Friday, April 14, 2006

READING FOR MY LIFE: 1943

If I thought 1942 was a stalled year, 1943 was worse. It was a year of waiting; actually the first year of waiting. America would be waiting until 1945 for this war that was supposed to save democracy to be over. Like any activity begun in a spirit of excitement and high hopes, there is always the long slow part when the activity gets accomplished. While there was plenty of news and action connected with the war, my parents were in limbo. They were waiting to get married, waiting to start their life together and trying to see each other when their schedules and finances permitted.

Only two of the bestsellers in this year were about World War II; three were about Christianity and the rest were historical novels set in America and England. Among the other books I read, three concerned the war and two were historical, but also we have some modern ideas from Simon deBeauvoir and Ayn Rand. Quite a good mix of subjects, styles and viewpoints. Since it takes a good year or so to write a novel, it will be a year or so before the war shows up predominately in the fiction.

In film, "Mrs Miniver" (made from that sappy book of the same title published in 1940), took Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler) and Best Actress (Greer Garson) at the Academy Awards. James Cagney won Best Actor for "Yankee Doodle Dandy", another highly patriotic picture.

Popular songs in 1943 were "Mairzy Doats"; "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning"; "People Will Say We're In Love"; "I'll Be Seeing You (In All The Old Familiar Places)"; and "Comin' In On A Wing And A Prayer." Jitterbugging took over from the Lindy Hop as the newest dance craze.

Now that the United States is in the war, the soldiers and planes have arrived in Europe, Africa and the Far East, giving the Allies the much needed military power to start turning things around. Germany starts to suffer some losses and Italy is defeated. Penicillin and streptomycin are being used to treat disease, but a polio epidemic strikes in the United States. FDR freezes wages, salaries and prices in an effort to forestall inflation, while Keynes begins to promote an international currency union. Meat, cheese, fats, canned goods and shoes are rationed. Coal miners strike and there are race riots in Northern cities. A 1300 mile-long oil pipeline from Texas to Pennsylvania begins operation.

The seeds are being sown for another phase of the rich becoming richer and the poor getting poorer. Women are entering the work force, since all the men are gone for soldiers. Little do they know that in less than a decade they will be back in their aprons and their place will be firmly in the home.

My parents are in the middle of their long engagement. It is still four years until I will be born. They continue at their jobs, writing to each other every day and arranging visits when my Dad can get leave. They met once in Cleveland, Ohio for a weekend, each traveling on crowded trains. Since they stayed in separate rooms, they had only a few hours together. When my Dad came to visit at Valentine's Day, they went to my Mom's home. A blizzard began to blow in Port Hope, MI, so Dad wired to his base in Philadelphia that he might be late returning. He didn't want to be charged with being AWOL. On the way to the train station twenty miles away, they drove out of the storm and found the weather totally clear. Today we have the Weather Channel and know all about lake effect snow, but in those days weather was pretty much a local phenomenon.

My mother spent the summer in Port Hope, caring for her grandmother. Uncle Howard, whom she had grown up with, was in a sanitarium in Detroit, suffering from tuberculosis, and his wife, Aunt Lydia, was there to be with him. The good side of the was that my Mom got the family car. The bad side was that when her grandma was hit by a car one day that summer, it was up to my mother to get an ambulance, ride with her grandma to the hospital in the next town and watch her die of internal injuries on the way. When Aunt Lydia showed up and went into hysterical grief over the loss of her mother, the doctor had words to say about how a young woman took care of everything and kept her head. Well, that's my Mom.

But Mom told me she remembers very little from that year. It was all about waiting and enduring, which seems very long while it is going on, but leaves little material in our memories. From the literature I would say that Americans were trying to feel better and escape (as usual) but also trying to understand what was going on. It was probably similar to current times, though more intense. The war is over there, some people are losing family members and otherwise life goes on.

However, the seeds are there for ideas which will take root and grow after the war. Simone deBeauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre began their decades long experiment with free-love; and how appropriate that it began in France. Ayn Rand wrote her first testament to human achievement and artistic independence. Woody Guthrie published his story of a life dedicated to the working man in American society. It was another year on the road to a more dangerous and less innocent world. The United States began to really take on the role of Imperialism and leader of the planet, as the British Empire began to enter its death throes. For the first time, the entire globe was involved in one war, so I think one could say that globalization had its roots in these times. From lake effect snow to global warming is a big, long stretch.

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