World War II
Grandma Susie, Friends and Family
In this chapter we will look at a couple of the dozen letter’s Grandma Susie sent to my parents in Durham, North Carolina. Grandma’s Susie’s letters are four to six pages long and read like a journal. They talk about the hardships the young brides around her were having with their husbands serving. How the young woman were surviving in boarding houses around the states. They tell of bedtimes and church gatherings. What she cooked for dinner and detailed laundry days. In one letter Grandma tells of needing new shoes and when it was time to get her ration for them she would need a pair of everyday shoes. I knew a lot of stuff was rationed but I never knew shoes were.
Grandma Susie made her own clothes and writes in detail of what she is making, colors of the material and how far she has gotten on the projects and what needs to be done. She continues to work on projects for the war effort, robes and baby layettes. Pop is working in the shipyards in Long Beach, California which leaves Grandma Susie at home with no car. Funny but she did not get her drivers license until Pop passed away. She was in her 70’s when she finally took the test and passed it. Here are a couple of her letters so you can get an idea of how she wrote.
15 March, Pasadena, California
Hi-Hows [sic] our kids tonight? Well the old folks are tolerable good. I went to circle today. Met at Mrs. Kit Carsons [sic]. Got some more Navy relief work to do this time. P.J’s. for the hospital and kimonos for the Navy wives layettes. Mrs Chapman is doing the machine sewing of 4 of the kimonos then Grace and I are going to feather stitch the edges. We only got ½ a dozen of the P.J’s. for the hospital. II don’t know if I told you yet but we decided at last meeting to make some quilt tops for the baby beds at the Navy orphanage so I brought home some of the blocks (or rather patches) and am going to piece them together in a “four patch,” and piece one of the baby bed quilt tops. One of the ladies down at the church, I forget her name cut a lot of them out for us so it won’t take long to sew them together. You know I never thought about you kids getting married on Dena’s birthday until you told me. It could be worse you could have been born on her birthday and then she’d of thought you ought to have been named after her. Does Ann have some place to cook? If so maybe you could buy some “groceries,” and you girls could get a “home cooked meal.” Sounds like she’s nice. Sounds like you kids have really been seeing a lot of good shows. Did you find an alarm clock? I guess I got in kind of a hurry sending that package but I thought you ought to have some aprons-and an everyday dress, Vi to do you washing in-I mean to wear while you were doing your washing. For I was afraid you’d get your wool skirts so dirty you’d have a big cleaning bill. I’m sorry I sent your pillow cases but you can use then once in a while, make it seem more like home to have “things” of your own. In case you have not guessed I got you airmail letter you kids wrote the 10th and your house address. Sounds as if your landlady lets you use the living room too cause you spoke of toasting you shins and the dog snoozing by the fire. It is a “Sooner” dog? These people who live in the front house have one of those great big white and black dogs with black polka dots and they keep it in the house! Just wait until Mrs. Bain finds that out. I don’t blame landlords for being cranky some things people do! They have Mrs. Bains[sic] front room rug! Well it ‘s 12:00 so nighty-night. Gobs of love, Mom and Pop.
I had forgotten that about my grandmother. She did not allow dogs into her house. That was until my dad went to Grandma’s and he would sit outside with his dog, Missy while everyone else was inside. Grandma eventually began to really like Missy and towards the end of her life she did not mind Missy in the house. Well it looked that way, Dad would give the excuse he was going to go out and whittle and his dog just happened to be there.
Next in the suitcase I found a VE Letter from my Uncle Gerald. He was married to Grandma’s sister, Margarette , fondly known to us kids as Aunt Dick.
31 March, Pasadena California
Dearest Family, We got your welcome letter today. It didn’t take it any longer to get here than the last air mail letter to here so don’t waste air mail stamps on us- cause now they cost 8 cents! Gosh sure sorry to hear you, “hit yourself in the head with a hammer,” Lefty hope it is healed up OK and didn’t leave to bad a scar. Pops head healed up fine and the hair is growing in good so it isn’t very noticeable anymore. He fell over a cable awhile ago and banged his knee pretty bad sure limped around a couple of days, Betty kind of wanted to go to Riverside Drive Sun. night but Pop didn’t think his knee would do much dancing so we didn’t go. Had a long letter from Ralph today too, he said his Bn (battalion) have all had their furloughs and have overseas clothes and equipment so he said to expect his A.P.O. in care of New York postmaster just any day. He said they have a outfit of WACS there and they’re all hoping to come to Calif so he said for Pop to tell him which type he wanted a Big Mary or a pocket size edition and he thought he could fix him up. Fine thing! Wait till I write him! They welders are starting on a 10 hr shift Mon. I hate to see it for he hardly has time to eat and shave and keep his truck in shape now. I can see I’m going to have to get a shopping cart and go to the market while he is asleep. Maybe you are doing Lefty and his family a good turn by getting married after all if you can get Dad Woodside to write to Lefty, Vi. Now don’t forget to write him a letter too once in awhile. As I was reading your letter to Pop and came to the part where you said you just couldn’t get anything done Pop said “She might try getting up in the morning” now where have you heard that before? Of course going out to eat takes a lot of your time. You kids sure have been seeing the movies. Whats [sic] become of Bob had Lefty divorced him since he married you? I’ll bet he does feel kind of lonesome evenings cause [sic] he has always had Lefty to tell troubles to then. Well I guess I’m about run down so guess I better scribble a few lines to Dorothy as I think she has written to us twice since I wrote. Lots of love and good luck and good night. Pop and Mom.
26 April, Pasadena, California
Dearest Viola and Lefty, Well I’ve been writing to Deloris so will write a few lines to you kids too. I thought I wasn’t going to write so much to her but you know me-I just ramble along and don’t say anything. Do you remember Dad telling you about working on the S.S. Cape San Juan? Well there was a picture of it in the L.A. (Los Angeles) paper, it was sunk by the Japs in the South Pacific some time the last of 43, and the Navy just released the dope on it. There were 1429 men on board and all but 70 were saved, most of them were killed in explosions before the ship sunk.
I did an internet search of this ship and here is what I found;
Cape San Juan, a 6711 gross ton C1-B type cargo ship, was built at Long Beach, California, for the U.S. Maritime Commission. Completed in June 1943 and converted to a troopship during the next two months, she was assigned to the American Hawaiian Steamship Company for operation. Cape San Juan made one round-trip voyage between San Francisco and the south Pacific during August-October 1943 and late in the latter month began a second trip, this time to Australia. While near the Fiji Islands on 12 November 1943 (local time — 11 November in the U.S.) she was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-21. More than a hundred lives were lost among her crew and passengers as a result of this attack and the subsequent abandonment of the ship. Attempts were made to tow Cape San Juan to port, but she sank on the following day.
(Click here to learn more about this ship Pop worked on)
There are many more letters from Grandma Susie but it would take a whole book to transcribe every letter here. She mostly relates family and friend’s happenings, including many men in the service from family members to boarder’s, boyfriends or husbands. It seems as though this war affects everyone in my grandma’s circle of friends and family. Grandma Susie did what she could to support the war effort sewing baby stuff for the Navy wives, to picking up soldiers hitchhiking. As with my dad it seems as though all the men are getting ready in one form or another, to go overseas.
Robert “Bob” Winter,
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