Sunday, February 15, 2015

War Baby

Ambrose Dachtera, Mary Catherine Dachtera, Emily Ganas Dachtera 1944

I first heard the term “war baby” as a high school freshman when our class was greeted as the first class of war babies – born in the first year of the United States’ participation in World War II.  The US had resisted involvement until the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. That attack set into motion a full scale national response that affected every citizen in some way.

Seemingly overnight, factories became dedicated to supplying materials for the war effort.  The military needed everything – food, clothing, arms and ammunition, vehicles of all kinds.  This intense focus on wartime military requirements resulted in shortages of goods and materials available to civilians. 

Rationing was the system put in place to make sure that everyone had access to the necessities of life – even if quantities were limited..  Everyone was issued ration books – I had one in my name when I was only 7 weeks old. Children were issued ration books to insure that families had access to adequate goods. When it came to rationed goods, a person was allowed to purchase only a certain amount at any given time.  The books contained stamps that were collected by retailers at the time of purchase.  Rationed items included, rubber, leather, sugar, meat, fats and oils, and gasoline among other things. More information about rationing can be found here

My dad enlisted in the army February 29, 1944. I don’t know why he was not drafted earlier. Maybe his employer, International Harvester was involved in producing military vehicles.  Maybe it was because hie eyesight was so poor. He was accepted as an enlistee 2 years into the war.. Fortunately for me and Mom, he was never sent into battle – he stayed stateside for the duration.

I remember only 2 things from the war years.  I remember Mom flattening empty cans for recycling because steel was so scarce. She’d remove the paper labels rinse thoroughly, then step on them. For some reason I liked the sound when she did that.

Portions of a train trip also remain. Mom and I went to Little Rock, Arkansas once while Dad was stationed there.  We took an overnight train from St. Paul. We had a Pullman berth. The train made many stops along the way and I remember the chugging of the steam engine as it started rolling again after each stop. I remember the rhythmic click-clack of the wheels.  But I have no other memories of that trip.

Two of Mom’s brothers also served in the war. Both were sent overseas. Uncle Bud (Frank) Ganas was captured by German troops and spent time in a Stalag. Uncle Ches (Chester) Ganas served in the 81st Airborne.

The war ended in 1946. Dad was discharged from the army. Companies were required to give jobs to returning former employees who had served in the war.  International Harvester, Dad’s former employer, had purchased a Buick factory in Melrose Park, Illinois – one of Chicago’s western suburbs - and converted it to farm equipment.  That’s where they gave him a job. With so many thousands of service men returning to civilian life, a job offer was precious.

So we moved from St. Paul. Ambrose and Emily bought a house in Northlake, just west of Melrose Park, 400 miles from everything and everyone they loved and began a new life.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Big Grandma’s House

Big Grandma, my maternal grandmother Stella Schipp, wasn’t really very big, not much more than 5 feet tall; but she was bigger than Little Grandma, my father’s mother, Telkla Dachtera, who was a tiny woman.

After WWII my parents and I moved from St. Paul, MN to the Chicago area, and when we’d visit St. Paul, we’d stay with Big Grandma.  To a little girl who visited only once a year, her house was full of places I longed to explore but I wasn’t allowed to investigate - places that must surely contain all manner fascinating things.

The house was one of the earliest built in that part of St. Paul. MN. Additions had been made by the time my grandparents bought it in 1920.  It still sits on Goodhue Street on the limestone bluff at the lower end of the old High Bridge.  The basement had been carved or blasted out of the limestone.  There was a coal fired furnace down there; and probably storage for meat and vegetables.  I’m sure that the limestone kept the temperature more or less constant summer or winter.

Early photo – before my time

The High Bridge connected the high bluffs of the wide gorge carved from the stone by the Mississippi river.  At the river’s level were still some homes, some industry, and a railroad yard.

The house itself was quite unremarkable.  It was green painted stucco. There were large shade trees in the front yard.  Around the side was a pretty plot of lily of the valley.  I loved those tiny fragrant white flowers. The back yard included a chicken coop that was empty by the time I saw it.  When she was raising her family, Grandma raised chickens and ducks.  She used duck eggs in her baking because they were richer than chicken eggs.  Also in the backyard was Grandpa’s shed!

How I longed to investigate all the wonderful things stashed away in that shed! Grandpa died before I was born so I never knew him.  He’d been a teamster with his own team of horses; and the shed had housed his horses, his wagon, and all his tack and tools.  I was actually inside the shed a few times but never let loose to explore.  There were horse collars and other tack hanging on one wall. There was a grinding wheel for sharpening tools. There were nooks and crannies. I loved its smell of old wood and old leather.

The interior of the house was plain, functional, and felt very comfortable to me.  Nothing fancy, but I sure wish I had photos of its old fashioned furnishings.  There was a player piano with at least a dozen music rolls. I couldn’t play the rolls, but I was allowed to occasionally play the piano. 

Hanging on the wall above the piano were portraits of two beautiful young women – 1920’s glamour portraits of two of my aunts.

There was a small room that had a toilet but had no other plumbing.  Bathing was done in the kitchen in a big, round galvanized tub that was brought out for baths and for laundry.

The kitchen had a sink with a drainboard and single faucet for cold water.  Hot water for dishwashing, bathing and laundry was heated on the cook stove.  It was a huge black coal fired iron stove.  Grandma cooked and baked for her family and taught her seven daughters to cook on that stove.  There was a large pantry that excited my curiosity because the upper shelves held lots of interesting looking things. I never got to explore it. A room to the left of the stove held a large ice box.

The long wide dining room was a huge table that would seat the whole family: parents and their 11 kids.   On one wall was a big old clock with a brass pendulum and a pretty loud tick. Its chime struck every quarter hour and tolled the hour. Off to one side was a nook with a small table and a chair.  On the table was a candlestick phone.

I’d fall asleep to the ticking of the dining room clock and then, in the darkness, the whole house would begin to vibrate as a train pulled by a chugging steam engine would resonate through the limestone.  I can still feel it. The rail yard at the base of the bluff was probably always pretty busy but I only noticed the trains at night. 

I remember being upstairs at Grandma’s house only once.  As usual, I wasn’t allowed to explore. There were chests full of things that Grandma had kept and that aunts and uncles had left behind.  Imagine what treasures were tucked away just waiting for a little girl to find them.

Our annual visits stopped in 1953 after my first brother was born; and when Grandma died in 1954, the house was emptied and sold.  To this day I still wonder what amazing things I might have found in the forbidden (to a little girl) spaces of Big Grandma’s house.