I would like to thank the editors at Firedoglake.com/MyFDL for retrieving the code for the photo of the USS Lacerta.
1945: It Wasn’t Just The Poverty
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
– Mark Twain
There was a time in our history when everything changed. People did not know what to do. There were no classes on how to raise children. Everything in the world had vanished and no one knew what to replace it with.
There was a time when right and wrong all got changed, a time when the rules of war and the international laws all went up in the air and generals fought with one another about how to fight.
There were no rules, no guidelines, for the farmers, for the industrial workers or even for the newly rich. There were no norms. No one fit in anywhere.
Poverty was everywhere. But it wasn’t just the poverty. It was the confusion.
Prior to this and during the Great Depression, a man, a poor man, approached my grandfather, another poor man, at a farmers’ gathering. Radio was a recent invention. The man asked a question. It was not a question about finance. The man asked simply, “Can you help me understand the world?”
Family At Last: 1946-1949
by Letty Owings
With the USS Lacerta back from the Pacific, Ray’s discharge could only be a matter of when and where. His parents thought it would be neat if he reenlisted, but I did not consider that an option. I had waited quite long enough for us to begin life as a family. The Lacerta went all the way down the West Coast from Seattle, through the Panama Canal and up the East Coast to Norfolk, Virginia. Ray’s trip through the canal convinced him that someday we would do that together, which we did a few years ago.
Ray had one health issue he wanted to have taken care of before he left the Navy and that was tonsil removal. When he was a kid, some family doctor removed his tonsils in such a botch job that they grew back. Free surgery in Norfolk would delay him a few days. I was not about to wait. With June in my arms, I talked my brother into a drive to Kansas City to the train station. Again the family considered me impatient and foolish, but again their worries did not deter me.
Service people coming home from the Pacific and Europe jammed every train car. They were dead asleep in the aisles and even on the floor in the women’s restroom. Many of them were coming home to wives and new babies, so June became a star attraction. They looked at her and wondered what their own babies might be like. In Cincinnati, I left one train for another and had some time to wait. I lay down on a bench, dead from fatigue and holding June next to me. Next thing I knew a man was shaking me. He assumed I was between trains and that mine might be leaving the station. His assumption was correct, so eternally grateful to him for shaking me out of my deep sleep, I ran for the departing train.
Our meeting in Norfolk I remember little about except that spring was in the air in February, and June took her first steps reaching for daffodils in a park. For our return trip, Ray was able to get me on a service aircraft. Of that trip back to Missouri, I remember how miserably cold it was in Chicago where we were shifted here and there. Also I recall June crawling up and down the aisle in the small plane with service men holding her and playing with her. She was dirty as a pig when we arrived. Back in Kansas City I stayed with Ray’s Aunt Beulah and Uncle Alfred for a few days. June had not one stitch of clothes that were sanitary to wear, so we pinned Alfred’s undershirt on her. He was about a size 46, and she was a tiny size one.
Ray went through Great Lakes Naval Station to muster out. That is when our life as family began in earnest. He had only three years of college and needed to get back to the university forthwith. The problem was that so did thousands of other returning service men. Since the GI Bill provided some benefits, returnees who never considered higher education went to universities and colleges by the droves. We could not find a place in Columbia, so we rented a farmhouse in the country outside of Wellington. Ray took a job as principal and math teacher at a tiny high school in Henrietta, Missouri.
We bought an old pickup truck to get to and from. The house we rented had no indoor bath or anything that fancy, but we were glad to have it. We planted a garden and raised some chickens. Soon I was pregnant again and we felt even more of an urgency about Ray’s finishing his degree.
End Note: The woman sharing this excerpt of her story is my mother, Letty Owings.
The quote, “It wasn’t just the poverty. It was the confusion” belongs to her.
She emphasizes this clarification and identifies this theme as central to the Great Depression, the war, and the post-war eras. She believes that we are currently in a time of great confusion where the question “Can you help me understand the world” is appropriate.