Tom's Corner


Discovering Today
by
Tom Irons

Chapter 1
1946



        This was the year Raymond Chandler’s blockbuster novel The Big Sleep was released in theaters. Humphrey Bogart played the laconic detective Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall easily filled the role of a rich, double-dealing daughter of his client. It was a complex case of murder, blackmail, and questionable love and it added to Bogie, Bacall and Chandler’s popularity. Another movie that entertained American theatergoers was Anna and the King of Siam. Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison were the leading actors in this prelude to Rodger’s and Hammerstein's The King and I which would follow ten years later.


        Servicemen returning from the European front would find more entertainment in the theaters in The Best Years of our Lives, The Yearling, The Spiral Staircase, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Notorious, My Darling Clementine, Great Expectations, and the famous and controversial film, Duel in the Sun.


        1946 proved a good year for births of famous people: President Bill Clinton, director Steven Spielberg, singer Linda Ronstadt, baseball great Catfish Hunter, antiwar activist and Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, metaphysical seer Uri Geller, not to mention anchor-lady Connie Chung, actor Tommy Lee Jones, first lady Laura Bush, singer and actress Dolly Parton, Tricia Nixon (whose only claim to fame, I can fathom, was to be the daughter of Richard Milhouse), sportscaster Greg Gumbel and actress Candice Bergen. Candice is a favorite of mine ever since Jeanie and I started watching the television series of Boston Legal.


        I was not yet reading the obituaries in 1946 but in retrospect and in my humble opinion, there are a few notable deaths throughout the year: FDR’s right hand man Harry Hopkins, author William S. Hart, poet, playwright, lesbian Gertrude Stein, prolific writer H.G. Wells, and actor W.C. Fields. The infamous death on an international level was the execution of Joachim von Ribbentrop. Joachim was one of the principal players in the Nuremberg trials, which were in full swing that year. He had served as Foreign minister of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.The floor fell out from under him (literally) and he danced the hangman’s jig in October. Life was over for Joachim but the famous trials would continue for another three long years.


        1946 was an exciting year for professional baseball fans. Servicemen returning home used the sport to recapture a sense of normality in their lives. Players who had answered their country’s call were back on the diamond or swatting bees and chasing flies in the outfield. Fans of America's National Pastime would see the St. Louis Cardinals' win their sixth World Series title. Since there was no electricity in the old farmhouse, Mother and Dad could not sit next to a radio and cheer on their National league favorites. Fred tells how “Dad would go over to Snider's grocery store some evenings and listen to parts of the game with other farmers that might be there.”


        Earthquakes were big business in 1946. On April first, the news media reported an earthquake in the Aleutian Trench. It shifted the sea floor and created a seismic wave, known as a tsunami, which snatched the Scotch Cap lighthouse from its’ perch 45 feet above the sea. The great wave traveled from Unimak Island to Hawaii in 5 hours where it killed 173 souls and injured 163 bodies. On May 31, a 7.3 shake in Turkey was responsible for 1,300 deaths. November 10 another 7.3 quake, which resulted in a landslide, erased 1,400 lives in Peru. In a bid to not be outdone, Japan snuck in an 8.4 quiver on December 20 and another 1,330 were killed.


        Not as dramatic but with equally earthshaking results Dr. Benjamin Spock published his childcare book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. Parents across the nation would use this as their child-rearing bible for far too many years to come. Had the good doctor found the cure for poliomyelitis, he might have prevented the 25,000 new cases which struck the United States in 1946. The year before had yielded 10,000 cases and, due to the rapid increase in incidents, concern was growing over this horrible disease.


        In 1946, 610,000 divorces were being filed and trialed and a New York mail-order business was enjoying a lucrative start. Fredrick Mellinger, having just returned from the war in Europe and recognizing a niche, decided to risk all with his brainstorm. He developed catalogues full of racy pictures of his merchandise draped on lovely ladies. He offered the public black panties, bras, and sheer come-hither nightgowns. Until then, proper young women and austere farm wives wore only white, rigidly modest undergarments. Two years later he introduced to the world the “Rising Star”, the first push-up bra, and the rest was history.


        On our little swampland farm things remained austere, I’m sure. Our family was poor and our parents remained decidedly proper in all outward respects. Nudity was not something we shared, and certain subjects (sex, childbirth, divorce, racism) were never to be discussed. Naively, Mother thought babies came out of her belly button until somewhere around her third or fourth pregnancy. She had been put to sleep with each of her prior deliveries and I guess hospital staff did not ‘do’ community education in those days.


        Penicillin, heart transplant surgery, hazards of smoking and the newest Proctor and Gamble product, Tide, would all make headlines and history but for our family the greatest event of 1946 occurred on the twelfth day of April at 0815, which was coincidentally, Good Friday; One year to the day after F. D. R’s death.


        Many times I heard the story of how I was born just fifteen minutes after Mother and Dad reached the hospital. They had accepted an offer of a ride from a neighbor lady. She had driven a cab in Chicago before moving to Ohio and impressed Dad with her driving prowess by backing her car all the way down the driveway that wonderfully famous morning. Six months later, to the day, she would be found dead in her husband’s barn. The official certificate of death would read ‘Suicide by hanging’.


        A family story I’ve always appreciated is how Dad paid the hospital for my birth, (as he did for all his children’s births) with coal that he hauled from the coal mines of West Virginia. He gave them no choice, telling them it was accept the coal or nothing; he just didn’t have any cash. He may not have felt like he could use his big old work trucks to deliver Mother to the hospital but they could certainly provide for her cost of stay each time a new baby came along.


        That Easter Sunday my siblings were at home with their Easter baskets, but my sister Alice assures me that the little bundle of joy that Mother brought home that day was better than a bunny or yellow chick. They all enjoyed playing with their new brother, but it was Frances, the oldest of the sisters, who assumed the role of head caretaker. She quickly came forward to attend to my needs and welfare. Mother must have been happy to let her step into the role of nurse and bottle warmer.


        Dad wanted to name me James but Mother named me Thomas. Later, for a short while, my dad called me “Stubby Jim” in reference to my lack of height. In trying to say Tommy, as a toddler, I could only manage 'Nominy' which my siblings quickly picked up on. I was two when my mother took me for my first trip to the barber and had my long blonde curls cut away. When Dad returned home that evening he made a show of searching all over the house for Nominy, finally asking me if I knew where Nominy was. Tearfully, I said I was Nominy, but he shook his head, and taking me upon his knee said, 'No, you're not Nominy, you're Tommy. Nominy is gone."


        In an e-mail from Fred, 01-29-07, I received the following:


        (… your early nickname and its demise...Nominy or Tominy...) I seem to recall you said one and we said the other. In any event, I recall a photo that mother had taken of you before the barber trip you came home from the barbershop as proud as punch and ran back to the field to show Dad. That is when he put on the sad show about Tominy being gone forever and made you sad too. I don't remember his going through the house to look for you, but I can imagine him doing that to add onto your feeling of sadness about the change…)


        Nominy went missing in 1948 and there’s been a lot of water over the dam since then. Now I find myself in 2008, the era of republican war-mongering, global warming, national catastrophes, and rampant ecological travesties. All I want to do is find a place to live where I can eat the fish I catch; if it could only be that simple. Obviously, that isn’t the only criterion. Jeanie and I want to have a comfortable environment to grow old in, one that supports us supporting ourselves. We would like four somewhat equal seasons without wild swings toward hot or cold, damp or dry. We want to be able to grow our own garden without having to water everyday, and maybe have some chickens around the place. Being near an institution of higher learning is important to us. Lifetime learning is something we both value and enjoy. 90% of the local population should speak English as a first language. Finally, and if it isn’t too much to ask for, I’d like the state to be lead by moderate, middle of the road, thinkers. People who wish to make positive changes that would serve our entire community.


        How is it that a southern Ohio farm boy could come to seek these criteria? In truth it has been a long hard road from Ohio to here. The road stretches between southern Arizona and northern Alaska, including Florida, Ohio, Maine and many more states. As a youngster I was destined to travel and seemed to know it. It must have been about 1951 when, at the tender age of six, I left church one Sunday. I mentioned the idea to my youngest sister, Nancy, and she was pretty clear she considered it a foolish enterprise. She was fourteen then and fairly protective of me, her little brother. My desire to be back home overcame the joy of sitting on those hard pews singing hymns and listening to the preacher preach for an interminable hour or more, so I started walking. At most it was no more than two miles home. I hadn’t covered a quarter of the distance on my short legs before the clouds lowered and started to spit raindrops the size of wild persimmons. Realizing my predicament, I lost no time in holding out my thumb to the first car that approached. I have no memory of how I knew to do that but it worked. The people stopped, and gave me a ride, even driving down our lane and right up to our door. Yes, there was concern expressed over that particular tactic but no lasting damage was done. Mother was quite a bit upset but Dad felt I had been fairly enterprising for one my age. I guess that’s why Fred always felt I had an easier time with Dad than he did and I’m sure he’s right about that.


        Memories are a funny thing. I know I’ve told some stories so many times I now believe the embellishments that were added during the first few tellings to make them more amusing and entertaining. Now as I look back on those and other memories I have to ask — what is really real? Are past events as I remember them the way they really took place? I doubt it, however, we can only work with what we have, and what I have is a large collection of experiences and stories as I recall them— most likely shaded, shaped and changed over time. The good news is that they are my stories. Long before I left home, I started collecting those memorable experiences that I would repeat to friends and acquaintances as the years drifted by. You may have heard of some of my adventures, my errors in judgment, and a few of my wins. In this— my life’s collage— I’ll try to be a bit more thorough, a tad more honest with details, and even try to discuss how it felt to be me.



Irons Family 1940

Irons Family - 1940




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