Before New Year rolls around each year, I think about all the things I want to accomplish in the coming year. I generally don’t make firm resolutions but I think about ways to be more successful in accomplishing my goals.
Getting back to blogging is certainly one of the areas I want to focus on. My practice was waning as fall began and after spending a couple of months focused on my mother’s health problems (she had a weird form of cardiac arrhythmia that was hard to get under control) with lots of time spent in Richmond, VA where she lives, it definitely took a backseat to getting caught up at work.
But now for a fresh start. Mom is doing well – much better than any of her doctors expected. I thought she would have more lingering negative effects than she does after three weeks in the hospital (including 9 days on a respirator) and three weeks in rehab but she seems to have bounced back to her usual self. To say she is “one tough cookie” is an understatement.
One of my biggest challenges has been how to convey the vast amount of family information contained in my grandfather Kingsbury’s contributions to the family letter. The Kingsbury family letter kept the five Kingsbury brothers from Osage Iowa connected as they scattered across the US and the world. This was in the days before Facebook, Skype and Instagram. Even long distance phone calls, which were probably available, were not used as often as the family letter.
I’m fascinated by every word of each letter but it is unlikely that posting each letter in full would interest most readers. So here’s my plan for 2017. At least once a week, I will feature one of my grandfather’s letters and using extracts, recount our family history. I’m not planning to go in chronological order, but will choose a letter that has a date close to the date I’m posting.
My first post comes from Joseph B. Kingsbury’s letter of January 19, 1953. He was living in Bloomington Indiana at the time with his wife Kitty and son Deane. My father, Bryant, had enlisted in the Navy the year before and was stationed in San Diego, CA. Deane – if you’re reading this – you may remember exactly when Bryant enlisted. Based on the stage of his training (medical corps school in San Diego followed basic training) I’m guessing he enlisted sometime in 1952. I know he completed at least one semester, or maybe a year, at Indiana University before he enlisted.
And so we begin, this year of the letter:
January 19, 1953
The good letters came today. We have just finished writing to Bryant, and while the typewriter is still hot I will try to write our installment, although it is 11:30 pm. But tomorrow is inauguration, and I have no classes, and the main business will be to decide which friends with a TV set to honor with our presence. It will be a great event, and Ike has our best wishes even though we didn’t vote for him. I can hardly believe that I saw my first inaugural 40 years ago – Woodrow Wilson.
JBK was a student at George Washington University in 1913 when he attended Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. After a year or two at Cedar Valley Seminary in Osage, Iowa, JBK started college in Washington DC in the fall of 1909 or 1910. He studied shorthand and typing at CVS and used those skills to work for the Department of Agriculture while he attended George Washington University.
The big news from the letter is JBK’s new teaching assignment.
The biggest news first. I have an offer to go to Turkey to help organize an Institute of Public Administration, and stay for a year, teaching personnel administration. The invitation came from the Technical Assistance Division of the United Nations. I said I was interested, and a letter from them a few days ago indicated that the only thing necessary to make it final is the approval of the Turkish government. UN says there is no reason why I should not take my family, and they will pay travel expenses. The salary is more than I am now getting and there is a living allowance, but the fact that really decided us is that it is tax free, so I think we will come out ahead financially; certainly we won’t lose. I feel like having one more trip abroad and Kitty is in favor of going, although there are a number of big questions to decide, such as what to do with the house and furniture, the car, etc. Deane’s first question was whether he wanted to miss his senior year, with the football, wrestling, and other interests, but he quickly decided that he could wait a year. There are no English or American schools in Ankara, the nearest is at Istanbul, an overnight trip on the train, two hours by air. More about this in the next letter.
JBK’s “one more trip abroad” turned out to be the first of many, most notably the years he spent in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Thailand. Those were his last working trips abroad but I remember that after he retired he took trips to Scandanavia and Spain. There may have been other trips but I remember those two and he writes about them in family letters in the 1970s.
About his two sons, JBK writes:
Bry still writes cheerful letters and sounds as if he is having a great experience, although he had been troubled by a cold which turned into pneumonia and he spent a week in the hospital. Then as he was about to leave they found some kidney trouble that had been giving him a lame back. He writes as though it has all cleared up, and he is back in San Diego after 6 weeks at Camp Elliott, 10 miles out in the desert. His barracks face the bay, and he says it is quite a welcome change from the desert. While he was convalescing in the hospital he helped the corpsmen take temperatures, respiration and pulse, mix penicillin sterilize instruments, etc. etc.
Deane keeps busy with wrestling and being official statistician for the basketball team. He has won enough of his matches to get his letter in wrestling and we are turning into wrestling fans. It is a nice sport; the referee is very careful to prevent illegal holds and see that nobody gets hurt. Deane looks long and thin in wrestling costume, but he is quick, slippery and aggressive.
Camp Elliott was used to train Marine artillery and armored personnel in World War II. It was also home to one of the most classified projects of WWII, the Navajo Code. Hundreds of Navajo were recruited to develop a code based on the Navajo language that was used during WWII and has never been broken. I think there are some recent books about some of the Code Talkers. After WWII, Camp Elliott fell out of use but was revived when the Korean conflict began, which explains why my father was there in the early 1950s.
I’m having fun picturing my Uncle Deane in his wrestling “costume” but even more surprising is the description of him as ‘aggressive.’ To his credit, “aggressive” is not a word I would ever use to describe my uncle. But I guess on the wrestling mat, it was his time to unleash the beast.
One of my favorite things about my grandfather’s letters is learning about his outlook on world events and learning about things I would never have had any reason to know or even think about. Learning bits of family history is always fun but putting things in historical perspective on a personal level, is one reason his letters are such a treasure.
So who reading this knows what the Monon is? I think it will be clear from the context of the following paragraph and I’ve also included a link below the post with more detail.
When we began thinking of going to Turkey we realized we would both have to have some new clothes, so one evening we decided to go to Chicago, and left the next morning on the Monon. It was quite a successful trip: Kitty got a new winter coat, gray green with gold flecks, and a suit (purple) with a hat to match the coat. I bought a blue suit, a sport jacket and a pair of shoes. We stayed with the Meekers, had lunch and dinner with them down town, and they took us to see the Mikado – a live show, not a movie. It was the first theater we had been to for years and we enjoyed it. Again I was surprised to remember how I used to like Chicago: now it seems dirty, noisy and depressing. I guess living in a small town has spoiled me for city life.
I’ll close with JBK’s comments on the news from the family letters and his general outlook on the world. Other than learning the details of his life, my favorite parts of my grandfather’s letters are his nuggets of wisdom. Sometimes they are about the human condition, sometimes about the state of world affairs. But they are always sound and timeless advice. Often when I read some of his pessimistic views I wonder to myself –“Good Lord, if he felt that way then, what would he think about things if he were alive today!”
The pictures and descriptions of the babies were delightful and make us wish we could see them while they are still small and sweet and funny. We spent an evening recently clearing out desk drawers and came across an album of pictures of Bry and Deane at various ages, and it made us feel that those were the best years of our lives. But these are good years too, even if the human race seems to be headed for extermination; the more intelligent people will have to do more thinking and try harder.
Here’s to more thinking and trying harder! Happy New Year!