in a kind of faux patriotism.  She praises Schubert, whose amazing string quartet you can hear part of as performed by the miraculous Miro Quartet who fortunately for me live in Austin.  First, Joan’s commentary, then…music!

[Written between Dec. 11 and Dec. 14, 1940 by a 17-year-old Joan]

…Went to German Christmas party last night—Santa Claus, a pretty tree…marzipan that I like, etc. Betty came too…They sang German Christmas carols, “Tannenbaum”…We joked about it sounding like a Bund meeting and Betty wanted to get up and shout, “We’re all Americans!” But we mustn’t even pretend to have that kind of patriotism. God, keep us wise and cool.

Joan at age 17 when she was keeping her diary.

Joan at age 17 when she was keeping her diary.

Then they sang—a male quartet — old songs in the faintly meaningful language (I can understand about one quarter)…and I leaned back dreamily…I like to hear their strong male voices—deep and proud—singing the good songs. Schubert—“Silent Night”…. The tree brings out the Nordic, the Scandinavian, in me and I think of my ancestors. Betty whispers, “What an ugly language it is!” The world’s spinning outside, the moon is gleaming on the white snow… In here we are separate…warm—out of the world. Someone opens a window and a chilly blast sweeps in…Herr Jolles sees me and nods, smiling…. He makes an announcement and it is only afterwards I learn he has said the punch is spilled. My German is none too good. But the almond paste cookies are. I eat a great many.

Betty says, “Let’s go”—we go—just as Santa Claus returns…with bells…. Someone stops me at the door and says, “Are you a high school girl?”

            I say with dignity, “A University woman.”

            Herr Jolles looks up laughing and recognizes me, “Oh, yes, indeed she is,” he corroborates. “But aren’t you going to stay?…. No?…Then Gute Nacht.”

            Young men like him…they are all killing..lots of them, all over…..

            Betty and I race over the cold, gleaming Midway…Our breathe curls in the air…The white clouds, like curly feathers, seem to be behind the moon….Orion is a fantastic diamond necklace in the sky….We dance in the dark at her house: the Conga. Do our Sociology: Hobbes, Locke. God, this is 1940 A.D. Good Night, World!

Healing Open Wounds: December 7, 1941

Two days after Pearl Harbor, my mother Joan, aged 18, wrote this poem.

Dec 9 – 1941

Now it is come, we are as calm as we have never been.

We drink our coffee with still hands

And with grave eyes ask what is trump

Or whose lead now and carefully repair our rouge.

And read the Tribune and Thomas Aquinas

With equal imperturbability.

Once we were shifted by the sound of words

By great black headlines, by the screaming boy.

Now we are calm as we were calm in Troy

We are as silly as we ever were.

But now our silliness is bravery.

We are so shallow that the dying of a world

Cannot break through our consciousness

Or are so deep that it cannot.

That which we never quite believed has happened.

We touch inanely hands that never reach

And, like a wounded lion, the world

Lies down to die with dignity.      

 

We are as calm as we were calm in Troy.

Joan felt that the incidents recounted in Homer’s The Iliad were ever fresh. What happened at Troy was happening at Pearl Harbor.  Again and again throughout history there is death and destruction. Yet, through it all, some persevere.

One man who survived the Pearl Harbor attack has made it his life’s mission to have the unidentified corpses of military identified and laid to rest. An article by Curt Sanburn and John Corrales in The New York Times earlier this year tells how “[a] quest by [Ray]  Emory, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, for better grave markers helped strengthen the push to identify the battleship Oklahoma’s unknown sailors.”

The remains were removed from two grave sites and taken to laboratories where they will be analyzed using DNA and dental records. From The New York Times.

“The remains were removed from two grave sites and taken to laboratories where they will be analyzed using DNA and dental records.” From The New York Times.

Notes in Ray Emory's home office in Kahala, Hawaii. A quest by Mr. Emory, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, for better grave markers helped strengthen the push to identify the battleship Oklahoma's unknown sailors.

“Notes in Ray Emory’s home office in Kahala, Hawaii.” From The New York Times.

This story tells how endeavors by one man may help heal open wounds decades after that assault over 70 years ago.

Remains that cannot be identified will receive a full military honors burial, [Lt. Col. Melinda F. Morgan, a director of public affairs for the Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency,] said. Near the time of that burial, Colonel Morgan said the Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency would determine what to do with remains without surviving or identifiable relatives.

For some families, the long wait may soon be over. Thomas Gray of Guilford, Conn., hopes to bury his second cousin, Edwin Hopkins, in a family plot in Keene, N.H., next spring.

“It was like an open wound,” Mr. Gray said of the time before Mr. Hopkins was identified earlier this year.

Never think that wounds cannot be healed.  The laying to rest of the dead is a sacred duty by all cultures.  Let us hope more victims can find a place to rest and that the hearts of their families can find consolation in that.

 

 

Diaries in History: Resilience and Memory in Japanese American Internment

The Yale Sterling Library currently has on exhibit items from its collection of paintings, diaries, and other materials related to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. This free exhibit, “Out of the Desert: Resilience and Memory in Japanese American Internment,”  is open through Feb. 26, on weekdays, at Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library at 120 High Street in New Haven, CT.

A watercolor by Charles Erabu Mikami depicting the Topaz internment camp in Utah. Charles Erabu Mikam, via Beinecke Library, Yale University

A watercolor by Charles Erabu Mikami depicting the Topaz internment camp in Utah. Charles Erabu Mikam, via Beinecke Library, Yale University

In her article about the exhibit, The New York Times reporter Patricia Leigh Brown focuses on on internee at a camp in Arkansas, Yonekazu Satoda, 94, whose diary from during his internment only recently came to light.

As the article reports, Mr. Satoda records the trivial and profound, revealing the experiences of those interned — innocent civilians — as poignant and all too human.

“Today was supposed to be my graduation day at Cal.” [May 13, 1942]

“Got hell from Mom for fooling around with women.” [May 19, 1942]

“Hot as hell today. Ptomaine poisoning in mess hall. 3 or 4 hundred sick.” [May 20, 1942]

Interned for 3 years, Mr. Satoda was supposed to have graduated from Berkeley on only his second day of his confinement.

Posted prominently in public, posters like this one instructed "all person's of Japanese ancestry" to report for "evacuation" by April 3, 1942. Many internees lost their property as they rushed to store and sell their belongings to pack only what they could carry. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

Posted prominently in public, posters like this one instructed “all person’s of Japanese ancestry” to report for “evacuation” by April 3, 1942. Many internees lost their property as they rushed to store and sell their belongings to pack only what they could carry. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

Mr. Satoda became an “Mr. Satoda spent nearly two years as an intelligence officer in Japan, retiring as a major after 20 years of service in the United States Army Reserve.” Here he is with his wife, Daisy Satoda, who had been interned at Topaz.

Mr. Satoda with his wife, Daisy, who had also been detained at an internment camp during World War II. Mr. Satoda’s diary is part of a Yale exhibition on Japanese-American internment. Credit Ramin Talaie for The New York Times

Mr. Satoda with his wife, Daisy, who had also been detained at an internment camp during World War II. Mr. Satoda’s diary is part of a Yale exhibition on Japanese-American internment. Credit Ramin Talaie for The New York Times

 Mr. Satoda’s diary struck me immediately, not only because it is such a valuable historical resource. It also looks like my mother’s diary.

The first page of a diary Mr. Satoda kept at an internment camp in Arkansas in the 1940s. Beinecke Library, Yale University

The first page of a diary Mr. Satoda kept at an internment camp in Arkansas in the 1940s. Beinecke Library, Yale University

My mother’s diary likewise was in a ringed binder.

From Joan's diary: Saturday, August 30, 1941

From Joan’s diary: Saturday, August 30, 1941

I often wondered by she used a ringed binder. Was it because it was cheaper? Or she could add pages if she wanted to?

Numerous religious and humanitarian groups opposed the internment. This pamphlet was published by the American Baptist Home Mission Society. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

Numerous religious and humanitarian groups opposed the internment. This pamphlet was published by the American Baptist Home Mission Society. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

On December 7, 1941, after Pearl Harbor was bombed, she reflected about the fate of the Japanese now that the U.S. was destined to join the war. She had been in the country with her girlfriend, Ruthie, and they had had no idea that the bombing had taken place. Then they get a lift into Chicago.

One of the fellows drove us into the city and then Ruthie and I took the streetcar and saw a bright headline. US and Japan near war. And waited in a quiet tavern for another streetcar and got on and gasped to see in black placid letters as though it had been said before: “Japan Attacks U.S. We are at War. . . .” And saw two Japanese on the streetcar, gravely watching us. . . .

I hope those calling for Syrian refugees to be interned learn from the history of our nation.

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