Charles, Jr., always preferred the name Chuck. But in his years as a scrappy street-fighter in Providence, Rhode Island, he was simply called “Bull Dog.” The aptness of that description I will leave unaddressed.
Chuck was the only son of Charles, Sr. and Elizabeth, New England socialites who came into fast money when Charles, Sr., a chemist, patented a durable fabric blend for Pullman sleeper cars. Wanting nothing to do with his parents’ new-found wealth, Chuck dropped out of high school to run bets for an off-track gambling ring. Not yet out of his teens, he was a heavy drinker, ruthless fighter, and on several occasions narrowly escaped police sweeps.
Around 2:30 Sunday afternoon, December 7th, Chuck and a friend were walking to join a game of nine-pin. One street over they heard yelling, and thinking a fight had broken out, ran to join the fray. What they found changed their lives, their nation, and indeed the whole world. What they found, of course, was news of Pearl Harbor.
Chuck’s particular journey led him into the U.S. Eighth Army Air Corps, proudly referred to as “The Mighty Eighth.” On its twenty-second mission his B-24 was shot down, and Chuck and the one other surviving crew member spent the remainder of the war in Stammlager Luftwaffe #17b, otherwise known as the infamous Stalag 17.
Hunger, cold, vermin, illness, and despair defined life for the 4000 men in the camp. Chuck, wanting documentation of the men’s lives, worked alongside two other corpsmen to create photosensitive paper, done by coating scraps of paper with a potato skin emulsion. The paper was then placed into a light-tight box, with only the smallest of holes carefully punched in one end. These photos exist to this day in a book called Kriege Memories, self-published after the war by Chuck and one of his fellow corpsmen.
Chuck, now gone, told me his story several years ago. As the daughter of an aerospace engineer, I gathered details of his story the way others collect baseball memorabilia, Indian head nickels, or teacups. I have Chuck’s photos, several Western Union telegrams, Red Cross communications, and his letters home that were never posted.
For me in some ways this account has grown richer over the years. Some of the power comes from the photos themselves, arrestingly clear despite their fundamentally unstable original medium, and their having been stored for years before being preserved.
But part of the elemental power is simply this: this was a generation that did what it took, with what was at hand, to get the job done. And though we are losing this generation, these qualities still persist.
This week past I met with…a “family.” My client, the homeowner, is well past 80, widowed, and in need of companionship, light housekeeping, transportation, and help with medications. Living with her is a male companion, a long-time friend, who is several years her junior. Also in the home is a pre-teen boy and his mother, who lost her own home when she was laid off from her HR job. She is now back to work, and well on her way toward regaining financial stability.
In fact, I have been in households composed of blood relatives that were far less functional, far less kind, and in far greater distress.
Life is really just stitched-together stories, so I asked my client to tell me the story of her household. The simplicity, elegance, and bald-faced honesty were arresting: she said, in effect, “I have a house, they needed a home. I need help, they have youth.”
Even now this is a generation that does what it takes, with what is at hand, to get the job done.
And, as it turns out, my client and her new, blended family are far from being an isolated phenomenon. In fact, it is one of the fastest-growing household trends…
And more on that in my next post.
Let me know what you’re seeing – I always love hearing from you.
Laurie Denker MacNaughton [NMLS# 506562] · Reverse Mortgage Consultant · Middleburg Mortgage, a Division of Middleburg Bank · 20937 Ashburn Road, Suite 115 ·Ashburn, Virginia 20147 · 703-477-1183 Direct · LMacNaughton@MiddleburgBank.com · www.middleburgmortgage.com/lauriem
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