a man of letters (5) – training for combat…and love


 

On February 02, 1944 nineteen-year-old Glenn sent a post card and letter from gunnery school in Laredo to his parents at home in Richards. The post card scene of the cotton field near Houston reflected a longing for the countryside of his boyhood in southeast Texas.

“Dear Mama and Daddy, boys in this gunnery school are really sharp. We start our classes tomorrow so I’ll be busy from now on. This is just like the G.I. Army. Rules and restrictions. I’d like to see something of Laredo while I’m here, but not much chance of that. I will say it doesn’t look at all like our piney woods of East Texas. West Texas has no trees and lots of dust and wind. I don’t like it much. I’ll write more, and often. I love you, Glenn         Daddy, you write” 

A letter dated February 10, 1944 soon arrived from his mother.

“Dearest Glenn,

We are very worried about you and Ray. You boys need to do better with your letters. You know you can do more than a little note every now and then…

Remember that you are as smart as the other boys in that school out there. You may not be the Tallest, but you have a Good Mind, so use it.

Mr. Wilcox came in the barbershop yesterday and asked your daddy about you. He and Esther are running the school on a shoestring these days with everybody all caught up in the War. Hard to get teachers. No money for books. I think your daddy gave him a free haircut and shave, but, of course, he wouldn’t tell me that.

We’re hoping that Lucy and Terrell can get here this weekend. That Terrell is so fine. He’ll be leaving soon, too. I don’t think they know yet where he’s going for training.

Take care, son, and stay Warm.

We love you dearly,

Mama and Daddy”

On April 18, 1944 Glenn wrote to his sister Lucy, confiding in her about his growing feelings for Selma. He had finished gunnery school and then transferred to the Navigation School in San Marcos, Texas.

“Dear Lucy,

I wish you would write me sometimes. I miss our talks. I know you have time now that Terrell has left for training, so you have no excuses. I even hear from Ray every so often, and he’s already in England.

I have definitely decided that Selma is the girl for me. Of course, I can’t tell Mama or Daddy yet. They would just pitch a fit. Can’t you just hear them?

Glenn, you’re way too young to be thinking seriously about settling down with just one person. For the rest of your life. No, absolutely not the right time for that.

Plus, they don’t think Selma comes from the best family situation. I’ve always admired Mrs. Boring for taking care of those four children after Mr. Boring died when they were all so young. I like all of her brothers, too. And, she’s not like the other girls I’ve dated. She’s so much more mature.

Well, I’ll get my wings in August this year, if I pass everything. I like San Marcos much better than Laredo. The Navigation School is much more interesting.

You have to make sure Mama and Daddy bring Selma to my graduation with them. I’m counting on you! Remember, this is our little secret.

Your brother,

Cadet Glenn L. Morris”

Lucy

He must have passed everything because on August 28, 1944 Cadet Glenn L. Morris, two months before his 20th. birthday, graduated from the Army Air Forces Navigation School at San Marcos Army Air Field, San Marcos, Texas. His parents, his sister Lucy and his girlfriend Selma Boring attended the graduation ceremony. Selma pinned his wings on the new Second Lieutenant’s uniform. It was a bittersweet occasion. Everyone knew he would be leaving soon for Europe and the dangerous war in the air.

The Army Air Forces Navigation School

San Marcos Army Air Field

San Marcos, Texas

of

the United States Army

announces the graduation of

Class 44 -11

on Monday morning, August the twenty-eighth

nineteen hundred and forty-four

at nine thirty o’clock

Post Theatre

handkerchief given to Glenn’s mother at graduation

Glenn and Selma also had other news to discuss when they saw each other that commencement day. Two months earlier (June 20, 1944) Selma wrote a brief note to Glenn.

“Dear Glenn, Guess what? My Uncle Clemmie, who is my father’s brother in Rosenberg, has offered to pay for me to go to college at Baylor Baptist in Waco this fall. So I am mailing my information to them to sign up for a dormitory room today. I never ever thought about going to Baylor. It might be fun.”

Seventeen-year-old Selma graduated from Richards High School in May of 1944 and was about to become a “college coed” at what was then known as Baylor Baptist College. She gave Glenn the news before he saw her at his graduation in San Marcos. I would like to have been a fly on the wall during their discussion of that recent development. I wonder if my dad was happy for her or worried about possible competition from Baylor boys…

college student Selma and her older brother Charlie

who had enlisted in the Navy

Following graduation Glenn was sent to Iowa to complete his combat training. A month after he graduated from Navigation School, he wrote this letter to his parents on September 27, 1944.

“Dear folks,

I might as well tell you right now not to expect too many letter from me cause I’m busy now, and that’s not the half of it. We fly every other day now, and soon we’ll fly every day. That may begin day after tomorrow. I’m really tired when I hit the sack. This morning I got up at 3 a.m. for a hi altitude bombing mission. We were to bomb from 20,000 ft. It sure is cold up there and oxygen is scarce. The mission was called off because of weather conditions. So the crew went down and played basketball. That is Floyd, Dan, Frank, Tommy and I did. We played another crew and stomped them. I guess I’d better give you the crew’s names. They’re the boys I’ll probably go over with. They’re a good bunch of fellows. I’m older than one boy on the crew – radio operator – Tommy.

The Crew

Dan Randolph – (1st Pilot) , New Jersey, Airplane Commander, 2nd. Lt., Frank Purvis – (Co-pilot) Pilot Lt. – Colorado, Morris, NAV – 2nd Lt. – Texas, Floyd Yates – Bombardier – F/O Brooklyn, Al White – Engineer – Cpl, Tommy Lang – Radio Operator – Cpl, Spencer – Upper gunner – Pfc,  Holley – Armorer – Gunner – Sgt, Richards – Sperry Ball Gunner – Pfc, Klepps – Tail Gunner – Pfc

That’s the boys, and they’re all o.k. We’re gonna take some pictures of the crew by the Fortress. That’s our plane’s name. They should be good.

I’ve about quit going anywhere now. I guess the new has worn off of being able to go somewhere any time you’re off. I went to the Post Theater tonight. I enjoyed myself. Well, folks, this isn’t very interesting so I’ll close.

I love you,

Glenn

Send those gloves, will you, Mama?”

combat training in Iowa in 1944

(Glenn third from right, kneeling)

Training days were grueling but had to be to give the young men their best opportunity for survival. Soon “The Crew” would ship out to England to join the 8th. Air Force.

Stay tuned.

 

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a man of letters (4) – the boys go to war


On June 27, 1943, Glenn delivered bad news to his parents.

“Dear Mama and Daddy,

I know how upset you are about my enlisting this summer, but I have to do what I feel is right for me. I’ve finished two years at Lamar College, so I’ll have a good start on my degree when I get home. I want to be the best teacher I can be – just like Mr. Wilcox and Miss Helen McCune and all the others in Richards.

But, I couldn’t stay in college with Ray and everybody else I know going off to fight the Nazis. Even Terrell has signed up for the Navy. Lucy is going to be awful lonesome without her two best guys taking care of her.

I promise you both that I’ll come home safe and sound, okay? Daddy, I’ll be able to make your birthday next month before I have to leave. I’m not sure what assignment I’ll have to start.

Your son,

Glenn

P.S. A funny thing happened when I went to enlist. The recruiter told me I was too skinny to be accepted into the Air Force. He told me to go home and eat as many bananas as I could and come back to weigh. I ate so many bananas I was sick, but I weighed just enough to get in.”

George Morris and his two sons plus one in Richards

(l. to r. ) George, Glenn, Ray, Terrell

Glenn, the self-proclaimed college man, was 18 years old – short and skinny –  when he stood in the summer heat in June of 1943 with hundreds of other Texans as the long lines inched toward the door of the recruiting center in Houston. His older brother Ray had joined the Air Force a few weeks earlier at this same site.

 Brothers Glenn and Ray

both chose to serve in the Army Air Corps in WWII

On July 19, 1943, Private G.L. Morris sent a post card from his first assignment in Laredo, Texas at gunnery school.

“Dear Folks, Mama, I got your cake yesterday and it must have been pretty good. I got 2 pieces of it before the hounds ate it. They seemed to really enjoy it. Love, Glenn”

My grandmother did the only thing she knew to do to help with the war effort. She baked a cake. (This was a great tradition she continued when I was in college.)

On December 11, 1943 a letter came from HEADQUARTERS, ARMY AIR FORCES CENTRAL FLYING TRAINING COMMAND OFFICE OF THE COMMANDING GENERAL

Mr. and Mrs. George Morris, Richards, Texas

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Morris,

In a memorandum which has come to my desk this morning, I note that your boy has been classified for training as a Navigator in the Army Air Forces.

In order to win this war, it is vital to have the best qualified young men in charge of navigating our bombardment airplanes. Upon them will depend in large measure the success of our entire war effort.

The position of Navigator calls for a high degree of intelligence, alertness and coolness. Not only the success of the mission, but the safety of his crew-mates, depends on the speed and skill with which he performs his calculations. Men who will make good material for training as Navigators are rare. The Classification Board believes that your boy has the necessary reliability, character and mathematical aptitude.

If he shows the progress we confidently expect of him, he will in all probability win his wings as a qualified Navigator. Considering the rigid requirements for this training, you have every reason to be proud of your boy today. I congratulate you and him.

Sincerely yours,

G.C. Brant

Major General, U. S. Army Commanding”

Private G. L. Morris

Wow. Clearly General Brant had found his calling after a lengthy career in other areas of military service. I don’t mean any disrespect, but what must he have written to the parents of the pilots…and I do wonder if my grandparents were consoled by his letter on such grand stationery when the fate of both their sons was somehow connected to the stars on his uniform.

Stay tuned for hot and heavy romance in Glenn’s letters to Selma beginning in January, 1944. Navigator training wasn’t nearly as fascinating as she was.

********************************

I am deeply disturbed by the images I saw this morning of the detention centers on the border towns in the Rio Grande Valley in my home state of Texas. Since I am lost in the 1940s these days, the pictures are reminiscent of the children being separated from their mothers and fathers in concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

I cannot believe this current policy is who we are as a nation. Neither Pretty nor I accept this inhumane treatment perpetrated in the name of the law of the land. Not our land. Not our laws.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his third inaugural address to Congress in January, 1941 outlined what he called the four essential human freedoms:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor– anywhere in the world…

Sometimes we fail to hear or heed these voices of freedom because to us the privilege of our freedom is such an old, old story.”

America has been the voice and example of freedom since 1776. We have fought wars to protect freedom, to offer opportunity and hope for those who have no hope. The huddled masses are knocking at our door again in 2018. Let them in.

 

 

 

 

 

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a man of letters (3) – prejudice by any other name is still prejudice


While the war took center stage in everyone’s mind in 1942 and my dad noticed that his hunting and fishing buddies in Richards, Texas had a younger sister, apparently hormones were also raging in my dad’s brother Ray who would have been almost twenty years old in April of 1942 when he received a surprise letter in the mail from his mother. It was dated April 27th.

“Dear Ray,

Your daddy and I were tickled with your surprise visit this past weekend. You always have to work, and it was a treat for us to have you home for a whole weekend. I am pleased to see that your appetite is still good. I’ve never seen anyone love chicken and dumplings the way you do!

Now, son, I need to have a serious talk with you about Geneva Walkoviak. I know that you had two dates with her while you were home. We can’t have you getting too serious about Geneva. And, I’m sure you know why. Even though she is pretty and seems sweet enough, the facts are that she is Polish and Catholic and those are two things that don’t mix in our family. You may not be able to appreciate the problems with that, but take my word for it. You stay with your own kind. Now, let’s leave it at that. I know you wouldn’t want to let us down.

Try to make it home for your daddy’s birthday this summer.

All our love,

Mama and Daddy”

Polish. Catholic. Prejudice takes twists and turns through the years, decades, centuries. The names change, but the sentiments do not. Polish people in Richards at that time had a distinct accent – they were often first and second generation immigrants who farmed the contrary Texas land. The children rode a small yellow school bus to the red brick schoolhouse in town carrying the hopes and dreams of their families in tiny brown paper lunch bags. The men and boys got their haircuts at my grandfather’s barbershop. Their money, as is always the case in prejudice, was evidently neither Polish nor Catholic.

Today bigotry is often based on what language is spoken, skin color, or country of origin. Hispanic refugees and others seeking asylum in this country are subjected to inhumane treatment that is unacceptable to all of us who respect the values our nation was founded on: everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We do not separate children from their mothers and then put them in prison camps. We’ve done that before to African-American slaves whose families were ripped apart and scattered to the four winds. That is not who we think we are. That is not who we are, is it?

Catholics – Jews – Muslims. The religion roller coaster ride continues with death-defying speed and mind-boggling ticket prices.

What a tangled web we weave in a small rural southeast Texas community consumed by the thought of a war in 1942, and yet my grandmother decided to set aside time to write a letter to my uncle which sadly exhibited the same kinds of prejudice that created anti-Semitism in Germany which was the impetus for the war in the first place, where a name like Walkoviak and a pretty Catholic girl named Geneva could become the target of pointed prejudice.

I am ashamed and saddened by this letter. I do not find it surprising, however, because I remember my grandmother as a wonderful strong funny woman – but flawed. She would have been 39 years old when she wrote that revealing letter to her son. I’m not sure her positions changed during the next forty-five years of her life. She agonized over voting for the Democratic candidate John Kennedy in 1960 because of his Catholicism, for example; but I do recall she relented in later years when her grandson, one of Ray’s sons, married a Catholic girl.

My dad, on the other hand, must have been blissfully unaware of the family drama because three months after his mother’s letter to his brother, he wrote to his parents following a visit  for his father’s birthday on July 29th. His father turned 44 on that birthday. This letter is dated August 1, 1942.

“Dear Mama and Daddy,

It was good to be home for Daddy’s birthday this week. I’m back at work today, and the grocery store is still standing. And, I’m still stocking shelves. Talk about boring. At least, it gives me money for school and to help Lucy and Terrell with the bills. It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Beaumont for a whole year.

The War is the big topic on campus and off. Doesn’t look like we’re doing very good against the bad guys. Daddy, you better go up to Washington and see Mr. Roosevelt. I think he needs some good advice for a change. You could get things going in the right direction.

I didn’t see much of Ray while we were home. He spends a lot of time with Geneva Walkoviak. She’s the only one he likes to spend money on. Of course, I guess you didn’t see much of me, either. Selma and I went to see the same movie three times. I’m beginning to like her more than her brothers.

Probably won’t be home again until Christmas. The classes are a little harder this year. But, you’ll see that my grades are hanging in there really good. I want you to be proud of me.

Your son,

Glenn Morris”

Obviously my uncle Ray rejected his mother’s ultimatum and continued to date the pretty Polish girl who happened to be Catholic. That made me smile.

Throughout 1942 the impact of the war came closer and closer to home as more  young men enlisted – teenage boys were leaving their farms, day jobs, and classrooms to join the armed forces. They would soon cross oceans by sea and air to defend their country from the Axis powers.

Stay tuned

Ray and his mama

my grandmother

 

 

 

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a man of letters (2) – beyond Pearl Harbor


When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Sunday December 7, 1941, America was shaken out of its apathy toward the war in Europe and the Pacific. The country was irrevocably changed. My grandmother, who routinely wrote letters to her family on Monday mornings, had this to say in one of those letters to her daughter, son-in-law and younger son who was living with his sister in Beaumont, Texas on Monday, December 8, 1941.

“Dear Lucy, Terrell and Glenn,

Well, we are in total shock this morning after the news yesterday! We can’t believe the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. How in the world could that even happen? So many killed and wounded. We just can’t begin to understand it.

But, we all know now that Mr. Roosevelt will have to protect us and that we’ll be caught up in the thick of all this fighting. I’m worried sick for all my boys, including you, Terrell. Your daddy and I are grateful that we have a good Democrat in charge of the country in times like these.

It really is old blue Monday today, the bluest of them all for me. I feel so helpless. But, I’ve got to get to stirring around.

We love you,

Mama and Daddy”

A week later on December 15th my aunt Lucy wrote her parents:

“Dear Daddy and Mama,

We are all so upset here, too. It’s all any of us can talk about. Terrell and Glenn and I just wonder what’s going to happen next? We’re trying to keep going on with our everyday lives, but it’s hard to do when you’re this worried and upset about everything. Thank goodness for President Roosevelt. He keeps us believing that we can win against all odds.

We can’t wait to get home for Christmas – especially this year. We’ll plan to drive up Christmas Eve after work and spend the night. Terrell has to work the day after Christmas, but we’ll stay as long as we can after lunch on Christmas Day.

I love you both dearly,

Lucy”

My dad turned seventeen in October of 1941. He graduated from high school the previous May and worked in a grocery store to be able to attend Lamar College in Beaumont. The first exchange of letters I discovered between my mom and dad occurred early in 1942 following his Christmas visit home to Richards. Even the dark clouds of war couldn’t totally prevent raging teenage hormones. He wrote this letter on January 6, 1942.

“Dear Selma,

I am back in classes and taking a full load, as we college men say. I still have my Weingarten’s job, too. What would they do without me?

I just wanted to say that I enjoyed seeing you and all of your brothers while I was at home for Christmas. Ray and Daddy and I had a fine quail hunt with Marion and Toby. Charlie must have been courting Sue Ellen. I didn’t see much of him.

Speaking of courting, I was wondering if you knew who that girl was who I saw watching me walking home the night I took Betty Jo Lund to the movies? She looked a lot like you. Not nearly as cute as you, though.

I guess you’re so happy being a junior this year that you don’t have time to write an old friend of your brothers. Just in case you do, I wrote my address at Lucy’s on the envelope.

Cordially,

Glenn Morris”

I just love that “cordially, Glenn Morris.” My mom finally responded to the letter more than a month later. On February 12, 1942 she wrote…

“Dear Glenn,

I was glad to get your letter after Christmas. I am nervous about writing a college man, and that is why it’s taken me a while to write you back. Plus, everyone is so upset about the war. Mother is worried because Marion and Charlie are thinking about signing up for the Navy. Our cousin, C.H., is talking to them about it. He says they should come with him. He doesn’t have any brothers of his own. I know Mother won’t like it if they go.

I think your sister, Lucy, is the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in real life.

Well, I’m sorry this isn’t a very good letter, but I don’t know what else to write.

Sincerely,

Selma

P.S. I think you must be mistaken about the girl waiting up for you.”

Selma in high school

In January, 1942 American troops were sent to Samoa to try to stop the Japanese advance in the Pacific, the first American forces landed in Europe in Northern Ireland, Hitler threatened the Jews with annihilation and blamed the failure of the German army in the Soviet Union on the weather. Twenty-six Allied countries signed a Declaration by United Nations on New Years’s Day in 1942 that became the foundation for the United Nations. Strangely, Japan declared war on the Netherlands on January 10, 1942.

WWII cast long shadows of fear and uncertainty in the lives of families everywhere around the globe, including my own that was tucked away in a small town near the entrance to the Sam Houston National Forest. My family’s faith in Mr. Roosevelt was unwavering. As Lucy said, “he keeps us believing that we can win against all odds.”

My grandmother’s  worries that “we’ll be caught up in the thick of all this fighting” proved to be true. Many of the boys in the little town of Richards would enlist in the armed forces including her own two sons and Selma’s brothers who  signed up in the Navy with their cousin C.H.

Stay tuned.

 

 

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a man of letters – 1941 before Pearl Harbor


My dad and eight classmates graduated from Richards High School in rural Grimes County, Texas on May 22, 1941. He was 16 years old, the smallest and youngest boy in his class – but chosen to be class president. On graduation day he delivered the “welcome” to a small group of families and friends sitting inside a hot gymnasium on wooden folding chairs that were always used by the school for assemblies and special occasions.

My grandmother was an archivist when it came to her three children, particularly for her youngest, my dad Glenn, and had preserved a copy of his speech on graduation day. The welcome was full of the biggest words he could think of and/or make up. Have a listen.

“…In recognition thereof, I do hereby proclaim it as a day to be set aside from the rest for universal celebration, in the making of speeches and the lifting aloft our voices in praise and jollification, and the pouring forth of songs of subtle and diverse significance that the air may bound with the echoes of our tongues’ rejoicing…”

I’m trying to picture this little 16-year-old blonde headed boy coming up with such big words and actually reading them to the farmers, cattlemen, shopkeepers, wives, mothers, other children gathered there. What were they thinking, for example, when they heard the word jollification.

One person in that audience for sure loved it and wrote this letter a few days later on May 27, 1941 to her eldest child, my aunt Lucy, who was 22 years old at the time.

“Dear Lucy,

I’m so glad that you and Terrell  were able to drive up from Beaumont for Glenn’s graduation Friday night. I was so proud of his speech, weren’t you? He had wanted it to be memorable, as he phrased it. Isn’t that something? A sixteen-year-old boy wanting to be memorable. I’m sure that being the youngest and smallest in that class made him try so hard to be good at whatever he does. It certainly seemed like his other classmates were paying attention to all those big words anyway.

I can’t believe my baby boy has graduated from high school. Do you remember when we moved to Richards in 1925 in the old Model T? Glenn wasn’t even two years old. Ray was five, and you were seven. Your daddy took a big chance moving us all here and opening his own barbershop. I can tell you I was afraid. But, things have a way of working out the way they’re meant to, I guess, and I couldn’t see us living anywhere else again.

I had the funniest picture in my mind when Glenn was giving his speech. All those years ago when you and I were in the kitchen and I had sent the boys to bring the wood for the stove. You looked out the window and pointed at Ray pulling the wagon with the wood stacked up so high, and Glenn was riding on top while Ray struggled. You and I got so tickled. We laughed until the tears rolled down our cheeks.

Well, give our love to Terrell. You are lucky to have that fine young man. Your daddy and I really think the world of him.

It’s old blue Monday, and I’ve got to get moving.

                           We love you,

                 Mama and Daddy”

My uncle Ray, always the most practical and industrious of my grandmother’s three children, had this advice several days after Dad’s graduation..

“Dear Mama and Daddy,

I forgot to tell you when I was there for Glenn’s graduation last week, but I believe you need to raise your prices, Daddy. They’re getting 75 cents for a haircut in Houston these days and a whole dollar for a shave. And, nobody does as good a job as you do. I’m prejudiced. Got to go. I’m working overtime this week to make some extra money.

Your son,

Ray”

Two months after the graduation, Lucy writes in July, 1941.

“Dear Daddy and Mama,

Glenn made it down here safe and sound, and he’s going out to the college to get registered for summer school today. Don’t worry, Mama. He’ll be fine staying with us. Terrell really likes him, and I think Glenn thinks a lot of Terrell, too. I know it was sort of a hurried up decision, but he really didn’t have anything else to do this summer in Richards so he might as well go on to school and get a job here. He’s such a mess — says he’s going to borrow the money from Ray for his tuition. I told him to get a job. We’ll work it out as we go along.

Saw an article about small towns in Texas in the paper the other day. Gosh, Richards is booming compared to most of them. Daddy, we can thank you for all that prosperity in Grimes County, can’t we? Your barbershop and dry cleaning business are the center of Main Street activities. Mr. McAfee’s drug store, Batey and Lenorman garages, the Borings’ picture show and café, Dr. Sanders – where would any of them be without Daddy to bring folks to town every week?

Daddy fought the Depression with a razor and a pair of scissors. He didn’t need a sword. I’m so proud.

I love you both dearly,

Lucy”

Toward the end of that graduation speech in May, the youthful Glenn spoke of his hope for a future he had no way of knowing was going to be permanently altered for him and his classmates before the end of the year.

“Therefore, as we look back over the past, with all its great and wonderful victories and achievements, and look forward to the future, with all its yet more wonderful promise of great and glorious things yet to come, and mighty and marvelous deeds awaiting our hands for the doing…”

This boy with his youthful optimism would find himself engaged in mortal  combat as a navigator on an airplane carrying bombs for 35 missions over Germany before he was 19 years old. However, prior to his enlistment to serve his country on a battlefield in the air, he moved to Beaumont to live with his sister and her husband following his graduation from high school.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to be home for his dad’s birthday on July 29, 1941. Beaumont was 90 miles from Richards.

Instead, he wrote a letter to his dad:

“Happy Birthday, Daddy!

I wish I could be there in person to help you celebrate today. It’s the first birthday I’ve missed with you. Lucy and Terrell had planned to bring me home, but my boss at the Weingarten’s wouldn’t let me have the day off. I guess he was afraid the grocery business would go bankrupt if I wasn’t there to stock the shelves. Just know that I am with you and Mama in spirit, though.

I’m sure a bunch of the old men at the barbershop kept you busy with their gossip and whittling away. How’s Mr. Howard McCune doing? How about Chili Caldwell? He’s the best one for carving animals. I fully expect his hewn cows to moo.

How old are you today? I think Lucy said you were forty-three. You’re really my old man now!

I love you, Daddy, and hope that I’ll be as good as you when I’m old,

Glenn

P.S. I made a 95 on my first math exam at Lamar College. Pretty good, huh?”

Sunday is Father’s Day and while I think of him every day, the holiday prompted me to spend this week with my daddy and our family through the letters they wrote. He died from colon cancer when he was 51 so I am grateful for the history my grandmother preserved.

Many years ago I collected the remains of my grandmother’s and aunt’s letters, pictures and assorted papers which I planned to use in a project called A Man of Letters. The project fizzled and languished, but I always planned to return to it because for me, this is more than a story of one man – it is a glimpse into the experiences of what family life was in rural America and how that environment nurtured the sons and daughters who became known as the Greatest Generation.

Our family survived the Great Depression with a razor and a pair of scissors but they would be tested again by the end of 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor creating a chain of events none of them could have foreseen. Stay tuned.

Daddy with his mother in Richards

my grandfather before he became a barber

Lucy, Ray and Glenn

 

 

 

 

 

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book club bonuses


The pub was packed as Pretty and I followed the hostess to a small room in the very back of the Main Street tavern known as O’Hara’s in Lexington, SC. Sounds of busy bartenders slinging ice into cocktail glasses and pulling levers for draft beer mixed with the heavenly aromas of bbq wings drifting from the kitchen –  good signs for a place we’d never visited before. The day was a Thursday, and people were hooking up after work to prepare for Friday and the weekend. No inside voices inside this bar for sure.

When the hostess indicated where we were to go, we stepped into a little room with eight smiling people waiting for us. They were the book club we had been invited to meet with that night to talk about Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home, the anthology I edited that was published by the University of South Carolina Press earlier this year. One of the members, our friend Tony, had selected the book for his club meeting during Pride Month and, judging from the warm welcome we received, the book had been much appreciated.

I always love an opportunity to talk about Committed to Home and getting to discuss it with book clubs is a bonus because book club members are more likely to actually read books. I love them for it.

Everyone had a beverage and food while I answered questions, offered extra information on the book cover, little tidbits on rejection letters from other publishers and also discussed a few of the contributors. Pretty and I sampled the delicious wings we’d sniffed on the way in. They were as good as they’d smelled.

While we ate, Pretty chatted away with Tony and a couple of other members who were close to us. I heard her talk about joining the club so I knew she was having fun. Pretty belonged to a book club many years ago that she still misses very much.

The noise from the bar outside our small room gradually reached a crescendo which made the larger group interaction more difficult so we began talking in smaller groups of twos and threes to the persons we sat next to or across from. One of the book club members, a woman about my age, leaned across the table to talk directly to me. I was completely enthralled by her story.

Connie moved to the Columbia area from Missouri in the early 1990s and discovered Traxx, the lesbian bar discussed in Committed to Home by contributor Deborah Hawkins who opened Traxx. On one of her visits to the bar, Connie picked up a magazine called In Unison in which she saw an advertisement for a group called Lesbians without Partners. Since she was single and interested in meeting other lesbians, Connie decided to give it a try. She discovered the group had been started by an African American woman named Kat who had a single lesbian daughter. She asked me if I knew Kat or the group, but I told her regretfully I’d never heard of it.

One of the other women she met in the new group was Nancy who had moved here from New York. Nancy asked at one of the meetings if anyone liked to go fishing; Connie said that she did. Nancy had a boat and a place at Lake Murray but nobody to fish with. To add to her woes, she told the group she’d been stood up several times by people who promised her they would go but then never showed. Connie assured her she wouldn’t be in that category so they agreed on a day and time for the fishing trip.

The night before Connie was to meet Nancy, a terrible thunderstorm brought tons of rain and much colder temperatures for the day afterwards. The last thing she wanted to do was go fishing, Connie thought. But she didn’t want to be one of the women who disappointed Nancy so she dressed warmly and spent the day on a fishing boat on Lake Murray talking nonstop with her “singles” group friend and found that neither had any real interest in the lines they threw in the water that day.

Connie knew that Traxx was having a Beaufort stew night at the bar that night and promised to introduce Nancy to the people she knew if she would like to come. Nancy did go and met Connie there. Apparently as the night wore along Nancy was more interested in Connie than in the other lesbians she met that night. The rest, as they say, was history…but not quite.

Both Connie and Nancy loved their singles group which had a rule prohibiting dating among the members. In order to maintain their membership, they asked Kat if they could still belong by alternating meetings. Connie would come to one meeting, Nancy to the next. Slightly unorthodox, but Kat agreed. I can imagine she was happy for her two singles to make a double.

Twenty-seven years later these two remarkable married women sat across from me in a tiny room at a pub in Lexington, SC as members of another group: a book club formed with friends from their church. I felt their story was another bonus for me that night. They lived the early days of the LGBTQ movement in our state – and tonight they could read about a few of the leaders of our movement, people who had worked to provide support to them by changing the political landscape of a conservative southern state.

Thank goodness for Deborah Hawkins’s taking a leap of faith to start what she hoped would be a community center for lesbians, thank goodness for Tige Watts and Nigel Mahaffey for publishing a community magazine called In Unison, and a special thank you to Kat wherever she is today. If anyone knows her, please tell her Connie and Nancy haven’t forgotten her or the singles group she started.

Many thanks, also, to Tony Roof for choosing Committed to Home for his book club during Pride Month and for his ongoing support of our LGBTQ community. Pretty and I had a special night with you and your friends.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, racism, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

HAPPY PRIDE!


Thanks to my Wells Fargo ATM machine for wishing me a Happy Pride Month when I stopped by today to make a cash withdrawal. My first thought was to wonder how the machine knew I was a lesbian? Seriously. I stared at the screen for a few seconds in disbelief.

I mean, I knew technology now did wondrous things, but had “gaydar” been installed in ATM machines…then I noticed instructions to hit Print if I wanted to see more information on the subject after my transaction receipt was printed. So, of course I did, and this is what rolled out.

Standing together with the LGBTQ community

It’s a commitment we made 30 years ago. Since then we’ve contributed over $50 million and countless team member volunteer hours to organizations that are making a difference…

…including the important work done by GLSEN, Point Foundation, SAGE and The Trevor Project…

Naturally my cynical self said well, this bank has had so much negative press in recent years they are grasping at straws to attract and keep customers.

But, then my old lesbian activist juices kicked in and I broke into my imaginary version of a Happy Dance which shouted Hallelujah! I just witnessed an ATM of a major financial institution recognizing Pride Month in 2018 and I couldn’t wait to get home to tell Pretty about it. She was equally impressed.

Please know that I share this with my cyberspace friends not as an endorsement of Wells Fargo or any of its various services – I’m simply “paying” it forward to wish all of you a Joyous June as you reflect on the progress we’ve made in our quest for equality during the past 50 years notwithstanding the setbacks in recent months of the policies of a new administration in the executive branch of the federal government, the apathy of the legislative branch for social justice as evidenced by a Congress mired in a bog of disputes unrelated to those issues and the judicial decision this week by the Supreme Court that will encourage the No Gays Allowed signs like the one posted in a hardware store outside of Knoxville, Tennessee following that decision (which must have been printed in advance with high hopes of the chance to place it in the window asap).

Harriet Hancock ended her essay in Committed to Home with a blessing that I love. I wish I’d written it.

May you be blessed with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep in your heart. May you be blessed with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people and the earth so that you will work for justice, equality, and peace. May you be blessed with tears to shed for those who suffer so that you will reach out to comfort them and change their pain to joy. And may you be blessed with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world, so you will do the things others say cannot be done.

Happy Pride!

Nothing says PRIDE like a PARADE!

(SC Pride March in October, 2015)

 

 

 

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Dimples, Butch, Buttercup, Sissy… Sissy?


Pretty, the great Treasure Hunter, occasionally brings home items that fascinate. One such find this week was two versions of a board game I played as a child growing up in rural Grimes County, Texas. Before the television set took over as our main form of entertainment, my family played all kinds of games from dominoes to gin rummy to board games Santa Claus left for me under the tree at Christmas. One of our family favorite board games was Go to the Head of the Class which was supposedly “educational” as well as fun. With school teacher parents, I played tons of “educational” games.

fifth series copyrighted in 1949 by Milton Bradley, publisher

The game was originally played with tokens that were cardboard images of children attached to wooden bases. Each game had 8 tokens, and their pictures were on the book that contained the questions.

(top row, l. to r.) Sissy, Dimples, Liz and Butch

(bottom row, l. to r.) Sonny, Buttercup, Susie and Red

Sissy

I can’t find the edition when publisher Milton Bradley eliminated the unsmiling player named Sissy, but I can assure you it would have been the last token picked in my family. Buttercup would have run a close second to the last.

Take a good look at Sissy, the little boy whose two obvious distinguishing features were that he wore glasses and parted his hair down the middle like the little girl tokens.

I remembered Jim Blanton’s essay in Committed to Home where he talked about growing up in Gaffney, South Carolina and being called “sissy” as a child and teenager by bullies in school. Words, labels that cause pain.

I’m sure my parents were oblivious to the subtle cultural messages being sent to me in our educational games, but for me this game was one more nail in the coffin of internalized homophobia and intentional segregation in my childhood. Never any people of color as the tokens. No one wanted to be known as a “sissy,” and how could I explain to anyone why I always picked “Butch” first?

Be aware of bias and labels that hurt. Be kind to each other. Be safe this weekend.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Posted in Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, racism, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

in conclusion (3) and oh yeah, about roseanne


The Alabama River was a picture of calm and serenity that stood in sharp contrast to our day filled with turbulence and uneasiness. The colorful cocktails, merriment of the partygoers on our riverboat cruise and the blaring upbeat music of the band on the boat lifted my spirits and those of my sister Leora who had been with me on what I called Pretty’s Civil Rights tour. Pretty missed her calling – she should have been a tour guide.

The boat ride was the perfect end to an intense three days of fun, sharing family stories of our mothers who had an unbreakable bond that was the original reason for our connection and, of course, our trip that none of us would ever forget.

Too much commotion to talk, but not too much to reflect on the journey, as the riverboat glided slowly through the water.

my sister Leora on our riverboat cruise in Montgomery, Alabama…

thinking her own thoughts

We squeezed in under the wire for the last tour of the day for the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church following our visit to The Legacy Museum. The church was rich in history but was usually identified by its connection to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was its pastor from 1954 – 1960. Dr. King was recognized as one of the co-founders of the Civil Rights Movement during his tenure at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The meeting to launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott was held in the basement of the church on December 2, 1956.

What an incredible experience we all had with our tour guide Wanda – her joy in sharing the history of the church was infectious…her storytelling made the history come alive. She provided opportunities for our personal interactions within the sacred surroundings. Two moments from the church basement tour stood out to me as I settled into my thoughts on the riverboat ride late in the afternoon.

The original lectern Dr. King used in his meetings was still standing in the basement of the church. Wanda allowed each of our small group of six (another married couple from Kansas had joined us) to stand behind that lectern and repeat his words: “How long? Not long.” I put both my hands on the lectern as I repeated the short phrases, how long? not long. I felt a crack in the veil of shame for an entire race that I had worn since The Legacy Museum visit earlier that day. If Dr. King could say “not long,” then surely time was meaningless; redemption was still possible for all who repented. How long? Not long.

I wanted to add “too long.”

As the basement tour came to an end, Wanda asked us all to feel the Dexter Avenue love by forming a circle, holding hands and encouraging a volunteer  from the group to lead us in prayer. That someone turned out to be our Carmen, Leora’s daughter and Willie’s granddaughter, who spontaneously led us in a very powerful spiritual moment of love and affirmation of goodness that moved me to tears. Carmen’s prayer was my second memory maker of the church basement tour.

I was still lost in the day when our cocktail waitress asked if we wanted to start a tab at the bar on the riverboat. Sure, I said, as the lady with the band began to sing along with her husband who was the lead singer and guitarist. Leora and I both knew all the words to Polk Salad Annie so we joined in with the rest of the riverboat guests – making a joyful noise with exuberance.

We reluctantly said farewell to the Alabama River when we docked two hours later and had only one minor mishap that occurred when we made it back to our car. No keys. Someone was supposed to be taking care of the keys Pretty dropped on our table while she and Carmen climbed to the upper deck. Luckily, the responsible person had knocked them under the table in her slightly inebriated state, and there they remained for Pretty to retrieve with minimal delays. Too much Polk Salad Annie.

As The Red Man was fond of saying, all good things must come to an end, and the next day Pretty drove us back to Louisiana where Leora’s son and niece met Leora and Carmen to take them home to Texas. Many tears were shed that afternoon…we vowed to do better about keeping in touch in person…texting wasn’t good enough. Life is too short, we said as we hugged and cried.

And to add one of Pretty’s favorite quotes, life is also too messy. We have been home for one week and yet another white celebrity exposes her prejudice toward people of color in the headlines this morning. I challenge her to go to Selma and Montgomery and Birmingham to witness a sinister part of our American history that continues to plague our culture today. I challenge every citizen to make that tour in Alabama and then believe with me in Dr.King’s hope for all people everywhere:

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Thank you for making this journey with us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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notes of two native daughters, a native granddaughter, and a native daughter-in-law (2)


This quotation from Maya Angelou is written on the walls of what is now The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration located on the site of a former warehouse where slaves were kept in prison while awaiting their fate in Montgomery, Alabama before the Civil War and the emancipation proclamation. Pretty, our tour guide, had made reservations for us to visit this museum at 9:30 last Saturday morning so our group of four was up and about very early on a gorgeous warm day. Our motel was right around the corner from the museum so we all walked over – still laughing and teasing each other about the winning and losing from the card games the night before.

The museum itself is open to the public by reservation, but it is not staffed by tour guides. Everyone is allowed to wander at their own pace to read the explanations of the artifacts, documents and jars of dirt collected at verified lynching sites across the country from 1882 to the present. The number of sites is still undetermined but from 1882 – 1968, nearly 5,000 African Americans were reportedly lynched in states across this country. Congressman John Lewis who wrote the foreword for the book Without Sanctuary calls these lynchings the  “hangings, burnings, castrations and torture of an American holocaust…what is it in the human psyche that would drive a person to commit such acts of violence against their fellow citizens?”

Our group split up as we meandered around through the various amazing exhibits. Pretty and I wandered in one direction, Leora and Carmen went off on their own journey through time as we all saw the intimate lives of American slaves come alive through the magic of hologram technology that portrayed the heartache of families savagely separated from each other, the pleas of the children looking for their mother. Interesting fact:  approximately 12 million people were kidnapped over the three centuries of slave trade to America, according to The Legacy Museum. 12 million living, breathing individuals. I felt overwhelmed by the atrocities with each turn Pretty and I made on our visit.

Overwhelmed, ashamed, guilty, angry – those are the emotions that swirled around in my mind with each personal account of my legacy as a white person in America. The pictures that showed cheering crowds of us – sometimes in the thousands – while an African American man was hanged, shot, burned…pieces of his body sold as souvenirs…post card pictures made…popcorn sold. I dreaded looking at the people watching the horrific acts in a party mood with as much fear that I would recognize someone in the crowds as the fear I felt for forcing myself to look at the actual horrific acts perpetrated by the mob violence. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how Leora and Carmen felt.

The museum connects the legacy of slavery with subsequent decades of racial terrorism and lynching. Visitors see the link between codified racial hierarchy enforced by elected official and law enforcement with both the past and the present. Contemporary issues surrounding mass incarceration are explored with interactive exhibits and examination of important issues surrounding conditions of confinement, police violence, and the administration of criminal justice.”  (Legacy Museum – Equal Justice Initiative)

Interesting fact: One in three black male babies born today is expected to go to jail or prison in his lifetime.  One in three. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. In 1979 when Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, roughly 320,000 people were in prison in our country. Now, the current total incarcerated is 2.1 million people with a higher percentage of people of color.

As Pretty and I were getting ready to leave the museum, Pretty wheeled me to a very large interactive map of the USA. By merely clicking on an individual state, the number of lynched persons discovered to date in that state was highlighted. I foolishly couldn’t resist my native state of Texas. The total number was 338. The interactive map also showed the details by county: the name of the person and the date of the lynching. I made the mistake of going to my home county, Grimes, and saw the names and dates of 10 black men lynched there. Right in my home county. Where were my grandparents on those days, or did I really want to know?

Shortly thereafter, Pretty and I left the museum. Leora and Carmen were not far behind us. We were all truly lost in our own thoughts and the walk back to the hotel was very quiet.

As usual, Pretty saved the day by encouraging us to finish packing for checkout, finish the leftover food in our room, and call for our car. We were headed for what turned out to be redemption for us all at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and a woman named Wanda who helped us shift our focus from evil to good. Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

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