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Author Archives: Susan Morrison

Christmas Editorials from 1944: ‘a new Europe, democratic, prosperous, progressive’

Members of the Women’s Army Corps decorate their tent on the Italian front in the Appennine mountains, December 1944. Photograph: Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty . As reprinted in The Guardian.

Some things never change. Like fears and hopes concerning the future of democracy. The Guardian has reprinted its editorial from December 23, 1944. Read it and see how much it still resonates today.

 

Armistice Day, 1941

An event that took place two days before my mom wrote this entry.

Less than one month before Pearl Harbor, Joan at age 18 reflects on what she fears will be the entanglement of the USA in World War II. Reflecting on Armistice Day, she notes the repeal of the Neutrality Bill.

Thursday, November 13, 1941
. . . Day before yesterday was Armistice Day, if you can call it that—1941 AD . . . If we live, we’ll look back on these days and know, perhaps, either that they were not as important as we thought they were—or that they were much more important. God, in the heavens, look down on the world! . . . Today they finally finished repealing the Neutrality Bill. Arm our ships and send them into belligerent ports—drums beating louder now—we had a peace meeting at school day before yesterday—what the hell, what is Armistice? Time goes on.

Nov. 11, 1941: New Army units, service organizations and State Guard units march down Broadway at 7th Street during annual Armistice Day parade one month before Pearl Harbor. (Al Humphreys / Los Angeles Times)

For more that happened on Armistice Day 1941, read on here.

 

Happy Birthday to My Father on the 100th Anniversary of His Birth

Bob Morrison in the Navy 1944. A neighbor years later took one look at it and, concerning my dad’s sailors, quipped, “Boy, I bet they were scared of you.”

My dad, Bob Morrison–born September 30, 1918–was so funny. Even ones we’d heard a million times were still hilarious.

Daddy in Norway in 1952.

We still tell stories and jokes he related to us. My kids now tell jokes about the bishop and the actress (rated X so I can’t relay them here).

Bob and Joan at a nightclub during World War II.

My mom, Joan, wrote poems about their love. Here’s one to cherish them both by. It was written on Tuesday, February 2, 1943[1] when Joan was 20 and Bob was 24, a few months before their wedding on June 19, 1943.

I remember the clear cold day we met

All ice and shining snow and sun dazzling but chill.

The trees black and lacy against the snow-hills

And the figures of people standing out clear on the landscape.

You, with your green changing eyes turning to look at me

As I stood on the hill . . .

War, even the war is beautiful, because it is so expected.

This world could not exist if there were not the undertone of tragedy.

The black shape is always moving

Across the face of the bright moon.

The songs that are trite to us now

May make us weep sometime because they bring back

Days that were when everything was yet to be done

And the world lay far below us—

Still to be ventured.

“I don’t want to walk without you, baby” . . .

“I left my heart at a stage-door canteen” . . .

“This is worth fighting for. . . .” [2]

We may even cry because we remember

That “Mr. Five by Five[3] made us smile once

And the “Strip Polka”[4] will seem quaint and old-fashioned.

Maybe we’ll remember then

The day we first met

On a hill, while the world lay below us

Painted with black trees on snow

Traced with the steaming breath of cows

And black wisps of smoke from chimneys

And hills beyond and a white road—

And the world—

Still to be ventured.

Darling, if we come to nothing

Let’s not forget that.

Let’s not forget

We stood on top of the world once.[5]

You still stand on the top of my world. Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Mom and Dad taking a selfie in the 1940s while canoeing in the waters between Minnesota and Canada. Cropped by my dear son, John.

[1] From Joan’s poetry notebook.
[2] These are all lines from popular songs of the time.
[3] A song from 1942 about a man “five feet tall and five feet wide.” Harry James and others made it popular.

My brother, Bob, writes about this image, “a favorite photo of him, from 1986 while walking on a country road near Thorpell House in Wickham Market when he and Mom were in England for a year. It’s not very good resolution, but his spirit is there (and his familiar walking clothes.) I always think of this image as “‘Golden Dad.'”

Here’s one of the songs mentioned in Mom’s writing, sung by Bing Crosby. Once my parents were on a bus and my father, who had a lovely voice, crooned to my mother. The people behind them said he sounded just like der Bingle!

[4] A song by Johnny Mercer, including the immortal lines often intoned by my father: “‘Take it off, take it off,’ cries a voice from the rear.” The song was made popular by the Andrews Sisters in 1942.

[5] Joan married Bob on June 19, 1943.

On the Occasion of My Parents’ 75th Wedding Anniversary

Joan and Bob at their wedding at University of Chicago

My parents married 75 years ago today: June 19, 1943. Here is a poem Joan wrote on Tuesday, February 2, 1943, when she was only 20.

I remember the clear cold day we met

All ice and shining snow and sun dazzling but chill.

The trees black and lacy against the snow-hills

And the figures of people standing out clear on the landscape.

You, with your green changing eyes turning to look at me

As I stood on the hill . . .

War, even the war is beautiful, because it is so expected.

This world could not exist if there were not the undertone of tragedy.

The black shape is always moving

Across the face of the bright moon.

The songs that are trite to us now

May make us weep sometime because they bring back

Days that were when everything was yet to be done

And the world lay far below us—

Still to be ventured.

“I don’t want to walk without you, baby” . . .

“I left my heart at a stage-door canteen” . . .

“This is worth fighting for. . . .” [1]                   

We may even cry because we remember

That “Mr. Five by Five”[2] made us smile once

And the “Strip Polka”[3] will seem quaint and old-fashioned.

Maybe we’ll remember then

The day we first met

On a hill, while the world lay below us

Painted with black trees on snow

Traced with the steaming breath of cows

And black wisps of smoke from chimneys

And hills beyond and a white road—

And the world—

Still to be ventured.

Darling, if we come to nothing

Let’s not forget that.

Let’s not forget

We stood on top of the world once.

Werner Wehlen and Neva Wehlen (nee Levish), Joan’s parents

Best man Elwood Jensen, Bob, Joan, and maid of honor, Betty Quist

Mom and Dad cutting the cake–and this during wartime rations!

Glenna Anthony, my grandmother, with her son, Bob Morrison

Bob’s sister, Joan Pettibone; my father’s mother, Glenna Anthony; Bob; Joan; Neva Wehlen (my mom’s mom); Werner Wehlen (my mom’s father)

Joan throwing the bouquet

Best man Elwood Jensen, Bob, Joan, and maid of honor, Betty Quist

Best man Elwood Jensen, Bob, Joan, and maid of honor, Betty Quist

 

[1] These are all lines from popular songs of the time.

[2] A song from 1942 about a man “five feet tall and five feet wide.” Harry James and others made it popular.

[3] A song by Johnny Mercer, including the immortal lines often intoned by my father: “‘Take it off, take it off,’ cries a voice from the rear.” The song was made popular by the Andrews Sisters in 1942.

 

Thank you, Richard Peck!

Two of Richard Peck’s books

Richard Peck, who died this past week, wrote one of the first blurbs for Joan’s book, Home Front Girl. Both associated with Chicago , they had much in common in focusing on young people and their unusual stories and insights.

About Home Front Girl, Peck wrote, “This Chicago teenager’s journal–riveting and real–recalls an era when adolescence was preparation for adult life.”

Peck won a Newbery Medal for A Year Down Yonder in 2001. Many thanks, Mr. Peck, for your gracious and generous willingness to support other writers and for your lovely books!

 

 

Home Front Girl in New Edition: Available in Paperback

Joan at age 17 when she was keeping her diary.

I’m delighted to announce that Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America has just been released as a paperback. My mother would be thrilled to know how many people have been touched by–and learned from–her diary entries as a teenager from 1937-43. As a historian herself, Joan was committed to recording the voices of those who made history. Not the politicians or generals, but everyday folks like herself. Kirkus called it “better than fiction.” Joan’s true story spoken from the heart conjures up a world of delicate, touching and–often–humorous reflection on what it means to be human.

Find out details for ordering my mom’s book here.

 

Star Blogger!

I’m so delighted that Story Circle Network chose me as this month’s “Star Blogger.” I’m deeply grateful to this organization–the wonderful and inspiring writers in it have offered support, concrete suggestions, and amazing energy. In fact, it was at my first Story Circle Network Conference, called Stories from the Heart that I went to a talk on starting a blog. I remember the speaker asked us to brainstorm about what topic you could imagine writing many posts about. That was in 2012, before Home Front Girl had been accepted for publication by Chicago Review Press. Little did I know that I would be blogging about my mom, her diary from 1937-1943, and World War II. I’ve been doing it for over 5 years with 137 posts (this makes 138!). Since then I’ve begun two other blogs, one for my novel Grendel’s Mother and issues dealing with Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon society and the other for my book on medieval women.

It all started with Story Circle–and now they have honored me with this designation. Many thanks to my Story Circle sisters!

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