Time Capsule in Two Old Hat Boxes: Letters from my Father, by John Bolinger

Dad, age 18, 1939
Mom, age 18, 1943
Whenever possible I will include photocopies of the actual letters and the cartoons, holiday cards, and photos that Dad included in them along the way. One irony may be that I am sending out to the world through my computer pieces of a past long gone, pieces that cannot be Twittered or texted easily but which may create those same feelings of connection we all try for daily but so seldom achieve.
We live in an age of “instant” communication through iPhones, computers, texting, and Tweeting.  Some people feel the need to be in constant communication with the world through cell phones, which they keep attached to their ears almost at all times.  It is ironic too that in a world that is becoming more crowded, noisier, and more mechanized on a daily basis, the same world seems to be getting more impersonal, and lonelier. 

We suppose that a simple text message of “Hi, I’m in the frozen food section of the Piggly Wiggly” is worth sending only because there is that opening for some kind of response, albeit as mundane as the message was. I’m not sure if such messaging creates the illusion of some level of badly needed intimacy, but it can also separate us further from the very world with which we want to feel in touch.  Think of all those people on streets, trains, in restaurants, theaters, even in cars (even when with friends or family), who are oblivious to who and what surrounds them, because they are consumed by that little cell phone, convinced that texting or chatting is of greater import than actually being with people.  My question continues to be “Why?”  What emptiness is filled by that prosaic activity that we imagine to be almost as significant as our own heartbeats?

I believe that if people seventy years ago had been given cell phones and instant texting access, things would not have been any different from what they are now.  In that light, I would like to share with you a passageway back to the early 1940’s during World War II, when my father, Elwood Bolinger, served in the United States Army Air Corps, and his twin brother Eddie, served in the United States Navy.

My deeply personal interest in that time comes from a couple of old hat boxes filled with over 100 letters written by my father between 1942 and 1945 to his parents, who lived in Northwest Indiana.  My grandmother saved them all, and after her death, the box of letters went to my Great Aunt Viola Irvin in Pennsylvania, who gave them in 1990 to my mother, who kept them until her death in 2008.  After my sister’s death in May of 2011, I inherited the letters.  They speak of everything from the horrors of war and waiting daily for letters from home to the love Dad had for my mother, who became his sweetheart April 3, 1940 and his wife December 26, 1944, when Dad was on a brief leave.

He wrote hundreds of letters to my mother and to his twin brother Edward too, but those have all been lost, so I’m glad to have the letters Dad wrote to his parents with some of his feelings expressed about Mom, along with his views on the war, which was the larger context of those years for everyone in America, Europe, Great Britain, and Asia.

My Indiana blog will be devoted for a while to those communications now almost seventy years old.  Dad was meticulous about dating all his letters and indicating where he was stationed at the time… bases in Pratt Kansas, Battle Creek, Michigan, Arcadia , California, Lincoln, Nebraska, London, England, or the Island of Guam.  I can’t guarantee that all the details from these letters will touch you as deeply as they do me, but they may provide familiar frames of reference for those of you whose parents or grandparents served our country during those dark years of WWII.

JB

About John

John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BA and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado. He spends his winters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth and most recent book, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014.
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