Less than two years after Pearl Harbor, the lives of every family in America were upended, and that included the lives of those in my former community, West Garfield Park. In my family’s relatively small West Side Chicago church, Bethel Lutheran, nearly 100 boys were in the service—and several girls as well. That’s 100 families with sons (and some daughters) in harm’s way. The anxiety must have been palpable.
(I’m going to include two letters to Ebner in this post, one from my grandmother and one from Bethel’s Pastor, in this same post as the information on the number of boys in the service appears in each, giving extra credence to the number.)
As janitors (and managers) of several apartment buildings on the West Side, my grandparents worked long, physically-taxing hours.Yet my grandmother’s devotion to her son gives her the endurance to write him a two-page letter, at 11:30 pm, in her shaky English.
She mentions doing a “big wash” that day and “stretching curtains.” She may have used one of the wringer washing machines of the day (see image below). No spin cycle, but at least the clothes were agitated automatically. Then each sopping piece had to be hand-fed through a set of rollers (the “wringer”) to remove excess water, shook out, and then hung with clothes pins on a line, probably in the basement by this time of year. Curtains, those gossamer beauties from the era, couldn’t be ironed or the edges would be all askew. Instead they were stretched, pinned every half inch or so, on a curtain stretcher (as seen below). I recall my mom doing this. It was musical when they were pulled off, as each tiny pin “pinged’ with the vibration of the curtain being released.
As always, Frank’s mom is praying “hart” for her son and participating with the other members of the church in wrapping gifts for the soldiers overseas (Frank is still in Stevens Point, Wisconsin). I visited this church in 2003. A Memorial plaque to the young members who died in World War II still hangs at the back of the church. Of course, no church member today has any idea who they were.
My Dear Ebner,
This morning received your letter from 12. It had the Steven’s Point on the 10/14 postmark 12:30 P.M. So I got your letter so fast as I pray last night by your picture at the 2 green lamps at the same time. So you see how God is with you and me?
I hope and pray only for your safety in your work and in your schooling. You are not alone. Never. I [am] sure. You say that you may be pulled out [transferred from Steven’s Point). Is it goot to get so quick advanced? Think all of this over. You must have lots to do and the day is not long enough. Try to do that which has to be done….That is always in life.
Who is the fellow [in your room], one of the 4 [who] was here for lunch? We are all glad you find goot fellow for friend. That is half the life. And you feel fine, as you say. Is the food always so good?
I come very late to begin this letter. It is 11:30 [p.m.]
I had big wash this afternoon and stretching curtains. (see photos) Before meal I went for milk in the school store. I talk with Ida. She will write you. She asked for your address.
Just think, Father came yesterday home happy and told me who he met on Madison St. He [said] “so pretty.” I asked him 2 times who is pretty, so finally he said you have to see yourself. Like a 16-year-old boy, he talked. Finally it came out.
Did you ever write to the Holub Family? They asked us both some time ago about you.
Last Tuesday Father and I was in the church at 8 P.M. With some of the council members who wrapped Christmas Packages for the soldier boys over seas. They had to be mailed the 15 Oct. So far 29 boys from our church are over seas. In all––97 in service.
We are all again better. Father had his remutimus [rheumatism] in the arm. Lill told me you called on [Fred’s] birthday and [called] Cookie. I did not see her. Since you was home, Sunny Rapoport is home for 10 days, the first time in 18 months. Our Pastor told me he sent you a letter the 14 Oct. So please, Ebner, not forget [to write] a few lines for me. You make me very happy. Otherwise I am pleased once a week at least. I came [from] work and run 2 days to the mailbox for nothing.
So I say now Good Night, my Ebner. God bless you and [be] with you always where [ever] you go and what [ever] you do. Lots of love and kisses from your Mother & Dad.
P.S. In case of pulling out, call me on the telephone before you leave. Will you leave Wisconsin? What you think? Please.
BELOW IS PASTOR KAITSCHUK’S LETTER, to which Frank’s Mom refers. The pastor writes about his brother, Harold, who is recuperating from the wounds he received in battle with the Japanese (click: Stabbing puts WWII mom on edge). Pastor Kaitschuk also talks about Eva Coleman organizing the junior choir. She later sang with the Chicago Opera Company (article below) and at my parents’ wedding on Nov. 8, 1942 (click Happy Anniversary Lil and Fred. At the end is a poem Dad wrote about the wedding that tells you just what Eva sang. A lot of talented people came out of this church).
Oct. 8, 1943
Wrote some time ago to you but don’t remember whether the letter was finished and sent. If not, then this is on way and if so, so much the better. It’s always good to hear from folks at home when one is away. And I know how thrilled the boys are to get letters.
Heard that you were in for a few hours. Sorry that I didn’t get to see you. But the precious hours that are spent at home mean so much. Too bad that there can’t be more of them. Your mother told me of the fine time you had at home and how good it was to meet some of your soldier buddies.
Fred and Lillian are with our choir. Have fine voices and we are glad to have them with us. [Will] [Frank’s oldest brother] as been out when possible, but his work keeps him busy. He keeps on the go. The two groups are doing just fine. Eva Coleman has organized the junior choir.
Marie Bowers accompanies this group. Had 15 out for the first rehearsal so it should go over. Must do all that we can with the children for the duration. Glad to say that we have our three choirs once again. And they’ll be used frequently. That’s the only way to keep them coming.
Had a fine evening service when we dedicated the Honor Roll. No doubt your folks wrote you about it. 97 in service at present. 3 girls. 5 have received honorable discharges. Harold was sent back to the states and is now in Brooke General Hospital, Fort Houston, Texas. He received the Purple Heart. Is getting along, but still under treatment. Hope he gets a furlough. If not, I’ll go to see him.
How are you getting along and do you have that maple leaf on your uniform as yet? I know that you will do real well because you can apply yourself. Our boys have done real well. Many with stripes and a few with commissions. Makes us feel real proud to see them go forward. Always did say that we had some of the best right here at Bethel.
Always glad to hear from the boys. Had a letter from [Frank] Von Arx. [Ebner’s best friend]. Also from Strecker, etc. Just today received another one from Harold. He is getting along but just doesn’t know whether he gets a furlough or not. Is trying to do so. I do hope he succeeds. Haven’t seen him in uniform and he’s been in for 18 months. Some do seem to get more than others. But then, that’s the way it goes.
Must close now. Hoping to hear from you. Regards from all at Bethel. Also the family, As ever…
Your pastor and friend O.C. Kaitschuk
Letter #2 (pastor’s letter)