Friday, August 15, 2014

Norm Anderson: A Brief Family History

I'm writing characterizations of my family for my newly discovered nephew, Jerry. He has 21 years of catching up to do and I thought others might find them fun to read. These are solely my impressions and will likely piss some people off. Sorry in advance. Here's the first:

My Dad’s dad was Reinhold Eugene Anderson. One evening when he was a toddler, his father said to his mother, “Olive, I’m going out for a sack of tobacco,” and they never saw him again. Reinhold was raised by a single mother and spinster aunt in household of women. She was nearly forty and frustratingly superstitious when he was born, so it was an odd upbringing. He left home to be a doughboy and grew to manhood on the battlefields of France during WWI. Whenever he spoke of his time in France, it was clear he thought it all a wonderful adventure.

After the war, he came home to Monroe, New York and learned the carpentry trade. He met a girl from Newburgh. She came from a good family that had a little money. Her name was Marion Mapes. She was a suffragette and had been to business school – a rare accomplishment for a woman in that time. One thing led to another, and the couple ran off to New York City and got married. They had a bunch of children -- nine altogether, but only six lived past infancy.

They were a family of six when the stock market crashed in ’29. They were seven when he lost his job in ’31. He never found another one.

My dad remembered early childhood as fine time. He told me that he and his brothers would run down to the bus stop each afternoon to meet their father coming home from work. He carried his toolbox on sling across his shoulder. Their house was full of happy children and overflowed with love.

That changed in 1931. With no work, the electricity was sometimes shut off. No money for coal to heat the house meant the cookstove was the sole source of heat and hot water. Baths were in a galvanized metal tub in the middle of the kitchen. Food was delivered by charities. They ate a lot of beans. The in-laws in Newburgh sent money when they could, but it wasn’t very much. The last child came in ‘33. In summers the kids were sent to farms upstate where they picked berries for pennies.  Their teeth rotted for lack of dental care.

It was a bad time. After years of useless searching for a job that didn’t exist, my grandfather descended into a black despair and just gave up. The house he owned free and clear fell into disrepair and deteriorated around them. My grandparents fought bitterly. The Anderson brothers figured out soon enough that if they were persistent and scrounged for work they could make a little money for food, so they did. They all stayed in school and got good grades.

By 1940, the oldest brother, Gene, graduated high school and was able to find a job and that helped a lot. When WWII broke out, he joined the Army and went off to the South Pacific. My Grandmother got a job building PT Boats for the Electric Boat Company (ELCO)  in Jersey City and living got easier. In ’42, Uncle Al finished school and joined Gene in the Army. Both brothers sent money home to their mother.

Dad worked after school and tried to join the Marines when he finished high school in ’44, but they wouldn’t take him. Neither would the Army or Navy. An umbilical hernia made him 4F and he was humiliated. So he got a job working for Cunard Steamship Lines on Broadway in Manhattan and joined the NYPD Special Police. Everyone had to have a uniform. If you didn’t have a uniform, you were nothing.

In America after WWII, life was good. The Anderson brothers came home safe. My grandmother got a small inheritance and bought a new house but my grandfather wouldn't leave the old one. He was now physically falling apart. He developed a hump on his back and stopped shaving. After great effort, the brothers persuaded him to abandon the decrepit house and join them in the new place. But he was so emotionally broken he spent nearly all of his time in the attic.

In June of 1950, my dad had been at Cunard for nearly six years. He was climbing the corporate ladder when the North Korean Army swept across the 38th parallel and invaded the south. Several weeks later he got a draft notice. Although he was 4F in WWII, the Army needed men and to Dad’s surprise (and delight), they took him. He was twenty-four and that was old. They took his two younger brothers, too. Dad was the only one who saw combat.

Dad figured if he was going to be in the Army, he’d rather do it as an officer, so he qualified for Officer’s Candidate School (OCS), got his bars, was assigned to the artillery and made a forward observer. He spent his war on the front lines with the infantry. 

Skipper Matthiesen, his boss and best friend in the bunker in Korea was a graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point. This impressed Dad immensely. While Dad was in Korea, his father died. They called it a heart attack, but there was no autopsy.

When Norm came home from Korea, he got his old job back at Cunard and enrolled at Wagner College. He used the GI Bill to pay for it. A College Degree was another rung on that ladder away from where he’d started. He met my Mom while commuting to Manhattan on the Staten Island Ferry in 1955.

Norm’s  parents
Mom: Marion Mapes Anderson b. 2/18/1900 d. 12/22/1991
Her parents Willard Mapes and Angeline Lendrum Mapes; Newburgh, NY
Dad’s Dad: Reinhold Eugene Anderson b. 4/24/1893 d.10/12/1952
His parents Olive Cooley Anderson 1855 – 1917 Reinhold John Anderson b.? d.? 

Olive is the last of our family buried in the Cooley Family plot in Seamanville Cemetery, Monroe, NY. Olive’s grandfather is Nathan Bailey Cooley b. 1802 d. 1861. Also buried in Seamanville Cemetery. I have a copy of his will.

These are our People…

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