Featured

Trying Some New Technology

I’ve been reading a lot about ChatGPT – an artificial intelligence tool that writes something for you when prompted by a question (or a statement, I suppose). I love new technology and have been wanting to give this a spin for some time. I decided that today was the day.

So, I asked what it’s like to find family. I know what it’s like, since I’ve experienced it firsthand. And ChatGPT pretty much mirrored some of my emotions. Here’s what it had to say:

Finding one’s family can be a very emotional and meaningful experience. It can bring a sense of belonging, connection, and understanding of one’s identity and history. It can also bring closure to past feelings of abandonment or uncertainty. However, it can also bring up feelings of sadness, anger, or disappointment if relationships are strained or if the family member(s) found is not who the individual hoped or expected them to be. Ultimately, the experience of finding family can be unique and complex for each individual.

The first three sentences are spot on. In case you haven’t read it, here’s a link to my memoir, which describes my experiences in great detail. It’s not a long book, and I’ve been told it’s an easy (and hopefully enjoyable) read: https://www.amazon.com/Sibling-Revelries-Finding-Family-After-ebook/dp/B07B7B43WD/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8.

There has been a lot of discussion about the use of this tool, with some universities outright banning it, fearing their students will take the easy was out of writing an essay. and, of course, there are privacy concerns that the platform’s database may be hacked or otherwise compromised.

So, take a few minutes and share your thoughts on this new marvel with my readers.

Featured

Winter Solstice is Back

This time of year, I ponder on many things – obviously Christmas and New Year, which remind me that I’ve been on earth yet another year. In general, that’s a good thing. I also think about our grandchildren, who are now adults. The lovely Elise turns 22 tomorrow – on the 22nd. And Dale recently turned 24. How did those years go by so quickly? I read an article recently that dealt with the topic of the years going more quickly as you get older. The suggestion was to learn something new, take on challenging things, and never let yourself get into a rut. Covid – and now the flu – seems to have made that more difficult.

But, the other thing I think about is the Winter Solstice, which played a huge part in my early life. Attending a historic church in Philadelphia, with deep Swedish roots, led to my participation in the annual Lucia Fest. I was a Lucia attendant for years, wearing a little white nightgown and a crown of greenery. Our procession followed the Tomptegubbers (little kids dressed in red who symbolized the elves who were and still are ever-present in Nordic societies) and the Star Boys, wearing white robes and carrying golden stars. My first boyfriend was one of those Star Boys. Oh, did I mention that we sang during the procession – in Swedish!

When I turned sixteen, I was chosen to be Lucia. Wearing a crown of seven lighted candles (real candles, not electric ones), I led a procession of the attendants, singing solo in Swedish. I was used to singing (although not often as a soloist), but those candles! It taught all of us who portrayed Lucia most excellent posture. I still remember the words to the songs. We had excellent – and patient – Swedish-Americans who taught us how to sing with correct Swedish pronunciation.

If you’re curious about other Winter Solstice traditions, here’s a link to a good article: 13 Fascinating Winter Solstice Traditions Around the World (msn.com).

My wish for you is a joyous and healthy holiday season – no matter what and how you celebrate. Enjoy life to the fullest. And take hope in the lengthening days. Spring will be here before long.

Featured

Happy Summer Solstice!

So, I guess it really is summer here in Texas, where in our part of Houston the “feels like” temperature is 108. The air temp is a balmy 99. And we’re not even in the hottest part of whatever passes for summer here – generally in August, according to some local meteorologists. I just can’t wait!

After two years of hibernating for Covid, we’re now hibernating to stay cool enough to breathe. Neighborhood walks are pretty much out of the question for me. I get much too warm and exhausted. I walk around the house, staking out circular paths. I like our house, but… We’ve talked about a vacation, however, the problem is that most of the US is in the same blazing boat that we are – as is Europe. So maybe Alaska or Iceland? But the thought of flying somewhere, with cancelled and delayed flights doesn’t sound so great either. So, maybe in the Fall, when we might celebrate the Autumn Equinox.

Anyway, back to the Summer Solstice. Today is the longest day of daylight of the year. From here on out, the days will begin to get shorter. By an astounding two minutes a day. There are many excellent sources of information on the solstices – here are just a few: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170621.html. And this one that talks about solstice traditions: https://www.euronews.com/culture/2022/06/20/in-pictures-what-is-summer-solstice-and-how-is-it-celebrated-around-the-world. Although, I have to admit that I never knew about the mass yoga thing in New York. And, sadly, I suspect that the Ukrainians may not be doing much celebrating this year.

I hope the weather is not as extreme in your part of the world, and that you can enjoy the longest day without melting.

Featured

Thoughts on Memorial Day

“From the silence of sorrowful hours
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers
Alike for the friend and the foe”

FRANCIS MILES FINCH

Every year I read of postings that people share about Memorial Day. There always seems to be some confusion about it. Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor those who died in wars. Although there is a lot of speculation about exactly when it began, most scholars think it started after the Civil War. It was originally known as Decoration Day. I can remember my grandparents calling it that when I was a wee one. It appears that refers to the placement of flowers on fallen soldiers’ graves.

According to National Geographic, after the Civil War, “in subsequent years women, especially in the South, began tending to the graves of fallen soldiers, often regardless of which side they fought for.” I would like to believe that this is true – given the deep divisions we have in our country now.

Regardless, I think of those who perished on Memorial Day. Especially those US Navy men who were my father’s friends with whom he served on the USS Oklahoma in World War II. And I am eternally grateful that he was not among them. But I know, through connecting with my new family, and hearing a lot of stories, that he carried grief and guilt with him the rest of his life.

I also think of all the ancestors who I’ve found through genealogy. I am eternally grateful that they survived – in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War II. Otherwise I would not be here typing away. I will celebrate their lives on Veteran’s Day – which honors those who made it through.

Just some thoughts for your Memorial Day “celebrations.”

Featured

Warning! Shameless Self-Promotion Coming

I am very pleased to announce that next Saturday, May 21, from 11AM to 4PM, I will be among a group of local authors to showcase my memoir, Sibling Revelries: Finding Family After 62 Years, at Copperfield’s Books, a great Indie bookstore in Northwest Houston. It’s at Louetta Rd. and Champion Forest Dr. and is not far from Highway 249.

If you’re nearby – or are up for a ride – stop by! Copperfield’s will be having a drawing for lots of reading-related goodies, as well as some food. When you purchase a book, you’ll get an additional raffle ticket, so you can up your chances for those goodies. And, I promise, I’ll be happy to tell you a condensed version of my story – it’s unlike most others I’ve heard about connecting with family.

Featured

Happy Winter Solstice!

I have a Winter Solstice tradition to share with you. I hope you enjoy it and are happy – like me – to see longer days coming.

When I was much younger, my mother and I attended services at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church, one of the oldest places of worship in the country, where I was in the choir. My family had a long history with the church, with many of my ancestors christened, married, and eventually buried there. Like many places in the Northeastern part of the country, history oozed from every brick and cobblestone in Philadelphia. I suspect the major reason I went to church was that I loved the music so much.

Swedish colonists established Gloria Dei in 1677, five years before the founding of Philadelphia. The church has maintained many Swedish traditions. One of them is the Lucia Fest, a custom that is a mixture of Christianity and paganism. It celebrates both the birth of the Christ child and the winter solstice.

The Lucia fest at Gloria Dei was, and still is, a beautiful enactment. From the entirely candle-lit church, it begins with a procession of little boys and girls dressed in red as tomptegubbars (Santa’s elves), followed by the stjärngossar (star boys), and Lucia’s court of young girls dressed in long white nightgowns with green wreaths on their heads, carrying lighted candles. Finally, they are followed by the girl chosen to be Lucia. All of the participants sing traditional Swedish songs a capella as they proceed down the aisle of the church. Just thinking and writing about it gives me goosebumps. At the old building that was Gloria Dei, besides the performers and the audience, there were a lot of unobtrusive firefighters on the scene, just in case.

In homes throughout Sweden—and parts of the US where there are many Swedish immigrants—the custom is for the oldest girl in the household to arise early and walk through her house on the day of the solstice. She wakes her family, serving sweetbreads and coffee, singing along the way. Lucia represents the lengthening of the days and the return of the sun. And, later, the arrival of the Christ child, as the light of the world.

In my sixteenth year, I was chosen to be a Lucia. I sang solo in Swedish while wearing a crown of seven lighted candles, signifying the seven known planets at the time this custom began. Even after all these years, I still remember the words. In spite of being scary, it was also exhilarating.

A very young author and her mom – trying to be Swedes.
Featured

Heartbroken

This just breaks my heart.

These young people that were killed in Kabul were our grandchildrens’ ages. Many of them were Marines, as my mom was. They were stationed at places where she served – Camp Pendleton, and Camp Lejuene. One was in the Navy, as my dad was. They were all far too young to die at the hands of violent extremists who don’t care about their country or its people. Only about their ideology.

The world is just too crazy lately.

Featured

Author Fair This Weekend!

I’m very pleased to be part of Copperfield Books’ Author Fair this coming weekend – Saturday, May 29 – from 11:00 AM to 4 PM. I’ll be joining about twenty other authors, from all genres, local to the Northwest Houston area, near Champion Forest. Copperfield’s is an independent bookstore who does a wonderful job of packing a lot into a little.

We’ll be set up in the parking lot at the corner of Champion Forest and Louetta. You won’t be able to miss us. And why would you want to?

Come join us!

Featured

She Was Ahead of Her Time

In 1948. President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. It opened the way for women to be permanent, regular members of all the armed services – including the Marines. My Mom beat him by five years, by becoming one of the first women to be accepted into the Corps in 1943.

Happy International Women’s Day, Mom. Wish you were still here with us.

Featured

Her Name Was Irene Helen

Her family helped establish our country. They fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the War of 1812 (which Canadians tell us we lost), the Spanish-American War, and World War II. Various family root stocks settled in parts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in the 200 years before her birth. They produced a lineage that was strong and resilient.

After the birth of two brothers, she was a surprise and a great gift to her parents, having been born on their sixth anniversary.

Although some would call her unconventional, she was fun-loving. She and her brothers played ukuleles, sang, and put on skits in the family living room. When wallpaper was stripped to be replaced, they drew cartoons on the plaster walls. I can fondly remember seeing them when I was a young child and that wallpaper was removed again. But those skits used to embarrass me horribly when I was a sophisticated teenager. I think I know where any creative juices I may possess came from.

Good at math and supremely well-read, most people assumed she had a college degree. She certainly had a life degree and was one of the most articulate people I’ve ever known.

Men’s heads turned when they saw her. She was beautiful as well as personable. And unfailingly pleasant. A positive person when life threw her lemons. And she caught a lot of them.

She made history when she became a Sergeant Major in the US Marine Corps during World War II. Up to this time, the Marines were the last bastion of males only among the services. She was:
• among the first of eight women to be sworn into the Corps in Philadelphia.;
• in the first class of Women Marines to be trained at Hunter College;
• chosen with thirteen other women out of hundreds in her boot camp group to attend the inaugural class of Women Marines in First Sergeant’s school;
• one of the first Women Marines to appear in uniform in Philadelphia. It caused quite a stir, and was featured in the local newspaper;
• the first of four women to make First Sergeant;
• the first woman to replace a male First Sergeant.

She was highly intelligent, even though she never finished high school. One of her greatest accomplishment was to see me do well in school and graduate. Assignments were pored over and she constantly encouraged me to be “better” than she was. She was chest-thumpingly proud when her only child got a B.Sc. in Chemistry and an MBA from The Wharton School. It was perilous for anyone who might have asked how her child was doing during that time.

She was an indefatigable single mom, who took care of me, her invalid mother, her father and ran the household like a Marine. She somehow managed to balance everything while maintaining her equilibrium. And her sense of humor.

Our family lost her in 1985. The world lost an unheralded heroine who paved the way for others. I still miss her and can never thank her enough for the impact she had on my life.

Her name was Irene Helen. And she was my Mom, the Marine. Happy Birthday to the USMC!

Featured

Episode 4 of Irene’s Story

Irene outside the Recruit Depot HQ,
Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Note the sergeant’s stripes.
Personal photo
.

In July, Irene became a newly non-commissioned officer – a Sergeant. Her class was composed of 75 Marines: 61 men, 14 women. She was one of the first women in the country to obtain that distinction. Irene did it with a final grade of 94.5. Not bad for a high school dropout. She was in her glory.
Then reality hit. Irene and the thirteen other newly-minted Featherneck Sergeants were assigned to Camp Lejeune in New River, North Carolina, where the heat and humidity were worse than Philadelphia There was no air conditioning, and the barracks had flying roaches in addition to hot and cold running water. These were the so-called southern tree roaches, not like those smaller, more civilized roaches of the Northern cities that knew their place was on the ground. They had a bad habit of dive-bombing the women while they were in the showers, resulting in a nearly constant barrage of screams. The male Marines thought it was hysterical. The Feathernecks failed to see the humor in it.

In addition to the roaches, there were squadrons of mosquitoes, and platoons of chiggers, which can’t be seen but make you itch like crazy. The Feathernecks arrived in the summer, so they were exposed to the worst that coastal North Carolina could throw at them, with temperatures in the 100-110-degree range, and humidity levels to match.

Camp Lejeune back then was out in the middle of nowhere, and was referred to as the “Hell-Hole” by anyone who’d had any experience with it. The reality was worse. It was situated in Onslow County, North Carolina, roughly five miles from the rugged beaches that would be used in training exercises for the Marine Expeditionary Forces. This elite group played a massive role in the Pacific in Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. But, before the Marines came into North Carolina, the area was composed primarily of tenant farms, and many people who lived there still got supplies by boat, just as generations before them had.

Irene was used to the environments of Hunter College, the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and the Ben Franklin Hotel. All of them were sophisticated, amenity-filled places to live in. She especially missed the food, which was excellent in those places, and there was lots of it. That wasn’t the case in North Carolina, at least not at first. The base was somewhat undeveloped when it was established and built in 1941, and even by 1943, with a population approaching 40,000, it was dramatically different than the near-city it is today, with its 180,000 residents.

However, the “girls” learned to see the positives, and by 1943, the base actually had some decent buildings, all red brick with white trim, so at least it was attractive. One of those buildings was a recreation hall, with dart boards, pool tables, and a dance floor with a jukebox. That contraption seemed to be fixated on one song – “Pistol Packin’ Mamma,” a 1943 number-one song with words composed by Al Dexter, and it played incessantly. But it was certainly appropriate with all those female Marines, who’d had pistol and rifle training and knew how to shoot as well as pack.

The Marine Corps was also new at this Women Marines game, and when Irene arrived, there were no assigned quarters, and no one appeared to have any idea what she and the other “girls” were supposed to do. They eventually figured it out, and Irene was assigned to the Recruit Depot, responsible for payroll and muster rolls for every group of new recruits who came onto the base.

Muster rolls were registers of the officers and men in a military unit. Back in the 1940s, before computers, it was an avalanche of paperwork, with handwriting and typewriters being the norm for recording data. Just keeping up with the mountains of those records for filing was a nightmare. Every time a new battalion came in, Irene and her company had to pack up the documents from the previous group and start the process all over again for the new group.

Within a few months, she was promoted to Staff Sergeant, and inherited some men in her company. They got on well, and they loved being “bossed around” by their pipsqueak “Sarge.” She settled into her role, and made friends among the troops, both men and women. She also had a good woman Marine friend named Geraldine. Gerry was from Chicago. They met at Hunter College and went through First Sergeant’s school together. They were the best of buddies. Gerry even had a car, which they lovingly named “Penny the Passionate Pontiac.” Gerry went on to make a career of the Marine Corps, and was the first woman Marine to attain the rank of E-9, Master Gunnery Sergeant, in 1960. It was the highest non-commissioned officer rank in the Corps.

Featured

Episode 3 of Irene’s Story

Irene loved the routine and the intellectual stimulation, but her petite stature, at five feet one and one half inches, gave her some grief during her training. Of course, the women were to be issued uniforms, but because her group was the first, there was no readily available inventory. These included both winter and summer dress uniforms, along with caps, shoes, and blouses. The Marines had Lord & Taylor working hard on it, but what they eventually got was for taller, larger women, so tiny Irene had to have hers altered significantly, delaying her uniforms’ delivery and nearly scuttling her chance at further training.

            She did well, finishing in the top of her class. All that hard work and her native intelligence paid off. She was chosen to go to First Sergeant’s School.  Those Marines were no dummies. They knew a good thing when they saw it. She also picked up a lot of Navy and Marine jargon, like MMRLH, which was posted on envelopes. It meant Marine Mail Rush Like Hell. Once she learned it, it appeared on the bottom of the envelopes for every letter she mailed back home.

            Best of all, First Sergeant’s School was in Philadelphia, at the U.S. Navy Yard, less than two miles from her family. Although she couldn’t stay with them, it was closer than the Bronx, and she had some spare time to spend with her mother and father during that two-month training period. The Marines put their candidates up in the Ben Franklin Hotel, so they had a pretty nice place to stay.

            The Clerical School at the Navy Base published a little paper back then called The Pen & Bayonet. The troops trained in the Clerical School would go on to become Clerks reporting to a First Sergeant, exactly what Irene and her fellow classmates would become. When she and the other First Sergeant candidates arrived, Irene and a friend wrote an article called “Hello, Fellow Marines.” In it, they introduced the “girls” and penned a little ditty to be sung to the tune of the Marine Corps hymn that summed up these pioneering women perfectly:

You can tell a girl in the Marines,
You can tell her by her walk.
You can tell a girl in the Marines,
You can tell her by her talk.

You can tell her by her manner,
By her attitude and such.
You can tell a girl in the Marines,
But you cannot tell her much!

Featured

VE DAY

From the DAR Newsletter:

“Today, May 8, marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (V-E Day), which signaled the nearing of the end of World War II…

With the approach of the Allies and the death of Adolph Hitler, the Nazi empire surrendered unconditionally on this date in 1945. It marked the end of six long years of a terrible warfare that had cost millions of human lives, destroyed whole cities and brought mass suffering to all of Europe. In preceding weeks, the intolerable cruelty and incomprehensible horrors of Hitler’s death camps had been revealed.  But finally, the Allies had cause to celebrate – the enemy was defeated and had capitulated.”

Both of my parents served – my dad in the Navy, who was on the USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attack hit – and my mom in the Marine Corps, holding down jobs that freed up men to go and fight. I’m very proud of both of them.

So take a moment today to think of all of those Americans and our allies who fought and died so we could be free.

Although we are all dealing in one way or another with Covid-19, one day we will have our victory day.

Featured

Episode 2 of Irene’s Story

Irene was good with numbers, and worked in the Comptroller’s department at Sharpe & Dohme (now Merck). Her luck came into play here, too. She loved what she did, and had a wonderful boss, with whom she remained friends for many years. Irene worked at Sharpe & Dohme for fourteen and a half years, and had found her home away from home. She developed a routine: working, and dating some, but nothing serious ever developed. Still no Mr. Right. As both of her older brothers got married and moved out, Irene began to wonder if she’d become a spinster.

            Then the United States got involved in World War II. Because Irene’s family had a long history of military service, all three of the siblings felt the need to do their part. The younger of her two brothers enlisted in the Navy, and the older brother tried to join the Army, but he had a hearing problem that exempted him from service. At that time, the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force all had women’s branches, but none of them appealed to her. The thought of spending endless days on a rocking ship did not sound good, and she didn’t like heights, making the Air Force and planes downright scary. And she just never liked the Army.

            The Marine Corps was the last branch of the services to accept women, and when they did, they created the USMCWR – The United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Now, that sounded pretty swell. The Marine’s idea was to recruit women they could train to do non-combat jobs which would free up the men to fight. That was just fine with her. So, she set out to become a lady Leatherneck. She barely made it – with one half inch to spare over the 5’1” minimum height requirement.

            The other branches of the services had names for the women’s corps, like the WACs (Women’s Army Corp), the WAVEs (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), and the WAFs (Women’s Air Force). The Marines never gave in to that. They thought a Marine was a Marine. Perhaps they were ahead of the times when it came to gender equality. But the men did have an unofficial name for the female Marines. BAMs, short for Broad-Assed Marines. It was coined by the male Marines, after a female reporter suggested they be called “Beautiful American Marines.” Maybe a bit sexist, but definitely memorable. The official word on their name came from Marine Corps General Thomas Holcomb, who was emphatic that the Women Marine reservists were not to be ascribed any sort of nickname. In a March 1944 issue of Life magazine, he announced, “They are Marines. They don’t have a nickname and they don’t need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere at a Marine post. They inherit the traditions of Marines. They are Marines.”

            Irene became a BAM in March 1943. Back then, there was no politically correct term for young women, so they referred to them as the “girls.” Those girls also referred to themselves as “Feathernecks” – a portmanteau derived from the two words Female and Leathernecks. The term “Leathernecks” came from the uniform developed in the Continental Marines in 1776, which included a high leather collar to protect against cutlass slashes and to keep a man’s head erect.

            She was an early adopter, one of eight women who were the first from the Philadelphia area to join. She was excited and ecstatic, but sad and worried to leave her mother.

Irene told her oldest brother in the sternest possible way, “You must swear to me that you’ll keep an eye on things and do your best to get and maintain our father on the straight and narrow.”

She also lectured her father vigorously before she left, “Now, Pappy, I know you like your bourbon, but I’m not going to be here to haul you out of that tap room. Don’t you dare put that burden on my mother.”

She was a Marine at heart even before she became one officially – totally fearless and one take-charge woman.

            The Marines are part of the Department of the Navy, and because they had no training facilities for women at that time, they relied heavily on the Navy for basic training for the new female enlistees. They used the U.S. Naval Training School, on the Bronx campus of Hunter College in New York, to get them off on the right foot.

            Starting in early 1943, young women from all over the country did their boot camp training there. A small fraction – 722 of the first group of 95,000 women – arrived in three waves between March 24th and 26th, and were billeted in nearby apartment houses. Irene was in the first wave. On March 26th, 21 platoons, or roughly 600 women Marines, began training. They graduated on April 25th.

Opening of the U.S. Navy recruit camp for WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) at Hunter College (Bronx Campus), New York City (USA), in 1943. At one time in 1944, 5,000 women were training at Hunter College, and a total of 95,000 women volunteers were trained for military service there. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

            Since the school was designed for WAVE indoctrination, the curriculum was largely geared for the Navy. Some subjects were not pertinent for Marines, so modifications were made and reluctant male Marines were pulled from Parris Island to be instructors. Training sessions varied from three and a half to five weeks, and besides the dreaded physical examinations, time was allotted for uniforming, drilling, and physical training. They had lectures on customs and courtesies, history and organization, administration, naval law, map reading, interior guard, defense against chemical attack, defense against air attack, identification of aircraft, and safeguarding military information. It was a lot to cover in such a short time.

            Their training was intense. Those “boots,” as they called them, worked their buns off from 0530 (5:30 AM) to lights out at 2230 (10:30 PM) every day, with only short breaks for lunch and dinner. For Irene, it was like going to college. And, in fact, she was on a college campus. She had always loved school, and having to drop out of high school was painful for her. This training put her right back where she belonged, learning and absorbing like a sponge. She sat on the front row every chance she got, and became a favorite of her instructors.