ADJUSTING TO CIVILIAN LIFE
I might repeat myself in the following story forgive me
Luckily my parents weren’t the type of parents to kick me out of the house on my ear. They were happy enough to see that I came home alive although there was no special treatment or outward demonstration. At times I tried to tell them about my ordeal but usually I was met with the statement, “I know Norman I know” as if they actually was there overseas beside me. It was their way of soothing me I think. As if to say they understood I think they didn’t wish to have me go into a crying fit which did happen from time to time. It seemed that a returning GI would need to dump all his grief and experiences on those who would be able to understand the best why the GI wasn’t really ready to jump into the mainstream of civilian life to get a job or to find the old friends to hang out with. I had a ‘chip’ on my shoulder. I really didn’t expect a brass band at the bus depot when I got off the bus in Cle Elum. The streets were almost vacant of cars due to rationing I suppose.
I might have written about having trouble getting a seat on the bus in Seattle. I finally yelled out, “Hey, I haven’t been home for three years”. There was a problem with transportation. The busses were always crowded. It was that way all the way. One hardly dared to get off at a stop for fear of losing his seat. Once at a stop at Lake Ketchelus Inn, I dared to go to the bathroom. There were others milling around a huge fireplace and dining hall. I saw about three girls sheepishly looking over my way. One of them looked familiar so I stepped up to her for a closer look and asked her if she was “the girl I left behind”. She was so embarrassed and finally told me her name was not –gee I don’t want to mention it—because of all things in the world my wife of almost 55 years has the same name. I didn’t know my wife’s real first name until after the courtship went into a few days. Every one called my wife Mickey—now I will say it—her real name is Maxine. That too was the name I didn’t want to mention in my story. About the girl at the Inn, if I had been a “wolf” and more brazen, I might have had a date pending. I was too shy.
When the bus finally stopped at my destination, I grabbed my val pack and jumped off. I probably should have kissed the soil or the dirty gravel which was the driveway by the Hotel Reed which was the bus station for years. The Hotel was one of many near the rail road station. Other buildings on that Rail Road Street were whore houses. Don’t ask me how I knew that. It was common knowledge.
I carried my bag up the railroad tracks to the bridge which crossed the river. This was one ‘forced march’ without water I was very eager to make. I crossed the bridge which was in my childhood a bridge made of huge logs. I recalled how my folks were tickled to hear me say with excitement as we crossed the original bridge “Boom va Vodlo” which was how I spoke in Croatian as a child. I meant that I could fall into the water easily. It seemed that every time we crossed the Cle Elum Bridge, my Dad or someone would say those words and tease me. I didn’t mind at all.
Another mile or so of walking on a concrete roadway, I turned left and walked down a gravel road for about a half mile. I heard a car crushing the gravel as it sped up behind me. I didn’t look up as if I didn’t need a ride. The car stopped and I heard a guy holler, “Hey soldier, need a ride?” I’ll be danged if it wasn’t an old school friend who I wrote about us having been drafted and back home shot up in the guts—it was Joe Lelinski fer cryin’ out loud!! He was driving a 1931 Chevrolet which my brother had sold him. I got in and after we greeted each other, he asked me among other things, if I had ever met my brother’s wife. I was absolutely shocked that Donald had gotten married! How could I know that Don had only written three letters to me while I was a way? None of them mentioned a romance which was serious. I cherished getting even those three letters. More than he could ever have known. He usually wrote about the important things about how the farming was going and about Ma and Daddy’s health. He told about his job at the creamery and the job I left at the Mink farm. He saved his money which he used to start farming with my Dad. He actually was successful as a farmer raising Hogs and chickens too. There’s another story which I might touch on later. It was to my benefit although unknown at this time.
I told I think in my story about Joe Lelinski driving me to the back door of our farm house. He didn’t wait. I was out of that car in a flash. I rushed into the kitchen and it was empty. In the next room there stood my sister Ella with her little girl Bonnie, now three years old. It was a shock to her and she clung to her mother’s skirts and started to cry from fear while I cried from plain being happy. I kinda shouted, “Where’s Ma”? Gee, I have tears as I write this. In the bed room my mother was laying there wondering why all the excitement. I knelt down beside her and buried my head in her bosom and bawled—“I’m home, I’m home” and I am doing that right now as I write this story. I saw movies just as this scene in real life. She was scheduled for an operation the next day in the hospital in Ellensburg. Gee, I think I told you that too!!
I asked where Daddy and Donald were. They were digging the potato crop. When they came home they were surprised but Gee, I didn’t get but just a hand shake. My family wasn’t the ‘huggin’ kind. I saw the light up in my Dad’s blue eyes as he gave me a handshake which was a “man’s” handshake—not a cold fish handshake—it said enough. Gee, I don’t remember any big dinners or special celebration. How could there be one with Mom being on her death bed so to speak.
I don’t recall who took Ma to the hospital the next day. Probably Ella and Bonnie the little niece. Daddy and Donald had their obligations to dig potatoes and to haul them to the cellar. I can’t recall if I found some old work clothes or not but I got involved in the potato digging operation right away. I marveled at the nice crop which my brother Donald and Daddy raised. They had very meager equipment and a brand new John Deere model ‘H’ tractor to pull the spud digger. The old 1927 Chevrolet truck Daddy bought in 1927 when I was just about 5 years old, was still in use. Donald had another 1935 or 36 Chevy, truck to haul the potatoes out of the field. There were workers in the field dragging a sack picking the potatoes. Loading the sacks was a real workout. All farm work is plain drudgery.
ORDERED A NEW CHEVROLET
One of the first desires I had when I got home was to have my own car. When I left I owned a 1935 Ford coupe. I allowed Donald to sell it for me. Cars were in big demand. I got more than I paid for it and the money was placed in the bank account which I set up with my folks when I came home on my 10 day furlough and before I left to go overseas. I had sent home most of my GI pay which now totaled to be about $2000, including the $300 mustering out pay. I had enough to pay in cash for the new Chevrolet. I wanted the Fleetline Model and I had to wait for two years for it. The dealer seemed to be honoring his closer friends and I resented them beyond words. The car finally came in 1947. I had enough money left of my savings to pay cash for it. In those days there was a price law which prohibited inflation of prices. It was called the Office of Price Administration, Or OPA as we called it. The price on the car was $1383. Tax if there was a tax. BUT hear this!! There was not an OPA rule regarding luxury items. I asked for just a heater and radio. They added some expensive chrome parts like Chromed bumper ends and a great big chrome sausage radiator ornament. All of these items added up to a total now of $1834 dollars. I was incensed. I said to the dealer. “Hey take it easy on me, that’s foxhole money”. The dealer asked, “Do you want the car or not?” I had to go to the banker Jake Bizyak. He graciously loaned me the balance which worried me to death. I had no real employment up to this point. I did have odd jobs with a GI 6×6 truck I bought. That story is too long to tell but it did play an important part in my readjustment to civilian life. Since it was so important I might say that the old trucks which my Dad and Donald used were decrepit, I signed up for the WAR SURPLUS disposal sales. In the beginning I wasn’t ever inclined to become a farmer for life. But since my Dad and Donald needed a new truck, I bought one at Mt Rainier Ordinance disposal sale. I used $1208.12 of my savings to buy it. Donald and Daddy paid to extend the frame so that it would handle a long bed. It became one of the best known all wheel drive farm trucks in the area.
My inclinations were to go to California to seek my fortune there. The training corporal I mentioned in my story, Billy B. Beardsley wanted me to come there in California so that maybe we could crash into the movies as players possibly in Westerns. It appealed to me more than to become a farmer. My brother and Dad promised to repay me for the truck but the proceeds from the potato crop netted them only $85.oo apiece. I was stuck with a truck. It became necessary to find hauling jobs. I did some very dirty work with the truck. I made most of my money hauling Manure—yes—manure to distant farmers who needed manure to fertilize apple tree. Other fertilizer was none existent. The war being the supply problem. The money I earned from this endeavor was used to buy the car. I was able to scrounge enough jobs then to make the payments.
The truck was my source of income. I liked working for myself. I stayed at home and helped without pay working for my brother and Dad doing the necessary farm work. I milked cows again and helped other wise to pay for my keep. I was able to also receive some funds from a program set up for returning GIs which was an unemployment insurance of sorts to help us adjust. We called it the 52-20 club. $20 a week for 52 weeks. If I had a job with the truck I didn’t sign up. It was necessary to appear once a week when necessary before a person who would ask very personal questions about your income and activities. My income was sporadic and sparse, but I am a person who saves and am frugal. I allowed myself a bit of money for gasoline in the truck and occasional date in the new car. It’s a lucky thing that hamburgers were only a dime for a big burger.
While I was ‘adjusting’ I did a few remodeling jobs on the old farm home. I installed a shower and a few cabinets. I changed the dining area. My tools were almost the same as a famous carpenter Jesus had. I scrounged for lumber and old nails. I bought a few war surplus windows for the breakfast nook. I built a porch.
When the war ended the farm prices went away with it. My Dad was too skittish to continue farming with Donald. Farming is more unpredictable than the stock market. After the war there became a surplus of nearly all crops. During the war you could sell cull potatoes for $40 a ton scooped up out of the cellar mud. That’s not a fib. Farmers could sell anything they raised. Some farmers made a ‘killing’ –more than we did on the front lines. The OPA prices were governing some farm sales like hogs and butter. I don’t know if it governed potatoes. There was a farm subsidy program for potato growers and for wheat farmers but you had to have had a ‘history’ of growing a crop. There was a minimum acreage for wheat farmers with no history. You could grow 15 acres. You were subject to an inspection. The subsidy for potatoes was a head ache because there was a ‘floor’ price. If you couldn’t get the market price you could ‘dump’ them on the Government program. They’d dump blue ink on your potatoes when you delivered them. Cattle could feed on potatoes but it was unpalatable for human consumption. I hated all those programs. I wanted the freedom to plant whatever I chose. The subsidy was a lure for other farmers to plant. The banks would loan money on a subsidized crop.
When Daddy pulled out of the partnership with his son Donald, Don went ahead to rent a neighbors land. I had nothing to do so I drove the tractor and other jobs like cutting seed and helping to raise the crop. I was learning the trade as I went along—as if I needed to learn.
In the meantime, while waiting for the new car, I bought parts and some used tires for the 37 Chevy car, and repaired it to fair running condition. I wanted to make a trip to Spokane where the (ugh) girl I left behind now lived to try to reconcile. The day came. Jim Graves my ole buddy went with me for a backup and I might need help to keep the dilapidated Chevy running. We started out early and found the address which was the last one on the Dear John Letter. I was greeted as if I was father winter coming in on a North wind. I had a visit with just the mother and her (she— whatever). We went into the kitchen for some privacy and discussion. The first thing she did was to light up a cigarette—wow that was on the top of the list of “no nos’ in my desires in a wife. It helped me somewhat, to leave. I was a bit hostile when she did that because I had repeatedly told her that it was one thing I couldn’t stand is to see a woman smoking. It reminded me of the first time I ever saw a woman smoke—my Dad had to sneak to town because he couldn’t afford a license on the car or truck, through the back rail road streets where the whore houses were allowed in Cle Elum. In a window I saw a woman smoking. That was the impression I always had when I see a woman smoking—I wouldn’t marry a woman like that. I became very weary as if in combat having had no sleep for hours. I lost my own desire for her in that kitchen. She had no compassion for a Veteran whatsoever—at least she could have had a little thanks for those of us who went so far away—you know the rest of what I want to write. So it was the end. Terminated. I came home to make a life for myself. I am the luckiest guy in the world—ahead of Lou Gehrig!