Megan, Money, and Miscellaneous
As you can see from the two previous blogs the ancestry of Albert (o) Anatole Alberti is still being discovered by the meticulous research of my great niece Megan Kunze. I’m blown away at what she’s turned up! I traveled to Kansas City last week and gave her everything I had in “the box” on the Alberti’s only to find she had most of the important documents already in her possession, neatly bound and filed in plastic sleeves. She is very close to finding that elusive Alberti “beautiful estate” in Pienza, Italy. When she hits what appears to be a dead end she backs out and heads down another road. All things “Alberti” are now in Megan’s capable hands and I expect there will be another blog written soon in her captivating style. It seems the “writing gene” is expressed most vividly in the “fillies” of our family
I will return to sharing what I have on the Sherman side of the family history.
If any other “family member” is willing to edit or contribute to the blog please contact me.
While in Kansas City I had a short visit with my sister Sherry and asked her about the “blackout drills” that were occurring in our neighborhood during the war in 1944. She was only five but remembered that men from the civil defense would come around and check to make sure the lights were completely blocked out. She reminded me that the Standard Oil Refinery was a key target if any German planes were to reach the skies above us. The refinery was less than a mile from our house. I could stand in our side yard and see the top of the highest tower at the refinery and watch the flame from the top of it burning off excess gas.
I could see the top of the tallest tower from our side yard at 219 South Huttig
In the letters written to my mother from my father in the spring of 1944 I try to get a sense of their lives. Most of them are about the children, war rations, money, and missing each other. Here is a letter from May of 1944. I re-typed it because it was written with such a light pencil it was hard to read. I re-drew his pictures as close as I could. His were better.
1944 : Letter from Air Base in Manhattan Kansas
There was never much money on my dad’s side of the family unless you go back several centuries to the Sherman cloth merchants in Suffolk, England. My dad’s parents, Plinnie and Maud, raised seven children in a one bedroom home. That single bedroom with its narrow bed never had a door. For privacy, Maud strung one of her hand made quilts on a rope across the entry. At night my uncles Ronald, Bob, Willard, Kenny, Everett and my dad Leonard, climbed a ladder into the attic where a single bulb illuminated what must have been interesting continuous camping site. I was never up there so maybe it was roomier than I imagine. My aunt Joy, the single offspring of the female gender that survived to adulthood, was eventually housed in a little hobbit sized log playhouse by the creek. A small wood refinishing and upholstery shop building behind the house was the source of any income.
Any stories I have about my dad’s life are second hand. His best friend Larry Good told me a few interesting ones. As grade-schoolers, the two of them de-feathered a neighbor’s rooster that dared to pillage grandpa’s garden. A few years later there was an ill fated attempt by Larry and my dad to raise mink. Then, as teenagers they skipped school with two girls to go swimming. That ended with Larry breaking the vertebrae in his neck doing a jack-knife dive. Throughout his long life Larry had to turn his entire upper body toward whoever he was talking to. I’ll explain what I know of those stories in another blog. What jobs my dad had as a young man I will never know now that I’ve waited too long to ask. Larry would have told me, or any one of my dad's brothers. I’m asking questions decades too late.
I never spent much time at my grandparent’s home. After the accident we depended on others to give us rides. Sometimes my Uncle Kenny would come and get us. One Thanksgiving Grandpa Sherman came and got us in his Model-T. They said he was legally blind and it may be true. We hit a car in front of us and pies went flying. My sisters were with him another time when he rear ended some teenagers on Noland Road.
I remember one Christmas night at my grand parents small home when I was five and there was a spindly Christmas tree in the living room with its branches brushing the quilt that was hung across the opening to their bedroom. We had arrived late and there were several very small presents beneath the sparsely adorned tree. I assumed there had been more presents and that my cousins had arrived earlier and left taking their presents with them. I began to cry non stop. Grandma was probably looking on with dismay, that poor woman who had worn herself out bearing and rearing so many children, none of them as spoiled as the grand-son she was now watching bellowing and mewling beneath the tree. She should have taken a switch to me but instead she must have alerted the two remaining Uncles who were out back. The sun had already set, but somehow Ronald and Kenny returned with a brand new Radio -Flyer wagon. With stores closed I don’t know where they got it. Seventy years later I am mortified remembering this incident and my selfish behavior.
The letters are a stark reminder of what inflation can do to the buying power of the dollar. For some reason my father gives an exact accounting for his first two week paycheck in March of 1944. After $3.25 was deducted for tax he received $106.42. He had to spend two nights in a hotel and complains that it cost $1.50 a night. Cereal, milk, and grapefruit juice for breakfast cost thirty cents. Dinner at the hotel cost fifty cents and consisted of roast beef, carrots, peas, mashed spuds, salad, and milk. Supper was fish, sauce, vegetables, and milk for forty-five cents. His entire hotel bill for two nights and six meals came to $4.25. A note at the side said referring to the expense says “No good!” At the end of the letter he adds: “I will write kids again tonite but I may send it all in one envelope, which could run into money, with stamps at 3 cents each.”
My mother writes back; “Don’t scrimp on your meals, please honey, we really are managing fine and can do on less because we have the food in the basement and it really needs to be used before the year is over.”
At the base of our stairs there was a narrow room to the right that had once been filled with coal for our furnace, until our house was converted to gas heat. At the time of the letter shelves had been added to the coal bin room and they were lined with Mason jars packed with green beans, tomatoes, and the dreaded beets. When I was older I would sometimes brace myself, brush away the cobwebs, and try to identify some of the unknown things my mother had put away, and pray that those jars would never be opened.
My mother was raised in a family a rung up in the ladder of accessible money in comparison to my father’s family.. Both her grandfathers were relatively wealthy. Her father Wilford made a decent living and all the pictures of her before she was married show her in nice dresses and a number of fashionable hats. I can find no whiff of regret or complaint about the lack of money or the back breaking amount of work she signed up for in this marriage.
With no intention of “comic irony” my mother writes this in one of her letters.
“The sun came up and it’s a lovely day, the wash is done, babies to school, Danny bathed and fed, and beds made, now I can start on my day’s work.”
This letter includes information on what must have been the end of the road for the chickens and the rooster housed in the small chicken house at the back edge of our property. On my short visit with Sherry last weekend she reminded me of her ingenious method of removing the heads of the chickens. Closing the heavy chicken house door on the chicken’s neck was much easier than the unpredictable and dangerous hacking away with a hatchet. Was Judy on the other side of the door stretching the chicken’s neck?
Here’s an excerpt from my mother’s letter on the chickens:
“The chickens didn’t bring such a good price – by his (the buyer's) scales the rooster only weighed six and a half pounds, so you see there is quite a difference in the way they figure and the way we figured. He figured 73 lbs of hens at .23 cents and six and a half lbs. for the rooster at nineteen cents. He gave me $18.03. I objected, said I know the rooster weighed more, but it was the last weighed and he had weighed the hens in bunches and already had them in the car.
The water heater broke down after I was through with the wash – Chris is coming after the saw.”
In addition to being strapped for money my parents were planning to move us all temporarily to Manhattan, Kansas. My mother had lined up a renter for our house at $45.00 a month and she was selling all of my father’s tools. The outcome of the war was shifting in our favor and the move never occurred.
Here’s a line in one letter that sums up how she must have felt many times.
“I’m tired – tired – tired –all the kids have colds.”