By the winter of 1944, at the age of fifty-four, my grandfather had spent the previous thirty winters shoveling coal and snow for up to 65 apartments. His body began to give out from the strain. This letter is the first in a series that documents the severe knee problems that plagued my grandfather during World War II, and the huge workload Grandpa’s infected knee put on my grandmother.
For a janitor, disability or days off for sickness or injury was uncommon if not nonexistent. Besides, my grandparents’ philosophy of self-sufficiency would have found it anathema. In their minds, the work was their duty—and they couldn’t let down the tenants or landlords.
My grandmother also had been diagnosed with a heart condition around this time: tachycardia, an overly fast heartbeat. She tried to take on much of my grandfather’s heavy work, and it affected her heart.
In this letter we find how my grandmother began the arduous task, at age 56 of trying to do it all.
Their two sons, Will, who lives with them, and my Dad, Fred (called “Sam” by the family) try to help out, but as you’ll see, each are working at least 48 hours a week. During the war years, most Americans had to work long hours to compensate for the lost at-home work of servicemen, off the save the world from the megalomaniacs.
Again, I’ve preserved some of my grandmother’s exotic grammar to keep the flavor of a woman writing in a foreign language—English. The original preserves it all, of course.
3-15-44 Chicago Ill
My Dear Ebner,
I received your letter from March 1 but it seems [even though] I am not in school, so much of other [things] come up. I am ashamed at the length of time I did not answer the 2 letters of your. Will you forgive me? I prayed daily as you know it. Do you know when I pray by the green light I feel as if I talk in real with you. You be so close as [if] you was here. It is wonderful good feeling after[wards] so 2-3 times daily for 5 mites I know God is sure with you.
Now I will tell you what took my time daily. First we had 2 heavy snows and after [shoveling] the first one, your dad had a bad knee. So more or less you know his work had to be done and mine is the last. So in the morning I went to open the heat [to start the furnace], you know the big one down here. The other was taken care of by noon. Dad had to rest to heal his knee.
But short after came the second snow. [The rest] did not help him so more or less all my help did not better his pain. Will and Sam [my dad, Fred, who lived close by], helped as much as they had time. Now Dad so Dr. Bowman, the one who [took] Dr. Berger’s place. Dr. Berger died in Sept. 1943, so your Dad got vitamin pill and other [medicine] from him. We hoped it [would] help him. In 8 days we go back to find out what next to be done.
Today Dad got from Dr. Vicken, the dentist here in the building, the measurement for the bottom part of his teeth, so he feel today poorly and my heart is a little more faster [because of] the extra worry and work.
Then we have two of the six ice boxes [refrigerators] in the shop for repairing. Each cost $20-$22 for repairing. So I am running always more.
The painters are all done with five [of the] flats [in the 6 flat]. Mrs. Griffith moved to the south side so in the next month Moffat will paint that flat, so you see where my time go. I tried every day to write, but just could not come to it.
The two-flat is so nice painted and all fine. Only the work shed is not in order yet. When Dad feels better then we both will spend one Sunday there [working on the shed].
Will is always so busy. He worked 48 hours at the Crane Co now. Will is now home either Mon. or Tues. [Other evenings Will is busy with Civil Air Patrol classes.] Sam [Fred] and Lil [my parents] are by us for dinner. [Fred] helps wheeling the coal [to the furnace] here if he don’t work longer than 48 hours a week. So we appreciate it. [My parents lived in the same building at 3 N. Keeler, which my grandparents managed.]
They both making very good money. Lill get now $180/month, the same as Dad makes. [Fred] worked this week from 7 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. He makes $145 but gets only $115.00. The rest is for the 20% deduction for the war. So Lil gets $140 instead of $180.*
*Read more about wartime taxes here.
So long as they are healthy it is all right, but Sunday I wish [Fred] could have some rest because that is too much [work].
My Dear Ebner, as you wrote you may come home. That would be lovely, but if you don’t come where is the gunner school closest to here or there by you. How you make out? Is it very hard? Please don’t forget that for the hard [times], strength and clear thinking begins with God. You get the best results of all from Him. I get my strength (often I have not very much left) but once our God strengthens me for whatever is next if I pray and think of him in time. So I know He will help you too.
How is your food? Your head? Have you got pain some time? Please tell me. Did you have the time to see Esther Marie or is she not there any more? Cooky [Cookie-Ebner’s at-home girlfriend] called last week. So far as I know she is all right. From Frank Von Arx, I got a letter. He is fine there and much better in this [letter].
Cpl F.E. Von Arx 16170904, 11th Fighter Sq.
P.O. 980 C/O P.M.
Mrs. Duck* from called me on the telephone and told me Jimmy and sister was in an automobile accident and were in the hospital over a month. She asked where you are.
[*This is the mother of Harvey Duck. Harvey was Ebner’s high school friend whose public relations work put NASCAR on the map. See 2/20 NASCAR post].
Jerry I did not see since we was there with the gift for the baby. I sent you today a box with difference slices [could be bread or lunch meat] that taste very goot so I hop you get them before you are sent to the other school.
Please if you can, write me more, about what you and your pals and friends do and what you like. Are you flying, or what [do] you practice. With lots of love and kisses from me especially,
Love from us all
Dad, Mom, Will, [Fred] and Lil