HAVING LUNCH WITH DEAN AND JERRY

I knew from the time I was in the sixth grade what I wanted to be in life.  A private detective.  I wanted to be the hard-boiled kind, like Humphrey Bogart portrayed.  Even though I was a girl, I knew I could be just as tough as he was.  But at 12 years of age, that wasn’t going to happen, so I started writing hard-boiled mysteries.  They were short stories that one of my teachers insisted I read before the class… this was in junior high.  By the time I was in high school I knew I wanted to be a foreign correspondent, traveling the world in my trench coat with the collar turned up around my neck.  Also like Humphrey Bogart.

In my junior year in high school the editor of the local weekly asked if I would like to write a regular column.  I jumped at the chance.  They were pretty basic, but one or two still stand out, like the one I wrote after having lunch with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.  They were going to be in Steubenille, Dean’s home town, for the opening of a new mdean-and-jerry-photoovie and were having a luncheon for the press in a conference room in the Stueben Hotel – on a school day!

 

My editor arranged for me to attend and my dad asked a local man who drove to Steubenville every day if he would take me with him.  I had to find my own activity to fill the morning until lunch, so mostly I sat in the lobby of the hotel and watched people come and go.

At the luncheon Dean was accompanied by his first wife and oldest son.  Jerry was there with his wife, but I don’t recall any children with him.  Probably not, because he was something else…never sitting down, perhaps didn’t get a bit of food, never being still.  All else paled next to his frenetic motion.

The phone in the room rang several times and he was always right there to answer it.  “Joe’s pizza, we have a pepperoni special today,” he said and went on to describe it.  Another time he answered in a phony language with words that sounded like Chin Yon’s Chinese Laundry.  When not on the phone he made faces at everyone, told silly jokes and worked his way around the room, teasing everyone.  Somehow he overlooked me.  I was the only student in the room.

I can’t recall what we were served for lunch, or what questions, if any, were asked about the movie or their next venture.  Throughout the meal Dean was either quiet or pretending to be upset with Jerry and trying to get him to sit down.  Given the fact that they broke up not long afterwards, maybe he really was upset.  He was certainly being upstaged!

But I didn’t see that.  I saw two big stars having lunch with  a dozen or so reporters and me.  I was star-struck and the column I wrote reflected it.  It’s a wonder I didn’t want to become a movie star after that.  Like Humphrey Bogart.

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CLOSED FOR THE DURATION

Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day.  I was pretty young when World War II began and my memories are mostly taken from movies and other people’s stories.  My very first memory of it involved a “Closed for the Duration” sign.  Sorry, I could not find such a sign anymore to illustrate, so “Closed for the Season” will have to do.

closed

By the summer of 1942 I was old enough to know that on the trip from our house into Wheeling we often stopped at an ice cream stand.  One day it wasn’t open.  Instead, a hand-made sign hung in the pass-through window.  “Closed for the Duration.”

“What’s that mean, Momma?”   I asked.  Even my older brother didn’t know  But being six years old than I, he had a pretty good idea.  He was aware that the US was involved in a big war.  In fact, as the next few years went by, he was hoping the war would last long enough for him to get into it.  Alas!  It ended too soon for him.

That ice cream stand wasn’t the only thing that seemed closed to me.  My mother didn’t bake as many cookies and cakes as she once had.  In fact, the occasion  had to be pretty special for the family to get cake… like a birthday or something.  And she and dad planted a garden in the backyard. Then my brother and I were assigned to weeding it.

Our car wasn’t all that new at the start of the war, but by the end, we were walking more anyway  Dad needed not only money but stamps to buy gasoline, and tires were, well, they just weren’t.

Mom was an avid blood donor.  What she really wanted was the ward pin the Red Cross gave out when donors reached certain quantities.  Possibly to keep her from becoming anemic they asked her to be the local contact person.  When a soldier was hurt, missing or killed, she was asked to contact his family to see if they were alright and had received the news through official channels.  Some of the folks on the outskirts of our town didn’t have a  telephone so she would drive to their homes.  (She may even have had a small gas allowance for that, but I’m not sure.)  I was with her one time when we parked about a mile away and walked across an open field to get to a small farm house.  She made me wait outside while she consoled the heartsick parents inside  She later said she would have preferred to go on giving blood.

Dad was the school superintendent and knew everyone in town, so he was a good choice to put in charge of the Civil Defense Patrol.  I remember him going out in the evenings to walk the streets to check that no lights showed through windows.  There were several older men who did this and some, dad said later, enjoyed knocking on doors and telling people to either turn off their lights or hang blackout curtains.  He feared they would misuse their status, but never said it actually happened.

We didn’t have any kind of war factory near us, and we were pretty far into the middle of the country., so the idea of enemy planes going over, spotting a light below and bombing it was remote.  Very remote.  We must have been in a flight path, however, because our own planes – mostly likely being transported from one place to another – flew over regularly.  One summer late in the war a single engine fighter plane flew over and the noise it made caused everyone to look up.  The pilot was in trouble.  Then wham!  He crashed into a hill east of town.  As far as I could tell, everyone who had heard the plane rushed to the scene.  A few men from the Civil Defense Patrol got there before us.  They had set up a tent to cover the pilot’s remains.  That didn’t keep anyone, including me, from peaking under it to see the body.  There wasn’t much left of him; I thought his body looked mostly like charred meat.  My brother went poking around the plane and later, when we got home he asked mom for a jar.  Turns out he had found a finger, still in the leather glove.  He “pickled it” and had it for a couple of weeks before mom saw it.  We gave the finger a nice burial in the backyard.

When war crept into our daily lives more than I realized.  Going to the movies meant we would  have to sit through a newsreel.  Signs about helping with the war effort were everywhere. And once I started to school I discovered there were scheduled air raid drills.  Most students didn’t mind that, since it was a break from classroom work.

Discussions at the dinner table always included something about the war.  We had no one serving in it, even distant cousins,, but knew the families in town who did.  Dad had been too young for the First world War and now was too old.  Plus, he had a responsible job.

Walking to school every day I saw quite a few service banners in windows  One of my friends lost a brother in a plane crash over France, another had an uncle who was badly wounded.  The local VFW put up an Honor Roll next to the post office and added names or changed the status as needed.  I have no idea what happened to that Honor Roll.  It disappeared not long after the war ended.

What a great country we were then.  We were all working together toward one goal, to win the war and get on with our lives.  Lots of things changed after the war, mostly for the better for quite a  while.  We were in a growing period where everyone could have a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot.. wasn’t that a promise made by a politician?  After that war we were were well on our way to having it all.  The United States owned the 20th Century.

Today I’m wondering if we are in a new “duration.” One where our enemy is ourselves.  Those veterans who came back and brought our country to life have mostly passed away.  Now we have greed and self-serving interests.  What happened to us?

I surely hope this “duration” is over soon.  Oh, buy the way, that ice cream stand never did open up again.  That “duration” was forever.

 

 

 

When and where would I be if I could be in another time and place?

Boy, that’s hard.  That title.  I would, of course, want to go to all the truly great moments in history.  A time machine to take me somewhere else and live those fantastic moments as they occur.  Do you suppose people knew they were fantastic at the time?  Possibly not.  Recall, please, that those in the audience when President Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address did not applaud with any enthusiasm.  It took the publishing of the short address and the contemplating of it to know how great it was.

Oh, there are so many places and times I would travel to.  (Uh, oh… that ended with a preposition!  Tut!  Tut!)

Lately, and for about two weeks, I’ve been struggling with getting my new computer up and running.  It’s not been a happy time for me.  If I could wish myself away to a tropical island, with a mystery or spy book, hammock and cool, tall drink, I would do that just now.

Thankfully, my son (the boy grown to adulthood now who did not need “the talk” because he was white), is deep into computers.  So he has captured and redesigned my old website.  He did a fine job.  Check it out:  hiflightpress.com.

So, while he’s busy doing that, where else would I be?  I’d be back in time for sure, only because I’m getting up there in age and going back would allow me to be younger for a bit.  The movies have influenced me terribly and one of the places I would like to be is Oahu, on December 6, 1941.  It was a Saturday evening, the breezes were sweet and cool, the music was soft and swaying, the moon – well, I haven’t checked on the moon – but it was a paradise kind of night.   The next day was tragic and the start of a war that drew this nation together as nothing else ever had.  Everybody knew someone in the service back then.  Lots of folks had world maps on their walls (their walls!) to check on the action, as reported on the local radio stations.  It was four long years of sacrifice and loss and victories as well.

But for that one evening, wouldn’t it be fine to think the world was quiet, at peace, and all was well?

Obituaries Are Life Stories

One of the important features of a newspaper, for older folks anyway, is the obituary section. The joke is to check and see if “your” name is listed there. Ha, ha. But in truth, the purpose is to see if a former neighbor, or someone who’s lost touch, or a local person – known but not an intimate – is deceased and what is said about them.

What goes into an obituary is interesting.  When the subject had a hand in it the detail is better.  If the survivors wrote it then they will include some of what the person had talked about most… “Did I ever tell you about the time I…?”

Years ago I read a long obituary about a WWII veteran who had come home to the family farm near a small town, been called back to serve in Korea as so many were, then returned home again.  This time his service was to his family and his community. He married, had children, prospered, served on boards and commissions in his hometown, and saw his children grow up to be successful, happy adults, also serving their communities.  Yes, all this was in the man’s obituary.  He probably helped to write it and it stands out in my memory as someone who lived a really good, fulfilling life.  We all wish for that.

The reader’s eye is drawn to something else in the obituary section: symbols that recognize the person’s membership in various organizations, or the American flag.  The flag identifies veterans who served during our various wars, conflicts and actions. Nowadays more and more of these flag-marked obituaries are for men and women who served in the Korean Conflict.  In a few years the Vietnam veterans will fill the pages.

As for those WWII veterans who are passing away by huge numbers now, there was something else to mark their service.  In some cases it was stored away, lost or even purposely destroyed. It was the Honor Roll erected in small and large communities listing the men and women who were serving from that area.  My own home town placed a large board with names (the Honor Roll) in front of the post office and left it up until long after the truce was signed to end the Korean Conflict.  No one seems toHonor Roll faceknow where it is anymore.  In my adopted small town the glass-covered list of names was placed in front of the fire hall.  Some say it is now somewhere in the American Legion building, but no one can find it.

Some larger towns and cities erected more permanent tributes, some were etched into concrete and will always be there to prove the pride of the community.

Other even larger permanent tributes can be found near the battlegrounds of Europe and the Pacific.  Another is on the Mall in Washington, D.C,. where a sprawling memorial was erected, a bit late, perhaps, but it’s there now.

However, individual tributes/memorials – whether for veterans or not – are the brief biographies in the daily newspapers.  They can capture a glimpse of the whole person. Called “obituaries,” they make good starting points for genealogists and biographers. But since few people have books written about them, these obituaries must suffice as the story of a life.

The Harmonica Is Good Enough for Me

I like music and once thought it would be fun to be really good at the harmonica.  It’s small, it travels well, I could play along with everyone, even to the car radio when we travel.  So I joined a group of wannabees.  The leader was excellent, and maybe one other member was a fair harmonica player, but the rest of us were just making noise.  Nevertheless, we made several appearances at senior citizen locations. Those folks were easy to please!

harm2We all played the basic instrument, key of C, ten holes.  Our leader owned half a dozen harmonicas, and when he played them for us, he was pretty good.  We all aspired to something more, so most of us bought a second one, bigger, more expensive.

Harmonica playing takes time.  Practice.  Keep  at it.  My best performance was “Oh! Susannah.”  Non players may not know it, but that’s the basic song.  Everybody can play it.  I didn’t realize that at the time, so when I attended a concert given by an extraordinary harmonica player (harmonicanator?) I bought his CD and as he signed the cover I mentioned my own accomplishment.

“Hmmpf,” was his replay. What a put down!

Eventually I dropped out of the group, but found a once-or-twice-a-year outlet for my talent.  My older daughter plays piano very well and at holidays she gets together with a neighbor who plays the ukulele. They play carols and other sing-along tunes for the party goers.  Recently I joined them with my harmonica.

harm1

I’ve got rhythm.  When I play I’m all over the place with my body movements.  So, the applause and laughter (even the uke player broke up) proves that I’m doing pretty well.  My music is great!  It can be heard and I can be seen.  My daughter and her neighbors look forward to our concerts.

There’s one other thing I would like to say about harmonicas.  (And here is a history lesson…)  Back in 1858 when Stephen Douglas was the Democratic candidate for the Senate seat from Illinois and Abraham Lincoln was the candidate for the Republican Party, they met in a series of debates.  Douglas would show up at the event in a grand carriage, dressed in his finest, complete with a brass band and a cannon salute.  Lincoln came by train, walking from the depot to the site of the debate.  His apparel was not as fancy, and now dusty from walking the dirt street.  Often his coat was ill-fitting.  There was no brass band for him.

Once, when asked what he thought about all the pomp that Douglas brought with him he responded, “The harmonic is good enough for me!”  (Thus today’s title.)

I had occasion to use this quote when I spoke at an educational event on the debates between Lincoln and Douglas.  After quoting the former I whipped out my harmonica and played the first few recognizable notes of “Oh! Susannah!”  I can’t say that I received a standing ovation for my tune, but lots of surprised looks, then smiles and finally a clap or two!

So, what’s the point of this?  Well, maybe that simple things are still good, but that everything takes work, takes effort. Yes, I must get back to practicing the harmonica.

harm3

It’s a simple instrument, but can play wonderful music in the right hands.  Is there a lesson in there somewhere?

Maybe.  I am always trying, and sometimes I’m even keeping up.

Postcards in My Life

Somebody said this was “Postcard Sunday.”  So I thought about it and recalled three postcards that support some facets of my life.  Not all, of course, for I am a multi-faceted person (!).  (Sorry, that should have been a smiley face.)

So, first of all, I love to travel in my travel trailer.  My husband drives it, for I do not tow well.  One of the trips west we took crossed the Oregon Trail.  What a thrill to walk along trails those intrepid pioneers took.  So, here is the first postcard.  Kind of funny, we thought, when we bought it.

Rush Hour

 

Another of my all-consuming activities is the historical society in my community.  The Society owns an old house that’s on the National Register.  Among the postcards that were made locally from 1909 (which seems to have been a banner year for postcards) is this one.  We love the message, “Here I am in Fairview taking in the sights.”  The sights, as you can see, are a few businesses along one street. Houses and churches filled the secondary streets.  Not much has changed, except that now the road is paved.

Here I am

 

Finally, a long-time activity of mine is writing a comprehensive biography of a showman who wintered just down the road from Fairview.  He was the biggest thing in show business (circuses, actually) for about 20 years in the mid 1800s.  One of the cities that loved him was New Orleans.  Well, I found this postcard in an antique shop; the explanation on the back indicated that the house had been there for nearly 200 years. As I bought it I thought to myself, “I’ll bet my guy walked these streets, stopped into this house and visited with the folks who lived there.”  I like to think so, anyway, and it gives me a closer connection to him somehow.  Someday I hope to finish this biography and find a publisher!

DR postcard

 

And now, as you can see, fellow bloggers, I’m trying hard, and barely keeping up with the assignments!

My Photos, an Explanation

Hello, Fellow Bloggers, Readers, Musers, Curiosity Seekers, Photo Lovers, Et Al,

Would you like to see the whole picture I have included in the background of my site?  Okay, here it is.

Sunset over Lake Erie

Sunset over Lake Erie

 

And then there’s my Gravatar…romsus

 

Actually, it is taken from a larger one.  The artist made us look like Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn, don’t you think? Yes, he’s my significant other.  When we first met he had a lot more hair!

Cariacatures

Lastly, here’s my “brand” photo…Curtiss JN "Jenny" c. 1918

“I can understand the Gravatar” you might be saying, “and why you cut off half the photo, after all, this blog is about you, not you and your mate.  And the photo of the sunset?  Well, that’s the end of the day, which might suggest that by the end of the day you (Sabina) have caught up,” you, the reader, might be saying.

“So, what in the world is that photo of two old byplanes supposed to mean?” you might be asking.

“Well,” I answer, “I’m crazy about old planes… I had the opportunity to write a biography of a local early pilot, using his family photos, letters and journals.  It was a grand time, writing that story. It resulted in my book Cloud Busters, which sold quite a few copies in my area.  I first had submitted the manuscript to a few publishers, but was told the story was too local, so I self-published.   And I’m glad.  What I did was create a reference to early aviation in my region, which is how my book is now regarded.  Since I am so into history, that was enough for me!  (I would have liked tons of money, but had to settle for being a good reference.)

The photo also can be interpreted as one pilot trying to keep up with the other, so there is a small and somewhat tenuous connection to my theme.   Anyway, I like old planes and wanted it there.

“That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it,” someone (I can’t recall who) said.