of a twentieth century American
INTRODUCTION AND ULTIMATE CONFESSION
Finally after more than eighty years of experience, of learning and of searching for the truth and the secret of life, I believe that I have finally understood. I could have died, like most, ignorant and with my head full of false ideas and the secrets still not found. Why have I passed my life searching for the truth, for the secret of life. Today, I believe that I have finally understood that it is the search which is essential, not the ultimate truth, the Secret. But it has brought me neither serenity nor peace of mind.
Today all appears clear, evident and facile. I need no longer strive and search for I have seen the details and have now understood how they make up the whole.
Yes, I have understood how the cosmos, the uncountable stars, our sun, and the planets including our mother earth were formed; how life and the living appeared; and beginning billions of years ago with the unicellular, and by successive stages; how the living were able to arrive at the level of the most complex of the living: Homo sapiens-sapiens, modern man; that time and space are limitless; that there is neither beginning nor end and that we, mankind, like all the living, animal and plant, are merely instruments in the hands of mother nature and her immutable laws (nature equals God if you so wish but not in the religious images given by man).
I know that we, man, like all the living and even the inanimate like the stones, are condemned to disappear in a few billion years when the sun will have become a dying star, will expand, swallow and atomize all its planets.
I have understood that one false step, one erroneous decision or one unavoidable accident and all could have happened differently or not have happened at all! But why, even though I have understood, do I not find peace of mind ?
When you approach the final moment after a long life of experience and learning; when you believe you have understood all: why you were born, why you will soon die and that all could have easily happened differently, you have arrived at the age of reason and wisdom. But the real wisdom is that at that moment you have understood too late !
You have understood all when there is nothing more to understand. You understand that your life is but a brief moment in limitless time, the last ! Those who will follow you will continue searching for the secret of life for which there is no map, only to find like you and I that there is no secret, just life to be lived !
Like most men, most of my life I firmly believed that history is made by individual and exceptional men. Today, at the twilight of my life and after having lived and worked with men at the top, I am more than convinced that it is indeed just the contrary : it is history which chooses and makes the man. It is the events of the moment which make the choice. It is the team behind the chief which does the work and makes most of the decisions. Only the most difficult and crucial are made by the chief.
I remember the remark of president Harry Truman concerning the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan: "the buck stops here!" It is time for me to liberate myself by telling the story of my life. Can I say like Cesar: I came, I saw, I conquered: Veni, Vidi, Vici !
Les 4 frères Maykut
An infant (terrible) of the twentieth century
(A terrible infant at the beginning of the twentieth century
grown to a wise old man at the end of the century)
Edward : le premier à partir du bas
This is the true story of the life of the author and his three brothers. A banal story which begins at the start of the twentieth century and will terminate at the beginning of the twenty first.
A true story which begins in America in a small peaceful village and rapidly spreads to include the five continents, the large cities, the seven seas, the atmosphere and space during a turbulent and bloody century.
A century which began for me rather calm and relatively peaceful but misleading for it quickly became without a doubt the bloodiest and most turbulent of the past 20 centuries (and without a doubt since man developed organized social structures); with two terrible world wars: 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, followed quickly by the Korean, the Vietnamese and the Gulf wars and let us not forget the cold war of nearly fifty years (1945-1990) between my country and our allies, and the Soviet Union.
These wars resulted in the killing of hundreds of millions of innocent victims, primarily women and children, and upheavals, destructions and damages without precedent. We, the so-called highly civilized world, have surpassed by far the atrocities and massacres perpetrated by Gengis Khan, Attila and Napoleon. And we have the audacity and the pretension of claiming that we are a highly civilized people and that they were awful bloodthirsty savages !
My parents were born at the end of the nineteenth century into large and poor families. (Poverty, as always, is certainly the most frequent human condition prevalent upon our poor planet Earth).
They were obliged to leave their families to work at the age of sixteen and were married at the age of twenty in 1917. In those times couples married young and marriage was considered to be a serious step in life and that it was really "for better or for worse (often)". Divorce was quasi non-existent and reserved essentially for the rich. Today at the beginning of the twenty first century in most western nations, almost 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, and rarely amiable.
Between the age of sixteen and twenty my mother lived and worked in the home of a couple with two children, really as a maid of all works with all that it comprises. For even at such a young age, she knew how to keep a home spick and span, to cook, to sew (with
a Singer sewing machine with a foot paddle) and how to care for small children. In reality she was able to accomplish all types of household tasks well. A few years later she was able to exercise her talents with a sawing machine to make cloths for four rascals.
The USA entered the first world war against Germany as an ally of France on the 16th of november 1917. (Lafayette we are here!). In 1918 my father to be was eligible for the draft but he became ill with influenza and was not incorporated. In a sense he was doubly lucky, for it was an extremely virulent and mortal influenza.
Within several months the epidemic resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. At the end of the year 1918 my future parents married and settled in a small village named Plymouth Meeting where I was born on the 1st of august 1920, a lovely summer day. It was just a small village in Montgomery county in the state of Pennsylvania about twenty miles west of Philadelphia. I passed the first 22 years of my life in three small towns in the same county. Who could have foreseen that I would become an intrepid world traveler and that I would live twice that many years in France.
In the year 1919 an event and its consequences which immensely affected my youth and the life and history of the United States, was the arrival of prohibition demanded by the powerful religious and feminist movements. (I must admit that alcoholism had become an urgent problem, and remains so today). Prohibition was in force until the arrival to power of the democrats in 1933 with Franklin D. Roosevelt as president (the first 13 years of my youth). But the result was a situation probably worse than the original one.
The illegal manufacturing (bootlegging) and importing from Canada of whiskey, beer, wine and alcohol of all types flourished. I recall that the Italo-Americans in the Philadelphia area continued to make their own wine and that they even used the yellow flowers of the dandelion which they came to pick in the fields near our home. The other nationalities continued to make their favorite alcohol: the French their wine, the Poles and the Russians their vodka, the Germans their snaps and the Irish their Gin.
Of course, the billion dollar alcohol business fell into the hands of the Italo-American underworld, the Mafia. Today the whole world knows through the press, the radio, the cinema and the television, the importance of the role of the Chicago and New York Mafia in this business, They were the gangsters such as Al Capone and the FBI under the direction of Mr. Ness during Prohibition. Al Capone was often imprisoned but with the aid of well paid lawyers and shady judges he was able to be freed. He died of syphilis in Miami in 1947 at the age of 46. But the Mafia, today more discrete, still exists and has diversified into hard drugs and easy women.
In those times american society was still very puritanical. It was not only alcohol which was forbidden by law but also gambling and other games of chance. The gambling houses which existed were illicit and often controlled by the Mafia.
The numerous opulent casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, with there extravagant shows and millions of gamblers (and the Hollywood Mafia), were still to be invented. Most of the states had laws known as " the blue laws" which made gambling illegal and which even forbid the opening of stores on sunday. Sunday was considered to be the Lords day and everyone was expected to attend church service. With the arrival of the Second World War and just after, changes occurred quickly.
Nevertheless, most americans of all religious convictions have remained attached to their churches, and contrary to France, the majority of Americans (even the President) attend church service on sunday. But my brothers and I, the four rascals, preferred our open country, forest and river games. I recall that in a small clearing in the woods not far from our home, a colored man who I knew, had prepared a small flat clay area with benches around it. Often on summer sundays I would hide in the small woods to watch a dozen or so men play craps for stacks of money. I was only nine. I was outdoing the advenures of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer!
To understand the profound conservative and religious character of american society, one must know the history of the discovery and the colonization of North America. Christopher Columbus was the first explorer to discover the new world, but in spite of four voyages from Spain between 1492 and 1504, he had never put foot upon the american continent, only upon the Caribbean Islands. According to the geographers of that time, the first to have put foot upon the continent was Americus Vespucci in 1513. It is that event which gave this great continent the name of America ! In reality it was the Vikings who first set foot upon the North American continent in the eleventh century but they did not stay.
The Spanish were the first
The Spanish were the first to establish a permanent colony on the american continent. It was situated on the east coast in the middle of the Florida peninsula. It was named St Augustine, today a lovely city visited by many tourists. But the prime interest of the Spanish explorers was gold and other riches.
Thus their efforts were concentrated on the continent to the south, that is Central and South America, where the indian civilizations possessed the yellow metal, Gold! In 1519 the explorer Hernan Cortes began the conquest of Mexico. By 1521, a mere three years, with a hundred men, some horses and some fire arms he had destroyed the centuries old Aztec empire. The Aztecs thought they were Gods for the Indians had never seen horses or fire arms. The Spaniards then began to plunder the Inca empire in South America. Under the direction of Francisco Pizarro, by 1532, they succeeded in destroying it. All the atrocities, destruction, and killing were backed in the name of a merciful christian God by the great and glorious Roman Catholic Church.
The state of Florida has become an unsuspected importance in the lives of my brothers Henry and John who settled in the state thirty years ago. To better understand Florida let us briefly review the history of this strange state. According to legend, the first spanish explorer to visit the area was a certain Ponce de Leon who was searching for the "Fountain of Youth" described by the Indians of the Caribbean islands.
But all he could find was a flat and swampy territory full of alligators and mosquitoes, and a few indian tribes, but he gave the territory the lovely name of Florida in honor of the day he first set foot upon the peninsula which happened to be on palm sunday, "Pasqua florida". Unfortunately, Ponce de Leon like most people even today, did not realize that the fountain of youth which he was looking for is contained in our genes and our mental attitude. The secret is to be able to choose your parents and ancestors. Alas, impossible.
Florida became a spanish colony but since it offered them few advantages and no gold, they never had more than a few small settlements. Many years later, in 1819 the young USA bought the territory for a handful of dollars and it became a state in 1845. The slow development of the state began after the end of the civil war in 1868 and the arrival of the railroads. The real development occurred after 1920 stimulated by the rapid development of the automobile and aviation and of course by the northern lovers of tanning in the sunshine and escaping from the frigid northern winters.
During the second world war many of the large and luxurious hotels on Miami Beach were requisitioned by the US Army and used to house hundreds of thousands of young recruits during their basic training. California is known for it's famous Gold Rush and Florida for the rush by northerners for its heat and sun. Many of the retirees from the northern states emigrated to Florida. Each time there was an exceptionally severe winter in the northern states there was a marked increase in the migration to the south and new suburbs and towns grew like mushrooms.
Today, at the beginning of the twenty first century, Florida has a population of 8 million and is the state most visited by tourists. Along the east coast of the long state we find Cap Canaveral famous for its Kennedy space center, and the expeditions to the moon. When you drive south from there along the coast you find nothing but city after city for 250 miles. Not bad for a territory which only 300 years ago was populated by a few indians and a lot of birds, fish and alligators. If you ask the average american which state has the most cattle, nine times out of ten the answer will be: Texas.
Not at all, it is the state of Florida. Today in Florida, like in many European countries, the ecological damages caused by the pollution by cattle urine of the soil and ground water have become a major problem.
After the end of his military career in 1966 my brother Henry settled in Homestead, Florida, a small city south of Miami. The aged parents of his wife lived there. There were still no towns further south, just farm lands and the Everglades. He built himself a lovely house on a large piece of property south of the town and planted orange and lemon trees and a large orchard of avocado trees. Several miles from his home was the large Homestead US Air Force base. In 1990 a hurricane of unimaginable force destroyed most of the base and Henry's former house.
In spite of the eternal hurricane threats, 35 years after Henry settled there, the region south of Miami is covered with urban housing. Yes, you can't stop progress!? Moreover, during those years the population of Miami and the region south of the city became majority hispanic as a result of the refugees from communist Cuba and other poverty stricken Central American countries. Brother Henry had foreseen the inevitable change coming and had sold his property to a Cuban and had moved to North Carolina. However, the state of Florida continued to play an import part in the life of brother John and his family as we shall see later in this family saga.
The Anglo-Saxon colonization of the North American continent in the portion known today as the United States of America did not begin until a century after the arrival or the Spanish, and the motivations were not the same. The spanish were interested primarily in gold and other riches to be brought back to Spain. The Anglo-saxons and the French were primarily interested in finding new lands for their people.
The first English colony known as Jamestown was established in 1607 on the coast of what is known today as the state of Virginia. This was followed in 1620 by the Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth Rock on the coast of the state known today as Massachusetts. These were followed by many other religious groups and other people fleeing the persecutions, the lack of basic freedoms and especially the poverty in Europe: the Quakers, the Huguenots, other protestant sects and even the catholics and a few jews. All were searching for freedom from persecution, liberty of expression and a better life.
The territory to be named Pennsylvania later, the land of my birth, was first settled by a group of Swedes in 1645. In fact there is still a small town just a few miles from my birthplace named Swedesberg with its small lutheran church. A small town along the Skukill river where I often went with my father to visit his sister and her six children ages 3 to 18. The father was already dead and my aunt had parkinson's disease.
The two youngest were girls who were beautiful teenagers when I last saw them in 1941. The territory was taken over by the Dutch in 1654 and ten years late, in 1664, the territory was taken over by the British. In 1675, William Penn, searching for a safe haven for his Quakers, also known as "the Society of Friends", was able to acquire the rights for the territory from the British crown. In 1676 many settlers arrived and a government by the people was established guaranteeing all inhabitants equality and protection in all their rights and privileges be they religious or political.
And 100 years later, in 1776, the United States of America (the USA) was born in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (founded in 1683). And I and my three loving brothers were born at the beginning of the twentieth century in a small village just a few miles from Philadelphia and we had as a neighbor, "a Quaker meeting house".
Childhood and the beginning of the course
Edward (Ed) Maykut
I was the second born in a family of four boys. Only a little more than a year and a half separated the births. I was always amazed by the power of my mother in spite of the fact that she was small and of fragile health. My father was of medium height and a hard worker. They were well matched and my old aunt told me that they were the loveliest and best dancers of the church congregation.
The occasional saturday night dances were sponsored by the church which during those times in most of America was the center of community social activity. And we, the young rascals liked to attend for the hot dogs and the soft drinks and to tease the young ladies of our age. One of the favorite dances at the time was the Pennsylvania Polka which I already danced with those same young ladies.
Like most children, young and full grown, we always looked forward to the occasional holidays, especially those like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, when we received gifts of candy. The one we liked the best was Halloween when we would disguise ourselves, put on masks and play "trick or treat" with all the neighbors, especially on the ladies we knew were kind and generous.
Try as I might, I have never been able to recall events which may have affected my life before the age of six. According to the stories of my old aunt, I was so small at birth that after wrapping me in a cloth, the doctor placed me in a shoe box to present me to my mother.
Yet, as an adult of medium height and weight, I am the tallest of the four brothers. As for physical aspects, character and personality we are very different one from the other: Henry fragile, timid and hard worker; John nonchalant, undisciplined and musician; Stanley a fighter, impetuous and always the little brother; and I, scientist, somewhat intellectual and globe trotter.
Preteen-age years, a time of innocence and prosperity
My first recollection of childhood brings me to the month of august 1926 at the age of six. I was hospitalized for a hernia operation, a weakness which affected one half of the male members of my family. I recall an incident as clearly as if it had occurred yesterday.
My father and uncle Mike came to see me the day after the operation. When they helped me out of bed, I felt dizzy and almost fell. My father put me back in bed and my uncle offered me some candy. They were accompanied by doctor Corson our faithful family doctor who was present at the birth of each one of the four brothers. We should mention the fact that in those days most births occurred at home.
Doctor Corson was a nephew of the patriarch of the Corson family, owners of at least ten limestone quarries. In this area just west of the city of Philadelphia the substratum consisted of vast deposits of limestone formed hundreds of millions of years ago when the area was covered by a tropical ocean.
Father, mother and four small boys lived in a small rural village near the Skukill river not far from the place where the river joins one with a prestigious name, the Delaware. This name was also given to the Algonquin indian tribes living in this part of the United States. After the civil war they were deported to indian reservations in the state of Oklahoma.
The two rivers played an important role during the foundation of the young United States, in the growing up of four young american boys and also in the history of some american families of international renown. The most famous being George Washington the commander in chief of the army during the war of independence and first president of the new nation United States in 1789, the year of the French revolution. There was also Benjamin Franklin a son of Philadelphia, the inspired inventor of the lightning rod and first ambassador of the new nation to France. The third and probably the most remembered by the general public of today is Grace Kelly the beautiful, talented hollywood actress and princess of Monaco.
When general Dwight Ike Eisenhower, commander in chief of the allied armies in Europe during the Second World War and president of the United States (1953-1961), retired in 1961, he settled on a farm near the city of Gettysberg, the site of the decisive battle of the Civil War (1863).
The city is situated about a hundred miles west of the place of my birth, my beloved Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. During George Washington's time Plymouth Meeting was only a tiny crossroad town of several houses west of the city of Philadelphia, in an area covered with forests and with an occasional isolated farm. It was in this area where, during the war of independence, General George Washington had established his winter headquarters.
The main body of his poorly clad army passed the terrible winter of 1780-1781 a few miles to the west on the other side of the Skukill river in a region named Valley Forge which today is a national park. And 220 years later, I was born in a small house in Plymouth Meeting a few miles from Valley Forge.
In my teen years, each winter for several years I participated with our small boy scout troop in a jamboree organized to commemorate that long ago bitter winter bivouac. Fortunately spring came early in 1781 and Washington's troops regrouped and in the summer of 1781 general Cornwallis, the commander in chief of the British forces capitulated at Yorktown, Virginia and two years later, in 1783, the young nation of the United States of America with thirteen states was proclaimed with George Washington as its first president and Philadelphia as its capitol.
In 1953 Eisenhower became president of the United States of America and served until 1961. He passed away in the year 1969, a year after my retirement from the US Air Force after 26 years of faithful service. Sleasy lawyers and corrupt politicians become millionaires - old soldiers never die, they just fade away !
And once again we encounter the irony of history. Many of the soldiers serving under Cornwallis were Hessian mercenaries. After the war many of them remained in America and settled in my region of Pennsylvania and their families and others soon joined them.. Two hundred years later many of their descendants who we denote as Pennsylvania Dutch have retained a slight german accent and many still speak a german dialect. The capital of the province of Hesse in Germany is Wiesbaden, a city which, as we shall see later, played an important part in my life.
During General Washington's time, the main road in the area toward central and western Pennsylvania was known, and is still known, under the name of Ridge Pike. Pike is the old english word for a toll road. About thirty miles from Philadelphia the road passes across a medium size stream known under the name of Perkiomen creek. On the bank just over the bridge is a small building in whitewashed stone which served as an Inn and hotel.
Over 200 years later the building still exists under the name of Collegeville Inn. This is the small town so named because of the small college located there. It became of primary importance in my life until the age of 22.
According to legend, Chateaubriand, the famous french writer, often stopped at this Inn in the years 1792-1798 when he made a fortune speculating in the Pennsylvania (Penn's woods) and Canadian forests. Pennsylvania was the name given the lands granted to William Penn and his Quakers in 1681 by king George II; a vast virgin territory covered with forests and sparsely populated by a few indian tribes, among which were the Mohicans, the hero's of one of the novels of Chateaubriand. And my birthplace, Plymouth Meeting, was named after the small quaker meeting house in stone. It is still in existence today but like me all the quakers have moved on.
My three brothers and I lived a life comparable to the lives and adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in the unforgettable novels of Mark Twain. Our activities and adventures took place outdoors on the rivers, and in the fields and forests. It was in my youth that I often saw the father of the beautiful actress Grace Kelly, an olympic rowing champion, train on the Skukill river.
The whole world knows the thousand and one nights true story of Grace's career in the american movies and her marriage with prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 and her tragic death in an automobile accident in 1975. What soothsayer could have predicted that in the last years of my long life I would reside just a few miles from Monaco.
In the carefree days of my youth, the Skukill river flowed in a valley surrounded by hills covered with forests with small unpretentious industrial towns all along the river. At the foot of the numerous hills around our small village, there were numerous springs of cool, clear, limpid water. The small streams descended to the river. The largest spring, only a quarter of a mile from our home, was dammed and the pure water was sent through a large long steel pipe to a paper factory about two miles from the spring.
I often helped my mother pick watercress in one of the small canals which delivered water to turn the wheels of a mill. In those days there were numerous mills of this type in the region. Sixty years later not one is in operation and most have been demolished! The springs have run dry and there is no more water or fresh watercress. On each side of the river there was a busy railroad.
Today, some 70 years later the railroads have been replaced by highways crowded with day and night traffic of atmosphere polluting automobiles. The causes for this disaster are well known, they are the scourges of our modern world of frantic consumption which are principally : the overpopulation of the planet, the rapid deforestration, the excessive urbanization and the sacred Automobile. And there is little hope of stopping this rapid degradation of our lovely planet. For, on the contrary, with a foreseeable doubling of the earths population each thirty years, there is little place for optimism and even less place for nature.
We, the four intrepid rascals, tried to swim in the stream fed by the main spring, but even in the dog days of july and august the water was ice cold. So we swam in the Skukill river in spite of the obvious industrial pollution. For in those times there were neither laws nor controls concerning pollutants poured into the river by the factories located all along the river from the coal mining region upstream to its point of junction downstream with the Delaware river.
The black dust from coal washed with water from the river covered the banks all along the river. Only we and several other young rascals used our favourite swimming area with its high bank from which we could jump or dive into the river. Occasionally some of the young ladies from the village would come to admire our antics. One of our favourite tricks was to surprise them by running completely naked out of the woods to jump into the river.
It took almost fifty years before the public authorities
finally undertook the measures necessary to clean this lovely river. But the real improvement was due to an unplanned closing and moving westward of many industries and the closing of the coal mines, which had become commercially uneconomical. This uncontrollable push towards self-destruction which is occurring everywhere in our already overcrowded world, we have the audacity of calling it Progress.
Many minor incidents and a few major ones which occurred on and around the river, on the roads and in our small village taught me a lot in spite of my youth: our swimming, the illegal fishing at night, the field and forest fires, the accidents, etc., formed an integral part of our lives.
What taught me the most were the accidents and the tragedies which occurred amongst family, neighbors and friends: brother Stanley saved from drowning by two fishermen; a neighbor lady died of kidney failure; an old lady who lived at the end of village died, we played in her garden; my mother was badly burned; my father with a badly sprained ankle; a boy we knew was saved from drowning and was killed the following year when he fell off a tree; his unmarried sister died during an abortion; Bobby, a pretty 7 year old boy and a favorite of the teachers was killed by a train; my favorite candy store lady was killed by a car; an aunt with six children had parkinson's disease. Yes, and all these misadventures and tragic events, and many more, happened in the first ten years of my long life in and around a small, unpretentious village.
In America traditionally each large village or small city has its volunteer fire brigade. To earn money to pay for their equipment, each summer they organized fairs. Each summer traveling circus' (and their were quite a few) installed their tents and equipment on a field only a half mile from our home. We four boys preferred and still remember the Wild West shows with their cowboys, cowgirls, magnificent horses, ferocious bulls and dangerous indians. Like all young, warm blooded american boys we often played at cowboys and indians. There was one problem, no-one wanted to play the part of the indians so we would play the Four Musketeers with wooden swords in place of bows and arrows. Mother preferred calling us the Four Musty Rears.
At the head of the opening parade there was always a cowboy dressed like Buffalo Bill Cody riding on a handsome white horse. And we, the young innocent brothers, firmly believed that he was indeed Buffalo Bill. This was in the decades 1920 and 1930, but we did not know that Buffalo Bill had died in 1917. He was born in 1846 in the state of Iowa, at the time populated mainly by vast herds of buffalos.
In his youth he had become well known for his prowess as a buffalo hunter. After the Civil War (1861-1865) with the great migrations toward the west and the rapid construction of the railroads which employed many thousands of men, Cody was commissioned by the railroad company to supply them with buffalo meat to feed the men. He alone is said to have killed several thousand.
The indiscriminant killing continued for forty years. If the federal government had not intervened by setting up special reserves for this majestic animal, the race would have probably disappeared- another great accomplishment of the number one mammal- Man ! Conservation has worked and today we can buy buffalo steaks in the supermarkets and they are offered in the best restaurants.
The interesting and strange history concerning the horse in America, so important in the migration westward, for the Cowboys and Indians and of course for the films of Hollywood, is worthwhile telling.
Few Americans and Europeans are aware of the fact that although the horse (Equidae in zoology) originated on the american continent several hundred million years ago, for some unknown reason (probably climatic change) the horse migrated via Alaska to the Asian continent where they proliferated and disappeared entirely on the American continents.
Another interesting fact is that there are no traces of the homo species having lived on the american continents before the arrival, a mere several thousand years ago, of the ancestors of our american Indians. Their ancestors migrated eastward from Asia into Alaska and gradually spread southward to inhabit the two american continents to the extreme tip of South America, la Tierra Del Fuego.
Horse and wheel
It was the Spanish explorers in the 16th century who first reintroduced the horse into the Americas. The Indians quickly bought, stole, found strays and learned how to raise and use them. Before the horse, when they migrated, they used there women and dogs to carry their goods. It is also interesting to note that neither the North American Indians or even the relatively developed societies of the the Aztecs in Mexico and the Incas in South America used the wheel.
According to the great Hollywood films the Indians were the bad and the cowboys the good. The Indians became experts in the use of the horse to attack the wagon trains of immigrants and the US Army forts on the trails to the Far West. But their resistance turned out to be in vain and the white man quickly relegated the so-called noble redskins to vegetate in reserves where they were quickly disseminated by disease and alcohol.
The inhuman and undemocratic treatment inflicted not only upon the american indians, but also the american negros, still weighs heavily upon the white american conscience. Unfortunately discrimination, be it for racial, religious or some manufactured reason, is an ever present phenomenon in human society. Even today in the twenty first century, in our so-called advanced civilization, this human folly is the cause of innumerable conflicts, massacres and wars.
Each small town like ours also had its baseball team and we young rascals also had ours. In our youth baseball was the favorite national sport. Each summer during our early teen-age years, the local Lions Club would invite all the teen-age boys to see the Philadelphia A's (Athletics) to enjoy one of their games in their home stadium.
Of course, a soda, a hot dog and some pop corn were part of the ritual, but it was not always easy to have the ten cents to buy them. So if we were thirsty it was a five cent coke and if hungry a hot dog. Another summer favourite outing for teen-age boys was a so called water melon splash, where they could eat to their heart's content (and the stomach's). The splash was usually sponsored by the local boy scout troop. We sometimes raised our own but the best melons came by the truckload from the state of Georgia.
Across the Skukill river from the bank where we usually swam, there was a small island where young campers who came up the river from Philadelphia in their canoes often set up their camp.
By chance I happened to make friends with two brothers who came regularly. Even at the age of nine I was an excellent swimmer so I would swim across the river to meet them. Occasionally they would send me to buy some products at the small grocery store at the other end of our village. As compensation they would invite me to eat a bowl of cornflakes with them.
A little over a mile from our village, on the far side of a fairly large forest at the end of Barren Hill road, there was a golf course. In the 1920's golf was already a favorite national sport. One of our favorite activities on sunday was to go there to hunt for lost golf balls which I then tried to sell to some golfers.
Later during my long life I was able to play this magnificent sport and was able to enjoy it in many different countries, even during World War two: in Scotland where the sport originated, and in: France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, England, Ireland, Israel, Australia, Tripoli with fairways of sand, and even on the highest golf course in the world at La Paz, Bolivia.
The golf course there is in a valley at an altitude of 3658 meters surrounded by a lunar landscape. It took me several days to adapt to the lack of oxygen at that altitude. The golf course in Israàl (the only one in the 1970's) was on the coast between the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa near the ruins of the ancient roman city of Cesaria founded by HÇrod the Great, king of the hebrews, nominated by the Romans in 40 B.C. and implicated in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Just a mile or so off the tip of Manhattan is a small island named Governors Island which has always been occupied by certain units of the US Army. The remains of the original military fort are still visible on the highest point of the island. On the grounds around the fort there are several holes of a pitch and putt golf course where I played occasionally in the 1960's. I remember that when I looked toward Manhattan I could see the twin towers of the World Trade Center destroyed on the 11th of september 2001 by the fanaticals kamikazes of Ousseman Ben Laden, sent in the name of the merciful God Allah to kill the infidels. It may well prove to be difficult if not impossible to kill several billion infidels !
The home of my uncle Mike was next to a well known suburban Philadelphia golf course. I always enjoyed visiting, especially since his children, Walter and Francis, were my favorite cousins.
Besides, we could look for lost golf balls. At the age of thirteen cousin Walter was already serving as a caddy to earn some pocket money. He became friends with the caddy master and soon began playing the sport. He learned quickly and well, and between the age of sixteen and twenty one was the junior champion of Pennsylvania. As for me, I was never able to approach his level, but during my adult years from time to time I would take first place in a friendly tournament. Neither one of my three brothers practiced this magnificent sport.
Golf was not the only sport which I practiced and enjoyed during my long life. During my youth, sports formed an integral part of activities at school. During recesses and vacations all students participated actively in one or several sports and the choice was large : baseball, soccer, football, basketball, volleyball, tennis, swimming, athletics, etc. At University level sports were king, especially football. The best high school players were, and still are, prized by the top universities (and by the prettiest co-eds).
A sport which I have always enjoyed was ice-skating. The winters in our part of the county were quite variable but each winter there were long periods when the frigid polar air descended from Canada and all the streams and ponds in the area were covered with a thick layer of ice. With other boys of our age we would build a bonfire, roast marshmallows and skate for hours. As an adult I was able to practice this great sport in many places: on ponds in the Washington D.C. area, on the rink at the foot of the RCA building in New York city, on the cold exterior olympic rinks in Norway and Finland and in the french and swiss Alps.
Fortunately my appreciation of and participation in sports during my youth was accompanied by a great interest in the study of foreign languages. In my region of Pennsylvania you could encounter immigrants from many European countries. In our small village besides english you could meet and hear people speaking either french, german, italian, polish, russian or spanish.
My first contact with the french language
My first contact with the french language was during the 1930's in my junior and senior years of high school. I had the good luck of having a lovely and competent french language teacher, Miss Wismer. She gave me a good start in this lovely but difficult language. After many years of direct contact and earnest study, I have been able to master the language.
During and especially after World War Two, I was able to add a fair knowledge and practical use of the other languages, especially italian, german, spanish and russian. The knowledge of these languages proved to be very useful in both my military and civilian careers.
In the 1920's my brothers and I were too young and inexperienced to have understood the great changes occurring in the social mores and way of life (in french "les annÇes folles"). But by the age of eight I saw some of the results and began to understand the phenomenon.
The liberation of women had begun, the skirts were shorter, the music and dances became sexy, the charleston and the black bottom were the rage. The cinema and the radio became a way of life. The automobile gradually invaded all the roads. My father was the first in the village to have a model T Ford sedan which by 1925 Henry Ford was manufacturing in great numbers in his revolutionary assembly line factories in Dearborn, Michigan. He had begun manufacturing his first automobiles in 1903.
In 1927 dad had bought a model T truck which he used primarily to buy produce on the central market on Dock street in Philadelphia which he then sold to a chain of customers he had developed. He also used the truck to haul goods for other people.
On sunday he used the truck as a mini-bus to take family and friends on picnics in the many woods still available in the area. On sunday evenings in the 1920's the traffic on the road from Atlantic City to Philadelphia was already bumper to bumper (of course, super highways were still to come and so were the casinos).
The automobile quickly became the american way of life. Many companies began to manufacture automobiles and on the roads we began to see names which no longer exist, for example the Rockney, the Edsel, the Packard and others. A model which was popular in the thirties and which we younsters liked was the coupé with a rear trunk which when opened served as a so called "rumble" seat. It was great in the summer with the wind rushing through your hair. The automobile began to be used by the lovers and we, the young rascals, began to understand the phenomenon and to find condoms in the hidden corners of the wooded road along the river.
Radio nor telephone and television did not exist in our village
Before 1929 we, like all the inhabitants of our small village, had neither radio nor telephone, and television did not exist. To telephone we had to go to the small store at the far end of the village. This was very seldom since very few people had a telephone. It was uncle Mike who was one of the first to acquire a radio. We did have the daily paper, which cost only 2 cents.
Today it is 50 times that price at 1 dollar, of course there are many more pages, much more bad news and a lot of advertising. For most people it takes a lifetime to understand that inflation is a permanent and continuous phenomenon in our civilization of consumption, and the constant increase in population of our planet Earth which is already well overpopulated.
We have an economic civilization where prices double about every fifteen years. An example which was very important for a young boy: in the 1920's for five cents a young boy could buy a delicious ice cream cone or a hot dog. Today the price is Two dollars or even more. To obtain that five cents was not always easy.
Since we didn't dare ask our parents too often for a nickel or a penny; a penny was a penny with which a boy could buy a delicious piece of candy, we could earn that penny by collecting metals such as copper, which we then sold to the junk man who passed by the village once a week. We were practicing ecology without realizing it. Another good reason we had for earning a few cents was to be able to pay the entrance fee to see a motion picture. The first films we saw were silent. The conversations were shown on the screen. I remember seeing my first talking film at the age of 8 in 1928.
Another phenomenon of our modern world which touches and distresses me deeply is the outrageous deforestration of our poor planet Earth. It had already begun in my region during my youth. All the hills around our village and along the banks of the Skukill river were covered with forests and the flat areas were pastures or farms. As young boys our real pleasures were in the things that nature offered us. In the spring we picked delicious wild strawberries, blackberries, flowers, etc; in summer: cherries, peaches and plums and in the fall: apples, nuts and mushrooms, most were of the wild varieties.
On the far side of the road which passed near our village, there was an immense nursery which covered a large portion of the area. I recall that the majority of workers were italian immigrants. Today, 70 years later, the cool clear springs, the woods on the hills, the fields in the valleys and the large nursery no longer exist.
The region is covered with houses, roads, automobiles and homo sapiens-sapiens! Yes, in the nineteen twenties the USA was still over 70% rural and agricultural with a majority of small family farms. Today only about 5% of the USA population of almost three hundred million souls are farmers and the majority of these farms resemble huge agricultural factories.
The winter snows were quite variable but each winter we youngsters were able to enjoy sledding on the many hills near our farm. After a heavy snowfall our road to town was blocked by drifts for several days before the snow plows cleared the road. To go to town I would use our white horse and our one horse open sleigh.
Of course all our young friends in town wanted to join me. As a teenager our small group of friends would sometimes organize an evening sleighing party. We used a large sleigh drawn by two horses and terminate the party at one of the members homes for a cup of hot chocolat and delicious home baked cakes.
After my departure from my dear Collegeville I have never had the pleasure of repeating this enjoyable passtime even though I spent many winters in snow covered countries such as Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. I did have an interesting and enjoyable compensation. During my long life, I was able to enjoy rides on horseback in the state of Oregon, in New York Cities Central Park, in Algeria and in many European countries. The most memorable was my tour on horseback of the Pyramides in Egypt.
My fascination and great interest in meteorological phenomena began at an early age. My first encounter with the consequences of heavy rains and flooding occured in my village of Spring Mill.
Several times in the nineteen twenties, after several days of incessant rain, the Skukill river became a devastating torrent and invaded the low fields in front of our home. When the flood waters receded we were able to catch carps and cat fish in the muddy pools. We did not eat them for they had a strong taste of mud, so they served as food for the cats and dogs.
I recall how we ran along the banks of the river trying to recover a stray canoe descending rapidly in the middle of the stream. We were never able to catch one for the current was too strong. Many years later during my work as a meteorologist I learned the cause of these periodic floods. The tropical hurricans which formed over the warm waters of the Atlantic east of the caribbian islands sometimes moved northward along the east coast of the USA and would become stationnary off the New England coast giving torrential rains over the entire northeastern states. The result was a series of devestating floods in many areas including ours in eastern Pennsylvania.
The exploit of Charles Lindbergh in 1927, i.e. his solo nonstop flight across the North Atlantic, was for us, the young americans and the entire world, one of the greatest events of our times. He became the number one hero of the twentieth century. It was without a doubt the event which finally awakened the entire world to the importance and fantastic possibilities of aviation both civil and military. His landing at Le Bourget and his great reception by the French was unforgettable.
All the young american boys and men dreamed of becoming aviators. Airplane acrobatics, parachuting, flights on balloons, dirigibles and aviation in general became the popular attractions at all the fairs. And at the movies the films on aerial combat during the war of 1914-1918 began to replace the favorite cowboy films.
Every time an airplane flew over our area, and there were quite a few, we young rascals firmly believed that it was Lindbergh who was flying over our heads. Unfortunately, the glorious story soon became a horrible nightmare for the Lindbergh family and the entire United States. Lindbergh married Ann Morrow, the daughter of a well known politician. Their first born, a boy, was kidnaped when only a few months old and was killed by a man named Hauptmann. It was an event which left a deep impression on the american people during the nineteen thirties. It was after this odious crime that the kidnaping of a child became punishable by death. Hauptmann was apprehended, judged and executed on the electric chair.
Little by little the passion for aviation diminished, but with the arrival of war in Europe in 1939, the dream and the desire to become an aviator quickly invaded american youth. Many young americans went to Canada to volunteer for the RAF.
My brother Henry was the first to have the opportunity to try. His was among the first to be drafted in 1941 and was able to apply for pilot training in the Army Air Corps (the independent US Air Force was created in 1956). The selection was extremely severe and Henry failed just like more than fifty per cent of the candidates. Nevertheless he continued his military service in the Air Force as a technician and was a real hero during the war.
Like most young Americans of my generation I also dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot. I applied but did not pass the eye tests. It was probably the will of God to protect me from the carnage to come in the skies over Europe, the oceans and Asia, for the mortality rate among the bomber and fighter units during World War Two was extremely high. My brother John entered the US Navy as a volunteer in naval aviation. He too failed to become a pilot but continued in the navy and had a brilliant career in electronics and radar.
As for our youngest brother Stanley, who was a remarkable athlete, when he volunteered he was refused by both the US Army and the US Navy because of high blood pressure. He was finally accepted by the Merchant Marine and after a year at the Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, he spent five years of adventure and danger on the North Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean sea. The four of us played important roles and experienced many interesting adventures during World War Two. We will tell a few of them in the chapter on the war years.
In 1930 my father was obliged to sell our house in the village of Spring Mill. Actually it was almost a small farm because my parents had a cow, chickens, ducks, rabbits, a dog, cats and a fairly large vegetable garden. The buyer was the electricity distributor who was installing large towers for high tension lines which were to pass over our house. Thus the company was obliged to buy it for demolition and we to move elsewhere. It was the beginning of the rapid growth of electrical power in the United States. Three years before this incident, my father was one of the first in our village to have installed electricity.
We no longer used the little white asbestos bulbs on the gas pipe or the oil lamps to light the rooms and my hard working mother was able to have an electric washing machine. With four small rascals and a father worker and handyman it was more than welcome. A little less household slavery for her. We didn't realize it at the time, but this forced move was the event which played a decisive and important part in the route taken by my life.
My brothers and I left not only our first and beloved home, we also left behind the fairly carefree world of our childhood. Little did we realize that we were entering a real, cruel and hard world; a world caught in the whirlwind of the worst Depression the USA had ever experienced and which was to last until 1939, the year of the beginning of World War Two. These were the ten most important years in the development of four not so innocent teen-age boys.
In the decade after the end of the first World War (1918), the United States continued its phenomenal economic growth and speculation in the stock market knew no bounds, moreover controls were non-existant. Suddenly, on the 7th of November 1929, the inevitable arrived: Black Thursday!
The Stock Market crash ! Panic on Wall street! In just two sessions the price of stocks on the New York stock exchange collapsed completely. It was the signal for the beginning of the worst economic crises the USA has ever known. The direct effects lasted for ten years and it contributed without a doubt to developments which led to the arrival of the second World War.
It was after this event when someone coined the famous phrase still used today: "when America coughs the world catches a cold". In the first years after the Crash many, many banks failed and their clients lost all their money. Many bankers and financiers committed suicide. I still remember that the president of the bank in the small city not far from our small village was found one morning in his car in a woods, a bullet through his head.
Most poor americans, the majority, did not have bank accounts. They lost no money but, even worse, many lost their jobs. For many years after the Crash the unemployment rate was over 30%.
The famous slogan used by the gouvernment at the time was: "prosperity is just around the corner". But in the tough reality of the times, the corner proved to a long way down the road. Gradually, the federal government under president Franklin D.Roosevelt, began many public works programs in order to absorb some of the unemployment and to stimulate the economy. Also some much needed reforms of the US banking establishment were finally instituted.
The general attitude and reactions to the difficult times in the years which followed the Wall street crash were often reflected in the plays on Broadway. Several names I remember were: "Stop the world I want to get off", "Crazy crazy world" and "What makes Sammy run". The nineteen twenties also saw the beginning of the "Big Bands", the famous dance orchestras which lasted until the 1960's. They quickly became popular on the radio.
On weekends they performed for the dancers in the large dance-halls which were usually located on the main highway just outside the large cities. It was brother John, the musician of our family, who was the most fervent fan. One of these dance-halls was situated on the main highway about eight miles from our farm. John would hitch-hike a ride to the hall. He did not have the money to pay the entrance fee but he always found a way to sneak into the hall without paying.
Many of the bands and their singers performed during and after World War Two for the american troops around the world. The orchestras were those with the world famous names of Tommy Dorsey, Sammy Kay, Arty Shaw and Glen Miller. The latter was one of the most popular. Unfortunately Miller disappeared in 1946 when a military plane in which he was traveling crashed over the English Channel. It was never located. His music lives on. Sixty three years later his famous "In the mood" is still a favorite around the world. The best known "crooner" was Frank Sinatra, popularly known as "The Voice". He was number one for sixty years.
Our move from the small village to a real farm and the deepening of the Depression had an important effect upon our lives. Working the farm enabled our family to eat well and to help several relatives and friends who had lost their jobs. They worked hard without pay but received three meals a day and had a place to sleep. These were essential subsistence basics, for Social Security and Unemployment Insurance did not exist in those days.
We gave our farm the name "Sugar Hill". The name came naturally from one of our summer activities. We raised sweet corn. The white variety was also called "sugar" corn, which dad and we sold by the dozen. Of course, we also ate our share of both the white (sugar) and golden bantam (yellow) varieties. We also raised enough potatoes, beans, cabbage, turnips and carrots and made sauerkraut to last most of the winter. They were stored in a large cellar. There was also enough hay, oats, corn and wheat for the chickens, ducks, horses, cows and pigs to last the long winters. In the fields and storage bins the mice also took their share.
Stanley's job, being the youngest, was to feed the newly born brood of ducklings. We soon learned that a duck could be an adorable and faithful pet. Stanley would take one of the ducks at birth before it saw its mother. He would feed it by hand for several days. From then on the duckling would follow him as though he were the mother.
A well known comedian of those days named Joe Penter was accompanied on stage by his pet duck. He also had a radio show (this was before television). He always used an introductory invitation which pleased the audience: "why don't you come up to my place for a duck diner... you bring the duck". We soon learned that this comportment of a duck was also true for a piglet. Taking a baby crow from its nest was another way of having an unusual pet. The crow would often sit on our shoulder and follow us wherever we went. Unfortunately, once the crow reached adult age, it would fly off to join its kind.
We, the four young rascals, did our share of the chores in early morning before departing for school, after school hours and during the summer school vacations. We found several ways of earning a few cents. One of the ways to make a buck (a dollar) was to trap certain small animals and sell their fur. It was brother Henry who became an expert in this activity. Fortunately muskrats were fairly numerous in the many streams in the area.
During the day he would install his traps and make his rounds before daybreak to recover his catch of the night. Many times he would find only a paw in the trap for the muskrat had chewed it off in order to escape. For each pelt he would receive a dollar or two, depending upon the quality. An interesting note in passing: in the north we did not eat muskrat meat but among the Negroes in the south it was considered a delicacy. Fifty years later after the deforestration and urbanization, the streams are dry and the muskrats and the trappers have disappeared.
We were often helped in our hunting by our faithful german shepherd dog who was a formidable hunter. If we let him out during the night, he would spend it hunting. Often in the morning he would present us with a ground hog or a skunk. Of course, after the latter he smelled like a skunk and he didn't like taking a bath. During the long hot summer months our favorite pastime and sport was swimming. all four of us were excellent swimmers.
The Perkiomen creek with all its excellent swimming holes was only a mile from our farm. After having completed our assigned chores we had the right to enjoy a swim in the cool waters. Of course, our dog Browny was always eager to go with us. Unfortunately, he did not like taking a bath. So, he would run along the bank barking. Finally after a lot of persuasion and a helpful push he would jump in but was happiest when we accompanied him out of the water.
I still vividly remember an unusual and infrequent phenomenon which occurred one hot summer afternoon in the month of august 1933. One afternoon we were returning from one of our swims. The sky became dark and dusk seemed to be upon us, yet the sky was without a cloud and it was only five o'clock. Without realizing it, we had witnessed a total eclipse of the sun.
We learned later that this phenomenon had been announced in the newspapers and on the radio but we had not paid attention. We were too busy with our chores, our games and our naps in the shade. August was also the month when we participated in helping neighboring farmers in thrashing their wheat. It was hot and dusty work but we earned a few very welcome dollars; but the best part was the free and copious dinner the ladies prepared for us at the end of the day.
Mother nature also did her best during the early 1930's to burden us with natural phenomena which did little to help the disastrous economic situation. In the summer of 1933 hurricane floods in the north eastern states caused considerable damage.
I remember swimming on the road along the Perkiomen creek which was covered by several meters of water and watching many bungalows washed off their foundations, which were numerous along this pleasant stream, as they were crushed passing under the bridge. During the summer of 1934 one of america's worst draughts ever covered much of the middle and south west, especially the state of Oklahoma and the surrounding states.
Even we in the north eastern states had a very dry summer and I remember attending church services praying for rain. It was the beginning of what became known as the dust bowl. Many farmers and ranchers were ruined. The result was the exodus to the Far West, especially to California. The situation was vividly depicted in an excellent novel and film "The grapes of wrath" written by John Steinbeck and staring Henry Fonda.
Later it became common knowledge that the intensive farming practiced for many decades in the area was a major contributing factor to the desaster. Fortunately the practices have changed but mother nature still continues to threaten the area with her tornados, floods and draughts.
Our area in eastern Pennsylvania was far from our infamous mid-western "Tornado Alley", but in midsummer severe thunder storms were fairly frequent. Our barn was struck by lightning several times, luckily we had installed lightning rod But I remember several stikes which destroyed large barns in the area.
In the 1930's we also experienced several severe winters with exceptionally abondant snowfalls. The blizzards would sometimes even occur during the month of March. For the month of March we had an expression which described well the phenomenon :
"In like a lion, out like a lamb; in like a lamb out like a lion !"
One of my pleasures when the snow began to fall and there was little wind was to put on my snow boots and walk for miles in the fresh snow. When we sometimes had a real blizzard, the road to town was blocked for several days before the snow plows cleared our low priority country road. To go to town I would harness our white horse to our one horse open sleigh. Of course all my friends, especially the young ladies in town wanted to join me. I wonder if today the young folks in our town still sing this song :
Adolescence and youth - The great depression and inexorable approach of World War Two
In 1935 brother Henry was 16 years old, so he had the legal right to work. Since we were at the height of the depression, finding a job was extremely difficult, especially for the young. So the government set up a special program of small jobs to help the young.
Brother Henry was given the job of helping Hiram, the janitor of the high school building. One saturday morning upon entering the small chemistry laboratory he found Hiram with his head under a gas jet apparently attempting to commit suicide. Henry was able to save him and probable prevented a disasterous explosion. He never received a medal for his couragous action and Hiram never really fully recovered from his depression.
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,
Oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh.
Or the fields we go laughing all the way.
Bells on bobtails ring, making spirits bright
Oh what fun it is to sing a sleighing song tonight.
My four years of high school followed by four years of serious study at Ursinus college
I don't recall which one of my teachers in grammer school awakened my interest in reading, but I remember that one of my greatest joys was when our 6th grade teacher (I was eleven years old) would read for us an interessting story by a well known author. I would listen in a transe.
The eighth grade room was just across the hall from the high school library and I had noticed that it had many, many interesting books. I swore to myself that when I entered high school I would read all of them. Well, at least look though most of them. Of course in reality, the classwork, the homework, the extra-curricular activities and doing my share of the work on the family farm limited my time for reading, but I was fortunate in having a teacher of English who introduced me to some of the best English authors. To this day I still remember and often tell one of the stories written by Charles Lamb an 18th century british humorist. Here is my version in a brief résumé of his dissertation "On Roast Pig" :
"In very ancient China, before the Chinese had learned to use fire to cook their food, little Wong was playing with a fire near the straw hut of his father. The wind blew a spark into the straw and of course the hut burned down. What little Wong didn't know was that his father's pet pig was locked in the hut and of course was no longer alive. Wong was about to panic. He touched the pig with his fingers then put his hot fingers into his mouth. What a surprise, the taste was so delicious he forgot the pain. His father arrived and was about to whip him soundly but touched the pig first and repeated the gesture of fingers to mouth. Soon all the straw huts in china began to burn." Today chinese cuisine is still known for its delicious roast pig !
Since I was a good student in high school and I showed a liking for the sciences, literature and languages, my mother encouraged me to continue my studies at Ursinus college. Fortunately it was only a little over a mile from our farm, thus there was no need for funds to pay for room and board. Neither did she have the funds to pay the tuition.
So like many students, I had to find a job during the summer vacations and on weekends. Fortunately 50% of the sum necessary was covered by a scholarship which I was able to obtain with the help of the pastor of the protestant church where I sang in the choir. The first summer I worked as a farm hand, the second as a plumbers assistant, the third as a shipping clerk and the fourth as a worker in a tire factory.
The last was the most disagreeable because I worked on the night shift, midnight to 8 AM. The first three jobs were poorly paid. Times were tough in midst of the great depression but I was able to add a few dollars by doing odd jobs on saturday during the school year. In spite of all that, I still took time to help with the work on the farm. Our devoted and loving mother died towards the end of my junior (3rd) year. She was too weak to fight a case of double pneumonia and antibiotics had not yet been discovered. So I found myself often cooking for five hungry men, doing the laundry in our trusty washing machine, and I became an expert in ironing.
When I look back at those four college years, they seem to have passed by so quickly that I often ask myself were they really four years. I studied hard, worked hard and was able to keep a B average which was considered to be above average. I soon realized that I was not a Phi Beta Kappa candidate.
I did take a little time to participate in extra-curricular activities, to win a few matches on the wrestling team and to attended many of the saturday night class dances. Being an excellent dancer, I had no difficulty in finding the prettiest female partners. Fortunately I kept a level head and except for a few minor affairs, I did not fall in love, thus avoided, unlike some of my classmates, a post graduation mariage. In fact I did not marry my one and only dear wife until the age of 28.
My early encounter with racism
Already at the age of eight I began to notice that most adults I knew had very strong and different opinions and reactions to racial problems, especially those concerning the blacks and the jews. I remember that when many adults referred to other nationalities other than anglo-saxon they used pejoritive names such as: nigger for black, froggy for french, wop for italian, honky for hungarian, fritz for a german, kike, etc.
Even in my own family the racial reactions varied. My father and mother were very tolerant. I recall that my mother liked to tease my father by telling him that she could have married a handsome young jewish boy who was courting her. I was surprised to learn that at adult age my brothers Stanley and Henry had developed strong racist reactions. As for brother John he was always and has remained easy going and tolerant. As for myself, I have never been able to accept or justify the inhuman racial reactions so wide spread upon our damned planet Earth which continue to cause so much suffering and so many massacres and wars.
In our small town of Collegeville there was only one negro family and two jewish families who were farmers, not merchants. All three families were well integrated into the community. At the small university there was a normal proportion of jewish students but not one black. In the county seat, Norristown, I noticed that the blacks lived in a poor part of the city. When I accompanied my father to the central market in Philadelphia I noticed that the city had its Irish, Italian, Polish and Negro districts, which was the norm in most large american cities.
Fifty years later most european nationalities have been completely assimilated and the whites have moved out of the city centers to the suburbs ,while the blacks have taken over the city centers. One of the most astonishing examples is the national capital, Washington D.C. The city proper has become 80% black yet the blacks form only 20% of the total USA population. Just the opposite has occurred in certain other countries, for example in France. The whites live in the city centers and the blacks and arabs live in the suburbs or in newly built suburban cities.
I visited Washington D.C. our national capital for the first time in 1938 with my high school graduation class. I was surprised to find that racial segregation in the buses and restaurants still existed almost 70 years after the end of the civil war and in spite of the fact that the constitution of the United States established in 1787, and still in force, guaranteed freedom, liberty and justice for all without reference to colour, race or creed. Unlike the southern states, in the states north of the Mason Dixon line, thus my state of Pennsylvania, slavery and racial segregation were illegal. Of course racial segregation, especially in the large cities, existed and will continue to exist. Even in human societies where the members are of the same colour and race, man always finds some strange reasons for practicing segregation and even genocide.
To better understand the reasons for the development and existance of slavery in the southern States, we must refer to the history of the economic development of the region. In most of the southern States agriculture consisting of large farms was dedicated primarily to the king crop of cotton.
There was little or no industry. In the northern States the farms were familly type units not requiring mass labor, moreover in the 18th and early 19th centuries industrialization dominated in the North. Thus the need for mass labor did not exist. In 1776 when the thirteen original states formed the United States of America, the individual states retained most of their prerogatives.
Thus they continued to practice slavery even though it was forbidden by the Constitution. It required the terrible civil war of 1861-1865 to finally end slavery. It required over a hundred years more before the blacks were more or less well integrated into american society. It was president Abraham Lincoln who lead the fight for the abolition of slavery. He was assassinated in 1865. Almost one hundred years later, in 1962, president John F. Kennedy, another american president who fought for a new american society more tolerant and with a better social justice, who was assassinated. In 1968 the charismatic black leader, Martin Luther King, who dedicated his life to the betterment of his people, was assassinated. Decidedly, making progress in the racial domain is dreadfully slow and extremely dangerous.
All my life, as a young boy, a teenager and an adult, I have always been profoundly disturbed by the attitude towards and the treatment of the negros by the so-called whites. I remember as a high school senior being reponsible for producing a play on this theme entitled "Green pastures" in which all the characters were black and the main character was God. I don't remember the name of the author. Since, I have always enjoyed negro spirituals, the gospel singers and St Louis type jazz and have always had several colored friends.
I have always enjoyed hearing and telling jokes and short stories with Rastus senior or Rastus junior as the main characters. Here are a few samples :
It was Mammy, the wife of Rastus senior who had a difficult time waking him up and getting him to do the chores, who sang these songs:
"Lazy bones sleepin in de shade,
how you spect to git yo corn meal made,
sleepin in de noon day shade."
"Lazy bones sleepin in de sun,
how you spect to git yo days work done,
sleepin in de noonday sun."
"Lazy bones sleepin in de bed,
How you spect to git yo chichens fed,
sleepin in yo noonday bed.
Lil Rastus was more lil devil than angle and when his ma would ask him to explain why he did what he did , his inevitable answer was a laconic :
It was little Rastus who said:
"de debel he out der lookin fo me, but he aint bout to git me !"
Accueil Science & Magie
Autobiography 2 (suite)