Saturday, September 02, 2006


I started reading for this project in June, 2002, beginning with books published in 1940, even though I was born in 1947. I had the idea that I could get a sense of the times I was born into by reading fiction from the entire decade. It took me two and a half years to read from 1940 through 1947 and I began to wonder if I had set myself an unrealistic goal.

My intention is to put all these posts together into a memoir that considers the way in which the literature published during my lifetime has influenced the life I have led. Here on the blog, each year gets its own chapter. As I wrote this chapter, I was reading the last few books from 1951 which did strange loopy things to my memory, due to working in two different time periods at the same time. In 1951 I was three years old going on four. All week as I was writing and rewriting I felt distinctly odd: trouble sleeping, headaches, sinus trouble and a strange uneasy feeling about everything. This is the first chapter where I am present in the narrative, so I presume that is why it felt so bizarre. Starting a life! What an undertaking for any person, no matter what kind of life one ends up having.

But I am now glad that I read about all those previous years, because I can see where it was that I landed in 1947. My parents were still living in Pittsburgh with my dad's parents. Daddy worked at United States Steel. Mom stayed home, pregnant and doing housework with her mother-in-law, but they did not get along. There was a miniature cold war going on right in the house where I was born.

According to history books, in 1947 the biggest problem for the United States was Europe, which was in ruins from the war and threatened by communism from the Soviet Union. Stalin was in power and though the United Nations was formed and operating, Russian delegates opposed everything the other Western powers wanted. The Soviets were unruly in all conferences and wanted extensive lands in Europe under communist rule, not democracy. Truman was still President of the United States and George Marshall had been made Secretary of State. Most Americans wanted "normalcy" and prosperity, a million vets were going to college on the GI bill and no one wanted any more responsiblity for Europe or the Far East. However, the government was faced with the fact that a new enemy had arisen, one who had been an ally just two years previously. The Cold War had begun and atomic weapons were a big issue.

The Marshall Plan was proposed to Congress, calling for billions of dollars of aide to Europe, including Greece and Turkey. The theory was that people with no hope will embrace communism, but at least some hope of prosperity will keep them wanting democracy. The UN was also working out a plan for Israel, since Britain had now withdrawn from Palestine and neither the Arabs nor the Jews were happy with Britian's plan to partition the country. India gained her independence from the Commonwealth in this year as well and was another victim of partitioning, which created Pakistan. Here are many roots of the very situations that are making headlines and trouble now.

In my imagination, I think of children born in Israel, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, India and China in the same year I was born. In fact, some of those individuals are finally getting a voice in literature and film to tell the stories of their lives and societies. The themes are change, political unrest, displaced peoples and a conflict between traditional, spiritual values and the growing influence of Western money and views. An example of such juxtapostion is the excavation of the Laws of Hammurabi and the Dead Sea Scrolls, both of which came to light in 1947, while billions of dollars of United States aide was pouring across the globe.

Congress also passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, restricting labor unions. Big business was fighting back against the Democratic majority which had been in power since the Depression and through the war; a time during which labor had made a good bit of progress toward better wages and working conditions. I would guess that industry will cash in on the Marshall Plan while trying to avoid paying their workers any more than they have to. Also in 1947 the United States flew the first supersonic planes, Bell Labs invented the transistor and flying saucers were sighted. Henry Ford died and fashion was promoting the New Woman.

In film, "The Best Years of Our Lives" won Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler) and Best Actor (Fredric March). It is a postwar film about three World War II soldiers returning to life in small town America. "To Each His Own" won Best Actress (Olivia de Havilland) and is another war story about a small town girl who has an illegitimate child with a soldier and has to give up the child. How the war affected small town America was a popular subject.

Popular songs were more light-hearted and as usual dealt with love and dancing: "Almost Like Being in Love," "Papa Won't You Dance With Me?" and "I'll Dance at Your Wedding" were the hits.

In the books and literature, about half of the bestsellers were historical fiction and the other half about contemporary life, but war books were not selling in this year of "normalcy". Even in the other books I read for the year, only one was about WWII. The rest were also about postwar city life and work life except for two historical fiction novels. The stories about contemporary life included poverty, anti-semitism, racism, the entertainment business and efforts to get ahead in a postwar economy. A new development is the publication of science fiction and speculative fiction in book form. Those kinds of stories were being published in the pulp magazines all through the 30s and 40s, but due to the emergence of the paperback, could now be put into book form and reach a wider audience. They also give a feeling of looking towards the future.

I was hugely relieved not to have to read about World War II for a few months, but it was a short reprieve. The war books came back the very next year and as of 1951, are still going strong. Overall from the 1947 fiction I got a spirit of recovery from war, looking ahead, building families and futures for them.

I was born at 9:33 AM on August 18, 1947 at Allegheny General Hsopital in Pittsburgh, PA. I was delivered by Dr B O Hawk and weighed 8 lbs 8 oz, measuring 21 inches long. This is a completely average size for a baby and I have been average in size my whole life. As far as I know I was healthy and though the labor was long and they yanked me out with forceps, there were no complications. My Aunt Lois, who was a nurse at the time, was present at my birth. She was not Dr Hawk's nurse, but entered the delivery room along with my mom and was permitted to stay since she was family. That is all she remembers about it.

My mom remembers the long labor, the fact that it was about 90 degrees in the delivery room and that she missed breakfast and lunch. She decided then and there that she would have no more babies in the summer. In those days, they kept new mothers in the hospital for at least five days. The babies were kept in the nursery and only brought to the mothers at feeding time. My mom had her abdomen kneaded several times a day and went home with a flat stomach. Aunt Lois was her post-partum nurse and since she still lived at home in those days, I already knew her by the time they took me home.

I was baptized on September 21, 1947, at St Matthew's Lutheran Church by Reverend Martens. Since I was about three weeks past the due date when born, I held up the baptism of two other babies. Their mothers were friends of my mother and all were due to have babies around the same time. The other babies were born on time but the mothers decided to wait until I could be baptized too. Pastor Martens was the father of one of those babies. Until that day, the mothers in that church always held their babies during the rite, but Pastor Martens wanted to hold his own baby, so he held the other two as well, which my mom says was a big deal for him. I was good and did not cry when the water was poured over my head, but this did not please my dad. He felt that babies should cry in protest at giving up their sins, so I guess he started worrying about me right then and there.

Life at home was a tumult of issues. There were five adults in that house who were all thrilled to have a baby in the family, so I was surrounded by love and was the center of attention, a position I still enjoy. But my mother was of the mind that babies should be on a sleeping and eating schedule as soon as possible and should not be given in to at every cry, lest the baby become the ruler of the household. My grandparents believed that babies should not ever have to cry and insisted on picking me up every time I did. My grandfather in particular would walk into my parents' bedroom, where I slept, and pick me up, even if it was the middle of the night. This drove my mother to distraction. She felt he was undermining her attempts to get me on schedule and also that she and my dad had no privacy. I am pretty sure that I was the ruler of that household.

According to the baby book my mom kept, none of this did me any harm growth-wise. By the end of the year I had doubled my birth weight and grown to 27 inches. At first I was breast fed with supplementary bottles, but after a few weeks Mom and her doctor decided she did not have enough milk, so that was the end of breastfeeding for me. I never even had a cold until I was five months old and have always been healthy. I could hold my head up at two weeks and I laughed at around five months. By then I was also sitting up alone.

My first trip to town was at seven weeks, for a check-up at the doctor. On November 8, I went to my first dinner party at the home of my Great Aunts Lou and Moll. I still love dinner parties. I ended the year with my first Christmas, at which it was reported that I liked the ribbons on the packages but cried when shown a toy dog given to me by Aunt Shirly and Uncle Jim from Michigan. (I've been afraid of dogs for most of my life.)

I don't have any memories of those first four and a half months except for the impression that I was loved completely by everyone around me. I wonder if I could perceive that not everyone around me loved each other. Perhaps that awareness came later, but I seem to have always wanted all the people I loved to get along with each other. In fact, it has always bothered me when people around me are in conflict and somewhere along the line I got the idea that it was my role to resolve those conflicts. So there you have it: the training ground for a pacifist and an anti-war protestor. I would also bet that my dad was caught in the middle and did his best to smooth things over with communication, becoming my first role model for the skill of diplomacy.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:45 AM

    Well, Judy, I am happy to learn that since August of 1947 you are finally among the living.

    I've been waiting for you for five years ever since September 1942! Some day in the far future you and I will meet in person.

    From A to Z