Monday, June 20, 2016

Every box tells a story...

Every box tells a story...  A few weeks ago, while at my mom's old house in Virginia, I was searching for my dad's old Army records.  He served in the Army Air Force in WWII, as did his brother (and my uncle) Donald.  In that search I came across this small wooden box, about 8" x 6" x 3".  A photo of its lid is at right.

From the return address you can learn a lot.  My uncle Donald was a Technical Sergeant, specializing in radio and radar repair for the B-29 “Superfortress” bomber (photo at left).  He was assigned to the 875th Bombardment Squadron of the 498th Bomber Group, and he was stationed in Saipan from late 1944 through the end of the war in late 1945.  That dates the box to sometime in that period, and tells us that it was sent from Saipan.

Like many of his Army Air Force contemporaries, my uncle Donald had a secondary assignment: belly gunner in the tail belly gun.  He didn't like to talk about the war at all, but one day while we were searching on our farm for Indian artifacts, he told me that he flew on around 70 bombing runs over Japan.  On most of those missions he never fired his guns (except for testing) – American air superiority was so complete that usually the only defense was anti-aircraft guns from the ground.  Nevertheless, being a belly gunner was a risky proposition – should anything cause the aircraft to make a belly landing, you would end up being a smear on the runway.

One thing about my uncle that long surprised me: though he was a highly trained electronics technician, when I knew him (after the war) he never demonstrated either interest in, or knowledge of, electronics.  His post-war profession was accounting, which seems like an unlikely career course for someone so highly trained in then-exotic electronics.  To this day I have no idea why he abandoned electronics.  His older brother, my uncle Earle, was a noted electrical engineer (worked for Scott making transformer-coupled hi-fidelity tube-based amplifiers) who then transitioned into writing for and then editing one of the major publications in the field (EDN).  I guess uncle Donald didn't get those genes :)

The box itself is hand made from 3/16" plywood – three plies, aircraft grade.  It's probably spruce (as this was most common in WWII), but could possibly be birch.  From the broad grain, though, I suspect it's spruce.  This plywood is a material that could be found in any aircraft mechanic's shop at the time – it was the go-to material for interior partitions, cabinets, and so on, so uncle Donald would have had easy access to it.  The dovetailing is hand-done, with a chisel or possibly a knife; sharp blade marks and grain deformation are clearly visible, so it wasn't cut with a saw.  The dovetails are only approximately placed, as though they weren't even measured but just eyeballed.  Similarly, the dovetail widths vary by as much as an eighth of an inch.  I'm fairly certain uncle Donald made this box himself – as I saw him make some similar boxes in the '60s, using thin teak plywood.  When I watched him make such a box, he used an ordinary pocket knife and wood glue to do the entire job.

Then there's the address the box was sent to.  Mrs. Earle Dilatush was my grandmother, and uncle Donald's mother.  Her address doesn't even include a street, much less a zip code (which didn't exist back then) – just her name, town, and state.  At the time Robbinsville was quite a small village, located a few miles north of the farm where she lived – but still, that's all that was required for a letter or package to get to her.

Inside the box you can see fine particles of sand and shell embedded in the wood.  It's possible those particles got there long after the box was originally sent.  But it's also possible – likely, I think – that those particles are actually from Saipan.  My uncle was an amateur archaeologist, and he did some of the very first archaeological field work with the native settlements on Saipan.  He even had an article about his work in Saipan published in a professional journal, despite his (utter) lack of credentials.  His letters mention several hundred pounds of artifacts that he collected on Saipan and shipped back to his mother.  I'm sad to say that I never saw a single one of these artifacts, and I have no idea what happened to them.  But I'm guessing that this box was used to ship one (or some) of them back to his mother – and probably particularly interesting artifacts, given the care taken in making this box.

There you have it: every box tells a story (with apologies to Rod Stewart)!

Mom = safe...

Mom = safe...  One of my earliest memories is from when I was about 7 or 8 years old.  My brother Scott and I had been playing out in the field near our house, digging a hole to make a “fort”.  I was wielding a spade, and Scott a garden rake.  At one point we encountered some hard dirt, and Scott swung the rake overhead like a pick – but hit my head instead of the dirt.

Various people I've told this story to have immediately assumed that this skull vs. rake encounter explains some of the mental aberrations they believe I possess.  However, so far as I can tell the only direct consequence of that rake to the head was blood – a lot of blood.  Scalp wounds are notorious for bleeding heavily, and I had a bodacious scalp wound: a semi-circular incision about 8" long, resulting in a flap the size of a small dish that fell forward over my forehead.  Blood was pouring over my face, to the point where I could scarcely see.  My head hurt like hell.  I did what any kid would do: I ran for my mother.

She was perhaps 100' away, working in the kitchen of our house.  I can only imagine what she felt when she heard me burst through the door, yelling my head off, then saw me looking like someone who'd had a bucket of blood poured over their head.  I do know that she fell to her knees and looked absolutely stricken.  That so surprised me that I stopped yelling and started to get worried.  Years later mom told me that she had very nearly passed out, but managed to get herself together while on her knees.

Shortly after that she was talking to me, to make sure I was still alive.  Then she started looking carefully at my head, discovered the flap of scalp, and flipped it roughly back into place.  Watching her, I saw her getting covered with blood (especially her hands and arms) – and that's the first time I really understood that I was bleeding heavily.  Next thing she did was to call our family doctor, an old fashioned general practitioner named Dr. Norman Garwood, located in Crosswicks (about a half hour from our home).  She got his wife and assistant, who quickly got the doctor himself on the phone.  Good old Dr. Garwood calmed mom down, asked some questions, had her put a clean towel over my head, told her to have me press that towel down (which hurt!), then told her to bundle me into the car and get me to his office as fast as she could.

Mom did exactly that – we were on the road in about 30 seconds.  She didn't even wash the blood off her hands.  I remember riding in the passenger seat (instead of the back seat like we usually did), with her talking to me the whole time to make sure I wasn't passing out.  She also kept hollering at me to press harder on that towel; she was worried about how much blood I was losing (later, Dr. Garwood assured her that I hadn't lost enough to be worried about, other than making a mess).  The blood on my face was starting to congeal, and that felt weird and uncomfortable.  It also smelled and tasted odd.

Most of all, though, I remember feeling safe, despite the frightening thing that had happened to me.  Why?  Because mom was there, doing her mom thing: comforting me, making sure I was ok, getting me to medical help.  To me, she looked cool, calm, and totally on top of things.  I never felt in danger at all.  I felt pain, to be sure, but never actually threatened.  Her total focus on me and my injury surrounded me like a protective cocoon. 

Moms are an awfully good thing...

When we got to Dr. Garwood's office, he was all ready with the cleaning supplies, needles, and thread.  He spent a half hour or so getting all the dirt (from the rake) out of my wound, then just a few minutes stitching it up.  I got a lollipop and bragging rights for a bunch of stitches (which were, much to my chagrin, almost invisible under my then-thick head of hair).

Many years later, mom told me that the trip to Dr. Garwood's office that day was one of the most terrifying things she'd ever done, and not just because I was bleeding all over the place.  As long as I kept talking, she said, she figured I wasn't about to croak.  She was most frightened by the possibility that my skull had been cracked, and that I'd suffered some sort of brain damage (and I can hear the jokers now!).  She was also frightened by something else: she and dad had no money to pay Dr. Garwood or a hospital: I'd sustained this injury at a very dicey moment for them, financially.  I don't remember hearing her talk with Dr. Garwood about the money issue, though she said I was there.  Dr. Garwood told her not to worry about the money; he'd give her a bill that they could pay if and when they could.  If and when they could.  He also told her that that was true for any emergency medical situation – don't worry about the money, just get the emergency dealt with.  Years later, when she told me about her side of this story, that was what she remembered most clearly: Dr. Garwood telling her just not to worry about the money.  Mom and dad did pay Dr. Garwood back, but it wasn't until the following spring, nearly a year later.  She took him a check with an apple pie as “interest” – and we heard about that apple pie for years afterwards when we saw Dr. Garwood :)

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Well, yesterday's furniture assembly project didn't go quite as intended.  The long table and hutch assembled just fine, and you can see the result in the photo at right.  The desk?  That's a whole 'nother story...

The desk was supposed to go right about where I stood to take the photo at right.  As I got ready to disassemble the desk (so I could get it through the office door), I noticed that it seemed a tad big for the space it was supposed to fit in.  I measured the width available: 64".  I measured the desk's width: 81".  Yikes – 17" too big!  What happened?

My first thought was that I had screwed up the measurements used when we ordered the furniture, and that I had actually ordered the 81" desk.  However, when I went back and checked the paperwork, I saw that we actually ordered a 60" desk.  The craftsman messed up!

So we contacted our furniture broker, and she's already committed to fixing the problem.  It took five months to actually receive this furniture, though ... so now we're worried that we won't see the (correct) desk until near the end of the year.  Dang!  For a while, Debbie may have to put her computer on the same old folding table she was using, while the rest of her office is gorgeous.  There's also the matter of this gigantic desk we can't use, and that's now sitting on the second floor of our house.  Somehow that will have to be sent back to North Carolina, from whence it came. 

Tomorrow my brother Scott and I will drive down to Salt Lake City to unload the “pod” of my mom's stuff that was shipped out of Virginia.  It's likely that it will take us at least two trips to get everything; the second trip will be tomorrow.  We're going to go early in the morning to try to avoid the forecast high heat, but ... we'll be unloading in the heat no matter what.  Oh, well...

This morning we had a beautiful full moon hanging over the Wellsville Mountains just before sunrise (at right, from our front yard).  If you're wondering why we have three trash cans in our front yard, they're for storing bird seed.  I'm going through about 25 pounds a week now, of four different kinds of seed (black oil sunflower, high energy mix, Nijer thistle, and cracked corn). 

Today I'm expecting a split-system air conditioner to arrive via truck.  This is going to cool my office down to something livable on hot summer afternoons.  The model I got is actually a heat pump, so it could also be used to heat the office in the winter.  That means I'll have three sources of heat: the forced air from the (floor heated) first floor, the wood stove, and the heat pump.  I should stay nice and cozy no matter what :)