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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Going Cold Turkey with Thanksgiving Romance in 1941

Cartoon accompanying the New York Times article by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe. Image by Wendy MacNaughton.

Cartoon accompanying the New York Times article by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe. Image by Wendy MacNaughton.

Today the New York Times has an article about Thanksgiving meals during the Great Depression. Things hadn’t changed much by 1941, when my 18-year-old mom Joan wrote one of my favorite passages in her diary concerning her distanced attitude towards a fellow camp counselor. He was sometimes her boyfriend and visits Chicago just after Thanksgiving. They eat cold turkey. That’s not all he wants!

Tuesday, November 25, 1941, age 18

Study French with Mr. Yerke (René) at 11 o’clock. He was in France when the war broke out and was in the American ambulance corps for a week till they found out he was only 18. He’ll be 21 tomorrow. It hardly seems like almost three years since the war broke out.[1] But I guess it is. My oh my. . . .

Burman came in Friday and called me up at 8:30 but we had school even after Thanksgiving (it was the 20th)[2] so I told him to come at one. We ate cold turkey and washed the dishes and necked in the living room and seemed to be having a good time. But I knew it wasn’t the real thing. Hell! . . . Went to movie Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife and necked some more. It was pretty cold out. Got home—ate more cold turkey in the kitchen and then he left. . . .

Oh, life is just toooo delightful. I wonder if I’ll be at school next year.

Hmmm…poor Burman. Joan later knits a scarf for him, but, romantically–he’s history!

Here’s a trailer to the movie they watched. It’s a bit “risqué” and not exactly politically correct in terms of gender politics. It gives added nuance to “the Lubitsch touch.” And did it inspire Burman?

[1] Actually, it was two years and three months.

[2] Thanksgiving was the third Thursday in 1941.

The Sin of Being Patriotic

Joan spouting poetry

Joan spouting poetry

On this election day, I turned to my mother’s diaries from the 1930s for some wisdom. As always, I found it in the voice of Joan at age 15 in January 1938. In this passage, she writes about “The Sin of Being Patriotic.”

The Sin of Being Patriotic

If a reasonable man were to look at it (which he never does), he would easily see the foolishness of what we call by the brave word, “patriotism.” What is this “motherland” we honor? Is it the flag? It cannot be the flag. It is a beautiful thing to be sure—waving brightly in the air, but who will die for a piece of cloth?

Joan on March 1, 1939. Doesn't she look swanky?

Joan’s doodle of herself in a hat.

You say it is only a symbol; then of what is it a symbol? Of the men who founded a country and who have lived in it? No, for who will die for dead men? Is it the living leaders? No, it cannot be. For if half the country acclaim a leader (which, incidentally it never does), why, then the other half must hate him. So it is not the leaders, for who will die for a despised man even if he be president?

Is it, then, the people—can it be? This hungry, seeking people of whom we are a part—whom—though we are of them, we are a part—whom—though we are of them, we laugh at? Who knows? Men have died for less—and for more. Can it then be for less—and for more?

Joan's sketch of the Fountain of the Great Lakes from May 29, 1937

Joan’s sketch of the Fountain of the Great Lakes from May 29, 1937

Can it then be this last thing, the land? The good black earth with green things that grow and die again—the good black Earth that will cover us all? Is it this that men die for, the symbol at once of life and death? Is this what we die for—our tomb?

Nay—if men die not for any of these things and yet die, do they die for nothing? Are all the souls buried into Earth for naught? Perhaps it is nothing, but I, too, would die for this wrong and beautiful thing that men call “patriotism.”

Yet peace is not so great that we would sell our dreams for her—even if they be foolish dreams.


Chicago and Baseball: Compassionate Community

I was excited that the Cubs won the World Series. I saw them as a kid when I went to visit my grandparents in Chicago. Baseball shows up in the diaries of my mom, Joan, in the 1930s and 1940s. It sparks a moment of communion with a young man whose leg has been amputated.

Saturday, May 31, 1941

. . . Went to Billings this morning [to volunteer] and, as they had measles, they sent me downstairs to read Captain Horatio Hornblower to a boy. Turned out to be Joe. . . 19-year-old freshman from Purdue. Leg amputated just last week. Hurt it playing basketball. Nice-looking boy with good lean features, bright blue eyes and dark hair. I didn’t read at all, we just talked—about college and everything. . . .

Wrigley Field in 1935

Wrigley Field in 1935

And all the sudden leaning there on the bed—he was telling me how he felt at first and I thought my god, he’s got one leg cut off—oh poor boy—how terrible! — but I couldn’t let him see I was thinking it. . . .

Somehow then the scene from All Quiet on the Western Front came back to my mind—where the two soldiers visit their friend whose legs have just been cut off and they realize how helpless they are—and I had that same feeling. So I smiled foolishly and we went on talking about college and baseball. . . . And I think perhaps he was fooling me, too, talking about such trivial things—when there was a consciousness of something else there . . . A nice-looking boy I might play bridge with in the Coffee Shop or meet on a double date. People, all round the world.

But he said, “I’m not going to let this thing get me down.” I felt so moved in front of so much reality. After a while, my friend, Emily, came for me and we laughed that we hadn’t been reading at all. Well, Joe Harmon, good luck to you. . . .

Time goes on . . . as I rode home I thought of that phrase of Francis Bacon’s in his utopia[1]—used of the Governor, “He had a look as if he pitied men,” and I think that it the most beautiful trait of all—“a look as if he pitied men.”

Trivial things–like baseball. But baseball allows us to build community and pierce through the walls we build up to protect ourselves. On the field, in the stands, or in our homes, we find mutual joy–together.


[1] Francis Bacon, who died in 1626, wrote of a utopia in New Atlantis.

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