Monday, October 20, 2014

Another side of Sharon Olds

Sharon-Olds, winner of the 2014 Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize, is known for her poems about her inner life, her sexuality, the female experience and her family. In this poem from her collection One Secret Thing she looks outside herself into the darker side of a common commodity – wood.

Wooden Ode

Whenever I see a chair like it,
I consider it: the no arms,
the lower limbs of pear or cherry.
Sometimes I’ll take hold of the back slat
and lift the four-legged creature off the floor to hear
the joints creak, the wind in the timbers,
hauling of keel rope. And the structure will not
utter, just some music of reed and tether,
Old Testament cradle. Whenever I see
a Hitchcock chair – not a Federal,
or an Eames – I pay close, furniture
attention, even as my mind is taking its
seablind cartwheels back. But if every
time you saw a tree – pear,
cherry, American elm, American
oak, beech, bayou cypress –
your eyes checked for a branch, low enough
but not too low, and strong enough,
and you thought of your uncle, or father, or brother,
third cousin twice removed
murdered on a tree, then you would have
the basis for a working knowledge of American History.

An ode often seeks out truths about its subject, Shelley’s west wind, harbinger of winter as well as rebirth, or Keats’s Grecian urn, only a sweet illusion of life outlasting time.

Sharon Olds’s “Wooden Ode” announces itself as such a quest in its first line. A chair like what? Soon enough the chair is a creature, its joints creaking, the timbers and the keel hinting at violence at sea. A slave ship maybe? A sailor keelhauled across the ship’s barnacled bottom?

Back on land, the narrator studies not just any chair but a Hitchcock chair, its design nearly as old as America, armless usually, straight-backed, Old Sparky at Sing Sing without the belts and wires. And then we are outdoors again, amid American trees with limbs just high and strong enough for lynching.

The violence is not, of course, in the wood but in how Americans have used it, on land and sea, our history.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A poetry prize for Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds is this year’s winner of the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. She will receive the award and read her poems on Oct. 30 in Concord, N.H. (details here).

Sharon Olds
The award bears the name of married poets who lived and wrote at Hall’s family farmhouse for two decades until Kenyon’s death of leukemia in 1995. She was 47 years old. Hall, now 86, still lives in the house and has a book, Essays after Eighty, due out soon.

The Hall-Kenyon is given annually to an esteemed American poet. Olds is the fifth winner. Previous winners have been Ted Kooser, Kay Ryan, Jane Hirshfield and Billy Collins.

Hall is an old friend, and for the first four years I had the pleasure of presenting the award. This year I can’t make it. But I have read and reviewed Olds’s poetry for years and interviewed her often. In advance of her Concord reading, I have prepared a few pieces to give readers of the Concord Monitor, the newspaper I used to edit, a taste of her work.

Olds splits time between New Hampshire and New York City, where she teaches at NYU. Her last book, Stag’s Leap, won both the Eliot Prize, Britain’s top poetry award, and the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

I went back to an earlier book, One Secret Thing (2008), and chose three poems to share and comment on.

Here is the first one:

Diagnosis

By the time I was six months old, she knew something
was wrong with me. I got looks on my face
she had not seen on any child
in the family, or the extended family,
or the neighborhood. My mother took me in
to the pediatrician with the kind hands,
a doctor with a name like a suit size for a wheel:
Hub Long. My mom did not tell him
what she thought in truth, that I was Possessed.
It was just these strange looks on my face –
he held me, and conversed with me,
chatting as one does with a baby, and my mother
said, She’s doing it now! Look!
She’s doing it now! and the doctor said,
What your daughter has
is called a sense
of humor. Ohhh, she said, and took me
back to the house where that sense would be tested
and found to be incurable.

Olds sometimes opens her readings with this poem. It is a humorous ice-breaker that sets an audience atwitter. But the poem also says a lot about Olds’s body of work.

There’s that wonderful simile – the doctor with a name “like the suit size for a wheel” – and then the line break, a kind of ta-da pause before his name, which is to be spoken slowly so that the joke can be savored: Hub Long. Olds’s mind is a font of metaphors, and her poems reflect this. Although her line breaks can puzzle, they can also sparkle, announcing a turn in a poem’s direction.

This poem comes from a rich strain of Olds’s work. The mother-daughter relationship was a test for both of them for as long as her mother lived. Fanciful though it may be, “Diagnosis” returns to the roots. What kind of mother cannot recognize a sense of humor in her baby?

One Secret Thing closes with a moving series of poems about Olds’s mother’s dying.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Snapshots from the past, history as we lived it

First, let me thank you for reading my series of posts on my family’s letters from World War II and four years beyond. These letters deal mainly with my father’s service in the Pacific Theater and the effort to keep the home fires burning by mail. They run chronologically and encompass 15 posts beginning with this one (there is a prequel here).

My mom, Bernadine Pride, at  her parents' house in Fairfield, Conn., 1958.
In a short time these posts have generated well over a thousand page-views. I sense from this that the story has been of interest beyond my family. When I began it, I saw it as a series of snapshots from the past, history as it was lived, and hoped for just such a following.

The Our War blog has also had three other surges in readership during the last month. One was for an account of the late Sen. “Happy Jack” Chandler’s rhetoric from two decades ago. This post shot from 15th to 5th in all-time page-views during the last 20 days, increasing by nearly 300 hits.

The other two significant increases came for diaries. The third of four parts of a Confederate captain’s diary slipped into the all-time top 25 list, but all of Capt. Robert Emory Parks diary entries, which begin here, were popular. The other diary was kept by an Exeter pastor during the early years of the war. Many readers found all three years of it (1861, ’62 and ’63) during the last month.

What’s interesting about the popularity of these diaries is that they capture two scarce views of the war, one from a highly articulate, unreconstructed rebel, the other with a day-to-day account of the home front.

Here are the top 25 all-time posts based on page-views, which now range from 252 to 1.097. The numbers in parenthesis are last month’s rankings.

9. A Gettysburg journal (part 3) (8)
19. A gift from the heart (16 tie) 

Friday, October 10, 2014

15. 'We’ll never be completely happy again'

Shortly after the death of their 5-year-old daughter Bonnie, my parents left New England for Florida, seeking a new start in a new place. I was two and a half years old and have only a vague memory of the first place we lived, a duplex on Sedeeva Circle in Clearwater.

With my sister Pam before the alamanda
bush on Bermuda Street in Clearwater, 1950.
It was from there that Mom wrote the undated letter below to her parents in Fairfield, Conn. It was written in 1949, less than a year after Bonnie died and before my parents adopted my sister Pam, who was born on Nov. 8 of that year.

The letter disclosed a great deal about my parents as I knew them. My mother was the daughter of a successful salesman. My father, at 32, was just beginning his career as a salesman and sales manager in real estate firms, car dealerships and cemeteries. In the letter my mother got a laugh out of his soft-hearted approach to his profession. He would never entirely overcome it, although he found both success and satisfaction in his work while treating people right.

In her letter my mother also wrote about segregation. One of my earliest memories occurred at either Woolworth’s or McCrory’s, the side-by-side 5&10s on Cleveland Street, Clearwater’s main drag. Not yet able to read, I stepped up to the “colored” water fountain for a drink. An African-American woman chastised me for it, and I cried. My mother explained to me that we were northerners but lived in the South now and had to abide by its rules.

This was just the beginning of a conversation with my mother that lasted throughout my childhood. And it wasn’t just a conversation. She was as color-blind as one could be in the segregated South. Gertrude Clark, the African-American woman who cleaned our house for many years, came to my mother’s funeral in 1993. She told me she was able to collect Social Security only because my mother had paid both the employer’s and employee’s shares of the Social Security tax.

Mike and Pam, Clearwater, Easter 1955.
But the main subject of this 1949 letter of my mother’s was grief. The loss of Bonnie had driven my parents apart, and my mother needed to tell her mom and pop about it. At the same time it is easy to see from the letter that she was beginning to see her way through the anger, bitterness and rawness of the worst loss a parent can suffer.

Not long after this letter was written, my parents bought a house on Bermuda Street, a few blocks north of Sedeeva Circle. My sister came to us late that year, and our brother Robin three years later. Bonnie was never forgotten in our house, but life did go on. Mom was a great mother and a tireless volunteer for good causes. Dad loved his work as a salesman and manager, but he was a soft touch with bad timing and no instinct for the main chance. Friendship, honor and dignity mattered most to him, and his life reflected these virtues.

The letter begins with a note Mom added across the top after she had written it: “Boy, my writing is awful – I just read this over, which I never do – Good luck to you – I could hardly read it.”

                                                                                               Saturday morning

Dear Mom & Pop –

Dad, you’re slipping again. Mother, you’re doing fine. Course again I don’t know what I’m going to write.

Our minister has been on the radio every day for the past week so I’ll have to take time out to listen to him. He’s a wonderful man & speaker. He is so sincere. Boy, last Sunday he talked of the suppression of negroes and that it had to stop. He’s from Ga. and said he knew how the southerners feel and that it had to stop. He’s going to put his foot in it. But what he says is true but some of these southerners are really sumpin’ – I like him too because he’s made quite an impression on Charlie. Don’t mention this in your letters.

Charlie sees an awful lot of things now in a different way. It must have been the will of God that we should find such a wonderful man. You know, Charlie couldn’t make up his mind which way to “take” Bonnie’s death. At times he’d be very bitter and say he’s out for all he can get, but now he’s beginning to realize that there is someone watching out for us. He’s always been soft-hearted, but the other day he said he’s come to realize that there are so many sad people in this world and if he can help them by a good turn he’s going to do it.

As lonely as I get for my baby, sometimes I get such a wonderful feeling that it all happened because she accomplished so much. Sometimes I get that “What’s the use of living” feeling, but I always get over it. I have so much to be thankful for. At first I couldn’t stand Mike or Charlie but they look to me for so much help that I can’t see how I could ever let them down. We’ll never be completely happy again because of that gnawing feeling, but were we ever completely happy before? We’ve found a lot more by losing Bonnie and know that she’s waiting for us. I just hope and pray we can live up to it.

At the dedication program at the Park a lady had made (crocheted) an American flag. Charlie had sold her property. I wasn’t with him yesterday while he delivered the deed. The flag is beautiful. I asked Charlie why she didn’t sell it. He said she was a foreigner and is now a very good American and won’t sell. It took over 1,000 hours to make it. They came down here, bought a house for $8,000 and got rooked, although they don’t know it. The man is very sick and they live on an old age pension of $33 a month. She made flowers out of crepe paper to make money. So my chicken-hearted husband said when he delivered the deed he’d buy one. She said she’d have 3 made by then. Well she had 6 and he bought them all -- $6. I said to him kiddingly why didn’t he pay for the lot.

I get a kick out of him. He can’t see trying to sell people the best when they can’t afford it. His boss said last night that was wrong because usually everyone wants the best, especially when it’s your last “home.” Charlie says phooey – why make people wish for what they can’t have (to me, of course). Course he makes more money on the most expensive lots, but he doesn’t care. He said he’d rather make friends.

Mike’s kinda cranky. He’s cutting his 2 top molars. One is half through and the other is nice and red.
Our landlady has her ex-husband staying with her. Makes something interesting to watch. Mike calls him Mr. Larsen. She has her first husband’s name. I heard him telling Mike not to call him Mr. Larsen/ Mike can’t figure it out. I’m glad he’s not old enough to realize what’s going on. So long now.

                                                                              Love, hugs & kisses – B, C & M

Dad and Mom, about 1953. Much later, Dad wrote on the back: 'I love this one. Happy days!' 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

14. 'Her life was early spent, but not in vain'

Bonnie Pride, summer of '48.
Dad and Bonnie, on his homecoming, 1945.
My sister Bonnie (Elizabeth Jeanette Pride) was born in 1943 with a congenital heart defect. The common term for the defect was a hole in the heart. This is literally a hole in the septum, the wall between the heart’s two chambers.

When Bonnie was 5 years old, the doctors recommended surgery to repair this defect. On Nov. 22, 1948, Bonnie had the operation at a Boston hospital. She fell into a coma and died that day.

As my mother and dad told me the story much later, the medical team made her death even more traumatic for them than it would normally have been. The doctor who performed the surgery could not bring himself to speak with my parents. While Bonnie lay comatose, a nurse told my mother all had gone well and she could see her daughter soon. My parents learned the truth only later.

A letter from my mother to her parents to be published in the next post will give a sense of how Bonnie’s death affected her and my father. They never got over it. I was 17 when John F. Kennedy was shot. Mom and Dad seemed not just shocked and saddened by the assassination but also personally devastated. Only later did my mother explain that it had occurred on the 15th anniversary of Bonnie’s death.

My dad had been home from the war for nearly three years when Bonnie died. For a while he drove a bread truck in Stratford, Conn. Years later, he told us a story about this. One morning he felt rotten but left home to drive his bread route anyway. While making a delivery, he heard a backfire, thought it was enemy fire and dived under a parked vehicle. When an ambulance came for him, his temperature was 105. It took a while for doctors to diagnose his affliction, but then they had had no experience dealing with malaria.

My cousin Don, who was about 12, remembers going out on the bread delivery truck with Dad another time. Dad took an interest in him and his twin brother, Ron. He bought them a football and peppered them with passes. Dad had one of the first television sets. They watched the Joe Louis-Billy Conn rematch with him on June 19, 1946, a little over a month before I was born. Boxing was one of Dad’s lifelong passions.

Me with Bonnie, 1947
Later Dad returned to active military duty at Fort Devens, Mass. Among other duties he helped put on shows at the officers’ club. My parents lived on or near the fort when they took Bonnie to Boston for the operation. Don remembers coming up from Connecticut with his family to support them. “I vaguely recall a nightmarish night of waiting for the news,” he wrote in an email.

As I mentioned early in this series of posts, during World War II Bonnie had become a beloved symbol of the future for my family. Her Uncle Carl Nordstrom, my mother’s brother, wrote to my mother 10 days after her death. Words mean little after such a loss, but Carl wrote from the heart, and my mother kept his letter for as long as she lived.

Carl, incidentally, had been a tank commander in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army in Europe. He survived the Battle of the Bulge and the invasion Of Germany. You can read more about him on this web page, posted after his death in 2010 at the age of 91.

Here is what he wrote:

                                                                                              4 W. 601 St.
                                                                                              Shanks Village
                                                                                              Orangeburg, N.Y.
                                                                                              Dec. 2, 1948
Dear Bern,

On an imposing cliff, overlooking the mighty Hudson, there stands an impressive tomb, the magnificent mausoleum erected in honor of a great American General.

Carl Nordstrom (right) at Fort Campbell, Ky., 1943.
In well swept Luxembourg, planted on a pleasant field, is a simple cross. It is the grave of a great American General.

Each in its private way is erected in memory to a great leader. Each in its particular way helps the living to live a little better. The tomb of General Grrant, a silent symbol of our magnificent heritage, is a friendly anchor to reality in a mad city. The unadorned cross of General Patton is a symbol of fellowship with his living and fallen friends.

Our family, in its own way, wants to recreate the memory of Bonnie. We deeply respect the spirit that brought so many and such beautiful flowers to her funeral. But today is a day of world hardship. The terror of war has cracked the heart of humanity throughout Europe and the Orient. The little children especially have felt its awful breath. And, tonight, many are wandering down a lonely road, homeless, parentless, helpless and frightened.

Christmas is coming. This is a proper season to think of others and to help others who are less fortunate. We think Bonnie would remember her playmates, and those who might have been her playmates. She would want to help those who might need her help. So, in her memory, we are going to try to make this Christmas happier for some little children somewhere in the world.

I thought you might want to have this poem I wrote. I penned it that Tuesday night. The words are yours, Charlie’s, Mom’s and Dad’s.

To Bonnie

A little flow of light has dimmed and faded out.
A little laugh, once so bright and clear, has stopped.
A little flower folded in its beauty and took its leave.
A little girl has closed her eyes and gone to sleep.

The little girl, at the kitchen door, with her flowers and her smile,
The little lady, in her bed, and hugging to her doll,
The little mother, with her “Mike,” and all the other kids,
The little springtime bloom in her gentle blue and shining Mary Janes.

Her panties – a mite too long,
Her proud step, on her way to school,
Her lunch box, the badge of growing up,
The golden doll and the dirty knees.

 A fragile friend, who stayed to visit us a while,
Who smiled, and brought a world of goodness with her while she stayed.
Her life was early spent, but not in vain,
Our little stranger from the infinite.
The cheer, the hope she brought, relieved the pain
When futile war, with awful force, had hit.

For a little while we must part from you.
Your work is done, your rest is well deserved.
You’ve sowed a little seed of good in all of us.
In time each seed will surely bear sweet fruit.

We’ve still a little work to do, a little joy to bring into the world ourselves.
But when our task is one, and we’ve tried as best we can,
We’ll meet again, and romp and laugh and think of days far gone.
The image that you’ve left with us tender and is sweet.

So, Bonnie dear, one kiss upon your cheek,
A gentle pat, a parting smile from all of us.
Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.

                                                                      Love, Carl

Next: 'As lonely as I get for my baby . . .'

Saturday, October 4, 2014

13. 'I can’t even conceive being in your arms again'

Dad at home in Connecticut with Bonnie, fall 1945
The soldier’s lament “Hurry up and wait” certainly must have occurred to my father during his last weeks in the Philippines. But in fact, he was lucky. Many men waited months, some more than a year, to go home. I’m not positive when Dad shipped out to San Francisco from Replacement Depot 21 in Manila Harbor, but it was probably in early September. It may even have been Sept. 2, 1945, the day the Japanese formally surrendered in Tokyo Bay.

Nearly four months after Dad’s last letter home, 4,000 soldiers in Manila appeared at the same Depot 21 on Christmas day with a banner that read, “We Want Ships!” These soldiers demonstrated twice more. In Guam, 3,500 troops waged a hunger strike to press for faster demobilization.

By then Dad was long gone. He had pulled strings, as he wrote, but he had also earned his homecoming. A soldier overseas needed 85 point to qualify for a ticket home. Soldiers received one point for each month of service and one more for each month overseas, 12 points for a dependent child under 18 and five points for a combat award or battle star. After V-J Day the point total for a ticket home was reduced to 80.

Dad landed at Leyte in October 1944 and was wounded soon after. This AP photograph of the Leyte landing
is one of many from the U.S. Pacific campaign that you can see here.
Dad had been in the service for 31 months and overseas for 17 for a total of 48 points. Fatherhood was worth 12 more for 60. The rest came from medals and battle stars. In addition to the Soldier’s Medal for rescuing three drowning men, Dad won  the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

In another of his last letters from Manila, Dad referred to men dying while American officials decided what to do with Hirohito, the Japanese emperor. American troops were indeed killed during these few days. No doubt some were also killed in the drunken, shoot-’em-up celebrations Dad wrote home about.

Mostly these letters reflected Dad’s excitement about going home, relief at having survived the war, love of his wife Bern and desire to be with her – and how!

                                                                                                 Aug. 11, 1945

Darling Bern & Bonnie,

What glorious news tonight. People are going crazy, dancing in the streets, firing live ammunition all over. I am honestly considering digging a fox-hole. I’m nervous. The bulletts are flying fast and furious.

I can’t seem to get in the spirit of it all somehow. I just can’t conceive it being true. I think I’ll wait until tomorrow and then if it’s really true, I’ll celebrate. It’s wonderful darling to have this feeling of hope. We’ll all be home soon it’s true and I sure am praying for it, and I know you are too. I love you.

How did the people take the news back home? I’ll bet they went crazy too. I’d sure like to have been there.

I have a bad cold. I am pretty miserable with it but I’ll be as good as new in a few days. It’s in my throat, nose and chest. I am sweating so much. I guess I took a cold shower once when I was too hot.
We had a little excitement here tonight. A G.I. tried to steal a jeep from my pool and the guards chased another jeep firing like mad. The jeep finally went into a pole and the guy ran into some sailors barracks and the guards followed, still firing. They shot the crook through the stomach and also shot a poor sleeping sailor through the leg. He (the crook) is in critical condition. Maybe now there wont be so many stolen jeeps. At present I have 16 gone with no chance of recovery.

Guess that’s it – keep your fingers crossed. I love you with all my heart. Bonnie too – kisses.

                                                                                             Your very own
                                                                                                      Pappy
*

                                                                                             Aug. 12, 1945
Darling Bern & Bonnie,

The town is going wild again today. I am very happy about the whole thing but I feel sorry for the boys who are up front getting killed while the U.S. trys to decide what to do with Hirohito. I still think I’ll be home for Thanksgiving dinner so you’d better be ready for me. Wow!!

Got a couple of nice letters from you today. So you have been down to see Tish again. Hope you had fun. She sure is cute. I’d feel a lot better, I guess, if I knew her too. Enclosed find those pictures. Gee I love you.

My cold is worse, one of those N.Y. poultry show specials. My nose if really running, and it makes me madder than hell and miserable too. Wish I were near you so you could console me.

Hope you received those money orders O.K. Let me know what the total is. It is another hot day today. It is now about 7:30 P.M. I am going to bed as soon as I finish this and try to sweat out this cold. Hope I can.

Your pop wrote me a letter while you were away. Bonnie seems to have behaved herself and is quite a little help-mate. She surely must be the cutest little kid in the world and I can hardly wait to see her. I hope we can start in right where we left off and hope you will always love me as I love you.

That boy that stole the jeep will live, thank god, but he wont be stealing for awhile yet – guess that’s it. I love you with all my heart & soul. Bonnie too. Kisses Pappy.

*

                                                                                                  Aug. 15, 1945
Darling Bern & Bonnie,

I guess it’s really over at last thank god. Now all we want to do is get home to our loved ones. I can hardly wait. Rumors are flying thick and fast. I’m just going to sit tight and sweat it out.

There sure are a lot of drunks around town today. I can’t see it myself but then I never was too much of a drinking man, was I darling? I wonder how long they will celebrate. I honestly hate to see all of the sailors and soldiers so drunk and throwing their money away. I’m saving mine. I’m still a tight wad darling – I love you.

The heat is really something. It knocks me for a loop. Last night and this morning we had a tropical storm. It was a lulu. This morning the streets were under a foot of water. They just dont seem to fool around when they have a storm here.

Guess I’ll work again tonight. I expect trouble with all these guys drunk again. It sort of breaks up the monotony of things anyhow. I put in 90 promotions for my men. I hope they come in this week. The boys sure deserve them and I sure like to give them out. I love you.

Wish there was something new to write about, like I was coming home of something – maybe I will be writing that soon. I sure hope so. Guess that’s it for today. I love you and miss you with all my heart. Bonnie too.
                                                                                                   Pappy

*

                                                                                                  August 21, 1945

Darling Bern & Bonnie,

Well here it is. I wasn’t going to tell you but I am bursting with it. I may come home in Sept. I’ve been pulling a lot of strings and they tell me my orders are now being cut for early Sept. All air transportation is frozen, but I’ll be only too too happy to catch a boat. I’ll probably be sent to my old outfit at the 21st depot to be sent back, so I know I wont stay there too long. Keep your fingers crossed and don’t get too excited (like me) about it, cause anything can happen. I’ll know for sure by the 1st of Sept. I love you.

I am really all keyed up about it. I can’t even conceive being in your arms again, can you? I can’t wait darling. I’ll be shaking like a leaf when they hand me those golden orders. There are some poor guys over here 40 months and who have over 100 pts that have to stay because they are essential. I got them to declare me surplus. I had to give them “Hearts and Flowers,” but I dood it. I feel a little guilty about it, but I guess it’s every man for himself from now on, and I’d like to get back to my best gal.

Let’s not say anything to the folks about it darling. We’ll keep it out secret. I wouldn’t want anyone else to be disappointed. That’s all I can write about or think about. I’m as happy as a lark. When I stop writing you’ll know I’m on my way. Don’t go anywhere until you know for sure. If I make it I’ll wire from Frisco and you can meet me in N.Y. Oh my back! There I go shaking again when I think of that meeting. I love you with all my heart and soul. Bonnie too – kisses. Pappy.

Still doing OK at poker. Too nervous from now on though.
    
                                                                                          I love you.

This should be quite a nice anniversary surprise [Mom and Dad married on Sept. 2, 1940.]

*
   
                                                                                           22 Aug 1945
Darling Bern & Bonnie,

Well here it is darling. I have my orders in my hand. I report to the 21st [Replacement Depot] on the 25th and [will] probably be on my way home within a week. I am coming by boat. I’m shaking all over. Just think I may be home by Bonnie’s second birthday [Sept. 19]. What a break. I’m so happy I’ll burst. You might as well quit writing because I wont be here. Happy day!! I’ll have you in my arms and then –

When I stop writing will be the day I leave. I can’t even write a sensible sentence. Just think, no more letters to write. I’ll wire you from Frisco. I hope I can be allowed to fly home. I don’t mind paying for that one bit. I’ll let you know. Gee I love you –

I’d hate to tell you, or better still I will tell you when I get home how close I came to not being here to get these orders. I really sweat it out too. I would have needed O.D.’s.

By the way get my winter uniforms and some civilian suits ready. Air them like mad. Get them all pressed and ready for poppy. Maybe I’ll have to stay in the army in the U.S. Do you think you’ll want to go with me? I’m ducking – Try, go ahead and try to get away. I’ll never never be apart from my lover –

Guess I’ll sneak out to the 21st tomorrow A.M. and make all of the necessary arrangements to get out of there in a hurry. I’ll live like a king there too – I’ve really had it nice for the last couple of months. I am really happy. Nothing can make me mad – I love you. Bonnie too – kisses Pappy

*
                                                                                               Aug 23, 1945

Darling Bern & Bonnie,

I’m all enrolled out at the 21st. My name is on the list, and with any luck I should be on my way home before the 1st of Sept. I am being relieved here tomorrow night. All I do then is sweat out a boat. I can’t wait darling.

One of my men is flying home tonight on an emergency furlough. I told him to send you a telegram saying I’ll be home before Oct. 1st. Hope it doesn’t upset you. I told him to sign my name. I’ll bet if you get it before my letter you’ll think I’m home.

I have so much to tell you, mostly how I love you and miss you. I want you in my arms so badly darling, it hurts. I am still too dazed to believe it. Leave it to pappy, right? I’ll tell you all about it when I get home darling.

I think if the people will move out of our flat you should fix it up. We’ll want to move in Oct. 1 if we can. I am quite sure I’ll be a civilian. Even if not we’ll have a lot of fun living there for awhile. I can hardly wait darling. I love you.

I am right in the dough again with my pay and what I made in poker. I should have $600.00 in my jeans when you meet me. I’d give that and more to be in your arms this instant. Gee god is good to us. I’ll have near 17 mos. [overseas] when I get home. I told you I’d make it by 18. I am surprised myself though. I love you.

I am packing up my foot locker tonight. It goes first as “hold luggage.” It has to be censored tomorrow. My hand luggage will be inspected right before I go. I am also sweating out getting some shots. I don’t think I need any but maybe they’ve invented a new one. Maybe they’ll give me some just in case.

It sure will be a beautiful time of year to get home too. I think I’ll look funny breezing in with khakis on but you don’t care how funny I’ll look do you darling. Besides I wont have them on long. Ahem –

I’ll be glad to get rid of this damned prickly heat too. I am not going to move out to the disposition center physically. I’m going to stay in town with my comforts and call out there twice a day. They have my number in case also, so I wont miss a trick. I like to feel important behind this desk anyhow. I really have a lot to teach this new guy too –

Guess I’ll quit – with all my love I love you. Bonnie too. Kisses –

                                                                                                   Your
                                                                                                   Pappy
*

                                                                                                   Aug. 24, 1945
Darling Bern & Bonnie,

Well here I am behind my desk officially for the last night. It feels and looks mighty bare without my darlings pictures under the glass. My foot locker is all packed and has already passed the censor. I had to then lock it and have it at the disposition center. It will come on the same ship as I do. I hope it gets there OK. I have all of my souvenirs for the family in it. Yours too. I had no room in my val pac. I am packing it full of clean clothes because I have no idea how long I’ll have to live out of it. I love you darling.

I imagine shipping will soon be rolling again. They got quite a few out today. With any luck I should be on my way before the first of Sept. I sure am bucking for it.

Here is my big paper again so you will get only one sheet, but don’t feel badly darling. I’ll soon be in your arms and then I can tell you things I can’t put on paper. I am going to bed early so time will fly. I am as impatient as mad. This waiting is rough. I guess that’s it – please drop [a line to] Anna Louise [his aunt, who lived in California with his uncle Booger McCarthy, a Hollywood stunt rider] and tell her I’m on my way. I didn’t answer her last letter – I love you darling. Bonnie too. Kisses. Charlie

*  
    
                                                                                                       Aug. 28, 1945

Darling Bern & Bonnie,  

Didn’t write yesterday because I simply didn’t feel like it, so there!! My real excuse is that the power was down and there were no lights, no foolin!!! I’m still here honey, and I have a hunch I’ll be on my way within two days. I heard my sailing orders were being cut this afternoon. Oh boy, look out, you!!!!!

Hope you get the five hundred bucks in money orders I sent the other day. I have all of the receipts. We’ll check in when I get home, right darling. That ain’t all we’ll do, right darling. Hope you can meet me in N.Y. Maybe you should get a room in a good hotel and I can meet you there. I’ll see. Supposing we let it go until I get to San Fran, and I’ll wire you. I love you.

The new motor officer is sick with a strep throat so I’m sitting in his place until I go. I hope it’s soon too – maybe tomorrow or the next day. I want my mamma, and how - - - - -

Everything is O.K. and I’m sleeping until 9 every morning and it feels wonderful. You’d better be “in the mood.” I love you with all my heart. Bonnie too. Kisses. See you soon – Pappy

Next: 'Her life was early spent'

I was born in 1946. That's me on the left and Bonnie on the right sitting in Dad's lap in 1948.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

12. 'Everyone over here is talking about that new high explosive bomb we are using on Japan'

Luzon in the Philippines. The national capital, Manila, is the harbor in the southwest. Baguio,
the summer capital to which my father once drove, is about halfway up the island on the west side.
In Manila in June 1945, Lt. Charles M. Pride was assigned as motor pool officer for Allied Forces Pacific, the army headed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Before the war, among other jobs, he had been a car salesman at a Connecticut Ford-Mercury dealership called Automotive Twins. The army had trained him in tank maintenance. The motor pool job was another stop in his lifelong love affair with cars. He had charge of 300 sedans and trucks used by MacArthur and his staff.

Mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki.
Dad wrote the four letters transcribed below to his wife and daughter. They reveal a good deal about him and his experience. He was proud of his work even as frequent thefts and accidents depleted his vehicle fleet. He loved his shiny jeep. Antimalarial drugs turned his skin yellow. (In the end they did not protect him from malaria.) The heat and humidity made him sweat profusely.He was lonely and wanted to come home. And he could see the end of the war in the Pacific approaching.

On the last point, these letters show Dad’s unalloyed joy over the development and use of the atomic bomb. The first was dropped over Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. A second, larger bomb destroyed most of Nagasaki three days later.

*


                                                                                   July 16, 1945
Darling Bern & Bonnie,

Well honey I missed a couple of days. A general had to go to Baguio (summer capital of the Philippines) so I drove him in a staff car. I wanted to get away for awhile. I also wanted to see Baguio. It was really shot up. The weather was cooler and more pleasant. I enjoyed seeing the different kinds of villages. The general was a pretty good Joe. We got along o.k. We drank a case of beer on the trip and also had some good chow, as you can imagine, along the way. I sure do love you.

I am happy. My mail finally caught up with me here. The first letter was from the 6th. Not too bad. So you think I hurt my chances of going home. Don’t worry, I investigated everything before I moved and it’s the same chance here exactly. The only thing is that it will be a few months before they get the ball really rolling. Besides that, Col. Solomon has already gone home on points, so there. You’re crazy for ever thinking I want to stay here even for a moment. I want my mommy and how!!

Gen. MacArthur (right foreground) on his way to the Philippines in October
 1944 To MacArthur's right  is Sergio Osmeña, president of the Philippines. 
Bonnie sure sounds cute. She looks awful cute in that little pinafore. She’s about the cutest little gal in the whole world. I hope and pray it wont be too much longer before I get to see my little girl. I hope she likes me like I’m going to love her. I’ll never be able to leave her alone. (You too – and how!)

Things were in an uproar when I came back. They just can’t get along without me (ahem) – no fooling, though when I’m away the brass really try to pull their rank. I put them in their place when I’m here. They like it too. They have to – I love you darling.

Also got 2 letters from your mom & Pop. I’ll bet they’ll really miss Bonnie when I get back. She is all they talk about and I don’t blame them. She really is something to talk about – Hope you weren’t worried about me missing those few days. I’m sorry mommy.

That’s all!
                                                        I love you and miss you
                                                       With all my heart
                                                       Bonnie too
                                                                               Pappy
Kisses

*

                                                                            July 24, 1945
Darling Bern & Bonnie,

Here’s your Pappy again, all alone and lonely and very much in love with you. Got a nice letter today from my very best gal postmarked the 14th. That’s not bad service I’ll state. Sorry to hear the mailman’s been crossing you up. I’m doing pretty good –

Guess I will send my mother $50.00 tomorrow for the convention. Hope she takes it and enjoys herself. Hope Marcelle didn’t have too much trouble taking care of Bonnie while you went to the wedding. I’d like to take care of Bonnie, but most of all I want to take care of you, and how!!
If you ever hear of anyone being here in Manila that we know let me know and I’ll look em up. I hope Henry Mayer makes it over here. He was always decent to me. I love you.

I’d like to get to see Dodie [Mom’s brother Joe, a naval officer who oversaw repair of damaged ships during the war]. Send me his complete address and his whereabouts. Maybe he can get to see me. I am very easy to find. Just ask for the AFPAC [Allied Forces, Pacific] motor officer, and there I am. I know I’d sure like to see him.

It’s been a very hot scorcher. I suppose you’re feeling the heat there about now. I feel sorry for our poor little darling. If she sweats like her poppy, it’s no fun. I guess all of hr bad faults come from her daddy, right???

That’s almost it for tonite –
I love you and miss you.
Kisses – Bonnie too
                                                                                      Your own
                                                                                                  Pappy

*

                                                                                       August 7, 1945

Darling Bern & Bonnie,

Hello again darling. I’m still “a little on the lonely side.” How about you darling? I’m still tired too. These damned accidents and stolen vehicles get me down, and there sure are plenty of both.

A man surveys A-bomb damage at Hiroshima. (AP)
Everyone over here is talking about that new high explosive bomb we are using on Japan. I am glad we discovered it first. It must cause horrible devastation. I guess this war really is on its last leg. I sure hope so and I know you do too. All we want is each other right darling? And how –

I guess I’ll try to get a little sun. I am really bleaching out to a nice bright yellow. I look like a Jap I guess. I’ve been putting off getting a haircut for awhile. Guess I’d better get it today, or a violin. I don’t know why I am so lazy, do you?

It’s another scorcher today. It sure does get hot and poppy sure does feel it. I should get thin sweating the way I do but I still weigh 175 which isn’t too bad.

Hope I get some mail again today. It sure chases my loneliness away at least for awhile – nothing new – except my love for you that goes on and on and on.

Goodnight darling – I love you
Bonnie too
                                                                                       Kisses
                                                                                       Pappy

*

                                                                                           August 8, 1945

Darling Bern & Bonnie,

Boo hoo, no mail again. It really comes in spurts. No, I never got that last bottle. It wasn’t with the gun. Maybe it’ll come soon. I don’t care too much. I do like to treat my friends (?) to a good drink now and then. You’re the only real friend I can count on and I love you very dearly.

It’s been raining like mad again tonight but after a last furious downpour it has stopped. It didn’t cool things off much either. It’s hotter than hell again. I sure will enjoy a real winter in Conn. I’ll probably have to stay in bed to keep warm.

The news is really wonderful. I guess the Japs will either have to give up or be blown off the face of the earth. Optimism is really riding high here. Everyone is looking for the war to be over very shortly, which would be perfectly OK with me. How about you? Gee I love you.

You ought to see the jeep I drive. The chinks wax it every day. It is a beaut. It has G.N.2. Motor Officer across the front, claxon air horns, a real windshield wiper and various other improvements. I’d sure like to take it home. Maybe I will, and it won’t be long now, I know it –

Gee darling what a day that will be. I’ll never never let you go. Bonnie either. I love you both with all my heart and soul. Bonnie too. Kisses from your very own

                                                                                                 Pappy

Next: A ticket home.