“I don’t know of anyone who went to a nursing home when I was a kid. They were all taken care of by relatives.”
When my friend told me she knew a woman who had been a “Rosie The Riveter”, I was very excited. I have interviewed many men who served in World War Two, and women whose husbands had, but not yet a woman who had been involved in the war effort herself.
Grace had me to her home, and the first thing I noticed was the color on the walls. Turns out Grace is a very talented quilter, and is pictured in front of a massive tapestry she designed and sewed depicting a scene from the Wizard of Oz.
Grace Mary Stinton was born September 16, 1922 in Tiverton, Rhode Island. She lived on the east cost for her younger years, moving to Kentucky and then Michigan later in life. After the depression she was lucky to get a scholarship to go to Providence College for her undergraduate, and another for her Masters degree at Clark University in Massachusetts. Her family was poor – her dad entered a Veteran’s Hospital as she graduated high school (he served in World War One) – and even with the scholarships, she had very little. She asked that her Masters scholarship be deferred a year so she could teach Social Studies in Connecticut and save some money, though it wasn’t until after her 9th child was born that she was finally able to finish the degree.
“I don’t think that [job] would even be allowed, now, with the safety and security laws… It was fun for one summer but it’d be terrible if you had to [be a riveter] for a long time.”
As mentioned above, Grace spent time working as a “Rosie the Riveter” during the second Great War. This took place one summer working to support herself during college. She spoke in great detail about it:
It was during this time that a friend put together a blind double date for her. The man was Mike Stinton, whom she married. Though Mike was from Michigan, they didn’t move there right away. Shortly after their engagement, he shipped out (it was 1944) to help finish World War Two. When he returned, they married and made the move.
Grace’s girlhood was marked by a good deal of time spent on her grandparent’s farm. It is something that we discuss often in this project – the distance between families in modern life. In this short clip, she describes her childhood:
The famed building featured in “The Little Brown Schoolhouse” book was right in Grace’s hometown. In fact, she frequented the schoolhouse to get books to read. She admitted she would check out an armful of Oz books on Saturday, read them all, then return them and rent even more before they closed to read throughout the week.
“Families were a lot closer, and generations stayed together.”
I always ask how things have changed during an interview. I really liked Grace’s response. She focused on family, but not in a Conservative America kind of way. Rather, she highlighted our ability (or lack thereof) to share with and care for family members.
As I transcribed her interview, I wondered if I should have simply uploaded Grace’s entire interview. When I broached the topic of technology, she concisely described the things she’s seen, her childhood versus the way things are today, that I couldn’t help but publish the rest of interview. I usually edit myself out, but in this case, you’ll hear me ask each question.
“I can still remember the first time I saw television… the first thing I saw was a very big fat lady singing, and all I could think of was, ‘this would have been so much nicer on radio where I could have been imagining the whole thing.'”
“I have my family in Japan. [Now] I can pick up the phone, and dial it, and talk to them.”
Yoko is a Japanese native. At the time of our interview, I’d already interviewed with Marion Graff, who was on the USS West Virginia at the time of the signing of the treaty between Japan and the Allies, and he had given me a copy of the Articles of Surrender with each nation’s leader’s signature. I keep it with the folder I use to stay organized, and at the end of Yoko’s interview, I decided to show it to her. I wasn’t sure how she would react – I was worried it would upset her. Instead, she asked to make a copy, and clearly appreciated it.
Yoko (Ito) Mossner was born in Toshima, Tokyo, Japan in May of 1933. She lived in Tokyo with her parents until they both passed away – her father from a supposed ulcer when she was seven, and her mother from breast cancer when she was eight – at which point she moved to her grandparents with her older brother and sister. She loved to read, fold origami, play with her siblings with a rubber ball against the wall, and coloring. She was six when the war started, and ten when Tokyo was evacuated in lieu of bombing. The government moved the youngest children to Nagano Prefecture in the mountains to shield them from the activities of the war (Aug 1944 – Oct 1945). Yoko described it as a kind of boarding school set up in the resort.
“Some terrible bomb was dropped … We have to surrender.”
I asked Yoko what it was like during the war, to live in the country that experienced the bombings. She told me that she was very protected from the war being that she was so young. The schools became somewhat militarized – they marched and did trainings – everything was controlled by the military. The authorities reported that they were winning, and maintained that story during the majority of the war. But after a while, things became rationed. All the men were gone, having been drafted. She remembers that every few days families would gather to send yet another son or father away. One evening in 1945, she heard their caretakers whispering that a terrible bomb had dropped, and they supposed they’d have to surrender. That was a shock because Japan had never surrendered before.
When she returned to live with her grandparents and siblings (her siblings were too old to go to the school outside Tokyo – Yoko later commented that the war didn’t effect her much, at least not compared to her siblings who lived through the bombing of Tokyo), they moved to Odawara, her mother’s hometown. Food was still rationed for a long time – it wasn’t until high school that she noticed things getting better. There she finished school, during which her grandparents passed away. Upon graduating, she went to vocational school in Yokohama, and then got a job there.
The job was at an American Army Base where, from what she told me, there was an office and laboratory that worked with petroleum. It was there that she met her husband, who was from Saginaw, Michigan. He had been drafted during Word War Two, and sent to Japan. In 1957, Yoko moved with her husband to Saginaw where she still lives and works as the curator of the Saginaw Japanese Gardens and Tea House. That is where we met, and she served me tea at the beginning of our interview.
“In High School, we took a school trip from Tokyo to Osaka… it took all night to get there by train… Now, a bullet train [gets you] there in three hours.”
Yoko has been back to Japan since she moved to the United States. She says it’s completely different. The high rise buildings and overpass highways stunned her – Tokyo was never like that before. And the bullet trains are phenomenal. She couldn’t believe the comfort they provide during their quick journey. She said it was like sitting in a living room.
“When I came here, the people didn’t know much about Japan… They thought we only eat raw fish.”
When asked how things have changed over the 50 years Yoko has been in the United States, she started by saying people understand Japanese culture better, now, and then marveled at the technology. She and her husband didn’t have a television at first, and purchased a black and white one to start. She loves the ease of cooking her microwave provides, and noted that computers are changing things, now. What she really got excited about, however, was a washer and drier – especially the drier. While she lived in Japan, they washed clothes by hand, and during the rainy season it was nearly impossible to dry them.
Yoko had some wise words in regards to the changes we’re seeing due to technology and what we should mind as it grows.
“We don’t have enthusiasm for the future, or hope. Because we are too affluent, and we have everything. It comes so easy, so I think we probably lost the spirit and desire to do something to better yourself, or better your country.”
“In 99 years, there’s not much I can say hasn’t changed.”
Rhea was referred to me by a friend, and I was impressed the moment I met her. A small woman (probably only 4’11”) with a huge heart, she welcomed me with homemade cookies, declaring that she always sends people away with a box full. As you can see in her portrait, she is a lover of books, a topic we were able to meet on right away. With a cold glass of water, we sat down in a pair of beautiful arm chairs in her vaulted living room, and began the interview.
Rhea Wark Currie was born July 29, 1916 in Peck, Michigan, near Lake Huron. The only states she has ever lived in are Michigan and Florida, which she visited with her husband during winter. They always lived on a golf course in Florida, because her husband loved to play golf.
“It was a quieter time. People stayed put more than they do, now.”
Rhea was born early enough to vaguely remember World War One, something remarkable for any living person today. Her father wasn’t drafted because he was a government employee at the State Department in Washington DC (he later was diagnosed with a lung condition and was told to live in the country, so moved to Michigan as a Postal Worker). His only sibling was a sister, who, of course, was not drafted. Rhea’s mother had several siblings, but they were mostly farmers. Her main contact with the war, then, was through conversation and news clippings her dad took that talked of their friends who went to war.
She told me that the Great Depression wasn’t talked about in her family. Really, the Depression didn’t come until she was entering college. What she told me she later found out about that time made me tear up:
She loved to roller skate with her friends and cousins near home. When she was twelve, a new highway had just been lain, which she had been explicitly told not to go on. But one evening she and three of her girlfriends chose to skate down it, and realized their folly as the sun went down and they were quite far from home. They decided to turn around and go home, but they were scared they wouldn’t make it before dark. A car soon appeared and they got excited since they were tired and scared. It turned out to be Rhea’s father. Her friends scrambled into the car, but she was not permitted. He remarked, “I’m sorry. You were not to come out here, tonight. You skated out, and you will have to skate home. But I will not leave you.” He drove next to her the entire way.
Rhea met her husband while at school at Alma College. They moved to Midland, MI so he could work at Dow Chemical and use his degree in chemistry. She got her degree in teaching, and taught until their first son came along, at which point she began volunteering at the Red Cross answering phones (during World War Two). She says Midland still feels like a neighborhood, though the town has grown into a vibrant small city. I could tell she loves it there, and she is deeply involved in the community as a volunteer to this day.
“I’m just not getting [the electronic world].”
Rhea does have an iPad and uses it quite a bit for email, but she still feels like an outsider to the technological era we’ve entered. She remarked that every other change came about gradually, so people could keep up. She feels electronics have taken off like a rocket, which has made it hard for her (and others) to learn them. Rhea finds it funny that when she does her banking she never sees the cash.
“Every evening at five o’clock, [we] sat down wherever we were, and [my husband] would have his martini, and we would play gin rummy.”
It seems like “we lose the personal” due to the electronics that we’ve created. Rhea continues to attend a card group every week, and was annoyed to that effect as one of the ladies would bring her tablet and continually interrupt the game to show pictures. Rhea finally told the acquaintance to please keep it put away during the game because that’s what they were all there for.
Rhea also remarked that technology is changing how families are brought up. She observes them on family night at the country club, and can see that there is no interaction between family members, even during dinner. Everyone is absorbed with the screen in their hand. She honestly wondered to me if they ever speak to each other.
Her son, teaching a class at New York University on Communication, reports that it is so strange that the class is necessary. But the students are stunned by the lessons in class. They just haven’t been socialized in the common-sense ways those aged post-25 seem to take for granted.
She elaborated on all this when asked what we’ve lost to technology.
Rhea does admire how we can stay in contact with people in other places, things happening in other countries, and the ability to be empathetic to the goings on elsewhere. She doesn’t remember doing so, even after World War Two, when there was a good deal of suffering after so many towns and cities had been decimated. Today, we know when another country is in hardship, and can react in a meaningful way.
“There have been more changes, through the years, except I never think of myself as 99 years old. I still drive, I still am very active. There was a gal at the hospital… that kept asking, ‘Why won’t you join our service?’ and I responded, ‘I am too old.’ She said, ‘What do you mean you’re too old?’ I could not go into the room of a 60-year-old woman dying of cancer, and try to cheer her up… nor do I want to go into the room of a very ill 30-year-old who sees me as this healthy old lady with white hair. Am I wrong?”
“In the good old days, you knew things were well made.”
I was told I just had to speak with Dot, and I loved meeting her. She is a kind, thoughtful, strong woman who has made an incredible life for herself. She founded the Midland Aviation Camp and began flying airplanes as a hobby before instruments became digital, before GPS, and has watched her students transition from analogue to tech aviation.
Dorothy “Dot” Hornsby was born August 27, 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She’s lived in Cincinnati, San Antonio, Charlotte, Wichita Falls, Casa Blanca, Geneva, Hong Kong, and Midland, Michigan. She married her high school sweetheart and had three boys (two of them twins). Much of their travel was a consequence of his enlistment in the Air Force during their younger years, but some came later in life through working for Dow Chemical. Dot told me that when she was young she decided she wanted to travel and go around the world, which she eventually did. From Hong Kong, she took her youngest son to many of the countries that weren’t accessible by normal travel from the United States. She let him choose two places he wanted to go – climb the Eiffel Tower and see Lenin’s body – and they traveled the Far East with those detours.
When they were in Hong Kong, China was still closed to foreigners. When the borders opened in the late 1970’s, Dot decided to return and enter China, completing a goal she set when she lived nearby.
“Even in high school my goal was to go around the world, which I got to do.”
Dot is a teacher. She taught English in Hong Kong and math in Midland, and continues to teach flight classes today at the Barstow Airport in Midland. She began teaching flight school after her husband died. Really, flying was her way of coping with his death in 1992 only a short while after they retired. In her words:
She told me, partway through our interview, that she wasn’t sure why she chose flying as a coping mechanism for her grief for loosing her husband. My initial thought was that he was in the Air Force – perhaps that would create a closeness to his first occupation. But as she talked about her youth and family, she thought of her father, and told me this anecdote:
Dot struck me as a very strong woman. She did and continues to do so much that was before her time. She supported her husband by teaching while he went through graduate school, traveled independently with her son because she felt it was important and wanted to see the world, got her own Masters Degree in Counseling and Guidance, and chose to go to flight school at a difficult time when most would never have considered it.
Of course, I had to ask her how technology has changed flying. Obviously the GPS has been an influential tool, and I’d assumed that it had influenced her experience with flying, but I was sure to ask her and learned how very much it had changed. In her words:
“What worries me is that kids have the attention span for cartoons on TV, but in the classroom we have to worry.”
“I don’t want the future my grand kids are going to have.”
At the end of our interview, Dot really thought hard about what technology has done, its benefits and losses. She considered the phenomenal progress we made, that space travel is able to happen, but also the ‘throw away society’ we’ve become. To wrap up, here are her musings:
“Teachers are so important – they can see things that you can’t see in yourself.”
Harriet Jean “Jeanie” Berg was born December 6, 1924 in Detroit, Michigan, and she never left. We met at the Wayne State University Farmer’s Market, where we were regularly interrupted by those who knew her. Harriet grew up during the Depression in Detroit, but didn’t realize the hardship until later. She said her parents shielded herself and her siblings from what was happening by always providing a good meal, and not speaking about what was happening.
Later, she discovered her father had started the Street Car Union in Detroit in response to the mistreatment of workers during the Depression years. Her parents were Socialist, and she can recall having dinner with Norman Thomas (who ran for President five times with good response) regularly when she was young. Her parents were very active in the community in that way. Indeed, Walter Reuther, another prominent figure of the Detroit Labor movement, met his wife at such a dinner. May Wolf was a friend of Harriets mother, and was helping to peel potatoes for the dinner. Walter sat down to peel them with her, and that was that.
“The only thing that gets me in trouble is that I always am about to leave and I see something I want to read and then I’m late!”
Harriet loved to read as a child, and that love has only grown as she aged. She began to tell me about the books she had just purchased, which transitioned us to her other passion. The book in particular was about Misty Copeland, the first black ballerina. Harriet spoke about Misty for some length, finally revealing that dance is her own passion, too. Every year she went to New York City to study in addition to attending Wayne State University. From there she became the Director of the Dance Workshop at Wayne State University due to the encouragement of a teacher she’d had, there.
“I had the hardest time [planning lessons] – I really don’t know what I want to do until I see the kids.”
In the 1950’s, a College of Creative Arts was planned at Wayne State, and Harriet was encouraged to obtain a Masters Degree in order to qualify as the Director. Unfortunately, the President who was starting the program, Dr. Hilberry, died suddenly, and his replacement wasn’t interested in creative arts, and killed the program. Instead, Harriet went to the Jewish Community Center and developed a dance department which she ran for 50 years. Harriet remains conflicted about the move of the Center out of Detroit, and to West Bloomfield. That decision was eye opening for her, because she believed the community was centralized in Detroit. It was then that she realized that she and her family were some of the only white people left in her neighborhood and that the Jewish community truly had moved. Throughout her career, her husband, also a teacher and a GI, provided support by watching the children if needed, and encouraged her.
“We don’t know what war is here in the United States… It’s always over there.”
Harriet feels that President Obama has helped the peace effort by removing troops from the Middle East. Today, she sees the war being fought with drones, which she notes hit more than just their targets which catalyzes some of the overseas hate for the United States. She also worries about the polarizing that has occurred in this country. During the Depression and World War Two, she believes the country worked together, despite their political standing.
Harriet questions whether or not children are as removed from their elders as we suppose. Did they ask questions in previous generations? Were they living together or apart? Did that make a difference? Harriet admits her grandparents didn’t speak much English – they were from Austria. She couldn’t talk to her grandparents about their experiences, and she’s not sure she would have if she could.
“Like every other technological advance, you can use it for good and you can use it for evil.”
Harriet has a love-hate relationship with technology. She is sad that people don’t know how to fix their belongings anymore. And she was shocked when her local library took away the card catalogue system, forcing her to use the computer system. But she also thinks it’s amazing that she can Skype chat with her grandkids often. Despite their distance from her, they know her presence in their lives.
It was Harriet who told me about the New Yorker magazine cover story called “Playdate”, which I posted to social media last week. She wonders about the affect of computers on children and how they’re coming up. She did notice, when she ran a dance camp, that the foreign children were much more open and communicative with the older directors than the American children. It’s not something I’m studying at this point, but it was an interesting point.
“If they can figure out fracking, why can’t they figure out how to put cartilage in my knees?”
Harriet is pictured standing with a statue of Walter Reuther at Wayne State University.