Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Historian Studs Terkel


Curiosity never killed this cat – that’s what I’d like as my epitaph.”  Studs Terkel
Studs Terkel in 2001; below, Ray Smock in 2014
Ray Smock sent me an excerpt from Tom Englehardt’s blog (TomDispatch) about the legendary Chicago oral historian Studs Terkel.  Englehardt wrote:

Given the grim panorama of death these days -- from beheadings to pandemics -- and the hysteria accompanying it all, I thought it might be both a relief and a change of pace to turn back to Studs’ oral history of death, which as its editor I can testify is moving and uncannily uplifting. That, of course, is not as odd as it sounds from the man who was the troubadour for the extraordinary ordinary American. This is the only book I ever remember editing while, in some cases, crying.

Introducing two interviews that appeared in Terkel’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith,” Englehardt noted that “the first focuses on an impulse that may be among the hardest to understand and yet most moving to encounter, forgiveness; and the second, from this country's medical front lines, centers on a subject that, unfortunately, is still all too timely: the trauma deaths of young Americans from gunshot wounds.”

Maurine Young’s 19 year-old son Andrew was shot by a teenage Latin Kings member named Mario.  A year after the killing, Maurine wrote Mario and told him she forgave him.  They started corresponding, and 18 months later Maurine visited him.  It went well, and she continued the relationship, telling Studs: “I’m convinced that if I did not forgive and I held on to my anger, that I probably would have become mentally ill.  Maybe killed myself, maybe hurt someone else.”

The second interview was with surgeon John Barrett, Trauma Unit chief at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital.  He told Terkel:
You do things that live on after you. Each of us, as we pass through life, influences others. You leave behind you a legacy of things you did and people you influenced. So even if you don’t believe in a life after death, you’ve had an influence. And people say, ‘I haven’t had any influence. What did I do? I worked in a steel mill all my life, I didn’t actually do anything.  Got married, had a few kids...’ Well, you did - you had an effect as you went through life, and it was either a good effect or an indifferent effect or a bad effect. That effect continues on. I have two children, and they’re going to have influences on people and they’re going to do things. I’m also a teacher: I’ve taught lots of people, hundreds, perhaps even a thousand people that I have influenced in a very fundamental fashion. Many of them are now surgeons themselves. There’s little pieces of me that exist in all of that. So even though you’re dead, you’re not gone.”

As I’ve been sitting in on Nicole Anslover’s World War II class, I think often of Terkel’s “’The Good War,’” which he deliberately put in quotes because all wars are terrible.  One veteran summarized his military experiences as “four years of diarrhea.” A nurse told him of him of walking with a soldier whose face had been disfigured and how people recoiled and tried not to look at him.  From Terkel I learned about PAFs, veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War whom by 1945 certain government agencies had begun to regard with suspicion, as the Cold War commenced.

Terkel spoke at an Oral History Association conference about his book “Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do.”  He mentioned that a milkman told him that one of the few perks of his job was coming across women in various stages of undress.  That got a big laugh although some feminists in the audience didn’t think it was funny. 
Amanda Board, a Psychology major who graduated with honors from IUN last May, joined me for lunch at Applebee’s in Chesterton.  I met Amanda through Anne Balay and the LGBT group Connectionz.  She finished her paid internship with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore recently and is mulling over what to do next.  She’d love a career with the Park Service and is thinking about grad school.  I suggested going to Hawaii, where she could probably work in a national park all year round and take courses at the University of Hawaii, which has an excellent program in the field she is interested in.  I told her that moving to Hawaii right to work on a masters degree was one of the best decisions I ever made.  At present Amanda is taking care of her fiancĂ©’s four year-old boy, putting her Psychology degree to good use. If Phil had been born a girl, Amanda was one of three possibilities on our short list, along with Carrie Ann and Ramona.
Inappropriate Halloween costumes from Brendan and Missy: "wrong on so many levels"
I invited new neighbor George to join us passing out candy on Halloween and have chili and beer with us.  It turns out he’s a Catholic priest and will be conducting mass at a Hispanic church in Illinois. 

Archives volunteer David Mergl, under orders from his wife to thin out his closet, gave me a Ports of Indiana fall jacket.  It fit so well I promptly trashed a flannel one I’d worn to IUN that Toni declared fit only for gardening.


Jean Poulard arranged a display marking the hundredth anniversary of the start of World War I in a Conference Center lobby display case, including photos of several of his ancestors who fought in the 1914 Battle of the Marne, where French and English troops stopped a German advance that had reached the outskirts of Paris.  The Allied victory ended German hopes for a short war but came at the cost of a quarter-million French casualties, including about 80,000 dead.

Nicole Anslover is asking students to critique a journal article about WW II, so I told them where they could find them in the IUN, library if they didn’t want to access them online.  I took in a Journal of American History volume from March 2014 that contains an article about John Hersey’s “A Bell for Adano,” which the Office of War Information trumpeted as an example of the “good” occupation of Italy.  The author points out that what Italians wanted more than a church bell was food.  In a bound volume located I found an article in he September 2008 issue of Indiana Magazine of History entitled about “Race and Employment in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that concentrated on changes during wartime.   

Since Nicole’s class was discussing women war workers, I told them about a book dealing with Latinas entitled “From Coveralls to Zoot Suits” and added that quite a few Mexican-American women from Northwest Indiana joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs).  Someone had brought up attitudes towards homosexuals in the previous class, so I read them a quote I found in Lillian Faderman’s “Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers” from WAC Sergeant Johnnie Pheps when asked by General Dwight Eisenhower to ferret out lesbians in her battalion.  She recalled telling Ike:
  “Yessir.  If the General pleases I will be happy to do this investigation.  But, sir, it would be unfair of me not to tell you, my name is going to head the list.  You should also be aware hat you’re going to have to replace all the file clerks, the section heads, most of the commanders, and the motor pool.  I think you should also take into consideration that there have been no illegal pregnancies, no cases of venereal disease, and the General himself has been the one to award good conduct commendations and service commendations to these members of the WAC detachment.”
Eisenhower replied to forget the order.  
Sgt. Johnnie Phelps
One could reasonably ask whether or not the women Phelps referred to were lesbians.  They may have been bisexual or, like men in prison, finding ways to release their tension and sexual drive away from their normal environment.  In all likelihood, some returned stateside and got married while others continued same-sex relationships as, in Lillian Faderman’s words, “twilight lovers.”

I had a mediocre night bowling but won half the quarter pots, paid out every tenth strike, and picked up a difficult 1-3-6-8-10 spare.  We won game one by 5 pins over a superior team when Mel and John both doubled in the tenth and the rest off us marked.  Robbie Krooswyk, subbing for D’s Sporting Goods, rolled a perfect game.  I got home in time to watch the final three outs of the World Series, as Giant Madison Bumgarner pitched five shutout innings on two days rest.