You Cant Push me to Heaven From You Can't Push Me to Heaven: The Life of Roy Gudermuth, 2002

1930s, Rural Missouri, about Uncle Lee:

...Uncle Lee, my grandmother's brother, never had a house. He lived out of doors near Catawissa in a little lean-to, maybe in a cave sometimes; I think he had a tent once. He trapped and hunted, and sold pelts to buy salt and flour, things you can't make for yourself. He made his own clothes out of deerskin, and now and then his relatives hung a bundle for him in a tree near wherever they thought he was living at the time.

For transportation, he hopped freight trains, and once he got his leg cut off about mid calf jumping off a train. He dragged himself back to his camp more or less on his elbows, built himself a fire, and stuck his leg in the flames to cauterize the wound. The pain caused him to pass out. When he woke up, he saw that his leg wasn't done cauterizing, so he built up the fire again and stuck his stump in it again. That time it did cauterize, and the wound healed, so he saved his own life by doing that.

You have to judge people and events by their time and place, not by your time and place. Take a look at The Grapes of Wrath—you think you wouldn't do some of those things, but you don't really know, since our lives today are comfortable and we have what we need. Uncle Lee lived in a remote rural area in the Thirties and had no access to any help whatsoever. His options were live or die. Under those conditions, decision making becomes very simple.

When what remained of his leg had healed, he whittled an artificial leg out of wood and hollowed out a socket for the stump to fit down into. He made an ankle joint so he could walk on it, and hooked the thing to his leg with leather straps. He went right on trapping and hunting and gathering. At family gatherings we kids asked him to see his leg, and if he was in a good mood, he rolled up his pant leg and show it to us. If he was in an exceptionally good mood he took his sock off, too, so we could see how the ankle articulated.

Uncle Lee was a little short-circuited. But when somebody does something really nuts, if you ask them why, they'll give a reason that makes perfect sense to them.

From Silver Wings and a Green Beret: A Vietnam Memoir, 2017, C. W. Scherer.

As we reached the gate, a mob of anti-war demonstrators surged up, screaming and throwing things at us, waving signs. The bus driver, a young guy from the Air Force, glared and drove right through them. You could read it in his eyes: “I’ve got a busload of wounded soldiers who fought for this country and if you mock them I’ll run you over.” We knew about the war protestors, but being confronted by them was sobering and strange. No parade, no brass band, just jeers and trash.

A couple decades earlier, soldiers returning from World War II had been greeted with a hero’s welcome; a few decades after Vietnam, guys coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan would also be honored for their sacrifice. That wasn’t the case for us. We were dumbfounded by the hostility that confronted us. More than that, we were angry and sad and disgusted. Some of the guys got quiet; others yelled back at the protestors. 

Half a mile down the road we saw a McDonald’s and everybody on the bus went crazy. There’d been a place in An Khe you could go if you were on liberty, with a big sign out front that said “Hamburgers,” but they were made out of water buffalo and bore little resemblance to an American hamburger. Now here we were with a real McDonald’s restaurant right outside our bus windows.

We cheered and made the driver pull over, and it wasn’t until we were in the parking lot that it hit us: none of us had any American money. We had just landed; all we had was MPCs—military payment certificates used for paying soldiers in Vietnam. No cash.

The bus driver, undaunted, jumped out of his seat and walked into the McDonald’s. I don’t know if he bought the food or the restaurant donated, but the next thing we knew, he was passing out hamburgers and fries to everyone on the bus. Some of us had been split open from top to bottom and who knew what kind of diet we were supposed to be on, but we all ate our hamburgers and fries like starving men, grinning and smacking our lips. It was heaven. I can still taste that hamburger today, almost five decades later. 

From One of the Lucky Ones: The Life of Heinz Gelles, 2012

Burning Synagoge Kristallnacht 1938

1938, Nazi-occupied Vienna:

...In November, six months after the Anschluss, there came a night when Hitler's troops ruined our businesses, homes, and temples. It was Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass. Synagogues were destroyed, the windows of the Jewish stores were broken, and the walls and doors were painted with "J" or "Juda" or "Jew." A great many Jews were killed or arrested and taken away.

Papa was gone by then. He went on a trip to find a way to get us all out of Austria. His idea was to go to Hamburg and find a captain of a ship to take us up to England and drop us off there. For now we didn't know where he was or if he had succeeded in his mission, but he had been gone a long time.

The morning after Kristallnacht, the Gestapo came to our door to throw us out of our home. I was 13. They gave my mother and me ten minutes to leave, with whatever belongings we could grab. Thank God we were both home, or we could have been separated forever then and there. What precious things did we grab in those ten minutes?

Each other.


From My Life on Both Sides of the Pond, The Life of D. K., 2012

England, May, 1945

...The week after VE Day was filled with incredible relief. We had news from my brother, Jack. He was alive, and he and Philip would both soon be home! I spent time trying to reach relatives and friends by phone to say there would be a wedding soon, but I didn’t know which day. Philip arrived May 13 in Harpenden and I met him at the train station late in the evening around 10:30 or 11. Even in May the evenings are long in England, and it was only just dark.

As we walked away from the station and up the hill, the remarkable thing was that the lights were on everywhere. For the first time since before the War, the lights in Britain had begun to shine. Everywhere you looked, there was light—street lights shone brightly and no one had to stumble along dark sidewalks. Lamps in the windows shown out with a warm yellow glow and front doors were opened to let the breeze in and light shone freely onto front steps. The few automobiles still in use had headlights gleaming full blaze, without their dimmer shades. It was dazzling. The blackout was over, Philip was home, and we were going to be married. The song was true, my dream was beside me, here at last. 

From My Life on Both Sides of the Pond, The Life of D. K., 2012

Transatlantic voyage, England to New York, 1952, aboard the storm-tossed Mauretania

...I had difficulty even making the few steps from my bed to my son’s crib, which had slid across the cabin and was blocking the doorway. Mother had insisted I put netting over the crib, and I had to get the netting loose to pick him up. He was in his little red dressing gown, as well as his night sleeper. I held him tightly in my arms, and somehow we got out of the cabin. We started down the passage and came upon two male passengers. Beyond them I saw a sailor slip right across the hallway, and behind him lots of seawater. Sailors are expert at remaining upright when a ship is pitching and this was the only time I ever saw a seaman actually fall.

I said to the two men, rather dramatically, “Do we take to the boats?”

The taller of them said, “I don’t believe so, Madam.” Then he steered me back to my cabin, I suppose because he saw the seawater rolling in, presumably from a broken window. We braced ourselves on the edge of the lower bunk bed. The noise was terrific—the clatter of all the crockery and glassware falling in the restaurant, crashing to the floor and breaking. Within the next thirty minutes, those stewards and stewardesses got themselves together in the kitchen and brought us tea and biscuits. No matter the circumstance, the British can always stop for tea.

When our friends picked us up at the dock they asked me, “Weren’t you seasick, with all that pitching?”
 I said, “No. I thought it was the end. I was far too scared to be seasick.”

Years later, on another trip in 1958, a young Navy officer asked, “Have you traveled before?”

I said, “Yes. I’ve been on the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mary, and the Mauretania.

“Is that right?”

“Yes, we had a very bad voyage coming back on the Mauretania in November of ’52.”

He stopped and looked at me. “You mean you were on that trip?”


He said, “You were in a hurricane. In fact, you were within five degrees of capsizing.”

Evidently God and the Cunard sailors preserved our lives.


Man of ActionFrom
From A Man of Action: The Life of Paul S., 2006

1930s, Jerseyville, Illinois, The Great Depression:

...Hoboes often passed through Jerseyville, riding the rails, and if one came to my grandfather's office at the elevator or showed up at the Knights of Columbus Hall after Sunday services, my grandfather brought him home for a meal. They sat at the table with the family and were treated with respect. Before the hobo left town, my grandpa took him to the fellow in town who sold shoes and bought him a pair of shoes. Every hobo he ever met left town with a new pair of shoes.

1930s, Jerseyville, Illinois, Getting the work done:

...In those days, women worked all the time. Cooking was almost constant, and household chores were hard labor. A good example is washing the family's laundry. Some people had wringer washers, but more of them just had washtubs and washboards, and the clothes had to be hung up to dry, even it it was very cold outside. I can remember as a child seeing clothes that came off the line stiff as a board from drying in the cold. You had to shake them out to make them soft again. Each day of the week had its work associated with it; for example, Monday was wash day and Saturday was the day to bake bread. I'm not sure if my grandmother churned, but I saw a churn at my uncle's house in the summer, with a crank-handle paddle, in a small auxiliary room off the kitchen. In those days, people really did assign jobs to different days of the week, and there was some truth to the saying, "Wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, churn on Thursday, clean on Friday, bake on Saturday, rest on Sunday."

Gudermuth military

From You Can't Push Me to Heaven: The Life of Roy Gudermuth, 2001

World War II, South Pacific, circa 1944

...I learned a valuable thing about refrigeration from my pilot on the bombing missions we flew on Tinian: If you have rations you'd like to eat chilled, like canned peaches, you just take them up with you, in the bomb bay. When you get back, they will be as cool as can be. Quite refreshing when you're living in the tropics.  

Family watching television 1958

From Gear Up: A Good Flight, The Life of Bill P., 2010

1952, New York, First look at television:

...I was at Kings Points when I first saw television. A classmate from Hawaii worked in the Academy radio station and had a little television set in his room. I didn't have much interest in it. A little later, New York City stations started coming out and filming us marching around. Apparently our uniforms showed up well on black-and-white television. They shot the film back into the city and showed it on televisions in the window at Rockefeller Center, where NVC headquarters were. They wanted to show people what television was all about.

This is an excerpt from a letter I wrote home around that time: "I was just up to Walt's room to watch a TV program. His roommate is from Hawaii and I believe from a well-to-do family as he has both a car and a TV set. I am revising my opinion about TV -- I won't condemn all the programs as I just saw an hour program with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and I believe I laughed the solid hour." - Feb 10, 1952

In those days...most televisions consisted of a big huge wooden console with television in it. A lot of families ate while watching television, but not ours. When I was home visiting, we were too interested in food. We waited till after dinner, then watched a few shows like "Milton Berle," "What's My Line" with Arlene Francis , Bennett Cerf, Fred Allen, and company, and "To Tell the Truth," with host Garry Moore and panelists Kitty Carlisle, Jayne Meadows, and Orson Bean.

It was my opinion at the time that television would make movies obsolete. Clearly, that hasn't been the case.

From Gear Up: A Good Flight, The Life of Bill P., 2010

World War II, St. Louis, the Homefront:

...As soon as we were awarded the contract, Midwest Pipe and Fabricating bought property next door on Second Street, wrecked the lumber yard that had been there, and within ten months had a defense factory up and running, including the building and the machinery. I say "we" even though I was only a kid, because I spent so much time there and I knew everybody. When I went down on Saturdays during the War to hang around and have lunch with my dad, the factory was in full operation. We made bombs seven days a week, around the clock. We got so good at it that we were able to reduce the price the government paid us for the bombs, from $240 apiece to $88. Who ever heard of a defense contractor dropping his price? But that's what kind of a company we were, and it also reflected the mood in the country during World War II. Everyone wanted to do all they could to support the War effort. Boys were dying every day, and no one wanted to drag it out any longer than necessary.

A Midwest employee came up with a campaign to encourage other employees to buy War bonds. If you bought a bond, you could sign your name on the nose of a bomb, using a special aluminum stylus that wasn't visible to the enemy's infrared aerial photography. The economy improved greatly during the War, and a bond cost only $18.75. You could squeeze that much out from your drinking money at the tavern, and in one week Midwest doubled the number of bonds they had been selling. Nineteen hundred employees bought $90,000 worth of bonds in the first week of that campaign. The Post-Dispatch wrote an article about it. Most workers just signed their name, but some wrote messages to Hitler and the Nazis such as "All the bad luck you can get and bad dreams galore," and other greetings I won't repeat here.

Family First EAQFrom
From Family First: The Life of E. Q., 2006

Circa 1925, Cuba, life on a sugar plantation:

...Adah and I were very close and seldom had a disagreement, but once when we were about 10 and 14, we were standing in the living room quarreling over something. She had a broom in her hand and I had something in my hand. Adah stood with her back to a brand-new Tiffany lamp. Tiffany lamps were new then−it was the heyday of their popularity, and they were very expensive. Mother's was green and blue with a fish design. Such a fragile treasure from the States would have to be very carefully wrapped, boxed, packed in sawdust in a wooden crate and loaded onto a ship. The ship docked in Havana, and from there the crate was transferred onto the only train line that came to our end of the island. Mother had waited a long time for this beautiful stained-glass table lamp. She'd had it only a couple of months.

Mother heard us arguing and came in to split us apart, arriving in the living room just in time to see Adah tip the handle of her broom back over her shoulder. The broom handle hit the new Tiffany lamp and shattered the stained glass lamp shade to smithereens. Adah and I were both horrified and speechless. We just stood there and cried. Mother said, "I'll tell your father when he gets home!"

That night just happened to be movie night. Since entertainment was so sparse on the [sugar] plantation, we always very much looked forward to movie night. When Dad came in the door, we both tried to tell him our side of the story at once. We were too big to spank, so he told us we would have to stay home from the movie that night.

The end of that story is that Dad took Mother to the movie, got her settled, then came back and took us to the movie after all. That's what I mean when I say my father was a soft touch.

Privilege to Serve 
From A Privilege to Serve: The Life of R. H., 2002

Circa 1939, Missouri, church fundraiser:

...When I was about fourteen, our church hosted a regional conference for over three hundred youths from the area. At the last minute, the person in charge of the snack stand became ill, and my father asked me if I could take it over, with the understanding that I would be able to keep the profits. I was thrilled to have the opportunity, and used my forty-dollar life savings to buy the soda and the snacks. I paid seventy cents a case for pop, and I bought all the kinds I liked best, in returnable bottles of course, most of them from a bottling company that operated here in St. Charles at the time: root beer, crème soda, grape soda, and Coca-Cola from a different source. Then I sold the pop for ten cents a bottle, which amounted to $2.40 per case, so that was a good profit margin. For snacks, I bought all my favorite kinds of candy and gum, which included Milky Way, Butterfinger, Snickers, Baby Ruth, and Juicy Fruit, Doublemint, and Beeman's gum. I also had potato chips. I set up the stand on one of the screened-in porches, which was perfect—it was outside but gave me cover and I could lock it up at night. I had paper cups and ice if people wanted them with their sodas, and I got coolers for the ice from the bottling company, at no charge.

I really tried to do it right. I posted my hours and kept the place clean. I couldn't allow bottles and trash to be scattered around, so while the kids were in session, I policed the area. I don't know how many hours a day I put in, but they were very long days. I made over a hundred dollars in five days, and this was 1938. My dad, with his PhD from the University of Chicago, who was conversant in five languages, was making two hundred and twenty-five dollars a month. That hundred dollars made an impression on me that I never forgot.

I Remember

From                    I Remember:
The Life of Gene McHugh, 2009

St. Louis during the Depression, Play:

...One of our favorite places to play was a covered stoop between the church and the rectory. We tossed pennies and the one who landed their penny closest to the wall won and got to keep the pennies. If the priest caught us gambling for pennies, he ran us off, but we just waited out of sight and went back to our game as soon as he was gone.

We played cork ball, bottlecaps, and Indian Ball, using a baseball. None of these games involve running bases, which was good since in the city we didn't have much space to play. Baseballs and cork balls cost money, so we usually just played bottlecaps. The game of bottlecaps was developed in St. Louis and is played with a pitcher, catcher, and one outfielder. Bottlecaps were made of steel then and lined with cork, so they were heavy enough to pitch and bat. If you make a hit and the outfielder doesn't catch it, that's a single. Four singles means you earned a run. Even grown men played corkball or bottlecaps in the backyards of bars, fenced in with chain link. Many of the bars had leagues.

My friends and I often played bottlecaps on the school playground, and if you hit the priest's garage at the back of the lot, it was an automatic double.

IMG 1448 

From Because It's There: The Life of Jeremiah Nixon X, 2013

1930s Hematite, Missouri: The Young Entrepreneur

...I grew up in a time before electric refrigeration and before food could be easily shipped all over the country. All winter long people had not one single green thing to eat, and by spring they were very hungry for something fresh and alive. Wild greens were a salable commodity, and I dealt in five varieties: poke, lamb's quarters, dock, dandelion greens, and mustard greens. I walked the fields and ditches and collected them all in the very early spring, looking for each in its habitat and in its time. Housewives mixed them all together and cooked them with bacon. I sold them door to door for a nickel a bundle, and that started my commercial year.

I also sold sassafras, which was usually a matter of finding a couple of trees here and a few there. Sassafras was much sought after. In the spring the root is boiled for tea, and everybody around Hematite drank it, believing it thinned their blood that had thickened over the winter. One year I came into a great bounty of sassafras. Down at the far end of a cornfield, three quarters of a mile from our house, I stumbled upon a group of sassafras trees that had just been pushed over with a tractor by a farmer who was clearing some land. I know right away what I have, and I tell no one. It is a honey hole, and it immediately makes me, at the age of ten, a first-rate banker and a man of means.

To gather it, I bring gunnysacks down to the fallen trees and fill them with roots I break off. I bring the roots home, cut and divide them into small bundles tied with baling twine, wrap them in newspaper, and sell them to every housewife in Hematite for my usual rate, a nickel a bundle. Any time I want to gather more, I walk to and from the site by different routes, varying my course with every trip so no one will wonder what I'm up to and follow me. I maintain that site for two weeks. I corner the market when I drop my price to three cents a bundle and put everyone else out of business.

After two weeks the roots dry out and the run is over, but it was glorious while it lasted.

From I Remember:
The Life of Gene McHugh, 2009

1940s, St Louis, working at the Acadia Ballroom:

...I started work early in the evening at Tune Town. I used a fork-like tool and shaved ice from big blocks into a wooden bushel basket, until the basket was full. When somebody wanted a drink we dipped into the basket of shaved ice. As the ice melted, the water ran into a hose in the bottom of the basket out to the sewer.

The management also used the ice to cool off the place. Two big concrete pits were sunk into the stage floor, one on either side of the bandstand. Delivery trucks came in the afternoon with big blocks of ice and unloaded it in the back, right off the truck and into the pits, filling each pit with 700 pounds of ice before we opened for the evening. Two large fans blew the cool air over the pits into the duct work. It came out through registers all along each side of the dance floor, and that worked pretty good.

Once I turned seventeen, the boss put me to work running the east bar at Tune Town, selling 3.2 percent beer and Coke. My pay was $2.50 a night. My sister Ada was a waitress, and my mother worked in the cloak room. For a while, both my brothers worked at Tune Town with us, and we all drove to work together in our 1932 Chevy. Later, my brothers joined the Navy and went to War, but I was too young so I stayed home and worked. It was a fun place to work even though the money wasn't all that great. The music was Big Band, and I liked that a lot more than jazz. I personally didn't like to dance but I sure liked to listen, so it suited me to work behind the bar.

When Les Brown and his "Band of Renown" came to Tune Town, I was always happy. Doris Day was his singer, and she was a year or so older than me. It was right after the War and the boys were all coming home. After we closed down the ballroom for the evening, we all went out as a group, including all the workers and the band. We usually went to the Club Plantation, and afterwards, I was the one who escorted Doris Day back to her hotel on the bus. I did it maybe four or five times all together. Singing with Les Brown gave Doris Day her start, and her first big hit was "Sentimental Journey" in 1945. She was a very nice girl from Cincinnati.

Gear Up

From Gear Up,
A Good Flight: The Life of Bill P., 2010

World War II, St. Louis, War bonds:

...The way the government financed the War was by selling War bonds. You could buy a bond for, say, $18.75, and in ten years it would mature to $25.00. In the meantime, the military could use that money to pay for the War. Most people couldn't lay out the whole $18.75 at once, so they sold ten-cent stamps. Kids were encouraged to buy a stamp every week. When your stamp book was full, you could trade it in for a bond. They also sold stamps at the movie theaters

One Friday night at dinner at Uncle Hugo's house, the subject of War bonds came up, and somebody mentioned that I was selling them for my Boy Scout Troop. Uncle Hugo folded his napkin, reached in his pocket for a pen, and announced that he wanted to buy a War bond from me. I got up from my chair and rummaged around for a pencil. For each bond I sold, I had to fill out a coupon that listed the person's name and the amount of the bond. I looked up and said, "What value bond would you like?"

He calmly replied, "$50,000."

I could hardly fathom such a large sum of money. I was thrilled out of my gourd, and then I panicked. I realized I didn't know how to spell "Urbauer." I was twelve years old and I had to ask Uncle Hugo how to spell his last name. That part was embarrassing, but I sold the biggest bond in the Boy Scout troop, by a long shot. The bond cost $37,500.00 and would be worth $50,000 when it matured. They made a big deal out of it at the Scout meeting when I brought it in. 

Lighting of a Fire

From The Lighting of a Fire: The Life of L. S., 2011


1930s, Lower East Side of Manhattan, Garment Workers:

...I heard stories of what it was like before the unions came in. One of the practices of unethical employers was to "try out" a worker before hiring her. She might work a fourteen-hour day, as a trial. At the end of the day the employer could say, "Well, we don't think we can use you." Even if the worker was hired, she would not be paid for her fourteen hours of being tried out. Another trick: Ladies might come to work long days all week, then on payday when they returned to collect their checks, there would be a sign on the door: Closed. That was it, no new address, no way to find them. 

...The Finishers worked all day in the sweatshop, and at night they brought bundles of clothes home on the subway to be finished, climbing the high metal steps from terra firma down to the subway and back up again when it was time to get off. My mother made it home with her heavy bundle just before dinnertime. She assigned my brothers meals to cook over the coal stove, cooking the beans or making a sauce, so that the meal would be prepared by the time she got home. Since my sister Marie was working in the sweatshops with Momma, she didn't cook as much. Her chores were the family laundry, which she washed using the washtub, lye soap, and the washboard, and taking care of me.

Lucky Man

A Lucky Man: The Life of G. K., 2010

Circa 1944, France, in combat:

...Night came, the shelling became worse, and a cold rain was falling. Weather was an enemy in and of itself. Since my hole was long and shallow, it quickly became mud, and I had to lay in bone-chilling water and mud all night long. When a shell hits, it explodes, and metal fragments go flying everywhere. They make a ZZZIIINNNGGG noise. Until dawn, shells exploded all around me.

If I tell a story about the War, people often ask, "Were you afraid?"

I was 19 when I was drafted, first time away from home, and now, through this long night, I listened to guns going off, the whining of the shells, the crushing and shaking sounds of the explosions. Yes, I was afraid.

I can remember times in school when I was "afraid" to take a test because I wasn't prepared. Obviously, this was very different. Combat fear is difficult to explain. Fear grips you almost to the point of being spellbound. That is when your Army training kicks in, and you do what has to be done in spite of your fear. Adrenaline helps you keep going, and so does the fact that you are deeply conditioned to follow orders.

Other than the fear factor, there is the loneliness. I missed my home, my friends, my family. We were all pulled out of the context of normal life. The routines of home and family were thousands of miles away. They seemed precious to me. I daydreamed about and longed for all the things I'd taken for granted--waking up each morning in my own bed and going to sleep in it at night, eating a meal with my family, being warm, dry, and safe, spending time with my friends even if I had to wait for the first star to appear in the sky on Saturday night. Just knowing with some certainty that I'd live through the night was a luxury I no longer had. I didn't cry that night, but I wanted to.

When the shelling finally let up, it was starting to get light. All around the soggy little slit in the ground where I was lying were huge hunks of metal. Had I not been in that little ditch I don't think I'd be telling this now. There it was again: luck, and the constant question, that I wondered then and I wonder now: why me? Why was I spared?

Then I started shaking and I felt sick. I thought maybe it was from fear. I didn't know what to do. I could hardly walk. I asked somebody where I could find a doctor or a medic. Nobody knew where anything was. Finally some guy said, "I think there's a Battalion 8 station behind us."

I walked and walked, feeling sick and weak, until I found a little tent set up with a red cross on it. I pushed back the flap and looked in. I saw one doctor inside, and guys all over the tent screaming and yelling. All of them had been hurt badly.

I stepped inside and I didn't know what to say or do. The poor doctor was going out of his mind. He looked half-crazed. He was all alone, trying to give first aid to one guy while all the rest are screaming and pleading for help. He was pleading for somebody to help him.

Finally he looked over at me and barked, "What do you want?"

I said, "I think I'm sick."

He lost it. He shouted, "There are guys dying all over and you're sick?" He threw a thermometer at me. "Here, take your damn temperature and then get the hell out." I put the thermometer under my tongue. An hour later he came back by and grabbed the thermometer and looked at it. He said, "Oh crap, you have 105 fever. Lay down." I laid down on the ground.

After a while he came and shook me. "Are you still alive?"


"Then get out! Go back to your outfit!"

But I wanted to do something to help. I spent a little time lending a hand with the wounded, putting on a few bandages and whatever else I could do. By the time I left, my outfit had moved on, and it took me some time to find them.

I felt so sorry for that doctor and what he had to deal with.

Life of MildredFrom The Best of Times: The Life of Mildred Ehret, 2001

1930s, The Telephone:

...When I was older and we finally got a telephone, it was a four-party line, meaning four families shared one telephone number. We were on a limited plan, and we could make forty calls a month. My mother knew exactly how many calls we all made - she kept a list on the wall over the telephone, and towards the end of the month she cut us off if it was getting too high. We didn't use the phone to call and chat; we had to ask permission to use it, and we had to have a good reason.

Candlestick phoneSome customers had unlimited service, meaning they could make all the calls they wanted to, and of course that cost more. A lot of people, including my mother and my aunt, had a secret signal to get around the limited calls. Aunt Phoebe had the unlimited service, so when Mom called her, she let it ring three times and that was the signal for my aunt to call her back. Aunt Phoebe never answered the phone right away, until she listened to see if it was Mom's signal. That way my mother wouldn't have to use up one of her calls.

Of course if you did have a telephone, you only had one, and it was black. Ours was a pedestal telephone. They bottom was round with a dial and it had a post coming out of it. The receiver was shaped like a horn.

In the sixties my mother got a two-party line, but she never did have a private line. Sometimes someone else on the line would lift the receiver while you were talking to some one and say impatiently, "Can you please get off the phone? I need to make a call!"

I don't remember using the phone much even after we got one - I still just walked to my friends' houses if I wanted to play with them or talk to them. We did everything in person.


From Because It's There: The Life of Jeremiah Nixon X, 2013

Reflections, 2012

I learned my sense of right and wrong from Jiminy Cricket. Pinocchio asks him, “What are conscience?” Jiminy Cricket answers, “What are conscience! I’ll tell ya! A conscience is that still small voice that people won’t listen to. That’s just the trouble with the world today…” It’s great advice. You’ll not go wrong following Jiminy Cricket. We all have that inner voice and if you trust it you’ll have no problems. If you go against that voice, you’d better have a good reason.

I’ve told my kids, follow your heart and you’ll make the right decision. The only wrong thing is to turn your back on your heart. I’ve never done that, and I have never had a problem in my whole life that I considered unsolvable. I’m always the most optimistic person in the room and that’s been a gift. When people are in a tough spot, they want to talk to me because I have the most optimistic outlook.

It’s also been clear to me all my life that you have to be honest and do what’s right. It sounds simple and it is, and it means everything. If you make a mistake, you want to own up to it. You be the one to tell people; don’t let them find out from the newspaper. That’s part of what allows me to be an optimist. I’m not going to sit around and wait for trouble. Intellect is knowing how to use the tools you have. Your heart and your conscience tell you how to use your strengths responsibly, and optimism allows you to make sure you don’t lose sight of confidence while you’re solving life’s dilemmas.


From Dha-Byet-See: The Gun That Saved Rangoon, 2011

1949 Burmese Civil War

I had by now decided how to signal my men silently when it was time to fire the Bofors gun. "Kyaw and Sein! Now it is time to show what navy gunners can do," I told them. "You will knock out the advancing vehicles, probably armoured weapons carriers first. Don't let any vehicle come closer than 300 yards, or more than halfway from our flare party. Shoot discreetly and sparingly. We need absolute silence to surprise them, so I cannot shout 'Open fire.' Instead, I am going to hold each of your ears. Track your target, but fire only when I pull your ear. One pull means 'Fire!' two pulls means 'Cease fire!' Understood?"

I had given some thought to the ear-pulling. A tap on the shoulder was too common, and someone else could come up and tap them and cause them to fire at the wrong time. Visual cues were useless; even if they could see me clearly in the dark, what if they were looking away at the wrong moment? We had to be precise, we had to time it perfectly, we could not afford to waste our ammo because there would be none left to fight with if we finish our stock without hitting our targets. It is a testament to my men's trust and respect that they accepted without comment my strategy of pulling their ears, as one would a naughty child's. I knew well that we would receive heavy counter-fire from the enemy after our initial surprise, and we did.