Early in our current National Emergency that President Trump declared on Friday March 13, 2020 – I thought of the various hardships our ancestors endured. From the trying economic times of the Great Depression to rationing of basic food supplies during World War II, my grandparents dealt with difficulties that I’ve never experienced. We are in for interesting times ahead.
I’ve written before about letters that span more than 60 years that my paternal grandfather, Joseph Bush Kingsbury wrote. The round robin series of letters that circulated among members of the Kingsbury family was my inspiration for this blog’s name. More time at home means more time for me to review those letters, perhaps finding encouragement and hope.
One of the most trying episodes my grandfather experienced was on a trip to Germany in the summer of 1914 when World War I broke out. He was a student at George Washington University and travelled to Europe with two friends. I began transcribing his account of that time and putting it on this blog more than a year ago. Maybe I should get back to that because it not only provides a fascinating glimpse into world events, but also my grandfather’s response to a crisis.
Here is an excerpt from my grandfather’s letter of August 5, 1914, the day after England declared war on Germany. He and his friends had been arrested several times in the previous days on suspicion of being British spies. Whenever an officer arrested them, a crowd would gather and follow them through the streets. It sounds scary. The police would eventually release them when they understood from their papers that they were Americans, but that didn’t stop crowds from gathering and harassing them.
In this particular account my grandfather had been in a book store in Dresden when a crowd gathered outside but the owner and his son, who spoke English very well, protected him from the crowd. The shopkeeper also wrote a note in German for my grandfather to carry explaining that he was American and should not be bothered. At the end of the day, my grandfather captured his feelings about being stranded in Germany this way:
It is really funny how our hopes go from top to bottom several times a day. Sometimes we imagine we will be out of it in a week or so, perhaps there will be a special train for Americans to Scandinavia and the US will send ships to take us home. Next moment we can see no hope at all. Someone reports that the banks have stopped paying and we rush there to cash a check or two or three and find it is the same as ever. It is a world war, and we must take our chances just like everyone else. We shall try to learn German, keep well and healthy and make the best use possible of the time.
If you find your hopes going from “top to bottom” several times a day – maybe you can heed Joseph Kingsbury’s good advice.