Nana was a WWII veteran (part II)

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Millie Kaiser as a WAVE in 1944. (Family photo)

For Women’s History Month, this is Part II of a series dedicated to my grandmother’s WWII military service. Click here to read Part I. 

My Nana, Millie Kaiser, joined the Navy WAVES in 1944 when she was 21 years old, in the middle of WWII. She joined the WAVES because she felt it was the right thing to do for her country. After Basic Training in New York, she had a few days leave at home, and then she was stationed in Pensacola, Florida. Millie had never been that far away from home before. For her, it was an exciting new adventure.

Daily Life as a WAVE

In early summer of 1944, Millie arrived at Saufley Field Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. She and the other WAVES that arrived with her were the first girls to be stationed at Saufley. Millie was a Seaman, Second class, and was assigned to Tower Two. Her primary job was to log each plane that went in and out of the airfield, looking for the plane number located next to the propeller. Because the pilots had to log a certain number of in-flight hours for training, Millie had to log each minute that each pilot spent in the air. Some days she was pretty busy, but other days, the hours went by slowly.

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A few of the training planes next to the runway. (Family photo)
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Millie working in Tower Two at Saufley Field. The runway can be seen out the window behind her. (Family photo)

It was usually a pretty uneventful job, but occasionally she had a scare when a pilot “didn’t land quite right.” Although a couple of the accidents were severe, very few of the pilots were badly injured while she was there. The rest of the time, the WAVES in the control tower would pass the time listening to Millie’s radio. One Christmas when she was home, Millie’s father gave her a small radio as a gift. They were not supposed to have personal radios in the barracks, so she kept her radio in the control tower to keep herself and the other girls entertained during those long hours. However, radios were in high demand and it was eventually stolen from the tower one night. She had figured that some of the male soldiers stationed there were eager to listen to the radio and helped themselves to it. Her precious radio was never recovered. After that, they had to keep themselves entertained with stories from home.

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Millie and her family, when she was on leave between Basic Training and being stationed in Pensacola, FL in June 1944. (Family photo)

Life in the barracks was pretty routine, and everyone would rotate chores. Millie did not enjoy sitting up at night for the overnight watch. She recalled, “We also had a 24-hour watch in the barracks. There would be two of us. Everyone had to be in at a certain time, and then the doors would be locked. If someone was late, then of course we had to let them in. We rotated shifts, and I would have to work nights every so often.” It was not a glamorous life, but it was an important part of the training base. I know that she missed her family and friends back home, but she always felt safe on the air base, and she always knew that she’d make it back home. She was aware that many of the pilots that she met and helped train would not make it home. Her family was very proud of her!

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Millie and her close friends Fran and Ski (Family photo)

Free Time on Base

Millie made several close friends while she was stationed in Pensacola, and they would make the most of their free time! Stay tuned for Part III to learn more about their adventures…


Sources:

  • Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Eva Weil, 2015.
  • Interview with Mildred (Kaiser) Drake, conducted by Eva Weil, 2005.
  • Photos from private collection, Mildred (Kaiser) Drake’s Pensacola photo album, 1944-1946.
  • Women of WWII website

One year old!

This blog turns one year old today! This year has certainly gone by fast! To celebrate, here’s a photo of my first birthday. I guess the frosting was better on my face, rather than in my mouth.

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From Mexarp to Mayfield

This semester I’m elated to be taking a course in Genealogy and Library Services. As part of the class, I’ll be focusing my research on the Medine family in Illinois. An introduction to their story is below.

Our family has been researching our roots for over 15 years now, and most of our ancestral lines have been traced back to the immigrant ancestor. I’ve just started doing some research on our ancestors in the Old Country. Lately, I’ve been tracing the lives of my great-great grandfather, Gustaf Medine, his siblings, and his parents in Sweden and America. This has certainly been a puzzle!

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The only known photograph of the Gustaf Medine family, taken about 1911 at Gustaf’s Pleasant Hill farm in Mayfield, IL. Front row: Katharina (Schroder) Medine, Gustaf Medine, William Medine, Jesse Scott Bowen. Back row: Fred Medine, Julia Medine, Augusta (Medine) Bowen, Emma (Medine) Drake, Charles Drake. Source: Personal family photo

I love the family photo above. Gustaf’s sun-darkened, stern face shows the years of hard work behind him. He is leaning forward, as if eager to get back to work. His children look a lot like their mother, and have softer, more humorous looks. Fred, who will turn out to be the most mischievous character in years to come, looks especially devious. Katharina appears to have her hand behind her back, perhaps to hold onto his knee so he doesn’t fidget. The three sisters were very close, and opt to stand next to each other instead of close to their husbands. Overall, you can tell that there is a lot of love between all of them, and through any struggles that they had, they were there for each other. In their faces I see weariness from the toughness of life on the farm. However, I also see determination, strength and a resolve to survive.

Gustaf Medine was my grandfather’s grandfather, and he came to DeKalb County from Sweden in the 1880’s. He was married to Katharina Schroder, who was from Germany. They had met in Germany and married either there or in Sweden. They had six children, and they lived on a farm in Mayfield township in DeKalb County, Illinois. Gustaf eventually purchased a farm from the local abolitionist Ira Douglas. My grandfather knew Gustaf when he was very young, and spent a lot of time on that old farm. Even through troubled times, the Medine family was very close-knit. However, we didn’t know hardly anything about their time back in Sweden.

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Gustaf’s father was Andreas Danielsson, who died in Sycamore in December 1907. This is his obituary which appeared in the Sycamore True Republican on December 14, 1907. It lists Gustaf as one of his children. Source: Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection

Through Ancestry.com, I recently connected with a Medine cousin. After sharing stories and a couple photos, she mentioned that when the family came from Sweden, they changed their name from something else to Medine. Bingo! I had never been able to locate any immigration records under their Medine names. Now I had a lead! I combed through some old local DeKalb County newspapers and found Gustaf’s father’s obituary. His last name: Danielson!

So, where did Danielson come from? After some investigation, I discovered that it was Swedish surname custom to add “-son” or “-dottr” to your father’s first name to create your surname. So, Gustaf Medine’s original name was Gustaf Andreasson, and his father’s original name was Andreas Danielsson. When Gustaf and his siblings each arrived in DeKalb County, Illinois, they began using “Medine” as their surname.

I eventually located Andreas’s immigration records to the USA, giving me his hometown in Sweden, which lead me to church and household records from their hometown. Andreas Danielson was married to Lina Stina Svensdottr (women didn’t change their surname when they married) and they had eight children: Kristina (b. 1846), Johann Daniel (b. 1851), Gustaf (b. 1853), Ingrid Maria (b. 1856), Peter Sven (b. 1858), Johannes (b. 1861), Helena (b. 1863), and Otto (b. 1872). Sadly, Otto died on Christmas Day when he was just a few months old. (Source: Ancestry.com)

They lived near a tiny village called Mexarp, in Mistelås parish in Smöland, Sweden. That area of Sweden has rocky soil and forests of thin trees. The trees and rocks are cleared to make way for farmland or grazing. Andreas was a farmer, but when his children became of age, opportunities for work must have been difficult. The countryside was becoming more and more overpopulated, and there weren’t enough farming jobs to go around. In the late 1860’s severe weather caused several crop failures and famine was widespread in the area. The first mass emigration was between 1868 and 1873, exactly in the time frame of the Andreasson family dispersal (source). Most of the Andreasson children left when they were in their 20’s, moving to Germany and America.

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A view of a farm in Moheda, Kronoberg, Sweden, which is a parish next to Mistelås. Image source: Flickr

About 1871, Johann Daniel and Gustaf moved to Germany after spending some time in Denmark a few years before. Kristina briefly moved to Germany and had a son out of wedlock. Mary and Peter Sven both moved briefly to other towns in Sweden, then home again. Mary had a daughter as a single mother in 1882. Between 1881-1885, many of the siblings had moved to North America, most ending up in DeKalb County, Illinois. Peter Sven, Mary (with her daughter Amanda), Gustaf (and his new German wife Catherine and their new baby Amelia) and Helen all settled in Mayfield township in Illinois. Johannes and Kristina’s son Anders also apparently moved to North America, but I’m not sure where. Johann Daniel stayed in Germany.

Life was better for the family when they arrived in America. Gustaf and Peter eventually purchased their own farms. Helen and Mary got married and lived nearby. When their mother Lina Stina Svensdottr died in 1897, the children must have convinced their father to move to America with them. In 1899, Kristina traveled with her father Andreas to Mayfield township to live. They arrived in the USA with $5 in their pocket. He lived for a couple years with Gustaf, and later with Helen, where he passed away in 1907.

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Passenger List of the S.S. New England, arrived from Liverpool, England to Boston, Massachusetts in July 1899. Andreas Danielsson and his daughter Kristina were on the ship, heading to Peter Medine’s farm near Sycamore, IL. Source: Ancestry.com

Life must have been difficult for Gustaf and his family. Both in America and Sweden, they lived in a very rural community where they were dependent on the land for survival. They certainly lived in poverty in Sweden, and were forced by crop failures to leave their homeland in search of a better life. Gustaf moved to Germany to start a new life, then about 10 years later, started over again in Mayfield township. Gustaf spoke Swedish, and his wife spoke German, and when they moved to America, they had to learn English. They were poor in America too, but eventually saved enough to buy their own farm. Life wasn’t easy for others in his family, either. His sisters Kristina and Maria were single mothers, and were likely supported by others in the family. While her siblings were able to venture off to other countries, Kristina had to stay in Sweden to take care of her aging parents. Andreas likely had to sell the farm when the crops failed, and by the time he moved to the USA, he was a pensioner still living on the farm.

This semester I hope to learn even more about this family. What was their life like in Sweden? Is there more family in Sweden that I haven’t found yet? When exactly did Gustaf and the others come to America? Why did they decide to settle in Mayfield? Where did the rest of the family go? Why did they change their name when they arrived in Mayfield, Illinois? Why did they choose Medine as their new last name? Stay tuned for more stories from the Old Country!


Sources:

C.D.C. Johnson 1954-2017

Johnson_Claurence_portrait.jpgA short time ago, the world lost a great man and my husband lost his father. My words can’t do justice to his legacy. He was a man who loved his children more than anything in the world, and did everything he could to give them a better life. He believed in hard work, perseverance, family ties and the value of education. He taught his children these values as well. He sacrificed so much to raise four children on his own.

He was born in Guyana, where he lost his father at an early age. He educated himself and became a teacher at the age of 16. Like all young men, he served in the military, and eventually served in the office of the President of Guyana. He married in his late 20’s and had four children. He moved the family to St. Lucia for better opportunities, then later moved to the Bahamas. He raised four young children on his own. He bought a run-down house, and worked hard to make it the best house on the block. He taught his children how to paint, put in flooring and tile. He taught them that if you don’t know something, the answer can be found at the library. He was a teacher and inspired countless other young people to work hard for their dreams. He found time to write poetry, leaving an impressive collection of sonnets, ballads and narratives. He even published one young adult novel. In 2008, he relocated to the United States, where his children had or were attending college. He wore many hats during his lifetime, but his most rewarding job was that of a father.

He also believed in strong family ties and connecting with family. He helped organize large family reunions in Guyana and was one of the founders of the “Gillis/McCammon Family Reunion Organization.” Because of his efforts, much of the family is in contact with each other through the annual family reunions in Hopetown. He kept the rich family stories alive. I hope to do my part to keep them going to his future grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

An essential part of family history is remembering the family stories and legacies of those who have gone before you, and who are now part of you. Family values, just like family heirlooms, are passed down carefully to each generation. My husband is a great man because he had a great role model in his father. I feel honored that he was a part of my life for the past 8.5 years. He’ll be missed dearly.

 

His obituary is posted here.

 

 

Remembering Pearl Harbor

American lives were changed forever when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. My grandmother’s stepfather, Wally Jordan, served in the Navy later during WWII, and was stationed at Pearl Harbor for a brief time. He was not there during the attacks, but had photos of the attacks with his other military photos. I’m guessing the prints were offered by the military. Let’s not forget those who died defending their country 75 years ago.

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The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (Family photo)

 

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The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (Family photo)

 

Keeping Family Recipes Alive

Many family historians know that recording your family history does not only include recording birth dates and death dates of all our relatives. It’s also important to remember what happened in their life in between the dashes… who they were, what they valued, and what they loved to do.

On my mom’s side of the family, spending time in the kitchen has always brought my family together. When I was young, cooking wasn’t a chore. It was a time to spend with my mom, my Nana, my aunt and my cousins, and occasionally my uncle and my Papa. It was a time to talk and learn and laugh. Almost everyone perfected their favorite recipe: Papa made his peanut brittle, my aunt Pat loved peach cobbler, my mom baked excellent bread and coffeecakes, my uncle George cooked bean soup, and I made speedy brownies. Especially during the holidays, the kitchen was always full of happy cooks.

One of my Nana’s many talents was baking the perfect homemade pie. I know that everyone thinks that their grandma is the best baker in town, but Nana’s pies were truly the best pies around. I’ve never really eaten a pie that can rival it.

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Thanksgiving isn’t the same without pie and family! Last year’s pie selection included the last pie that Nana made… Peach!

Surprisingly, my Nana, Millie Drake, didn’t learn how to bake from her mother. She actually learned to cook and bake from her father-in-law, Charles Drake. Charles had lost his father when he was a child, and lost his mother when he was a young adult, so he probably learned how to cook on his own. Nana grew up in town with many siblings, and her mother always took care of the cooking on her own. When Nana and Papa got married, Nana quickly had to learn how to cook and help manage her father-in-law’s farm. I’m not sure exactly where she learned how to bake a pie, but it was likely from him.

Being connected to the farm meant that there was always plenty of fruit and berries to make into pies. After many years of practice, she had perfected her pie crust. In our family, it was said that you could either be a bread maker or a pie maker. It was hard to get both perfect. If your hands were used to kneading bread, you’d tend to knead the pie crust dough too much and it would be tough. If you excelled at making pie crusts, you would probably under-knead the bread dough. (I’m trying to excel at both, but I’m not sure how well I’ll do! I need many more years of practice.)

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Nana’s “recipe” for pie crust and apple pie filling. The exact measurements were always adjusted to make more or less dough, or to adjust for weather changes.

Here’s Nana’s recipe for her pie crust and apple pie. Like many older recipes, it’s not something that you can make just from following the recipe. Her written recipes are usually sparse on directions, and just rely on background knowledge. I learned to make the pie crust by watching how Nana’s hands carefully folded the ingredients together, and listening to her reasons for adjusting the measurements for one thing or another. Things like the weather can affect how much milk to add, so you have to watch the dough and constantly adjust. You can’t just mix the flour and shortening, you need to cut the shortening into the flour until it’s crumbly. You can’t mix too much, otherwise it doesn’t stick together well. Likewise, her “recipe” for apple pie filling doesn’t include any directions, just ingredients. And even the measurements would change from one recipe card to another! Most of the spices were adjusted to taste. A good cook can always rely on instinct.

Nana was well-known in our town for her homemade pies. Nana and her friend Jan Campbell used to make dozens of pies for Genoa’s Pioneer Day in August. The pies would be sold at the pie sale. When I was young, I remember going to Mrs. Campbell’s house the day before the sale. Her large kitchen was filled with friends and family making pie crust, cutting fruit, assembling pies, or tending the oven. The pie-making extravaganza was something I looked forward to every year, but it was an exhausting day of baking. I’m sure Mrs. Campbell, my mom, and Nana were relieved when they finally retired from doing the pie sale.

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My  sister and I with Nana on her 90th birthday.

Nana’s pies could bring the family together. Most Sundays when I was growing up, my family would get together for a meal. My aunt and her family lived next door, and my Nana and Papa lived close by, so it was easy to see each other often. Nana would make some kind of dessert for Sunday dinner… usually a pie, but sometimes Mississippi mud pie or berry crisp. If it was July, she’d make a pie out of the black raspberries that grew in our backyard. If it was fall, we’d get apples from Edward’s Orchard and we’d have an apple pie. My uncle used to work in the Department of Agriculture in South Carolina, and he gave her a recipe for peach pie that he’d acquired from a local peach farmer. Sometimes she’d get Door County cherries to fill her pies. It was always fresh fruit, and it was always delicious! We’d also have a whole spread of pies for Thanksgiving… Apple Cranberry, Mincemeat, and of course Pumpkin! My Papa had his own special way of mixing up the pumpkin filling.

Whenever I make a pie, I think fondly of Nana and how she loved to share the sweetness of life with others. Nana passed away last summer. We ate the last pie that she made at Thanksgiving last year. This Thanksgiving, I’ll be making the pies. I’m thankful for all her life lessons, and for teaching me how to make something sweet for those I love. These are traditions that I hope to keep alive with my children someday.

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Rolling out the dough for one of the pies this year.

Cubbie Blue runs deep in my blood

Sometimes you live through history. I am blessed to have witnessed the Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years. Being a Cubs fan is just in my blood.

When I was growing up, we’d try to go to a Cubs game once a year. As a kid, Chicago seemed very far away, and traveling to a Cubs game seemed like such a trip. Most of these trips were organized by a local bank, who sold tickets to its members and would take us to the game on a big fancy Cubs bus. We’d usually sit on the third base side, under the balcony so we were protected from the sun and the rain. My grandfather (Papa) would buy tickets for the whole family, and we’d spend the day at Wrigley. I’ll never forget sitting next to Papa during the game while he explained who everyone was on the team, and gave us some light commentary.

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Papa played baseball on a community team when he was in his 20’s, about the same time as the Cub’s last World Series appearance in 1945.

The rest of the season, Papa would often listen to the Cubs games on WGN while he worked. He’d always know the score of the day’s game, and could tell me all the stats if I asked. In his own quiet way, he loved the Cubs, and loved to see them win. He remembered the last time they were in the World Series in 1945. He played baseball on a community team about that same time. I’d imagine that he listened to those games intently on the radio with his brother and dad, or gathered at a teammate’s house to cheer them on.

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The Genoa baseball team in 1944. My grandfather is #10 with his arms crossed in the front row. His brother is #2 on the right side of the photo.

The love for the Cubs runs deep on my dad’s side of the family too. My grandmother’s side of the family lived on the North side for several generations, and her uncle Ed lived within blocks of Wrigley Field. Great-Uncle Ed and Great-Aunt Edna were like grandparents to my dad, and he loved to go and visit them. Some of my dad’s earliest memories are visiting them over summer breaks and holidays, and of Wrigley Field. Uncle Ed and his son Jim were devoted fans who hardly missed watching or listening to a game. They’d watch the home games on WGN every afternoon and absolutely loved Jack Brickhouse and Lou Boudreau, and respected humble players like Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and others who were happy just to play the game.

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My dad, in the back, when he was about 14 years old. With his parents, his brother, his grandma Dorothy, his Great-uncle Ed and my grandma’s cousin Jim. Uncle Ed, Aunt Edna and their son Jim lived close to Wrigley Field on Greenview Ave.

Going to a Cubs game was probably the best part of the summer for my dad when he was growing up. They would get General Grandstand seats, usually just off center of home plate. They’d walk to the stadium early, watch the end of batting practice, and then usually waited for the crowd to leave after the game. Probably the best day at the park came when he was about 10 years old. It was a double header day. The first game was something like 18-16 (Cubs win) and the second game was 1-0 Cubs.

Even though the Cubs were not “winners” in the usual sense, they embodied the good things about many people around the country. You loved them because they continued to play well (not great) and were popular. Even in their worst years, they packed the place day after day. Wrigley is a comfortable pleasant place to visit. Most people who cheer for the Cubs are life-long fans. There hasn’t been much to draw the people who cheer only winning teams. So the loyalty is there. For the people who aren’t baseball fans, they probably know someone who is a Cub fan.

The Cubs have certainly made history this year. Many of their fans are devoted, lifelong fans who love their team and their city. Through many years, the Cubs embodied the good things in life, like hope, loyalty and commitment. Even in their worst years, fans turned out to watch the games at “the friendly confines.” Many lifelong fans hoped and prayed for this day, but never got to see it happen. This year many new Cubs fans were born, but I am proud to say that Cubbie Blue runs deep in my blood. I’m so happy to say that I’ve seen this day, and I’ll never forget it. We can finally say again, The Cubs are World Series Champs! Go Cubs Go!

“Hey Chicago, what do ya say, Cubs are gonna win today!”