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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!

A Tribute to the Real Rosie the Riveter

A 1942 photograph of Naomi Parker Fraley that was the likely inspiration for the Rosie the Riveter poster. Credit Getty Images. From The New York Times article

My mother, Joan, was no Rosie the Riveter, though she did work for two weeks one summer as a can inspector. As she writes in her trademark dry way on June 20, 1941 at age 18, “Got first paycheck yesterday. 44¢—for six hours and deducted for my uniform. 2¢ on my Social Security. My old age is assured.”

The real Rosie the Riveter, Naomi Parker Fraley, died this week. A New York Times article explores the detective work undertaken by James J. Kimble at Seton Hall University to uncover who really inspired that famous poster depicting a woman with that iconic headscarf with the words “We Can Do It!”

Both the complicated detective work and the life of Ms. Fraley are well worth examining here.

My mother describes her factory work with her characteristic humor.

Friday, June 13, 1941

Hullo—Friday the 13th—Fine time to start writing in here…School’s out as you may have guessed—a surprise! I’m working. Burry Biscuit Co. Factory girl after a year of college—father almost died laughing and forbade me to go but I went anyhow.. . . . I’m gonna get paid $6 a week. He almost died again. Of course momma doesn’t disapprove—she wouldn’t! It’s only for two weeks though—till I go to camp, so it’s really nothing to get excited about. 33¢ an hour.

I worked today already. Everyone was so nice yesterday when I went to look for the job . . . Helpful young men all over and old ones pointing out the way and all . . . When I got to this place a young fellow out back said I looked lost and escorted me in to the office. Today I ran into him again and he had to show me where the lunchroom was. He was standing among a whole lot of flour sacks. I thought he was an office boy! He came around later this afternoon—and, lo and behold, he isn’t only the Big Boss, but he owns the factory. Oh joy, Joan, you’re doing fine!

Anyhow, it wasn’t bad today. It sure wasn’t intellectual and I got the hang of searing the boxes (and not my hands) in about half an hour and had the rest of the morning to think. Once I seared my hands and forgot to breathe. I’d been searing my hands all the time though, so it didn’t really mean a thing. It’s not bad at all, really—I didn’t like packing crackers so much though, ’cause you’re in too much of a hurry, but you get used to it, I guess.

It’s fun talking to all the girls and everything—I feel like Susan Lenox[1] or something—and where is it? Clearing, Illinois! Miles out and cows all around. What I like best is the walk over the dirt road from the streetcar. Green grass all around and daisies springing up and cows—positively cows. It’s quite delightful: Well—it’s only two  weeks to go, so why get excited?

Monday, June 16, 1941

Well—work today. Joan, the little factory girl. Only I wasn’t today—Inspector Wehlen, call me. I inspected millions of army ration cans—for the USA. Defensive work. Caught myself humming the “Star-Spangled Banner” and reflected it was the same as making munitions. It is too, you know. Boss came over and worked with me for a while. We two alone all at the end of the belt. Only trouble was, I couldn’t hear a word he was saying.

It’s funny. It’s rather mindless work there you know—as indeed I remarked to the boss. So as I get rather bored, I recite to myself or sing . . . Have gone through Housman[3]—Shakespeare—all the speeches from Julius Caesar and everything I like . . . the sonnets . . . “No longer mourn for me when I am dead.”[4] It’s really not bad. I fear in two weeks I may run out though—my repertory is not so large. The machinists there may have a strike.

Wednesday, June 18, 1941

Work goes on. Back on the army order today . . . inspecting. They sent for me too. Boss fixed up a comfy corner for me and turned on the fan and brought me sugar cubes. . . . Not very sympathetic as to my broken nail. Nice though: I can’t get over the feeling I’m there studying the girls—and not really proletariat. It’s quite irritating. I feel in league with the boss. My hands are all cut.

Friday, June 20, 1941

Hello. Time’s a-passing. Still at the factory. Was going to quit today, but we get time and a half, 50¢ an hour for tomorrow. So am staying on. Passed 67,438 cans of army rations today. Uncle Sam doesn’t know what I’m doing for him. Almost passed out today. Terribly hot. Ate salt tablet. . . .

Got first paycheck yesterday. 44¢—for six hours and deducted for my uniform. 2¢ on my Social Security. My old age is assured. Found a note from one of the girls in a can . . . I let it go. It was harmless and who knows when it may be found. In war, in blood, in pain. . . . Have begun singing the “La Marseillaise” instead of “Star-Spangled Banner” as I work. You can see how I’ve changed. Am dead tired. Oh my back!

. . . This is practically making munitions like I always said I’d probably end up. . . . The cookies are hard enuf. I see the cans in my dreams passing before me in shining rows, like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. . . .

Friday, June 27, 1941

My paycheck, incidentally, was $16.77. Sound pretty good, huh? I wanted to frame it. 17¢ off on my Social Security. That makes me feel better. Who knows how I’ll be when I’m sixty.

 

[1] A Greta Garbo film from 1931; the heroine becomes a woman of easy virtue. There is also a call slip from the university library tucked into Joan’s Graded German Reader from October 1940 for the book Susan Lenox by David Phillips.

[2] Professor John R. Davey, who taught humanities for many years.

[3] A. E. Housman was Joan’s favorite poet.

[4] From Sonnet 71.

[5] A ship sunk by a German U-boat in May 1941 after the Germans evacuated it of crew and passengers.

[6] Her Swedish uncle. Joan’s paternal grandmother and all of the family on Joan’s father’s side (except for her father and one uncle) stayed in Sweden.

 

Auld Lang Syne from January 1, 1938

New Year’s Eve parties can be tough on the toes, even in 1939

When my mother Joan had just turned 16, she wrote a poem on December 31, 1938. It purveys the poignant longing of a teenage girl, yearning for the past and fearful of a future beset by rumblings of war.

Lovely party!

New Year’s Eve 1938          

New Year Moment

Time, time, gather up your skirts for a moment

But do not depart.

Linger a while; I would hold this moment

Always in my heart.

Time, time – I want to steal this moment

Put it in an archive

Far within my heart.  Then you may go out,

Leaving one past, and live.

The Blackhawk Restaurant was in Chicago, thriving just when Joan lived there

A Christmas and New Year’s card sent in Chicago a week before my mother wrote her poem

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