Since returning from vacation I have spent the majority of my time holed up in my apartment avoiding the outside world. I've done a lot more reading than I have in a long time! First, I read The Pianist by Wladislaw Szpilman, and the other day I started Bess W. Truman by Margaret Truman (I am about a third of the way into it). The first was (as most of you know) a memoir about a Polish Jew's survival in Warsaw during WWII. The second covered a little about WWI, especially as it affected Kansas City, Missouri, and now I am into the portion on the Great Depression.
All of these subjects remind me of my friend Millie, another great storyteller in my life whom I forgot to mention in my post on storytelling. I met Millie several years ago in Joplin...I believe she was 93 at the time. She passed away in April 2011 at the age of 97. I thought of her when I read this paragraph in Bess about celebrating the end of WWI in Kansas City:
"Suddenly, incredibly, it was over. At 219 North Delaware [Bess's address in Independence, MO, a suburb of KC], everyone was awakened about 4 a.m. on November 11 by the sound of clanging church bells. As dawn broke, people took to the streets for the wildest celebration in the history of Independence. Bells rang, fire engines sounded their sirens, factories blew whistles, automobiles blared horns continually for the next twelve hours. Bess and her friends joined the exultant crowds in Jackson Square. It was all marvelously joyous and goodnatured. Not a single person was injured, and the only reported property damage occurred when some celebrator fired off a gun and the bullet went through a window."This was a week after my friend Millie turned 5 years old. She lived in Kansas City, too, at the time, and she once mentioned this celebration to me. She said her mother sent her and her little brother down to the dump at the end of the street they lived on to find some pots or other things to make noise with. They brought back what they found and joined all their neighbors lining the street and clanging away on anything they could find.
I asked her about her experiences during the Great Depression. She replied that her family had chickens, so it wasn't as hard on them as it was on others. She also mentioned the sad prevalence of desperate men taking their own lives during this time because of financial failure. But she also shared some less dreary memories from the era. Her mother would make rice in the mornings for breakfast, throwing in some raisins to make it sweet. She would then leave the leftovers on the table for a snack for Millie and her brother when they returned home from school in the afternoon. Millie said one of their favorite things to do to entertain themselves after school was to roll up the carpet in the living room and play some records and dance.
Millie married her husband during the Depression, too. To save on expenses, they married on Easter Sunday so the church would already be decorated with flowers. Some friends took them out for hamburgers afterwards, and the happy couple ended up with 60 cents after their big day. One of the quarters was lost somewhere along the way, but the other quarter and dime were still glued to the back of the frame with their wedding picture when I would visit Millie just a couple of years ago. In her Bible she kept the old newspaper clipping that told of their wedding. It was a lot more detailed than wedding announcements now - I particularly remember that it told what her dress looked like (which she made herself, and it was very fashionable), as well as her bridesmaids' dresses.
Millie's husband was a soldier during WWII, and stationed for a while at Fort Crowder down near Joplin (which is when and why they moved to that part of the state). Millie, too, worked on the base in the offices. She told me of dances the military personnel held on the weekends on the top floor of the old Connor Hotel (which later burned down), or out at McClelland Park, where they would line the edge of the pavillion with piles of records. Her husband was deployed at some point, and when the war ended, she met him in Washington DC. When she finally spotted him in the crowd the lower half of his face was covered in lipstick; all the young ladies were kissing every soldier they met on the street in thanks for their service and in celebration that the war was over. It reminded me of this famous scene:
They soon received a letter from Millie's father back in Kansas City. Her parents had turned the radio off early and gone to bed the evening the end of the war was announced. So the next day he got up and around for work as usual, but no one was out and about on the streets. He walked toward his dry cleaning business a few streets away, finally coming upon someone before he got there. He said, "Why are the streets so empty?" The man replied, "Man, haven't you heard? The war's over! Today is a holiday!" That was how he received the wonderful news, and how the city once again celebrated the end of a difficult era.
Lately I have been interested in theologies of play and celebration. I think they are important and intrinsic to our humanity. I have done brief Internet searches on both - I don't know that there is prolific literature on either subject, but there is some. I plan to look into it.
I will also share a few more of Millie's stories later on. She had a lot to say on the subject of a good work ethic.