Sunday, July 28, 2013

WW2 | Memories of Washington, DC 1940-45

Hilda van Stockum has two World War books near the top of the Goodreads list of the Best Books for Children about World War II (they are The Borrowed House and The Winged Watchman). A third van Stockum book ranks lower down, The Mitchells. That is a pity because the book was very popular at the time and continues to sell well to home schoolers through Bethlehem Books. It gives a unique view of Washington during World War II, as seen from the perspective of five children ("V for Victory" is the subtitle) growing up Catholic in wartime Washington.

If you Google "The Mitchells" you will find page after page on the hugely popular BBC One East Enders television show, which started in 1985 and continues to be broadcast to this day. The two main families in Albert Square on the East End are the Watts and the Mitchells (the notice above left is improperly punctuated - the correct punctuation is below left).

The click-to-look-inside doesn't work here
but it does work on Amazon.
The Mitchells is autobiographical for van Stockum and is biographical for her children (#6, Liz, was born in 1945, after the book was written). Joan stood for Olga, Patsy for Brigid, Peter for Randal, Angela for Sheila and Timmy for John (me). That's the five of us on the cover, in front of the house.

All six of us Marlins are still alive, ages ranging from 68 to 78, and we celebrate anniversaries via email. This coming Wednesday, July 31, would be the 104th birthday of Dad, who was in Ireland (where he met van Stockum) and England during the war, under the auspices of the OSS, predecessor of the CIA.

Randal just emailed us all that he found our 1940 Census entry. It includes newly born Sheila. It has Uncle Willem (W. J. van Stockum) and Grannie (Olga E. Boissevain van Stockum). It also tells us who our neighbors were on Northampton Street. Here are comments from him, Brigid and then my own:

Randal: Maybe John can decipher Dad's job. I can read "Chief of Personnel" but I can't make out the rest. The U.S. didn't enter the war until 1941, so that would have been his actual job rather than a cover for his OSS work. Looking at the Census list stimulates a lot of memories. I can just see Granny and Willem and Gordon and Rita with their bridge evenings and the leftover cake!! 

Brigid: Harley Evans (known as Junior) was on the left side. We didn't know the neighbors on the right side because they had no children. Up on the corner of our street lived two little boys, who sat on the wall and sang a strange version of the National Anthem:
Oh, say can you see / Any bedbugs on me? / If you do, pick a few, / And you'll have some too. 
Needless to say, I was deeply shocked by this irreverence! Lois Dean lived right across the road. Down the street on the right lived Natalie (Tata). To the left of the Deans lived Leroy, who had ringworm and had his head painted with purple medicine. When he was cured we became friends and I accepted his proposal of marriage. We were going to live in a tree house. That's all I can remember!

John: Dad was I think in the Civil Service Commission right before his OSS assignment. After World War II and the OSS he had a job in the Budget Bureau for which he was assigned to the organizational meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945; this led to his appointment to the ICAO and our move to Montreal. My memories of the Washington house are few (we left for Montreal in 1946) but I do recollect the joys of experimenting with the garden hose on the grassy part of the front lawn, which was and is elevated above the sidewalk. I would play there or (after neighbors complained about getting wet) in the back of the house. When Liz arrived in 1945 I was three and I remember pushing her in the pram and then walking with her. Uncle Willem was shot down over France during the week of the Normandy invasion so sadly I never got to know him, although Mom frequently spoke about him to me. In 2010 I  went back to the house at 3728 Northampton Street (will never forget the address – I had to remember it in case I got lost in the neighborhood) when I was working in Washington and the exterior has not changed much.