Ruminations on a Long Life: An Autobiographical Typescript / by Virginia Gardner (ca. 1989)
Virginia Gardner (1904-1992) was a journalist, a communist, and biographer of Louise Bryant. She was raised in Fort Smith, Arkansas and graduated with a B.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in 1924, then worked at several Midwestern newspapers before joining the Chicago Tribune in 1930. Gardner gradually became a radical, joined the Communist Party c.1937, led the small Newspaper Guild group at the Tribune, and was fired for her union activism in March, 1940.
Blacklisted in Chicago, she moved to New York where she worked with the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee. After her divorce from journalist Marion (Red) Marberry, Gardner moved to Washington, D.C. in 1942 and was briefly Executive Secretary of the American Council on Soviet Relations. Between 1940 and 1942 Virginia Gardner was active as a member of the Citizens Committee for Harry Bridges, serving as its Executive Secretary in 1941. From 1942-1943 she worked for the Federated Press (a labor news service), resigning over its unwillingness to criticize John L. Lewis. Gardner next worked for the New Masses, resigning in 1947 when it became a monthly.
She moved to Los Angeles, working for the Peoples World (the CPUSA West Coast newspaper) until her dismissal in 1951, and was then briefly employed at a meat packing plant. In 1952 Gardner moved to New York where, again, her first job was at a meat plant in Jamaica, Queens, before being employed by the Daily Worker, where she covered the Rosenberg case in 1953, and later wrote "The Rosenberg Story," which was published in 1954. In 1959 Virginia Gardner left the Worker, and between 1960 and 1962 she worked as a medical writer. From 1963 to 1971 she worked as editorial assistant to Corliss Lamont. Her Louise Bryant biography was published in 1982. Soon afterwards she began working on her own autobiography. Gardner died in San Diego on January 5th, 1992.
June 27, 1904: Born in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. Has two older sisters, Gertrude Miller and Catherine Carson.
1910: Mother died when she was 10 years old.
1921 to 1924: Attended University of Missouri; graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism.
Dec. 17, 1927: Married Jerome Butler, a socialist newspaperman and copy reader
1927: Employed at the St. Louis Times.
May 1927: Father died.
1929: Hired by Chicago Tribune.
July, 1937: Married Marion (Red) Marberry whom she described as a leftist who never joined the Party. He was also a newspaperman and wrote three books: Joaquin Miller American Poet (1953); Vicky: A Biography of Victoria Woodhull (1967); The Golden Voice: A Biography of Isaac Kelloch (1947).
September, 1937: "Decided to join the Communist Party."
April, 1938: Joined the Newspaper Guild in Chicago.
1938: Active in Hearst strike in California.
1939: Joined the Communist Party.
1939: Filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board regarding unfair treatment at the Chicago Tribune.
1939: Assisted in publishing the Tribunit, a publication of the Chicago Tribune workers.
March 22, 1940: Dismissed from Chicago Tribune because of involvement in Guild activities at the paper.
1940: Moved to New York, where she worked with the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee.
1941: Voted as lifetime member of the Newspaper Guild.
1941: Acted as Executive Secretary of the Citizens Committee for Harry Bridges (President of the ILWU) in New York City in an attempt to prevent his deportation from the United States.
1942: Moved to Washington D.C.; divorced Marion (Red) Marberry (January); began work at Federated Press, a labor news service; served as Executive Secretary to the American Council on Soviet Relations, a precursor to the National Council of American Soviet Friendship (NCASF).
1943: Resigned from Federated Press. Began working as Washington correspondent for New Masses.
1947: Resigned from New Masses and moved to Los Angeles, where she began working for The Peoples World.
1948: Subpoenaed to appear before the Tenney Committee (California's Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities).
1949: Wrote a few articles for Masses and Mainstream.
1951: Dismissed from The Peoples World.
1952: Moved back to New York; worked in Jamaica, Queens in a meatpacking plant.
1954: "The Rosenberg Story," published by Masses and Mainstream.
1955: Began work at the Daily Worker.
December 1959: Resigned from the Worker.
Feb.-June 1960: Worked on staff of Factor, a monthly magazine which covers issues related to psychiatry.
1960 to 1962: Freelanced as a medical writer.
1962: Left the Communist Party.
1963 to 1971: Employed as editorial assistant to Corliss Lamont.
1982: Published Friend and Lover, a biography of Louise Bryant (New York:
1984 to 1989: Worked on her unpublished autobiography.
1989: Grandson, John Dorney died; in failing health.
1992: Died in San Diego, January 5th.
Family history - Childhood - High School romance with Brady Pryor
I can think of quite a number of people in my family whose lives could have made fascinating autobiographies had they bestirred themselves to record them. Now if my great-grandfather John Carnall had had a mind to, he could have left an intensely interesting account of his life. Born in Virginia and educated at the University of Virginia, he was an early settler in Fort Smith, Arkansas, taught school, initiated the high school, founded the Fort Smith Elevator in 1878 and was known for his advanced ideas.
To encourage the women in the Fortnightly Library Association, whose goal was to have a library building open six days a week, he turned over one issue of the paper. I have it before me, dated April 15, 1898, with its masthead reading: "SPECIAL LIBRARY EDITION/ of the Fort Smith Elevator / Published Once in a Lifetime."
My mother's father was Captain Edmund E. Boltwood, reared in Amherst where at the home of his uncle, Lucius Boltwood, married to the cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson, he heard stirring talk by the foremost abolitionists of the period. After war was declared he enlisted at the age of seventeen, and commanded a company of black cavalry throughout the Civil War--no small achievement, and he wasn't even a captain then but a second lieutenant.
As a result, Grandpa Boltwood had no higher schooling, although his older brother Henry, who had not dashed off to war but received proper education, became head of the public school system of Evanston, Illinois, with streets and schools named for him.
My own immediate family provided some rich samples of singular lives and/or achievements. My two older sisters were wonderfully witty. In the Fort Smith high school my Latin teacher Miss Kearns wept before the class and said of me, "She had two sisters who were brilliant Latin scholars. What went wrong here? Brilliant she's not. She's no more than ordinary, and she a Gardner!"
Katharine, the oldest, only began writing when money was rather desperately needed; it began to roll in when she did potboilers under pseudonyms, finally writing under her name two remarkable novels. Just as she began to get acclaim and the Milwaukee Journal in feature story and photographs paid homage to her, she quit writing. Her husband was then making money. Katharine really didn't like to write; she was just a genius whose life as a whole was one of self-abnegation, dedicated to bolstering up the fragile ego of her husband, purely out of love for him. Love and, I suspect, gratitude for a satisfying sex life that helped to obscure for her his essential mediocrity.
My stepmother, Caroline Klingensmith Gardner, would have written a compelling autobiography if it resembled the letters she wrote. As it was she published a few things under the pseudonym Janet Kenworthy and wrote a novel which Pearl Buck found impressive. But Mrs. Buck, then reading for a publisher, at the same time she praised it offered a suggestion; that she inject sympathy for at least one character. Caroline put the novel aside; she knew better than the celebrated novelist. Caroline continued to fill dresser drawers with sheafs of yellow paper, typed or handwritten --fiction and articles--into her eighties, all of it pitiless.
It has always been somewhat mysterious to me just why or how I was attracted by anything revolutionary. I never liked Dickens until I read A Tale of Two Cities, and at once when I did it galvanized me. I still have in my bookcase the Sounder, the Fort Smith High School yearbook of 1920, with "A Bolshevist Romance," one of two fiction pieces. I was a junior then, and its author. It was a comedy, surprisingly lively.
I'd like to know what strands of my early environment were involved in this interest. I'm convinced there were such, despite the fact that I had anything but a deprived childhood. My Uncle Dudley used to say that my genes made me a rebel, that I was "just like your mother."
I was born in the Indian Territory. Father had been sent by an Arkansas bank to Sallisaw--where the Joads in Grapes of Wrath came from--as branch banking in another state was then not illegal. When I was two years old we moved back to Fort Smith. When I was old enough to qualify for Social Security I needed a birth certificate, and learned in correspondence with the state of Oklahoma that only Indian children were registered in the Indian Territory. I sort of liked that bit of reverse discrimination and, when I submitted some record of baptism once we were back in Arkansas, it was accepted as proof of birth and so I really was not inconvenienced.
When I was twelve and my sister Gertrude fifteen we were invited to a house party at the Wheelers' home in Sallisaw, and discovered that about half the town was related to us. It came about in this way. When my great-grandfather John Carnall came to Arkansas about 1830 he brought with him his bride, Frances Turner, also from Virginia, although she had moved with her family to Missouri. Four of the Carnall-Turner family children survived, including Emma who married Bill Wheeler; his mother was the daughter of the chief of the Stan Waitie division of the Cherokee Indian nation. In notes on my family compiled by my stepmother Caroline, she wrote: "They lived in Sallisaw in a baronial manner. But they had eight children and their wealth was divided and dissipated and did not suffice to make any of them rich. They were all poor when I last heard of them." Be that as it may, we had a wonderful time at that Sallisaw house party.
My mother, Gertrude Boltwood Gardner, died when I was five years old. She was only thirty-six, according to her obituary, and I was her fourth child, all girls, one of whom, Alice, died before I was born. I am certain that Mother was a feminist, and Grandma, too. When Grandma's six children were growing up, in Ottowa, Kansas, or on a farm nearby, Grandma saved and scrimped throughout the year in order to make new dresses for the girls each summer for the big event of the year, the Chautauqua. Grandma greatly admired a woman doctor who spoke more than once; she electrified them all and inspired them to look for more, demand more, as women. Mother was seriously interested in the Indians and was writing a history of the Cherokee nation. When I was a baby I went with her to spend a summer in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in the home of a chieftain. Mother also used to like to attend hearings in the Federal Court in order to sketch the Indians; in those days Fort Smith was the seat of all federal litigation involving Indians of the Indian Territory. She also was interested in parks and playgrounds and her efforts to arouse public concern over Fort Smith's need of them met with a great deal of opposition. One small, rather sleazy park was named the Gertrude Boltwood Gardner Park after her death, almost as if to mock this energetic woman from the North for whom the four walls of her home were insufficient to bind her.
When I was two, I was told, Father contracted tuberculosis and was taken hemorrhaging on a stretcher to Colorado, with Mother and I accompanying him. He returned in the fall to work, and on other summers also went to Colorado, but after the first one I went to Kansas with my sisters to stay with Grandma. Father was always frail.
I have only a couple of distinct memories of Mother. She was very pretty, small, with great dark eyes, curly hair, animated face and little feet, unlike her daughters'. I recall her in a pink striped skirt and shirtwaist getting bacon from the oven for breakfast. Gertrude and I were playing in the attic once when she came up to kiss us goodby. She was on her way to a fancy luncheon and wore a lavender dress, gathered tightly around her tiny waist, and a big hat with a bunch of lilacs on the brim.
Caroline, my stepmother, was jealous of my mother and in many ways was belittling. But, possibly regretting or trying to curb her jealousy, she wrote late in life of Mother: "She was small, with huge brown eyes, a lovely skin, the color of a magnolia petal. When I knew her, she looked like a high school girl--I remember thinking your father was not good enough for her--and then three and one-half years after her death, I married him. In another letter she said my mother "was one of the few women in Ft. Smith who took an interest in current affairs and in art and letters. That sort of thing was badly needed. She was ahead of her time."
My sister Katharine in one of her two fine novels, Nice Lady, (Putnam's, 1940), portrayed Mother, a subsidiary character, most skillfully and most unsympathetically. As Fay Mathis, wife of John Mathis, banker, she turns her immense energies to introducing Culture to Marshall (Ft. Smith)--all of which she would give up gladly to be a member of the leading social set. My sister was twelve or thirteen when Mother died. She was wild about Father and jealous of Mother. The jealousy remained, and showed itself in more than a novel.
I can still see in my mind's eye the marvelous sketches of Indians which Mother had made. She had a deft touch with a pencil. A little drawing of my sister Gertrude when she was about four, made on rough tablet paper a youngster uses in school, I have framed and hanging on a wall; the faded red ribbon in Gertrude's hair is reflected in a narrow red frame; it caught her look--and the lines on the tablet were once faintly visible. To spend hours in the Federal Court sketching was not the work of a dilettante, but that is the way Katharine saw all Mother's efforts including her interest in suffrage. In her appraisal of Mother she never got past the adolescent estimate frozen at Mother's death.
One person everyone was agreed on: My grandmother, Kate Powers Boltwood. An orphan, of 100 per cent Irish descent, she was adopted by the Hastings family in Amherst, and was graduated from Mt. Holyoke College and went to work as a school teacher. I adored Grandma: all of us did, including Father.
I have a photograph of Grandma in a large oval frame, looking very sad, it always seemed to me, and it either was on her wedding day or I just believed it was. Her dress is off the shoulders, exposing her graceful neck; there is a wistfulness in her eyes, both hope, and wisdom. She is not counting too strongly on hope; if it fails she will make do, a firm but gentle jaw line and the upturned corners of her mouth seem to say.
Before Aunt Bess died, she told me that Grandma's parents were members of an Irish players' group in this country. In some epidemic they both died. Grandma and her brother were separated. She often spoke of the Hastings who had reared her; at age three she sat on a hassock and recited verses from the Bible. They were stern and unyielding but they were unable to kill the spark in her, the Irish gaiety, the electricity that ignited people around her.
In her telling of events Caroline did embroider them with suppositions. But she wrote, in her late years, of Grandma that she: "was one of the most remarkable women I ever knew. She had a brilliant mind. She was enormously energetic. She was totally unselfish. Your father adored her--I was jealous of course--but I tried not to let my jealousy show, which means that I had a little sense."
The three oldest Boltwood girls all found husbands in Fort Smith when they came there to teach school, but only Mother stayed on in Arkansas. Mother had attended Washburn College in Topeka for a time; all had normal school diplomas except Aunt Alice, or Lollie, who did not teach but married a local man, not for the better but the worse. Alone among the Boltwood women she was pliant, self-sacrificing--and raised three unhappy children. Grandma's eldest, Katharine (Aunt Ta), was extremely ambitious, and able. She married a perfectly charming Irish Fort Smithian, Hugh Dodson, who had gone through two small fortunes and, rejected as a working priest because he was too impractical, was when she met him employed as a clerk in the post office. In St. Louis, after the birth of her second son, Aunt Ta ran an ad in a newspaper as a teacher of foreign-born and self-made business men, and soon had a flourishing School of Private Tutoring, still in existence and run by her son Joe when I last heard. Uncle Hugh taught Latin, Greek and math for her. Joe was my favorite cousin.
While my mother was alive the only disturbing thing I recall is that I had nightmares. It was the same one. I slept in a cot in my parents' room. I'd awaken them screaming and they'd take me into their bed. Gertrude and Katharine used to taunt me, reciting a James Whitcomb Riley jingle that ended "And the goblins will get you if you don't watch out." It frightened me and I would howl and get Mother to make them stop. In the dream there always was a band of ragamuffins dancing about. Even after I was taken into their bed, I recall putting my arms around Father--when he turned into the leader of the band. Then I'd turn to Mother. Perhaps I at times turned first to Mother and she became the leader--I can't be sure--but I know that eventually I'd put my hand on her cheek and say "Softie," a name I had for her, and go to sleep.
Mother was sick a long time, or so it seemed to me. I never knew what she died of. Caroline said the diagnosis was "inflamed liver." and it was her belief it probably was cancer. But she was definitely not reliable when it came to facts about Mother. It was summer, and very hot, and the nurse kept the shades down in her room. One day the nurse lined us up, Katharine going in first, alone. When my turn came I tried to crawl up on her bed but she motioned me down. I tried to kiss her cheek but she held out her hand. It was very white, and I still can see it, and the gold wedding ring--given to me and eventually given by me to my son for his first wife, a lovely person, Judy.
The next morning Father came into our room. All three of us were sleeping in the same bed. We jumped up. We knew by his face at once. All three threw our arms around him. "Mother's gone to heaven." Not until years later, at his own funeral, did I learn he was an atheist, and rejoice, as I was too by then. He spoke in the language he did because he always had "gone along" with Mother's religion, and our instruction; he also always contributed to the Episcopal Church, too, but the only time I ever saw him in the church was at Katharine's wedding.
When Father died my stepmother asked a Methodist minister who had lived in Fort Smith to come from Texas to conduct the services. She always had the idea that Fort Smith didn't appreciate Father, and as the Episcopal service consists of prayers alone, she wanted something else. The minister and Father had become fast friends. As he told the crowd gathered in our home, "We had long arguments, and they were never resolved, for Mr. Gardner was an atheist. We talked often about it and were in disagreement there. But he never wavered. Yet I must say that Mr. Gardner led as near a Christlike life as any man I ever knew."
Did Fort Smith fail to appreciate Father? Perhaps. One man did not, certainly; Presley Bryant, the managing editor of the Southwest-Times Record. In his column "As It Seems to Me", he captured the essence of the man. Father died on May 2, 1927, and the May 3 issue of the newspaper carried Bryant's column, which began:
Mr. Bryant went on to observe that "He was one of the few men who know how to say and have the courage to say 'no.'" He then described Father's tireless work as liquidating agent of a bank he had helped rescue--which I will go into further on--saying:
Father was considered stern, probably because he had no small talk. True, he was a man of few words. But I felt comfortable with him, on those few occasions when I was alone with him, when we both were silent. I knew he loved me, although he never said so. He was not demonstrative except with small children. In his fight against a return of the tuberculosis he came home for lunch each day and then rested on a sofa. One of my earliest memories is crawling up on the sofa, where he let me play with the gold watch fob he wore with the watch his grandfather had given him; the watch I was not allowed to touch.
We had one bad spat when I was in high school. He was resting in the south front room and overheard me as I talked to some boy on the phone. He came in and reproved me sharply for using slang. He said it showed "a paucity of vocabulary." I retorted hotly that he had no business listening in on my conversations, and he slapped me. The first and only time. I fled upstairs and was dissolved in tears, lying on my bed, when Caroline came up. She talked and at last I quit crying. I knew it was Father's way of half-apologizing to send her, and she knew I was sorry I'd been fresh. He never mentioned it nor did I.
When I was sixteen I went to my first formal dance. It was around Christmas and I had a "blind date" with someone coming home for the holidays from Staunton Military Academy, arranged by the matrons who were sponsoring the dance. I had been told my date would be in uniform. The doorbell rang and I could just feel Father looking him over as he answered it.
I went down and saw my date standing in the hall. His name was Brady Pryor and the first thing he said to me was "I don't dance." I said uncertainly, "I thought you'd be wearing a uniform." He laughed. "That monkey suit? Never unless I'm forced to."
Not an auspicious beginning. But he did dance. He was just shy, and given, as I would come to understand, to chronic under estimation of himself and all his talents. An undercurrent of raillery, directed at himself and often quite funny, ran through his conversation always. I noted he was handsome, with those expressive Irish blue or blue-gray eyes and dark hair and regular features.
A waltz was starting, and Brady said, "Listen, I can't waltz. What if we ran away from the dance, drove to Van Buren and had an ice-cream soda?"
Oh, sure, I said uncertainly. But as I went to get my wraps I felt mortified. Only one boy had cut in on me--Forrest Ford who had been in love with me in the first grade.
Behind the wheel, Brady seemed more relaxed and talkative. He was eloquent on his hatred of Staunton, and he had another year after he completed the coming semester--unless he improved in his grades and made up some work. Then he'd enter law school; of course it was all arranged that he'd go into his father's law office. I was beginning to enjoy this escape from the dance when Brady asked: "What if your father asks if you came straight home from the dance? I noticed he looked me over with a steely eye. Asked me if I was Tom Pryor's son."
"Well, I could never lie to Father. But why should he ask?"
"He might just because he doesn't like me--or my father." Without another word, although we were just passing the old electric park and were about five minutes away from Van Buren, he turned the car around and headed back. "I don't want you lying to him."
It was the following summer, though, that I saw Brady more often. Not that Father made it easy. He was hardly civil to him. I was with him every chance I had, just the same. One night he took me to a dance at the clubhouse atop a bluff outside Van Buren. On the way home he stopped the car half way down the mountain and kissed and held me and I wanted to swoon and never have it end. We would be married as soon as he got through law school and passed the bar exam, he said. I told him he'd have to face Father and tell him we were engaged. Why? he argued. We'd just go to Greenwood (like Fort Smith, a county seat of Sebastian County, where his mother's family held the town in the hollow of its hand), wake someone up to marry us, go on back to Fort Smith and his family's house, and in the morning they'd jubilantly greet us. I knew they would, too. But I felt that it would be disloyal to Father. Also that it would show him Brady was afraid to stand up to him. Why did I think a man had to be so damned strong? It was an argument repeated over and over, for some years.
At that time I still felt that Brady and I would make it together, somehow. Nothing else seemed possible. The night before I was to leave for Columbia, Missouri, to go to the University and take a journalism course, Brady and I drove around and parked on a hilltop. There was a full moon. In another month, he said miserably, I'd be looking at the moon with another boy. Would he write? I asked. Yes. He had another year at Staunton, then law school. Could he be sure I'd come back, and sure that I'd wait for him? "I'll love yo all my life long," I said, and it was almost true.
College at University of Missouri (BA in Journalism) - Intellectual development and romances
In his heart Father wanted each of us girls to come home and be belles in Fort Smith, and in turn each of us disappointed him. When it came to me he not only wanted me to want to live in Fort Smith, but he hated the idea of my going into newspaper work. He was afraid I'd marry a newspaper man. He got to know some of the reporters on the Fort Smith Elevator , having done some odd jobs around the paper while his grandfather was still alive. He thought the men on the Elevator often interesting, even charming, and better educated than he would ever be. "But most were footloose, drifters, going from job to job. Unstable. Not the kind of men to make good husbands, Ginny."
The eldest of John Carnall's motherless grandsons, Father was brought into town from the farm on Massard Prairie where he was born, and sent to high school, living with his grandfather and graduating in the first class to be turned out, in 1890. He had longed to study medicine but his grandfather died shortly after he was graduated and with no one to encourage him, he gave up the idea.
Caroline occasionally managed to dig things out of Father about his childhood. Father told Caroline that in the years when he lived in town with John Carnall, on nights when his grandfather couldn't sleep he would tell the boy interesting stories. All were true, all bits of history. He had been a fine classical scholar and when he came to Arkansas he was the first sheriff and the first school teacher in the county. Thus Father had not only the education provided by the high school John Carnall had promoted, but a liberal dose of history and tales from the classics taught by the old man himself.
When I went away to the University of Missouri--for although Father did not want me taking a journalism course he would not deny my right to take what I wanted to, and Missouri's School of Journalism was outstanding--my sister Gertrude was in training to be a nurse at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. I always felt Gertrude got the short end of things in our family. Just why that was I am unsure. One thing was unmistakable, though; it was Katharine who was the pivotal figure in the family.
Katharine went to the University of Kansas, but at the close of her first year there Father had a letter from an English professor who explained that Katharine was the most talented student he ever had but he had been forced to flunk her. After he read something to the class she had written she went on strike, refusing to write anything else. Father wrote him that he had done the right thing. It ended Katharine's college, but it was war time by then, and she entered a nurse's training at Barnes Hospital. Then she was sent home with a heart condition said to be the result of rheumatic fever.
Katharine visited Mrs. Breckenridge in Muskoka Lakes on other summers and there met and madly fell in love with Mrs. Breckenridge's nephew Joseph Carson. Father, a great believer in being from a "good family," ignored the fact he was taking her to Saskatchewan to a life of penury and hardship and insisted that she have a church wedding. Katharine wanted to escape anything fancy, but yielded. So it was that Father's pride in showing off the Breckenridge kin as son-in-law prevailed over his reluctance to set foot in the Episcopal Church.
Gertrude went to the University of Colorado for a year--but she had paid for it herself with money earned working summers for the bank. Then she entered nurse's training at Barnes Hospital and was there when I went to the University at Columbia, Missouri. She was an awfully good nurse, and could have made a fine doctor, but in those days few people thought of encouraging nurses to attempt medical school. Meanwhile Gertrude and I spent Christmas and other holidays together; I would stay with her at the nurse's home and became devoted to her best friends there.
I went away to school with Dorothy Harris, an attractive young woman with amazing grace as a dancer. We both were pledged as Pi Beta Phis but freshmen were required to live in rooming-houses that first year; willy-nilly we became roommates. I put Brady's picture on my dresser. I wrote him long letters and had two very sweet, loving letters from him. Then came a letter that dismayed me. I had written after reading his latest that I went around with a big grin on my face all day. No one but Brady would have thought that I meant anything other than that his letter made me very happy. But Brady interpreted it to mean I was laughing at him. Nor did he write again after I wrote and explained. No further letters from him all that year.
In an enormous class in economics, where we were seated alphabetically tier upon tier, next to me was Paul Garrison, who wrote funny little notes to me in class. Then he asked me to a Phi Gam dance, I had a very good time--and from then on he explained economics to me--both bourgeois and Marxism. As if it was an entirely commonplace statistic, he said, "Of course I am a Socialist. So is my father." His mother had died when he was pretty young; he had a younger brother and a younger sister. In their home in St. Louis they had all sorts of Socialists coming and going, men like Roger Baldwin and Norman Thomas.
I was fascinated. I'd once been electrified by hearing (I was eavesdropping as the doors were closed) a talk between Father and Carson Breckenridge, then stationed with the Marines at Peking. At first it was Major and then Colonel and always when he came to visit his mother--that lovely gracious lady--he brought us Chinese toys. My favorite was the beautiful egg containing smaller and smaller eggs until the last one was barely a thumb's breadth. That was when we were small. He always said we would be his friends until we were twelve, he was afraid of women older than twelve. As I was older than twelve but not enough older not to take seriously what he'd said I was keeping out of sight. But I crept close enough to hear voices raised, Father saying: "But Carson, if I understand what you're saying, you're nothing but a damned socialist!" I had never heard him say the word "damn" before this. Carson, completely calm, replied, "That is just what I am, John."
Paul and I became inseparable, and it seemed there was no end to my curiosity about socialism. We both made "S" (superior) in economics and I went to all the Phi Gam dances.
When Paul first kissed me I told him about Brady--after the kiss. Well, was I engaged to him? No, I said, not exactly--but we had an understanding. Paul's logical mind came to the rescue. Since the thought of Brady apparently hadn't bothered me when I kissed him, it must be that I cared for him, Paul, a little, yes? "Oh, I do." Then couldn't we just go along as we were and perhaps I'd find that I cared for him in the way he cared for me? "But I'll feel guilty," I murmured. Paul answered: "The whole idea of guilt--well, I don't think much of it. Actually you should feel guilty only if you betray your class, or your principles. Or if you pretend something you don't feel." I asked what my class had to do with it. He had a lot of teaching to do, and the best he could come up with was, "You wouldn't be a strikebreaker, for instance." No, I said, but it seemed to me were drifting pretty far afield.
In the spring Dorothy had had bad news from home: the death of her father, which in turn revealed that family finances were not of the best. She had to drop out of school. I was genuinely sorry --it seemed a great shame, especially as it happened just after she made a great hit as the solo dancer in the annual journalism school play.
I had gone on seeing Paul, an increasingly engrossing experience. Spring term was optional at Missouri. I stayed for it, to make extra credits, as I felt the need of getting a degree as soon as possible, and a job. I moved to a house with a big el-shaped front porch and a swing. I loved spring term, I adored my philosophy class and Dr. Sabin, who taught it as teaching should be done. It was freeing me from the last vestiges of religion. He didn't lecture, he talked, effortlessly, while I hung on his words and felt the chills go up and down my spine.
Then, on one of those spring moonlit nights in Columbia when just to be alive was ecstasy, I did a terrible, inexplicable thing. I think I had never been so happy. Paul and I walked almost empty streets. The world seemed ours. On my big front porch, shaded from the bright moonlight, Paul took me in his arms and kissed me. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I knew now that with Brady I had been awed by his passion, which I tried to gratify in some way as I wanted to make him happy. But for the first time now I felt passion, was engulfed by it, was swept away, far out, and frightened of losing my moorings. I was giving in to it. I had no will, I was no longer me. Feebly I murmured, as if it could stave off this gulf in which I was drowning, "I hate men."
I came to when I was pushed aside by Paul--who remained leaning against a pillar of the porch. He actually smote his forehead but it was not theatrical, it was real, and I heard smothered words. "To think I felt--as I did toward my mother . . . ." Then he was gone, almost staggering down the walk.
I was paralyzed, aghast at what I had done, the words I had spoken. I hadn't meant it, it was all a lie. I ran after him, I called his name, ran down the brick sidewalk. I can still see the bricks, with some moss growing between them here and there. He did not turn around. At last I went back, slowly, flung myself on my bed. It was irretrievable. That was the worst thing, and I knew it. What had possessed me? I did not understand. I still do not understand. I did not hate men, I just wanted to--to what? To still be able to think, I guess. Well, he hadn't imperiled that.
Had I but had the maturity to write him and say that it was just a crazy reaction to the first time I had felt real grown-up passion I might have saved the situation. But I didn't have it. From that time an impenetrable wall existed between us. Twice, in later years, it was almost broken. By then I should have been able to bring things out into the open, tell him I wasn't that way, it was not myself talking, it was a forked tongue I did not recognize. But, circumscribed by my culture that said a woman should wait until a man moved toward her, I waited, and he didn't make a move toward me.
The rest of that spring I felt unutterable depression. I alternated between hating myself because I had hurt him so much--and without reason, as it was an aberration of my true feelings--and trying to justify myself.
I soon heard that Paul was going with a tall, beautiful junior and that he was drinking (which was bad for his asthma). Once in the Palms, a restaurant, I passed by him. His head was turned, but I felt that he saw me in the mirror. He did not speak. What did I expect? The big front porch making an el, and my room where I'd shed so many tears, became unbearable to me, but I had just paid a month's rent in advance and was too frugal to think of moving.
I had a history course that spring term in which I wrote a long paper on "A Comparison of Causes of the French and Russian Revolutions." A young and quite liberal man taught it, I did a lot of reading in the library for the course and enjoyed it. I would have gotten more out of it but that seated across the table from me was the handsomest of all the handsome Indians I had ever seen. A streak of white in his forelock, repeated in lashes over one eye, had me spellbound. He flirted with me but never spoke. He was from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and I longed to tell him that I spent one summer there with my mother in the home of an important Cherokee chieftain, and that Mother was writing a history of the Cherokee nation. But although I flirted back, no word ever escaped those chiseled lips. Finally I appealed to George Berry, a rather horrid man who insulted people freely. Because we were in some class together he treated me with great respect. Or so I thought. He was a Sig Alph, as was the beautiful Indian. I told George of my predicament and he arranged a date. To make it easier, he said, for the Indian was shy, he would go with us to a movie, then drive us back to my place and leave us. Thus it was, and we bade George goodby and sat in the swing--but only briefly. Still without a word, the man with the white eyelashes grabbed me in a way that meant business. Gasping for breath, I finally extricated myself enough to say I had hoped to talk to him--and I stalked into the house.
In my room, I first gave way to venomous thoughts. Hadn't I seen a sinister gleam in that eye beneath the white lashes? But after a bit my always too-late common sense took over. Why had I been fool enough to depend on George Berry? Doubtless it was his idea of sport with me to fill the lad with tales of my great passion for him. I could just hear him propounding the best techniques to use to satisfy this usually aloof young woman the Indian had inspired.
Of course this incident ended the eye flirtation in the history class. Never again did he even look at me. How simple it would have been, had I not been brought up never to make "advances" to a male, to write him a note saying I'd once visited Tahlequah, rather than depend on the vagaries of George Berry. As it was, it was my farewell to Tahlequah, beautiful sounding name. It had acted as a diversion, too, to my grieving over both Paul and Brady.
By remaining for spring term I had missed spring in the Ozarks. The dogwood and the wild cherry on the hillsides surrounding Fort Smith were gone, the silver moon rose on our back fence was petering out, the Japonica had bloomed its last. It was hot, and year in, year out, Fort Smith matched Yuma, Arizona, as the hottest town in the country. It was a dry heat, as I recall, otherwise unbearable.
I was in a sad mood. Caroline, my stepmother, sensed it and I tried to talk to her about Paul but found I could not tell her how I had messed things up. Had I been able to it might have saved me untold hours of grief, for she was a woman with insight, with a fund of common sense in crises that did not concern her directly, however impossible she could be in other areas. She loved me as much as she could love any other female. She was primarily a man's woman.
It is true that six months before I was to graduate she wrote me in terms of dire poverty so alarming that I wrote Father I was quitting Missouri. He wrote back I was doing no such thing and what made me arrive at such a conclusion? Actually she had written that they were so broke she hadn't the money to buy the baby- Cliff, our adored Kiki--shoes. I did not mention this to Father but simply said I'd rather not be a financial burden any longer. He wrote back to pay no attention to Caroline, that she had just wanted to get the upstairs redecorated before Mary Breckenridge came to visit. A complex woman, she still would have rallied had I been able to tell her about Paul.
When I finally did see Brady, although I had sworn to myself that I would not, I wound up telling him I also loved Paul Garrison. I remember being struck with how desirable Brady seemed, even as he was withering in his sarcasm. "I gave you a month. It probably didn't take that long, did it?" I couldn't say a word, and was silent, feeling small and sad.
A few days later I saw Brady with Dorothy Harris, my former roommate, at a dance at the Country Club. So she'd won him. I wished I could sneak away. But I was all smiles, and this time, unlike that dance Brady took me to when I was 16, men did cut in on me. Word must have got around that I was popular at the University of Missouri, a thing I'd never been in Fort Smith. In the women's room I ran into Dorothy. I'd not seen her since her father's death and put my arms around her, feeling something of a hypocrite. She was effusive--letting me know that "Brady is still yours" as she was "just a passing fancy." I said it was mighty nice of her to tell me and we glared at each other grimly and returned to the ballroom arm in arm.
College experiences continued - First sexual experience - A summer with her sister Katherine in Saskatchewan
For years I loved Paul and Brady equally and with equal futility. Back in Columbia the next fall I finally got up the nerve to write Paul and say I wanted to see him. To have the chapter in the Pi Phi house reserved you had to be an old graduate or have a visit from a long absent parent. But some of the sisters were tired of seeing me always in the doldrums. They did not know why but knew I was no longer seeing Paul. I don't remember how it was arranged, probably through my house mother Mary Banks, but one afternoon at the appointed hour Paul and I sat on the sofa in the chapter room with doors closed. He looked acutely uncomfortable.
I told him I could accept anything if I knew it were true. I asked him to say so if it were all over and he no longer loved me. Paul got that stubborn look on his face and said nothing. So I asked him to repeat after me my words and, not looking at him, I said, "You're to say "I do not love you.'" Reluctantly and slowly, he did. Then I flew out the door, and upstairs ran to my room on the third floor, and he was left to make his way out as best he could. I wept and wept. I was tragedy Jane all right. I suppose I had felt sure that he would refuse and then I would find myself in his arms. No such luck. I wanted to die.
Fortunately I had a number of beaus who were also good friends, and they helped, especially Dick Chomeau, from St. Louis, who lived next door in the Phi Psi house. Dick told me the house was divided about me, half of them hating my guts and half liking me a lot. Why? I asked. What had I done to make anyone hate me?
Dick liked to laugh at me but never kidded me. He was older than most of the men there. I could pour my heart out to him as he never gave me any false steers. So I told him about my farewell session with Paul. It was a day in late fall and we took a long walk that led past the Phi Psi house and into something almost like country, and were sitting on a big stump and admiring the colors of late October in Missouri. "You were as subtle as a meat-axe with Paul." he said in his half amused, half indulgent way. "You're always too outspoken, you know. Aren't there any halftones with you?"
"Is there any single thing good about me? Tell me one."
"Yes, you're very good to kiss," he said, illustrating.
It was a story with us. I always felt that I could let him kiss me, and enjoy it, that he'd not "go too far."
"That's one trouble, you're still a virgin." he chided.
I protested. "It's really very hard losing your virginity. At home it's impossible, because I'm a nice girl, you see--and my father is a powerful figure."
"It's the same thing. You know you yourself wouldn't if you could, and knowing that, I trust you. But with us it's something else too. You and I are honest with each other--too honest to have love enter in. Or else I'm all muddled today."
"No, I think that's about it. But I just may some day fool you."
We both laughed and had a farewell smooch and set off for our walk back. Although I remained friends with Dick, I never knew what became of him and at times wondered, hoping he was not too bad off.
After Dr. Sabin left the university, as so many did when they were offered more pay elsewhere, I went from course to course in philosophy--which I needed like a hole in the head for a Bachelor of Journalism--hoping to find someone like him. I never did. The third one I tried was almost his exact opposite. It was an enormous class and instead of wanting queries as Sabin had, he strenuously objected to them. Once he even sent me out of the room, like a child. He was orderly, exact, we must cover a certain amount of text each day. But he was the fairest man imaginable. He had to be to give me an E (for excellence; it was not mandatory, as a proportion of s's were, for "superior"). George Berry was the only other one in the class to make E. I was wild to take French Thought in the Eighteenth Century, which he taught. He had told me I couldn't. I left his office and ran into George, who was headed that way. I told him I'd just been refused. Later I saw George; he had been accepted, and had asked why Gardner was not welcome in the class. He said, "That girl's personality drives me wild. I wouldn't have her in another course if I had to leave the university for refusing her."
That first spring term I had had a course in Johnson and His Time from Dr. Harry M. Belden. The first day I decided it would be worth while so long as I could sit where I could see the profile of Jack Waters wearing an open collared white shirt like Lord Byron's and being far handsomer. Then I forgot to watch Jack Waters I was so taken up with listening to Dr. Belden. A little brown berry of a man with twinkling eyes, he had the most resonant, thrilling voice I'd ever heard. So in my last year I applied to take his course called Versification so I could hear him read poetry. He looked over my credits and said, "Why, Miss Gardner, you've never had English Life and Lit. You mean to finish in June? How can you have gone this far without English Life and Lit?" I offered no excuse, only looked at him in despair. He decided: "Oh, well, if you've gone this far without it you might as well graduate without it." Nothing was a fixed rule with Dr. Belden.
Dr. Belden was a most important influence on me, extending not only through college but for years to come--until his death really. I have a number of cherished letters from him. For years, at every important juncture of my life I wrote to him, beginning with the summer after my graduation.
In my third and final year at Missouri many things happened. My chief beau at the time was Al Bunting, from Kansas City. There was little danger of my taking him seriously. He often expatiated on the life he meant to live. "I'll make money, being a Bunting; I'll marry a woman who will give me good healthy children. And for love I'll have a mistress." Al was always on the point of flunking out, but it didn't bother him.
The most exciting thing that happened to me that last year was that I was adopted by a small group of talented students, all non-fraternity--the intelligentsia of Columbia. Sara Saper, whom I knew in Journalism school, was responsible. Some were poets, as she was and as Joe Berger was. Others were unclassified; all were very smart. I felt rather like an imposter. There was no fixed time for meeting, it was all informal. Some, like Eleanor, came and went as they pleased. Sara, Libbie and Dorothy occupied rooms above the main floor, once a sort of theater, where we met. It was a building Gladys Wheat had had built in her mother's back yard. As it was once used for plays or art exhibitions and the culture Gladys Wheat represented at an earlier time, it doubtless had a name, but we knew it only as "The Studio." The room where we met contained a fireplace that worked and was a beautiful room. Mrs. Wheat was offered all sorts of payment but refused to consider any roomers save Sara and her friends. She knew her friends would not start a fire or engage in drinking parties.
There were ardent disputes, all literary as I recall. They were serious people, and critical--but not too serious. Once we had Dr. Belden as a guest and Libbie baked a chicken and a chocolate cake and we served him tea. We considered ourselves rebels, but what we were rebelling against is terribly vague. Missouri was an insular college: Columbia was a little backwater town untroubled by the Sacco-Vanzetti case which rocked Eastern campuses.
In that group I made lasting friends. Sara Saper Gauldin and I have written each other for the last fifty-seven years, and when I lived in California, we saw each other from time to time. We have often talked about our days in The Studio, and remember not one time when we spoke of the battle to reverse the conviction of two innocent men that raged throughout the years following their verdict in 1921. The years at Columbia, Sara and I agreed, floated by us. We were called radicals but so far as we can recall we never talked about the two men whose names are known throughout the world. Even so, it was high excitement for me when Sara or Joe Berger or Jimmie Reese read aloud one of their poems.
In that year, one night when I was spending the night with the Rogers sisters--not among my newfound friends--in their big house on the edge of town, we had the macabre experience of hearing strange cries in the night. They seemed to come from the direction of the bridge past the Rogers house. We were awakened and stood by the windows listening, for a time. The next day we learned that a black man had been hanged, accused of rape but never tried. The shocking thing was that in the mob were some students. Francis Misselwitz, a Journalism School student and correspondent for a Kansas City newspaper, broke the story indicting the students but not by name. If any investigation was ever made as to the presence of the students, it was not out in the open. We spoke of this event in hushed tones, and it remains a horrible shadow faulting the sunlight of the University of Missouri.
Before the end of the school year, I finally achieved the status of being no longer a virgin. Sara and I talked about it afterward. "What's supposed to be so great about it?" She said she didn't know and we cried together. I told her, "I keep trying to see something beautiful in it but I'll be damned if I can." She said, "Never mind, you don't have to." I think she cried harder than I, but I knew it was for the man she had been in love with for years, a poet whom I did not know. All I remember is being pushed to the wet sidewalk in the side yard of the little house where Frankie and I lived, and the blood--and this boy Bill saying he was going to the drug store and would be back. After I'd gone upstairs and was frantically trying to get myself clean I heard the bell and went down. He handed me Kotex and something else--whatever it was, I applied it as if it would stave off pregnancy. I told Sara I thought he was the most callow, pretentious man I'd ever met, superficial, silly, with his phony British accent. What had I fallen for, his yellow hair?
Father sent me a roundtrip excursion ticket to Banff and Lake Louise. I was not to go to the famous destination, as that would cost money, but to change at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where I got a train to Hawarden. Father said I was to help Katharine for the summer, returning by the expiration date of the ticket. Katharine in the first three years of her marriage had had three children, all girls, and three miscarriages. She had married Joseph Carson, a Mississippian who had graduated from the University of Wisconsin's agricultural college and invested his inheritance in a wheat ranch five miles from Hawarden in order to escape the draft for World War I. Anyone growing wheat was deemed to be aiding "the war effort" and properly patriotic, too.
I immediately relieved Katharine of all the chores she had had to do alone up to then. She had even been climbing up a ladder in the barn to throw down fodder for the cows. I also took over all the washing, of diapers and everything else--and in addition pumped troughfuls of water a day for the cattle, a thing she had not had to do. She liked to cook, and was a wonderful cook.
I was as strong as a young Arkansas mule and didn't mind the work. But those first weeks were an agony to me. Would I menstruate? The time came and went by. I did not dare tell her. Secretly I tried to plan; I thought of all sorts of wild schemes for getting away if I was pregnant. In the midst of my worries came a letter from Bill, this awful man--the only man I was ever ashamed of having cared for however briefly--assuring me of his undying love and letting me know he would think of me by land or sea--he was joining the merchant marine. My period came about two weeks late. I began writing a story. The setting was Saskatchewan and it revolved around a male chauvinist although I'd never heard of the term.
After a hard day's work outside the house and within, leaving it spotless, at night I wrote on my sister's old typewriter, then took a turn up and down the road to look at the sky. The nights were mysterious and beautiful, the Milky Way stunning in its brilliance. Everything was sky. The earth below was completely flat, barren of trees or even shrubs, little houses all but invisible so far apart were they, the whole presenting a spectacle of man's fragility compared to the sky, alight and powerful.
That summer was one long drought. My brother-in-law's black mood was understandable, since there would be virtually no crop. At lunch he would sit and stuff mashed potatoes in his mouth listlessly. If he spoke it was a sour remark. Katharine would have made some delicacy for dessert, but he stuffed that in, too, without comment. I could not stand her docility. She, the proud one!
It worried me that the children were so good. For nothing at all Joe would make Katie leave the table and stand behind her chair with her back to us. I smoldered and my appetite left me. I shared the room with little Foncie, and she never uttered a sound until I awoke. Katharine let me sleep until eight o'clock, and I always felt guilty when I saw Foncie was awake, smiling radiantly, her arms outstretched as she saw me come toward her.
Joe had no love for me, but I was a good worker. At his suggestion I began on his potato pit, a revolting task requiring countless hours. Daily because of the nauseous smell I had to remove the khaki pants, shirt and high boots I wore, leaving them in the back yard when Katharine brought out clean things. The long pale stems sprouting from the rotten potatoes bore little potatoes, and Joe took them to the county fair and won a prize for growing the earliest crop.
Day after day the sun was hot, the sky cloudless. Joe's face was a revelation in despair. His conversation at dinner was apt to take on a jeering attitude toward me. What did I intend to do in September (when the return ticket would expire)? I said cheerfully, "I'll go to St. Louis and live with Gertrude and get a job." What made me think I could? Did I really think that little piece of paper--my degree in journalism--would open doors? It became a favorite theme. "You'll find pretty quick that you can't make a living. Any more than Katharine could. Why, if something happened to me, what could Katharine find to do? Not a single thing."
Katharine soothed him. "That's right. I'd be lost without you."
One night I flared up. "What do you know about it?" I told Joe when he became obnoxious. "Times have changed. You speak as if the only chance a woman has to survive is to marry. Look at Aunt Bess and Aunt Ta, both of whom are married but had important careers!"
The next day Katharine took me aside and said she could not have me arguing with her husband in front of the children. But she stopped short of asking me to leave. Knowing how frail she was, I buttoned my big mouth. The Sunday came when we set out for the Porters' farm ten miles distant. They were English people; he had emigrated to Canada to escape the draft in the Boer War. A long avenue of trees led to their roomy attractive house. All was green and lovely. The little girls were in ecstasy. The Porter children, older, took charge of them. Puppies and kittens to play with, a sandbox for little Foncie, a swing for Katie. I wandered about wonderingly, looking at flowers and grass.
Returning to the house, I overheard snatches of talk between Mrs. Porter and Katharine. They were talking of books! How long had it been, I thought, since Katharine had found anyone with whom she could discuss books. Yet this sister of mine after exhausting the fiction in the Fort Smith Public Library came home with Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis and delved into it--at a time when Katharine was in high school. She was a product of Fort Smith, though; smart girls were not popular. When she was named valedictorian, the weeping and wailing that went on in our house was unsurpassed. She would refuse to take part in the graduation. A rip-roaring scene. Only when Father said she could not go to the University of Kansas in that case did she calm down.
We started home from the Porters' place in Joe's ancient car and it chugged along until we got about a mile from the Carson farm, when the engine died. We had to walk. Ginny, the baby, had to be carried, and I think was in Joe's arms. The time came when Pang, as little Florence called herself, could walk no farther. Katharine wanted to take her and I said, "Absolutely no, it would be bad for your heart." Joe snorted: "Nothing at all the matter with Katharine. It's that stupid doctor you all had at Fort Smith --" I didn't argue but took Pang myself. It was when, farther on, that Katie, such a good, willing, cooperative child, not quite four now, said she had to take a pebble out of her shoe--and Joe snapped at her, that I boiled over. To scold the children at such a time when they were trying so hard was outrageous, I said.
The next morning Katharine took me into another room. The girls were busy with crayons and Ginny was in her playpen. "I've told you before that I could not have you arguing with Joe in front of the children. Your raising a scene last night was the last straw. I'm afraid you'll have to go."
I began packing, asking her to phone as to a train. I was all packed and waiting in my room when she came in after lunch, which I'd skipped. Obviously Joe had put his foot down on losing the good worker. She had to eat her words. She did it awkwardly, with little pretense of graciousness. It was more painful than if she had yelled and screamed at me. But that was the trouble in our family: we were brought up to be ladies.
So I stayed out my time at the farm in Saskatchewan. Possibly all my letters to Aunt Bess, then women's page editor on the Milwaukee Journal (where Uncle Dudley was Sunday editor), would result in the Carsons' hastening their departure from Saskatchewan for the States. Eventually they did come to Milwaukee, Joe leaving the farm with regret, Katharine with joy.
First newspaper jobs - Romance with Andy Anderson
In St. Louis it began to look as if Joe Carson had been right and that I'd never get a job. I tried department store advertising, with no takers. At the Star I was told I could work as a reporter but without pay. I had fallen for a similar proposition given me by some woman who ran an advertising agency, and put in two weeks without pay and without any promise of it. I balked at the Star's offer: "Thanks but I can't afford it."
After the advertising woman had "employed" me I had written home that I had a job. Then Father came to St. Louis on business. He had been offered a vice presidency in a bank there. He took me and Trudy for a splashy meal and ordered for us-a steak dinner we devoured. He told us he was declining the vice presidency the St. Louis bank offered. "I'd rather be a big frog in a little pool than a little frog in a lake." He urged me to go home with him. He had guessed that the advertising job was payless, and I confessed. He'd sent me checks but I'd sent them back, determined to make it on my own. I was living with Trudy in a room near Barnes Hospital. We kept milk on the window sill and she brought me sandwiches in her nurse's uniform pocket when she could. I also earned $10 a week by working for Aunt Ta at the Dodson School of Private Tutoring, doing odd jobs.
Not long after that visit with Father, I had a wire from Mary Banks, my sorority mother, from Pawhuska, Oklahoma. "If you can stand working from 1 P.M. to 1 A.M., society and personals, this job is yours. It pays $30 but is an oil town, prices high." Father lent me the money for my fare, with ample to live on until pay day; he did not consider it a loan, but I did.
Pawhuksa was the capital of the Osage nation, and an oil town. Oil had been struck on the land of the Indians and many were immensely wealthy; the town abounded in crooked lawyers who fattened off the Indians' wealth. But working 12 hours a day, six days a week, left me little time to explore. I hated Mr. Gay, the editor of the Pawhuska Daily Journal, but Mr. Marple, the city editor, was another story. A big, silent man, bald, he had endured his impossible job for years, writing everything in the paper except the canned stuff, the editorials and what I wrote; he lasted by agreeing with Mr. Gay and then ignoring his unreasonable orders, by being a diplomat with the printers and cultivating all important news sources without ever promising anything or ever misquoting them by a single word. I grew very fond of him.
I turned in up to five columns of copy a day, up to three of personals and from one to two of society; Mary Banks had made the rounds of her sources and introduced me. Before we entered the Citizens' National Bank she said, "Now I'll introduce you to the officers, and to Andy Anderson, a teller. Andy's just the cutest man in town. Dry; modest, too, but he's been around." She also introduced me to Texas Tate, the cop who walked her home each night. It was a rough town, and not deemed safe for unaccompanied women walking home at 1 A.M. She warned me, though, that Texas could be an awful bore.
But Texas obviously considered himself irresistible to women, and when he told me, on the way to the home of Mrs. Rippley where I roomed, "You and me was made for each other," he meant it as a compliment.
I really could manage Texas Tate. But it made a good story, and who to tell it to but Andy Anderson? I had great respect for Mary's judgement--of people and things in general. Andy had the perfect solution. It wouldn't do to offend Texas. Andy lived two blocks away from Mrs. Rippley in a cottage shared by four, and he and one or more of his roommates played cards most nights until 1 A.M. They could come by and pick me up--a perfect excuse to get rid of Texas.
The little white house surrounded by a big yard where Andy lived harbored, with one exception, a most attractive group. I met eventually the one occupant who was, to me at least, uncongenial, Frank Monk, who prided himself on being an intellectual. Rather impulsive, his claim was that he possessed such devastating charm for women that he was paid a considerable ransom to stay out of Baltimore by the husband of a woman who had been his paramour.
The other three did not take him seriously, but tolerated him, I suppose because he liked to cook. The others were Andy, Dr. Witcher, a handsome and pleasant person, and Henry Duncan, a lawyer and friend of the Indians and, I came to believe, the only one of 79 lawyers in the town who did not exploit the Indians shamelessly. In time I became friends with Mrs. Coffey, an Indian woman whose son I knew in the School of Journalism. Not one of the wealthy Indians, she seemed to support Henry's judgement of the town's legal profession.
It was around Christmas time that I heard about Dud Jarrett's suicide. It was shocking and depressing to me, and taking advantage of the three days off I had over the holiday, I went home to try to get my bearings. I had a need of seeing familiar people and places.
While I was home that time I saw Brady. In my mind it was always connected with being in his 1921 Chalmers car (it was now January 1925) and stopping on our way down a mountain, I had not seen him in a long time. Away from him, I never knew how I stood with him.
But, as it always was, when I was with him I was profoundly convinced it was I whom he loved. It all happened in a minute, for it was dangerous to park a car on the side of a hill. He drew me to him and kissed me, and so far as I was concerned, I knew no one else ever could take his place. In my unerring way of doing the wrong thing, I felt compelled then and there to tell him I was no longer a virgin. I think I said I had "given myself" to another. A euphemism in this case, as actually I never had. The poverty of that brief experience lying on the damp sidewalk, or the equal bleakness of its only sequel, when I visited him in Kansas City, and after a few minutes' impersonal intimacy he wrapped me in a not too clean bathrobe--I did not tell. Or the fact that I now thought of him as a braggart and a pretentious bore.
No, I just let fall the admission. Brady cried and said I was good and could do nothing bad. While I remained dry eyed and stony, stuck with my betrayal as I saw it. Then he shifted gears and we went silently on our way. I loved him more than ever but felt that I had lost him. I probably had, but not because of my blunt recital.
Once at home and in bed, the tears came. Why did I have to tell him? I did not know. But I knew I'd do it over again. My damned honesty; how could I be otherwise with Brady, though?
Back in Pawhuska, I began working on some short stories after my 12-hour day and my journey home accompanied by Andy and, at times, Henry, too. Mr. Marple occasionally gave me a feature story to do. There was excitement over a big fire in an oil well near Pawhuska, and I went there by bus. A man was tried for murder in Pawhuska and I went to his trial one day and interviewed him in jail, too. Otherwise it was just personals and society items, the latter obtained by phone. I skimped the society; my long suit was personals.
I was getting interested in Andy. On my day off we went on drives with Don, an officer in his bank, and his wife. They had a Victrola; "Rhapsody in Blue" was new and they had a record, and I could not hear it often enough. Paul Whiteman's band was playing. With Andy and Don and Marie I learned to drink. Don stopped the car on some out-of-the-way stretch of road, and he and Andy got out their flasks. They also had one of plain water. Andy told me to take a sip of the water, and before swallowing it, a sip of the corn whiskey. I did, and felt it scalding my insides. I sputtered. Andy said: "It takes a little while. Everyone does that at first." In school I had had only a few cigarettes in all, but in Canada I smoked, as did Katherine. It was the only diversion I had, and I got used to inhaling. The cigarettes there were strong, like the tea. It was the high point of the day for both of us when Katherine and I allowed ourselves in the late afternoon to have a cigarette. I never got used to more than a couple of thimblefuls of corn whiskey, though.
Came the weekend when Don and his wife drove us to Tulsa to see what in Fort Smith we called a "road show." It was a musical comedy, Irene. No match for Gershwin.
I had a hard time spending my $30 a week. I saved enough to buy Father a beautiful sweater, knickers and a set of golf clubs. I had returned the $100 I'd borrowed to get to Pawhuska and he had sent it back. I longed to see him playing golf again. He wrote me:
The letter reminds me that I sent the golf knickers and sweater after the golf clubs. Another letter from Father sent to me in St. Louis that year answered my plea that he go back to playing golf in this way: "I don't see how I can start golf now, Ginia dear, although I would really like to do it. I paid out last month about $575 and my bills the first of this month amounted to about $375, so I can't spare the money to buy the golf equipment until spring." But when he died in May 1927 the golf things were unused.
At times I began to think that Andy was interested in anything but making love. I needn't have worried. After he kissed me for the first time he held me at arm's length and gave me a quizzical look. He asked: "Were you putting that on?"
"I don't know. I didn't know I was."
After he'd gone I became rather angry. I could only assume that he thought I was pretending to be more passionate than I was. All right, I decided, he'll wait a long while before he again catches me off guard. Or was there some truth in what he said? Never mind, I too can be cool and sophisticated when I like, I told myself.
One Sunday we had dinner at Don and Marie's house. Andy picked me up in his old car as it was too far to walk easily. We danced to records and I just sat drinking in the Paul Whiteman record. Instead of driving home when we left them Andy drove outside of Pawhuska a little way and parked. It was a pretty night but I began to chatter at a great rate. When I stopped for breath and he drew me to him I was deliberately wooden. I thought of Dud Jarrett's "Bah, you are passive!" Andy said: "Well, well, not in the mood?"
"At least I'm not putting this on."
"All right. Let's agree that was stupid on my part, and I just got my comeuppance. Quite right. But why should it upset you so?" He had a way of asking me questions that were down to earth.
"I don't know. It just made me self-conscious."
"Is there anyone else you're in love with?"
"Yes there is, Brady. I've been in love with him on and off for years, but it's hopeless; I'm trying to put it all out of my head."
"So that's it. And the other night you were thinking it was Brady you were kissing?"
"Not at all." Then I added: "What about you?"
"No hangovers here. I surprise myself a little. Forgotten how it could be."
When he tried again my barriers melted--not altogether, but enough. Afterward, I said: "I think you're genuine."
"Good. So I've passed the test in that regard. But you're perfectly right, to keep on weighing me. I don't want to parade under any false colors. I've led less than a saintly life."
"I know, I never thought you had." Then I explained: Mary Banks had bestowed the accolade on him, and Mary was a sophisticated lady--and one of the best.
Unruffled, he said he'd not known he had something to live up to, then kissed me lightly, smoothed my hair and started the car. It was 11 P.M. when we got to my place, and after I'd told him goodnight, I found Doris Rippey still up, sewing. I had the feeling her life with the dentist husband was a lovely one. She made hot chocolate and we talked--about men and women, of course. She asked how old I was. Twenty. It was then early in 1925. She said: "You look different tonight. Are you feeling happy?"
"I'm trying not to fall in love. Seems I'm always in love and that it always ends unhappily."
"Don't marry too young." She listened as I told her about my sister, who had married the only man she ever loved, was living a miserable life and still was almost worshipful of him. She said maybe she had a good sex life.
I replied: "Yes, I'm sure she does. But I could never look up to a man as she does. My father, yes, but not my husband."
The day came when Mr. Gay said he wanted to talk to me. He said it was true I got more personals than anyone he'd ever had, but went on: "Little girl, it's easy to fall, but hard to rise again."
He said he had heard about me, smoking cigarettes in the Chinese restaurant next door. "So I'm giving you your walking papers. I can't abide such goings-on."
"But if it's after office hours and my work done, what does it matter to you?"
"You"ll see. I've put an ad in Editor & Publisher and I'm giving you two weeks' notice."
"Okay," I said. "That's that."
Going my rounds to get personals, I thought it great fun to say to my sources that I wouldn't be there long. "Mr Gay thinks I'm a scarlet woman and is replacing me."
Before the week was out, to my surprise a delegation of three businessmen, including two professionals, went to Mr. Gay to protest. Oh, he told them, I was a good worker, "But I won't stand for any loose behavior."
They made strong protests. One of the delegation was Dr. Witcher; another was Henry Duncan the lawyer. The third was unknown to me. Henry, I heard, spoke in rounded sentences of the high respect in which I was held by the community, and the gross impudence of Mr. Gay's letting himself be influenced by the tattle of someone, probably a printer, who had a grudge against me. Mr. Gay promised to think it over.
Before my supposedly last week was over, Mr. Gay said to me: "I've decided to give you one more chance. If you improve, cut out your flamboyant ways, I'll let you stay on--on trial, so to speak."
But by then I had a job on the Ponca City, Oklahoma paper. Dr. Witcher knew the society editor there, who was quitting to get married. Mr. Clyde Muchmore, the editor, had told me to report to work when my time was up. It was a bigger town, and more of an oil center; my pay would be the same, $35 a week. By the time I left Pawhuska Andy and I were engaged. On my suggestion we would tell no one until I told my family. An exception was Mr. Marple. I was sorry to leave him. I knew something of his story by now, both from my friend Mrs. Coffey and from Mr. Marple himself. His wife had gone off, taking with her their only child, whom he adored. He kept up his payments to her and kept on hoping she would return with the child. Finally she quit writing and he presumed the child was lost to him.
My job in Ponca City had a few advantages over the Pawhuska job. For one thing, there was a toilet for women. In Pawhuska I would use a bathroom in a department store just before I had to return to the Journal to begin writing. A few times I had to take a taxi home around 7 P.M. and walk back. The new job bored me, however. I had enjoyed getting the personals; none was required here, and there were no feature stories assigned. Society news left me cold and a higher standard of society news than I was used to was a precedent here. I had felt I was learning under Mr. Marple; not so here.
Nor was that all. I had answered an ad for a room, took it although I loathed the house, because I had little time to look for a more desirable place. Andy drove over with some of my things, accompanied by Frank Monk as he had to drive back that night and was afraid of falling asleep if alone. Frank looked at the house and pronounced it "a brick abortion with a stucco afterbirth."
The married couple I rented from were completely obnoxious, moreover. Their togetherness was repulsive. Triumphantly each reported bowel movements to the other. When he called her from his office, I told Andy and Frank, I heard her exclaim, "That's just wonderful; and was it a big one?" Frank said, "Perhaps it was an oil well that came in."
On most weekends Andy drove over from Pawhuska. He was unfailingly even tempered, and he was exciting. But however much I looked forward to seeing him, on his arrival I began to break out in hives. He said they were his barometer of my affections. Secretly I wondered if they meant that I did not want to be married. One night when we were at a dance given by a friend of Dr. Witcher's, they were so severe that I went to a bathroom, stripped and clawed myself. Andy decided I should go to a doctor at once. I did, and was given a shot of adrenalin that stopped the rash.
Then I developed a pain in my side. Consulting the same clinic, said to be the best doctors in town, I was told I had appendicitis. A date was set for the removal of my appendix, and I told my editor, and it occurred to me I should wire home. Andy was with me when I received a wire from Father that he was on his way to Ponca City. He arrived late, with his brother-in-law, a physician, in tow, and Gertrude, who had happened to be home on a visit, with her nurse's uniforms, ready for anything.
I introduced Andy. Father was a bit surprised that I should be entertaining a date. Will punched me here and there. "It's not appendicitis. What kind of doctors do you have here? I can't say for sure what it is--perhaps an ovarian cyst, or t.b. of the uterus. But I know it is not appendicitis."
"Then we're taking you home with us, " Father said.
"But what about my job?"
"You can tell your editor in the morning. We'll wait for you. But you're going with us, young lady."
"Father, I didn't write about it but was going to. Andy and I are engaged."
He shot Andy a look, but not one of actual disapproval. Andy was poised. He looked Father in the eye unfalteringly, and after Will Klingensmith and Father left us to find a hotel room in which to get some sleep, Gertrude tactfully left us alone for a few minutes. She was to stay with me and we'd talk later.
It was a rushed farewell. He would come over to visit me as soon as I was well enough. "Your father is right, you can get a correct diagnosis at home. I'll write, and you must, too, and give me your phone number there."
He kissed me and held me as well as he could. It was not easy for me to stand more than a minute or so. I said: "It's not the end of the world or anything. But it seems all wrong to me." I had a sinking, awful feeling of some doom hovering over us.
Andy soothed me. "You're just tired and nervous, understandably. Remember to tell me when you set a date. You know I don't want it prolonged, but your health comes first."
"Andy, Andy." I could do no more than repeat his name. Then he was off, waving from the doorway. He was starting back to Pawhuska that night. That worried me, too, his driving alone so late, and so tired. I felt morbid about everything. Trudy tried to calm me, too, and after the briefest kind of quizzing in regard to Andy, said I must sleep now.
It was a long, hard ride back to Fort Smith. The old Hudson took it well, but I worried about Father, always overworked and frail, and now this to tax him.
At home, Dr. Cooper sustained Will's judgment. There need be no operation for the present; possibly not ever. I limped about, bending forward slightly.
End of romance with Anderson - Reporter for the Kansas City Journal Post
It was hot when Andy made his first trip to Fort Smith. Not the blazing heat of mid-summer, when crossing Garrison Avenue was perilous, the bricks slipping on the asphalt beneath them, but hot enough just the same. It was the time of year when crape myrtle spread its magenta blooms in every dooryard in Fort Smith, or so it seemed. Andy brought Frank Monk along to keep him awake as he drove. Gertrude was still home, with the job facing her of fending off the amorous Frank--but she was smart enough to enlist Katherine Miller of Van Buren to make it a threesome. We gave the men the downstairs bedroom. The rest of us, including Father and Caroline and the children Jane and John, were using the upstairs sleeping porch, for the upstairs bedrooms already were too hot for comfort.
After our guests had washed up and changed clothes we all sat on the front porch awaiting Frances's call for dinner. Monk spoke at length on the newest book he'd read. Caroline turned to Andy and asked, "What have you read lately, Mr. Anderson?"
Andy replied evenly, "I don't read books, Mrs. Gardner." He did read, actually, but he was not going to get into competition with Frank Monk. I could see that both Caroline and Father liked him for that. Caroline smiled at him with sudden warmth, and Father observed it was getting pretty late for dinner--which for him was being loquacious. Then Frances appeared in the doorway and called us in. She had outdone herself.
I had shined the silver and put flowers on the table, and candles, which I lighted, but Father turned on the electricity and began to carve. Andy was seated between John and Jane, as each had demanded to sit next to "Bibby's beau." The etiology of the name Bibby was as follows: Gertrude used to call me V-Dippy, as I remember after a baby elephant in a visiting circus; as Jane couldn't pronounce "Dippy" it became "Bibby."
After everyone else retired, and the folding doors to the downstairs bedroom were carefully shut on Frank Monk, Andy and I lay on the sofa in the north living room and I realized for the first time what love-making could be with a man mature enough and experienced enough to value the pleasure he could give a woman. Nor did I have any tremors that Father might come downstairs. Whatever happened, Andy would be equal to it. He had put his penis inside me "just to see if we fit, and we do." But to prepare me he had aroused me with his fingers as no one ever had, so I was in a transport, and thought that was everything, until he said: "And this is just an infinitesimal part of what it will be all through your body when we have the real thing."
Only later did I realize that neither then nor at any earlier time had I had any trepidation over how Andy would react on discovering that my hymen was no longer intact. I would be twenty-one shortly and I was certain that he would think that a woman at that age was entitled to have lost her virginity.
Later I lay awake in my corner of the sleeping porch and felt content. But I know full well, and for all I know the smart Andy also suspected, the reason I had broken out in hives in Ponca City. It was related to that terrible sinking feeling I had had when Father told me he was taking me home with him. Things were all right so far--but I had not seen Brady. I was walking on egg-shells.
Before going away Andy told Father: "I expect to return soon and you'll have some questions to ask me. I'll be ready for them." He could see how Father and Caroline had warmed to him. Frank, a showoff, they could not abide. He was a good foil for Andy, who in his unpretentiousness revealed a strength. On his return to Pawhuska he wrote, on bank stationery, in his neat hand; among other things: "I could see that you'd lost weight. I have a proposal. If you'll put on ten pounds I'll lose ten." It was more heroic than if he'd offered to fight 10 duels.
Even as I wrote him that I'd try, but let's make it eight, a less formidable number, I was assailed by fear. Andy could handle anything, but could I?
I couldn't do the walking around necessary for reporting, but I started doing some work for the newspaper at home, just copyreading time copy for the Sunday paper for $20 a week. One day I ran into Brady on Garrison Avenue as I was homeward bound. He asked if he could take me home. It was nothing, just a short ride, almost nothing said between us.
Nothing had changed really. By that I mean there was no altering of the relation between me and Brady; it was all over. Nor did I want to linger on in Fort Smith and wage a wordless struggle with Dorothy over Brady. I just wanted to get away. But I no longer wanted to marry Andy.
In my usual way, I wrote telling him everything. Not that there was much to tell. I said I'd seen Brady. That there was nothing between us any longer, but I just felt I couldn't marry. I was going to leave Fort Smith, go to Kansas City and look for a job. I knew that he, Andy, loved me and that I loved him and that he was the man I should marry. But I couldn't. I wrote longer versions, but this in the end is all I said. I didn't apologize, I didn't add that as I wrote I was shedding tears all over the place.
If I as the tragedy queen envisioned Andy's brushing aside my objections, overriding me and carrying me off, after which I would find myself grateful, Andy was not about to plead with me or remonstrate in any way. He wrote a little note saying that he'd like to drive me to Kansas City. No reproaches. He had the time coming to him, and might as well ask for it then--or whenever I would say.
My family greeted my news less than jubilantly. Father asked what the problems were and I replied there were no problems. "Leave it to you, Ginia," he said. "If there aren't any troubles you'll manufacture them." My father was pretty shrewd.
Caroline waited until Father was watering the back yard, then, joining me on the front porch, said: "There's a man, Bibby, who loves you more than Brady ever did, and you're throwing him over."
Andy arrived, and seeing him so slender, and in a new suit, was a jolt at first. His wedding suit, I thought, and winced, for I had not even bought a new hat. We set out the next day. I'd written Frankie that I'd like to have a room at her house if possible and could pay $20.
In Kansas City Andy took a room at the Muehlbach and seemed bent on throwing away as much of the money he had saved for our honeymoon as was possible. He treated Frankie and her friends and me to lavish dinners. The Franks had let me have a room but for several days I seemed to sleep there only a few hours. It was a round of gaiety, Andy footing the bill. My worthless cousin Phil Williams, a leech, turned up out of nowhere and added himself to the party, and after Frankie and I had gone home one night, took Andy to some dive where they got drunk and Andy was rolled for $250. I had a hunch it was with Phil's connivance.
The morning he was to leave Andy had a farewell breakfast with Frankie and others in attendance. When he went up to pack his bag I went with him. I felt funereal. It was all unreal, his actually going away, our parting for good. He kissed me and I begged him to take me. Very firmly he took my arms from around him and said: "No. It might be wonderful--and then I'd never forget it. Or it might be awful--and then think how both of us would feel. No." He took his bag--a new one, I noticed, and handsome--and walked out the door. I had no choice but to follow him.
Finding a new job was far from easy. There were only two papers, the Kansas City Journal Post and the Kansas City Star, whose morning paper was the Kansas City Times. I soon exhausted those possibilities. I learned there was a man who would put anyone on at space rates and pay when payment was received from any of a battery of trade magazines he supplied with news items. His name was Brown--I forget his first name. Sure enough, when I found his nest in some decayed walkup building, he put me on, and I shared assignments with Reed Molesworth, a debonair type and a fancy dresser. It was rough going for me. I wrote bits for an undertaker's magazine; a beautician's journal; wrote up a convention of chiropodists and a style show of corsets and women's underwear, and so on, and by the end of the first month had made $40. This would not pay room rent at the Franks'. But Gertrude had arrived, throwing up a perfectly good job in a hospital in San Francisco when she learned I was there, and though she arrived penniless, having lived on apples and Hershey bars all the way from California, she soon had a job. We shared a room at Frankie's and now I would not starve to death.
Every Saturday night Andy would telephone me. Each time I found myself crying uncontrollably, feeling unutterably sorry for him, missing him dreadfully--and then afterward I cried more.
My fits of weeping when he called grew worse. I felt like such a heel that more than once I was on the verge of saying, "Let me come back to Pawhuska and you." I might have, too, but the thought of doing something irreversible weighed on me. Then one night he said, "If it only makes you unhappy for me to call you, would you rather I didn't? If you say the word, I shan't." I said it, and inconsolable, threw myself in Trudy's arms and said I should never get over it. I think we never get over those we loved. It was certainly true regarding Andy, for I felt that I had wronged him and, needlessly, deprived myself. Andy never called again, although we wrote to each other every now and then over a number of years.
I got an announcement of his marriage, and then one of the birth of a child. After more years reports of his death reached me but they were vague, unverified. I kept hoping they were false.
Almost 20 years later, on one of my peregrinations from one coast to another, I went by Oklahoma City to see Henry Duncan. I knew he was there as he'd written asking me to help him write a book on his vast experience with the Indians, but without saying what I was to live on while doing it. I looked him up just to ask if it were true about Andy. Oh, yes, he said, Andy had been dead for years.
After a few months I got a job on the Journal-Post at $25 a week. There I worked with some of the finest people I ever knew, and I still have large stacks of letters from Malvina Lindsay and Ray Runnion written over the years. Vina was on rewrite most of the time, occasionally covering a story of something special. When Frank Harris came to town she was sent to interview him. It was after the first volume of his My Life and Loves appeared and the city editor, Paul Jones, said on her return, gloatingly, "You ought to have a juicy story for us." I don't recall what Vina wrote but remember her reply to Jones: "All he would talk about was his stomach pump."
I spent many an evening at the home of Ray Runnion, a wonderful man, and his wife Winifred, equally fine and interesting, and their little boy. After dinner we'd sit in the back yard under the trees and talk. Sara Saper was there that summer for a time and would come along. To talk of books under the trees, to hear Sara recite a poem or two from memory, and watch the fireflies seemed about as much as life could offer.
I often thought of Andy, though, and that sense of time as palpable and alien, never to be understood by me, let alone mastered, swept over me then. Through my own fault I had lost him, and now he was gone, unattainable.
Occasionally I went to the Ed Schauffler's house for an evening, too. Joe Berger was in town, too, and took me and Gertrude to plays and concerts. We had another beau in common, too, Van Cleve Stears, whom we liked a lot. Gertrude had another beau with whom she was in love. But then Father came to town and the beau, Scott Hovey, patronized him. After Father had gone, Scott laughed at his necktie. Gertrude and I both froze.
I found working for Paul Jones a torture, however much I liked the staff. I was the youngest and the newest on the paper, and although Ray, Ed, Vina, the Sunday editor, Tom Collins, all tried to tell me that he was not worth being frightened over, my whole day was spent in fear. He would begin yelling at me and I would be running as fast as I could for the city desk but he continued to yell. One day after I'd been there several months Phil Scott, a rewrite man, said to me after I returned to the local room from the washroom: "Why do you wait until the home edition is put away to go cry, Miss Gardner?" I was mortified. I had thought that the careful facewashing and addition of powder and lipstick had concealed all traces of weeping.
Occasionally the owner of the Journal Post, a Mr. Dickey, a utilities magnate who knew nothing about newspapers and had only recently acquired the old Bonfils paper, used to escort people he wanted to impress on a grand tour of the rather rickety building. We would see them on the other side of a railing that bounded the local room, and hear him say as he waved an arm at us, "And these are my clerks!" While the rest of the staff seemed suddenly frozen in immobility, the news editor would pull over a typewriter and bang out copy furiously. "What is he writing?" I asked once after the Dickey entourage was receding, for I knew that his job was to edit, not write. Vina said: "Probably a letter home. He certainly makes it look good, though."
I had a talent for getting the middle initial or even the first name wrong every time a story concerning a friend of Mr. Dickey came my way. On the other hand, if I took an item over the phone from our police beat man, I busily hunted in the city directory for the name of every prostitute or gangster mentioned.
I loved to hear tales of what it was like when Bonfils owned both the Denver Post and the Kansas City Post, especially stories about Kelley. Kelley was the crack rewrite man. For years, every time he angrily quit either the Denver or Kansas City paper, he knew he ahad a job at the other one and showed up there. At last editors of each paper received orders that at each remove of Kelley's he was to be docked $5 a week.
In Kansas City the weather story was a special feature in both newspapers. One day Kelley was tossed a weather report and told, "Make it funny." He took it, wrote a glum piece and turned it in. Came the city editor's growl: "Kelley, come get it. I said make it funny." Kelley again set to work, seeming to work punctiliously--it was close to the home edition deadline--and took his offering to the city desk. This time an angry shout came from that spot: "Do you call this funny?" Kelley's rejoinder: "It's just about as funny as $35 a week."
There were stories galore about Kelley, but I recall only one more. Kelley had been on a drunk for days when he showed up and demanded that the presses be stopped. Drunk or sober, he would know if he had a story. The order went out to stop the presses. Kelley sat down at a desk and wrote furiously. But when the office boy went to grab the copy, the page was blank. The typewriter had no ribbon in it. What his great story was never became known.
The present staff of the Journal-Post included also Ace, a very serious music critic who became in subsequent years a very funny man widely known to radio audiences. Once in a while he would have two things to cover and would let me handle one of them. As there was no regular art critic, occasionally the city desk would send me to the Art Institute to see what I could pick up in the way of a story. So, though I knew nothing about art and less than that about music, such assignments were pleasant diversions from the ordinary to me.
Although I knew him personally less well than almost anyone on the staff, I sort of adored Eddie Meisburger, the quiet, softspoken assistant city editor, whose bulldog jaw contradicted his demeanor. I never exchanged a personal word with him, but I felt his presence as eminently stable and reassuring no matter what the swirl of strident voices and general to-and-froing around the city desk.
I had written home about the tensions of working under the city editor, and my stepmother, Caroline, began writing me urgent pleas to come home. She was pregnant again, for the fourth time. She needed me. I was willing to be wooed, and told Mr. Jones that duty called.
Death of father - Start of job at St. Louis Times
It was good to be home. I had brought presents from Gertrude and myself for Jane, John, and Kiki (Cliff), who was then almost three; a book for Caroline and a simply beautiful, expensive tie for Father. I felt I could work and still help Caroline around the house, and I got a job on the paper, the Southwest American. Now consolidated with the morning paper, the Ft. Smith Times-Record staff had to do a lot of the work for the morning issue. A new paper, a bit of opposition, had started up. Although I was given occasional assignments, I was put on rewrite to a large extent, and not to my liking.
Father refused to let me come home alone since it was often after dark when I got off work. He came by the office and parked his car and waited for me. It made me nervous, trying to speed through all the little rewrite jobs dumped on me toward the end of the day. One day, after making him wait past the usual time, I simply left a few of the items on my desk with a note saying that was all I could do. Below, I saw Presley Bryant, the managing editor, and VerBeck, the city editor, returning to the office after dinner. I waited until they were abreast of me and said: "Mr. VerBeck, I didn't finish. My father is waiting for me and I decided not to keep him waiting longer."
"Fire her, VerBeck," said Bryant.
VerBeck made pacifying gestures, but I said: "Very well, I'm fired," and got in the car.
Before we had gone a block I sputtered angrily to Father, "And I hope from now on you won't give them anything, but will give any news you have to the new paper."
Father said evenly: "I'll do nothing of the kind. I'll treat them just as I always have."
Of course I knew he was right, and because I had been revealed as petty and unworthy, I was crying. Neither of us said anything more and we drove home in silence.
Caroline was delighted, saying she really did need me. I felt cheap and shaken. In the morning VerBeck called early and said they expected me in to work. I was torn. I admired Mr. Bryant and I knew that he was a quick-tempered but very just man. So I told Mr. VerBeck that my stepmother really needed me, and that there were no hard feelings.
Pep (Preston) Meek, a great friend of the family, came by often in his Coca-Cola truck and took me and Kiki riding with him. Often, as the winter wore on, Pep Meek would call to take me to the movies in the evening. He was tall, handsome and extremely nice, and I found him physically very attractive; although the shadow of Brady Pryor was always between us.
A few days before Christmas, Father averted a near catastrophe in the town of Fort Smith. The Arkansas Valley Bank, already robbed in the spring of $112,400 by one of its directors, M.M. Hayes, who was imprisoned for it, discovered a new loss--an embezzlement of $30,000 by its head bookkeeper. On Wednesday night December 22, after the town's bankers declared they would not absorb the assets and liabilities of the failing bank in exchange for a guarantee subscribed by its directors, Father insisted that the business and professional men of the town be called in. None believed his plan would work, but he prevailed. They indeed appeared in the middle of the night and, addressed by Father, agreed to guarantee an amount sufficient to insure the absorbing banks against any loss exceeding $25,000. The result was that, on December 24, the failing bank was paying its depositors in full and Christmas shopping in the town proceeded undisturbed.
I watched to see how the papers would play it. When they named Father, who headed the Arkansas Valley Trust Company, an institution separate from and unconnected with the Arkansas Valley Bank, as liquidating agent, but gave the bankers of the town full credit for everything and ignored Father's role in originating the plan and fighting to carry it out, I wired the Kansas City Star. When Father came home very late that night, I took the story I'd written to the bedroom where he and Caroline were and said I hated to disturb him, but would he verify it. He made two minor corrections regarding sums of money, I called a taxi and took it to the railway depot, where the Western Union operator sent it. I stayed to see if any query came through and when none appeared I went home.
On Friday, December 24, 1926, the story appeared on page one of The Kansas City Star. The headline was "YULE SPIRIT SAVES BANK." The decks beneath were: "A Fund is Subscribed by Town after Defalcations / As a Result, the Depositors in the Arkansas Valley Bank of Ft. Smith, Ark., Have Money as Christmas Gift."
After the lead paragraph, the story described John C. Gardner as an "obscure hero of the near tragedy" who, when the failing bank's directors decided on Tuesday night to close its doors the next day, persuaded them at a meeting of bankers to remain open another day. In a public meeting the next night, business men were informed of the defalcation of $30,000 and subscriptions to the guarantee soared. By means which bankers had termed impossible, the bank was saved. Thus, the business and professional men of the city "were shown the crisis which the town faced. Bitterly opposing factions met on common ground for a common cause, and old battles were forgotten in a dramatic effort to unite for the town's good." They subscribed $48,000 so that the other banks might absorb the failing bank, whose directors subscribed $70,000. The two sums were enough.
Father was in the bank, acting as liquidating agent, and depositors were being paid off when the Star wired for his photograph. The newest one we had was many years old. I telephoned Mr. McCann and urged him to take a flashbulb picture of Father, whether or not he looked up. I warned him Father might be a problem; he was not to ask him for his consent. I called Father to say I was sending Mr. McCann to take his picture in answer to the Star's request.
Father's reply: "Ginny, don't bother me." He hung up. McCann shot two photographs. The Star used, in its Sunday issue, the one in which he glanced up. The other, in which he just went on signing something, is not as good a news photo, but it is softer and the only decent photograph we have of Father.
Naturally it pleased me to have the Little Rock Gazette and the Fort Smith papers follow suit and give Father full credit for preventing a bank failure. Several papers outside of Arkansas also ran editorials on the event. The Star wrote me to ask if I would be its correspondent, and I wrote declining and revealing my identity. I had initially used, with her consent, the name of my friend Mary Tancred in querying the Star. In declining, I explained I was going to St. Louis soon, and that otherwise I would gladly accept.
The country club was opening its new building on a cliff overlooking Massard Prairie, where Father was born. Caroline and I already had persuaded him to get a new tuxedo for the occasion, but Caroline, being far along with Lucile, could not go with him. Father asked me to accompany him. Since I already had a date for it--with John McShane, an attractive person who, on his father's death, had come home to run the family business, the Arcade department store--I suggested Father take John also, which is what happened.
It was a very happy evening for me, seeing Father the center of attention. I liked John McShane, but I never expected to see him again as I planned to leave for St. Louis. I was wrong, but it was some years before we met again.
On January 13, Caroline gave birth to Lucile. As always, she insisted on coming home from the hospital too soon. She developed a breast infection of some kind, necessitating trained nurses around the clock. And she was captious, playing the queen as she did each time she had a baby, exacting servitude, impossible to please. I took charge of her trays. At each meal she would return the tray, often twice; the salad dressing was wrong, or the biscuits were cold, or the lamb chop overcooked. I never took the tray in, for fear of showing my temper. As I recall, Frances took the tray in.
One night I had a date with Pep Meek. Father was at the bank late. Pep and I had meant to go to a movie but it was late when I got through putting Kiki to bed and I suggested we just stay home. Pep was very patient; that was fine with him.
As it happened, we were necking on the sofa in a front room when Father opened the door. I suppose I was in a very compromising position. It was a passionate embrace--all of Pep's were--and I had been so involved in it I had heard neither Father's car nor his footsteps.
Father asked if I could get him his cold milk and biscuits. He followed me into the kitchen and said: "You should pull the shade down, Ginny."
He went upstairs, and I faced Pep with a face that told everything. He asked if he could come over next day, a Sunday, and talk to Father. I said no. He left.
The next morning at breakfast, Father said he had to go to the Bowles farm and would like me to go along. Just before we reached the Bowles farm, one he had to visit occasionally as it was in trust to the Trust Company, he stopped the car on a rise in the ground. He took his cigarette case out and offered me one, a signal honor. I took it. Then, without a word of the reproach I was braced to hear, he said: "Pep Meek is a fine man. If you and he want to marry, I'll put up a thousand and I am sure Mr. Meek will do the same, to start you out in life."
I said: "But Father, Pep hasn't asked me to marry him."
Finally he said: "Then you might as well go on to St. Louis." And then, as if it was an aside that no longer mattered, "I'd hoped you were over that Brady business."
I couldn't stop crying. I felt as if I'd dealt him a low blow.
I stepped up my plans for St. Louis, wrote Gertrude I was going there, and as soon as the nurse or nurses departed I also did.
No sooner had I arrived in St. Louis than I was assailed by an infection that left me voiceless. Still I had to get a job, for I had very little money, at my own insistence. So I made the rounds, writing notes and sticking them in front of the editors I managed to see. One was Bill Bradley, managing editor of the St. Louis Times, the smallest of St. Louis's papers. He asked me how much I made in Kansas City, and I lied and said $30. He twisted his red hair, a gesture that became most familiar as time went on, and looked perplexed. He could use me, he said--he had no woman on the staff at present--but he could start me at only $25. "And as for the raises," he went on, "what can I say? The Times is owned now by a couple of lawyers who know nothing about the newspaper business. If a miracle happens maybe I can raise you in three months."
"I'll take it," I wrote on a slip of paper.
I loved the Times, more even than the Journal-Post. I was to report for work the coming Monday. By then I had found my voice and Gertrude was on her way from Kansas City. From the outset working for the St. Louis Times meant low pay, but it was a dream world in every other way. I think my first assignment had to do with the city budget. Bill Bradley had figured that if less was spent on sewers and plumbing, the allotment for the Art Institute, already shabby, would not have to be cut as was being proposed by the city fathers. Something like that.
I was to interview the dignitaries who ran the city. I felt utterly at home from the day I entered the local room in St. Louis.
My interviews were played up. George Marsh, the city editor, was also a dream. Willie Ries, the photographer, was a soul mate. And so on. I, the only woman on the staff, was spoiled within weeks.
I had not worked there very long when a telegram came from Dr. Cooper of Fort Smith: Father was dying. Gertrude, who was working at Barnes Hospital, borrowed money from a man who had beaued her around earlier, and was granted leave from her job. I had no one to borrow the fare from but the St. Louis Times. I put it to Bill Bradley, who twisted his red hair again and said that he had no authority to lend such money. Eventually, he did manage to extract enough for the railway fare, and he promised that my job would be kept open for two weeks. Trudy and I took a night train out and in the morning, when we were having breakfast in the diner, Mr. Singleton, a railway conductor, and our next door neighbor, appeared. He confirmed the telegram, the unspeakable thing we were trying not to face. He also tried to justify Caroline's not telling us: she was afraid if we came home Father would know he was dying and quit trying to live. All right. We at the moment were not in a mood to blame Caroline for anything. Then, in Fort Smith, we were first taken to the Singletons' house. That seemed strange, but I concentrated on being polite and did not ask why.
When we were allowed to go home, Caroline met us with false cheerfulness and an air of conspiracy--as if, providing we did as she said, Father might not die at all. Gertrude went in, and I stayed behind to be coached further by Caroline. Father should not know why I came. I must not let him know that he was dying. "You must tell him, Bibby, that you just got tired of your new job and that you came home to stay this time."
It wasn't the first time she had persuaded me to act in a way that I felt was unfair to him, but this was the most outrageous of such demands. After Gertrude came out, I went in. The nurse was taking some time off and I was alone with him. He was out of his head, but speaking--if you can call reciting columns of figures speaking. I listened in a sort of terror. I had known for long that even though he liked the trust company business better than the banking business, he didn't really like any of it. Now his compulsive uttering of numbers, numbers and their addition, suggested the terrible strain he had been under as liquidating agent of the near-failed bank--but also the burden he carried year in and year out regardless. Then he changed, and I realized he was conscious.
I went through the song-and-dance prescribed by Caroline. He shot me a look--that discerning look so peculiarly his. Then the hallucinating, the figures, were gone and he said, "You wouldn't try to fool me, would you, Ginia?"
I had my chance then. And I muffed it, completely, finally, irreversibly. I could have said, "You're right, Father--I came because I was told you were dying and I want to be with you while you die." But I didn't say it. The hallucinations began again, the numbers, and--did I imagine it? or did he say, meaning Caroline with four children, one only months old, "What will she do without me?"
I believe he said it. Then the hallucinations began again in earnest. I told myself I was clearly rejected by now, and I made my escape. Gertrude found me in the backyard, lying on the earth, not crying, just wishing I were in the woods and trying to substitute for it by clutching the earth. She finally got me to go into the house. Father was dead.
At some point in the night that followed, I inadvertently opened a door and saw him during some lull in the industry that accompanies death. Lying alone in the room, on the couch in the north living room, stripped, he looked very white and very small.
The next morning we were up early. It was May and the silver-moon rose was in full bloom along our back fence--that most beautiful of roses, single petaled, exquisite, and I picked armloads of them and put them throughout the house. And because it was May other things were in bloom, all white that I remember--the spirea, for example, in bushes in the front yard, and white iris. I recall that for more than two years I could not bear to think of, much less see, a white blossom.
The house was beautiful and very crowded, and the front yard was also full of people. My stepmother was obsessed with the idea that Fort Smith did not appreciate Father (although the city flew the American Flag at half-mast that day), so she had imported from Texas a Methodist minister, a friend of Father's, to preside, as I have related. I was seated in one of the little camp chairs someone had contributed for the occasion, in the bedroom adjacent to the north living room, when I was gripped with excitement, hearing the minister say that Father was an atheist.
I remember little else--the front yard so crowded we had difficulty in getting to the cars; nothing of what happened at the cemetery. After it was all over, in the downstairs hall I saw Father's old topcoat flung over a bench, and that completed it. Without tears up to now, I raced up the stairs and streaming with tears, headed for the seclusion of the sleeping porch. In such times it is a great luxury to be all alone.
My cousin Ronald Gardner, whom Father had taken into the Trust Company, came out one afternoon before I left Fort Smith and took me for a drive. He tried to convince me that death at 54 did not mean Father's life had been other than happy or satisfying. He said: "His children were his luxury." I said nothing. He added:
"He did love little children"
I thought to myself, "Oh, Ronald, he never had a chance to live in any ease, any at all. Do you call that living?" But I didn't want to argue with Ronald. Let him think as he would. I, however, thought of his golf clubs and the golf clothes I'd sent him, still unused. In the picture carried in the Kansas City Star, though, he wore the tie I'd brought him, and now he wore it in his coffin. "I'm not saying, Ronald, that Caroline didn't make him happy. I think she did." I felt like saying bitter things, but I didn't.
It was Ronald who told us that Father's will--which I never saw--made no provision for us girls, not even railroad fare to his funeral. Gertrude and I felt, for our part, that it was all right because we were working and had been able to borrow the money. But for Katherine, coming from Canada, we thought it was grossly unfair.
I was angry with myself for letting Caroline inveigle me into lying to Father about why I'd come home. It was not the only time she had been able to make me an ally. I still flinch when I think of how she got me to join with her in laughing at Father because he continued to honor checks Aunt Lelia had drawn against his account, forging his name. So Father stopped--and this half-sister of his committed suicide not long after and it was on page one of the home papers.
Gertrude had a few more days off than I, thanks to Barnes Hospital. Colonel James Carson Breckenridge had come to the funeral and took the same train I did to St. Louis, whence he was to proceed to Rhode Island while I reported to the St. Louis Times. We had sleeper tickets but sat up all night, talking. Carson, like all the Breckenridge family, adored Father--and not just because he had spent so many years of his life undoing the mistakes of old Major Breckenridge. The major, a strictly honorary title, had once headed the Arkansas Valley Bank and Trust Company, and Father had saved the remnants of the Breckenridge estate. I appreciated all that Colonel Carson Breckenridge said about Father because he also thought it was a great tragedy that John Gardner was dead. He attributed the death to the added work Father had taken on to save the failing bank, from which he had divested himself years earlier and with which he had no ensuing connection at all. "But we can"t be bitter about that, that was John Gardner!" I was able to tell Carson that, before he died, Father had paid back all that the banks had lent the failing bank, without ever calling on the individual businessmen for the amounts they had pledged. (Shortly after this a federal bank examiner, visiting Fort Smith, went out to see Caroline and praised Father's rescue of the bank as unique and unassailable.)
When we pulled into the station in St. Louis, Carson insisted that I have breakfast with him at his hotel before I set out for my office. It was an old and imposing hotel, with a lovely dining-room. We had soft-boiled eggs and I watched with awe as he carefully broke off pieces of his toast and put them in his egg cup. I said, "I've always wanted to do that but never had the nerve." Carson said airily: "I am a Breckenridge and can get away with it." And he smiled disarmingly.
It was good to have him as a real friend now that I was no longer a child but a mature woman. The friendship grew and lasted for years, until his death just before our entrance into World War II, at which time he was General Breckenridge, second in command of the Marine Corps, newly retired.
Troubled marriage to Jerry Butler - Start of employment at Chicago Tribune
I was depressed and morbid over Father's death. When I learned that Johnnie, my 7 year-old brother, was seriously ill--they suspected diabetes, and that is what the subsequent diagnosis verified--it tended to make me, if anything, even more morbid. If I had been home, I felt, Father would not have died. I would have been upstairs with the boys tending to them when they had measles--not Father. At the time, in fact for years, I connected their infected ears with Father's contracting pneumonia, remembering how he used to blow smoke in my ears when they ached when I was little.
A letter I wrote Carson Breckenridge hinted at my taking on this unfounded guilt, judging from his response, a lengthy and sensitive letter to me dated May 23, 1927, in which he said in part: "When one who is both loved and admired is separated from us we are naturally prone to find shortcomings in ourselves, and to blame ourselves for things we either did, or left undone. This is natural but we always exaggerate it. Self-blame is a reaction of self pity."
He himself was still trying to make my acquaintance, wrote Carson. "I want to mean something in your life you know. I think I know about how you feel about your Father. He possessed all the elements of nobility, and I see that word in its highest and most dignified sense."
In this same letter Carson wrote that he was "vastly interested in the moving picture you went to see--What Price Glory? I have seen it two or three times, and it is way-and-beyond the best and most realistic picture of all . . . . Your friend who was a Marine during the war was quite right, and I hope you will give him my compliments and very good wishes."
Until I read this old letter I had forgotten that Jerry Butler entered my life quite this early. How ironic that I told Carson about him at that time and said nothing to him later about events that might have led him to intervene and prevent me from marrying him, as Father surely would have done had he lived.
I do remember that I turned Jerry down for several dates. He had read copy for a few days at one time on the St. Louis Times when there was a personnel shortage, and that was how I met him. Unlucky day! He said he remembered me from the University of Missouri; he had attended the School of Journalism under the legislation offered veterans. He had been gassed during the war and received something like 85 per cent disability pay in addition to what he was allowed in free tuition. I told him I did not remember him. On one occasion when he called I told him that I was seeing a play that night with the St. Louis Time's drama critic.
To my surprise, when I left the Times building to go to the nurses' home, where I lived with Gertrude for a time, to dress before the play opened, there was Jerry in his Stutz car in front of the building. He offered to drive me home. I could not reasonably refuse that, I thought, but the result was that he kidnapped me. When I saw that we were way out in St. Louis County and nowhere near the nurses' home, I tried to get out of the car. I was angry that this bumptious man would pay no heed to my demand. He restrained me with one arm and drove on. I was silent and rigid in fury for the remainder of the drive. At last at about 9:30 P.M. he deposited me at Barnes Hospital. I was trembling when I reached Gertrude. I told her: "I never again want to see that boor."
Yet by a series of low tricks, alternating with ingratiating and designing favors, he finally wore me down until I consented to marry him. It is all incredible to me now. It was then! One of the "favors" was to drive me to Chicago where I could visit my dear friends Sara Saper and Libbie Collins, who had jobs there.
On the way, Jerry pretended that the car had broken down. I, who knew nothing about cars, saw no reason to suspect him. He made a great todo about going to a garage, and walked all the way, while he left me in the car, and returned to say it could not be fixed until the following day.
I had never let him touch me. The idea was repugnant to me. But I was simply not equipped to deal with liars. When he said that if I would go to a hotel with him he would treat me just like a sister, although we'd have to register as man and wife, I was idiot enough to take him at his word. Of course I was double-crossed, he raped me and I spent the rest of the night in an armchair, alternately weeping and sleeping. When we arrived in Chicago I told Sara and Libbie, they lent me money to return by bus and I left Chicago the next day.
I was still deeply depressed over Father's death. It made me, except for the times when I was reporting, mute with people.
The day Lindbergh returned to St. Louis for a city's joyful encomiums after his nonstop flight to Paris, Pep Meek was with me as I, along with most of the staff of the St. Louis Times, covered the day's events. I had interviewed Lindbergh's mother, and that story made page one. Pep enjoyed all the festivities, but after the day was over and he and I were alone my gloom seemed to envelop us both. What I wanted to express to Pep was tenderness and closeness, love and reassurance. But I was stricken, wounded by Father's dying. So we both were frozen, impersonal, wordless; together, we did not find each other. He drove back the next day. Not long afterward I heard he was married.
When I told Bill Bradley at the Times I was going to marry Jerry, he pulled a long face and twisted that lock of his red hair. Within a day or two Aaron Benesch, our political reporter, called on me at the nurses' home. It was all very formal. He said he represented the Times staff.
I was in a fog. I remember thinking this must be very hard for him.. It was very nice of all of them. I heard what he said--something about a young woman who had been treated badly by Jerry. He had worked full time at the Times then. That seemed important, so that I would not think the staff had gone off making wild judgments against someone they scarcely knew. And all the staff agreed I would make a serious mistake if I married him. I heard, but felt I must say, politely, oh, no, no, but thank you so much.
I did not heed this wise counsel. I am afraid one reason I did not was that someone (Gertrude? It was possible. Even myself? Also possible!) had alerted the society editor of the Ft. Smith Times-Record that the marriage would be held. I was at the time thoroughly bourgeois and conventional. Caroline's theory was that Gertrude's gift to me of a very expensive nightgown--never worn, if my memory serves me rightly--was the final factor spurring me to the altar, but I think not. Rather, it was the shame of that printed notice canceling the marriage date that loomed so all-important to me.
Apparently I had no sense of any reality at the time. Proof of that is my decision to be married in the most elegant Episcopal church in St. Louis. I had learned that a minister I'd known in Columbia, at the university, was then located in a St. Louis suburb, I arranged to be married by him in that elegant church, just as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
It was an extremely cold night. But every member of the Times staff, and some with wives, was there, and Uncle Hugh and Aunt Ta, my mother's oldest sister and her charming Irish husband, and a few of Gertrude's closest friends. I got through the marriage business all right, but in the sacristy afterwards, when I was given a pen to affix my signature to a document, my hand shook badly and I broke into huge sobs. The dear minister was flabbergasted, and I seemed unable to cope with that situation. But obviously the sobs had been heard, for Barney, my sister's friend (and mine) burst in and took over, explaining something--I've no idea what--to the good minister to soothe him. Then she dried my eyes and rushed me out. There followed a ghastly dinner at some fashionable place.
It had been a shock to see Bill Bradley, George Marsh, Aaron, Willie Ries (how I loved them all!) and Marie, from the switchboard, the men in dark suits, gleaming white shirts, so solemn, in the church. No one on the Times made much money, but these men had bought for my wedding present a chest of Rogers silverware, and like the ads say, it is still in use now I'm at the end of my life. For years I'd wake up in the middle of the night and recall the minister's words to Jerry after Jerry reluctantly gave him some money. "But the church had to be heated and a janitor had to come in to arrange that." I'd planned to send him a check, and a note. "I'm sorry my husband was a chiseler." Or, "I regret that your heroic sacrifice, coming into the city from a suburb on a snowy night . . . " I never sent it.
Jerry had chosen as our new home a dingy one-room flat in a cheap apartment hotel, where the bed pulled down from the wall. It was "furnished," and the china in the kitchen was uniformly chipped or cracked. I resisted the connubial embrace that night. I heard Jerry describe what he would do to me if I were not his wife. I felt nothing but hatred--that lasted the entire six years the marriage lasted.
At first I had thought it interesting that Jerry was a Socialist, that his earliest memory was of his father holding him up to shake the hand of Eugene Debs. He had been born in a Socialist colony in Ruskin, Tennessee, where a marker is all that remains--we once saw it in later years. His father had been an employee in a hat factory in Danbury, Conn., and with other Socialists had gone to Ruskin with high hopes. Upton Sinclair mentions Ruskin in Oil! and declares that sexual rivalries and scandal resulted in the breaking up of the colony. How furiously Jerry denied it when I showed him that passage. His long-suffering mother then went with husband and two sons to another Socialist colony in Georgia near alligator swamps. Being a Socialist meant voting for Norman Thomas every four years and reading Karl Marx regularly because, so he said, it helped him when he played the stock market.
My first menstrual period after the marriage came normally. My second was delayed. Jerry was wild. After he dragged me to one perfectly reputable doctor after another and they refused to abort me, he grew angry and lectured them. Eventually I wound up at an abortion mill in a small Missouri town. I arranged to get off work for a few days.
I could see by Bill Bradley's face he didn't believe a word of it when I said we were to visit an uncle of Jerry's, but he gave me the time off. I resolved to leave Jerry as soon as it was over and never see him again. As it happened, though, I was ill with a high temperature for days. There was one nurse for all the patients--and not a chance of seeing the doctor, who had not let me see him in the operating room or since then, so that if he was arrested I could not identify him as the man who did the surgery. I was convinced the nurse was sadistic. Finally, I was grateful (horrible thought!) to Jerry when he went to the drug store and brought back ice water, or held my hand or read aloud to me--stories from a newspaper or something from a book he had brought along. I didn't listen, just liked the drone of the words to keep me from thinking. He could have read from his beloved Nietzsche for all I cared.
We drove slowly on our way back, for the roads from Excelsior Springs were bad. I told myself, "I'll leave later but not now." At least Jerry no longer lectured me on how he wanted neither children nor a "household tabby cat" for a wife. It was evident that one reason he had so determined to marry me was that he saw me as potentially a good provider.
Jerry had enlisted in the Marine Corps in World War I at the age of 16. He had seen a lot of action and had been heavily gassed. He was careful to consult the Veterans' Hospital for checkups, but Gertrude felt he was possible tubercular, and when he said he was thinking of going to Silver City, New Mexico and buying a paper that appeared to be for sale, Gertrude said the climate might be good for him. I was not asked. Also I hated to leave St. Louis and my adored Times gang, and the Times did not want to see me go. I was called in by someone I'd never heard of--said to be over Bill Bradley, in the nature of a general manager, who said to me, "You can write." But off we went, in Jerry's old Stutz.
We never got to Silver City. In Oklahoma City, where we had stopped for the night, the Stutz, with all we owned in the back end of it, was stolen. The dream of the paper was dissolved in Jerry's terrible anger and his determination to get the people who stole it. For months he carried a gun. Meanwhile he suggested I try to get a job there. I did. He also got one, not as a copyreader but in the promotion department of the same paper I was on, the Oklahoma City Times.
During the six years we were married I must have left Jerry forty times. Always he got me to come back; I was afraid of him, afraid of some nameless thing he might do. At times he promised to let me have a baby, but always doublecrossed me. Then I told myself that it was just as well, for how could I subject a child to him? He was good-looking enough, and a picture of him as a little boy was charming. But there was violence in his nature. He had slept with a gun under his pillow until I objected, when he put it under the bed. He also loved money. It was his idea that we split all expenses. He entered everything in a little book. If we went to a movie, that was added, and each month I paid my half.
My city editor in Oklahoma City was Carl Held, a frail little man who had been an active Socialist in Jenny Lind, Arkansas, when it was a thriving coal mine center and a hotbed of Socialism. Now Carl Held was giving his all to the Oklahoma City Times. I got on with him well, and received my share of good assignments. The most interesting by far, I found, was covering a Socialist picnic when Norman Thomas came to address what had once been an important center of Socialism. I took Jerry along. The setting was a sun-drenched prairie, with wooden benches ranged before the speaker's stand. Every kind of vehicle had been put to use, with old Fords the most numerous, but horse-drawn buggies were there, too. The afternoon wore on, and speeches were quite lively. Mothers nursed their babies and in the shade under a few trees other women opened lunches and set out food for all. I was impressed and even Jerry was. We were invited to a repast in town at the home of Oscar Ameringer, the veteran Socialist editor and publisher. It was there I met a man who told me about Carl Held's fascinating background. He also said to me: "If you are the daughter of John Gardner of Fort Smith, he would turn over in his grave to see you here in this company."
One morning Carl Held called me to the city desk and told me he was assigning me to the school beat. I had heard that a dashing young woman (I had seen her and she was beautiful) was Carl's old sweetheart. She had roamed about for a few years but was back. He let me understand my general assignment beat would be given to her. I did not fancy the school beat. I went downstairs to the promotion department and asked Jerry if he minded if I quit my job. He said no.
We both felt I was so good all I had to do was to present myself at the opposition paper, one of the Scripps-Howard chain, and a job would be mine. So I went back to my desk, threw everything in the drawers at the closest wastebasket, and told Carl Held I was quitting. Jerry was fired promptly and Walter Harrison, managing editor, put a message on the bulletin board, I was quickly informed by friends, saying he was going to blacklist me with every Associated Press paper in the country. That didn't worry me, but the fact I could not get on the opposition paper, soon made clear to me, was serious.
Jerry rented a car and set off through the Southwest to find a job, and I set myself down to write True Confession stories. Gertrude had quit her job in St. Louis and joined us before this. Now she had marvelous dreams and would shout in to me wonderful titles the dreams suggested, and then all I had to do was write a story to justify the title. In the four weeks before Jerry sent for me to join him in Nashville, where he had a job in the promotion department of the Nashville Banner, I wrote four stories and eventually was paid for three--the total far more than I would have made with four pay checks.
But in Nashville Colonel Jimmy Stahlman told me: "The Banner does not have women in the local room. The Banner believes that woman's place is in the home." My husband did not agree. The opposition paper had a seasoned woman reporter and did not want another. We had a little attic apartment and I made ruffled curtains, I painted furniture, I baked all the bread we ate, I made ice cream, I washed and darned Jerry's socks. But each night he came home with the query, "What did you do today about a job?" I had seen several people at the Methodist publishing house, an enormous complex, and at last had the privilege of writing fiction for their young people's magazine. I studied it and wrote half a dozen stories in all. I was told the editor liked them in part but felt they were a bit too realistic. I then proposed a column: in the beginning I would write the queries, too, and surely before long real readers would begin seeking my advice. At least when we went to Chicago (for Jerry refused to stay anywhere if his wife were not working) I was still writing both queries and replies, for $20 a month.
Jerry had an appointment for an interview with the promotion department of the Chicago Tribune, but did not get the job. He went back to his old craft, reading copy. I sold Richard Finnegan, managing editor of the Journal, which was to become a tabloid in the fall, on the idea of a series on quack doctors, fortune tellers and pseudo-psychoanalysts. I took a byline I devised, Jane Logan, as Jerry thought the quacks were riff-raff and should not know my real name.
I was aware that the series was making a hit, because I was in Finnegan's office when the circulation manager walked in. "We want more of this Jane Logan stuff. It's selling papers!" he announced. It was at a time when stories on LaHissa, a charlatan who advertised himself as a psychoanalyst, rode in a limousine driven by a liveried chauffeur, and had a thriving practice at his North Shore apartment, were appearing daily. When police went to arrest him they found he had fled, with his wife and her sister, leaving in his apartment a stack of Daily Times papers opened at the Jane Logan story.
After the circulation manager's impetuous remark, Mr. Finnegan became exceedingly vague as to any future employment. He had not been stingy on expense money. He had sent me to the small Missouri town where LaHissa's wife's family still resided. It was not a part of the story I looked forward to getting but neither could I turn it down when I was sent. It was by far the most difficult of any part of the series, as it meant dealing with sweet, sincere people and, as it came about, a family divided, mother believing that LaHissa was indeed Jesus Christ, as he claimed, and father and son doubting that but not questioning his psychoanalyst status. All of them trusted me implicitly. Presumably Mr. Finnegan wanted me to add me to his staff but wanted me cheap. So I went over to the Chicago Tribune, and Bob Lee, the famed city editor, put me on. A letter to him from Kate Webber Massey, formerly of Fort Smith, didn't hurt.
He had read the Jane Logan series and spoke well of them. But for some reason he seemed strangely curious about my education--especially in the light of Kate Webber's kind recommendation.
Remembering how often prospective employers had turned contemptuous when I said I was a journalism graduate, I merely told him that I went to the public schools of Fort Smith, Arkansas. By dint of asking about high school and then college, he finally won my confession that I had taken some journalism courses. But, I said: "I wasn't very good at them." Did I happen to get a degree in journalism? "Yes, I got a B.J. at the University of Missouri." My tossing off the name of this oldest school of journalism in the country, or in any country, Mr. Lee did not view favorably. "You certainly made it hard for me," he said testily. "The Colonel just put through an order a week ago; from now on no one is to be hired for the editorial department who isn't a journalism school graduate."
A few days, less than two weeks certainly, after I began work at the Tribune the stock market crash occurred. It had not entered my head that I was hired on a trial basis, but at the end of my first week there, Marjorie Peters told me that she had found "the pink slip" in her mailbox: my being accepted meant she was fired. I liked her and felt terrible this had happened. I stopped off and saw her on my way home from work two or three times a week. I was distressed about Marjorie. She was a courageous woman, the mother of a lovely and talented young son. Eventually I lost track of her, but Marjorie remains in my mind a vivid figure. She was convinced she had queered herself with Mr. Lee by (a) talking too much, being too opinionated in remarks made around the local room, and (b) by wearing a purple dress. It was her theory that the Tribune's universally admired reporter Genevieve Forbes Herrick had quit to go to New York and since then he couldn't abide any successor's wearing purple.
I doubted her "b" but benefited from her "a". I kept my mouth shut.
Except where Moses Lamson was concerned. Mose was my pal, I trusted him. I never knew a man I trusted so completely. I never slept with him--although in a certain period between marriages I was tempted to. But as I'd heard that Mose had once been the lover of a woman still on the Tribune, I had no great trouble resisting, without letting him know why. So, as it was, I felt myself lucky whenever I was sent on an assignment with him--not always but usually it was in regard to a crime--and we had long, heart-to-heart talks about all manner of things, and I continued to trust him.
As he did me. I knew he did; otherwise he wouldn't have felt so comfortable in asking me how to spell things. Once he asked, "I've been meaning to ask you, how do you spell 'fate,' kid?" "Well," I said, as we sped along, because Mose always drove a good car, "it could be 'fate,' Mose." He repeated it: "'Fate.' You sure? It don't sound right to me. I mean, like you got 'fate' in a guy." Oh, I said lightly, that was a different word, and I explained; and because the difference between the two could involve an entire philosophy of life, we arrived at our destination before we'd exhausted the topic.
In the fairly early part of the afternoon of June 9, 1930, when I had been on the Chicago Tribune since a few days before the stock market crash the previous year, I was in the lobby of the Tribune when an elevator came down and out of it stepped John Boettiger. He obviously was going somewhere--I gathered in a hurry--but, seeing me, it was like him to stop long enough to say, "I'm on my way--Jake Lingle shot--I'm to identify the body."
Why do I say it was "like him"? Because Boettiger, without doubt the handsomest man on the Tribune, was every bit as nice as he was good-looking. He knew I would not badger him with a single comment or question and I didn't, I let him speed on his way. I went up to the fourth floor, the local room, and sat down at my desk, without mentioning it. Nor did I until, much later in the day, I heard mention of it.
Lingle, or Al (Jake) Lingle, had been shot and killed in conventional gangland fashion, and so it eventually was proved to be, and not an assault on the press for its revelations on racketeering and gangdom. the Tribune on June 11 announced that its own offer of $25,000 for information leading to the conviction of the killer or killers, had been augmented by the same amount offered by the Chicago Herald and Examiner. With the Post chiming in to the tune of $5,000, and the president of the newly formed Chicago Crime Commission declaring that the gangsters had now gone too far, the Tribune proclaimed: "UNITED WAR ON GANGS."
Investigations were made, and a banner line in the Tribune, a story by Bob Lee revealed how on his $65 a week salary from the newspaper Lingle banked up to thousands of dollars in his 18-year career and between his good friends Al Capone, the gang chief, and Police Commissioner Russell, he had a monopoly on crime news. He never wrote a story but his information proved accurate and he never revealed a "zeal for his work." Police Commissioner Russell resigned as his financial deals with Lingle were played up in all the Chicago newspapers.
Col. McCormick, publisher of the Tribune, had stood up for his man when he thought him innocent. Now he ordered investigations staff-wide and himself took a small office near the news department, however seldom he was in it.
But nowhere did I read what Mose Lamson told me shortly after Lingle was shot. We were on assignment together when he told me he had been taking Mr. Lee home every night and acting as his bodyguard, at least to and fro from his home in Lake Forest. "Gee, kid, you oughta see his bathroom," he said, meaning Lee's, not Lingle's. "Black onyx fittings, all gorgeous."
I knew Lingle only to speak to. Each time I saw him he was in the office, usually looking up words in a dictionary. I never saw Mose doing that. Lingle was rather ordinary looking. Not so Mose.
Mose had worked for the circulation department of the Tribune, driving a wagon. The order went out from one of his bosses that he should be on the lookout for someone the police had been unable to find--someone setting fires. Mose, being literal minded in some ways, not only found his suspect but actually brought him in--not to the police but the circulation department. Mose was tried out as a reporter after that and stuck. Mose Lamson taught me a lot. Not about crime; he taught me about being a good person.
During the Great Depression years Jerry Butler, my husband, vied with me on the number of relatives and friends to add to the residents of our apartment. My sister Gertrude, her husband Ed, Jerry's brother Charlie and his wife Mildred, were sharing our little apartment at Oak and State Streets. Gertrude gave her husband his walking papers at one point, when she was pregnant, and she settled down to a happy pregnancy, blissful about the coming child; it never occurred to her to make apologies to doctors or whoever about the absence of a father.
To mollify Jerry she prepared wonderful meals for him, doing such things as arising early to make hot rolls for his breakfast. He and I were on different time shifts. He lost a job--but busied himself with a plan for a correspondence course he would give in journalism. I felt it was not quite honest, but luckily, he had no takers for his ads before he got another job.
Next to come stay with us was Dorothy Gardner, not a relative but a friend, and this inspired Jerry to add a friend of his to our household. He had been walking along the lakefront and had run into Scotty. Scotty lost his job selling bonds, but he assured Jerry that he would be back on Wall Street before long. "I didn't fall for that," Jerry said, "but then he reminded me of his inheritance. I did remember that. So finally I told him he could move in with us." Scotty arrived with a suitcase full of smart clothes and two books--the Social Register of New York and a book on auction bridge.
Scotty was a cheerful soul and often spoke hopefully of his inheritance in Massachusetts. Every afternoon, Gertrude reported, he would get on the telephone and try to promote a game of bridge--and if a dinner was forthcoming, all the better. Jerry escaped to the basement and worked on making lovely furniture of curly maple, at which he showed a great deal of artistry. Each piece said to me that he meant to make this marriage last; my only desire was that it end.
I had a ticket to the Democratic convention for opening night. But that was the night that Gertrude's baby came so I did not use it. As soon as I was off work I went to the hospital. She was radiant, and she had a little girl whom she named for me. It was 1932; the election of FDR was a double celebration for me.
My stepmother and the little Gardners were in Chicago, Jane was in boarding school, Caroline had been given a job by Mary Breckenridge to raise money for the Frontier Nursing Service. I don't know if she actually raised any but she circulated around some, and each summer she and the children would go to Kentucky where they lived in a cabin in the hills and Caroline got material for a book on the Frontier Nursing Service, and a very good book it was for its kind, but Caroline hated to do it.
Then came a wire from Caroline one summer. Mary Breckenridge had to cut out her money-raising job for the Frontier Nursing Service, and Caroline and the kids would have to come live with me and Jerry. I knew that Jerry, with no love for Caroline, would never permit it. In a way it was my heaven-sent opportunity. I had said nothing about the imminent arrival of Caroline and the little Gardners. Now I seized on some minor incident to raise a scene. Gingie, as we called Gertrude's baby, had put the pewter salt shaker in her mouth, and Jerry spoke sharply to her.
I was on my way to work, and on the way out I studiously let my temper flare at Jerry. It was the first time he ever had been abrupt with Gingie, and I hadn't needed to be as quick to react--but after all, I figured as I walked to work, he knew how crazy I was about Gingie, and he had kept me from having a baby. When I got to the office I had an assignment to go out of town, to Allegan, Michigan, to cover a nudist trial. I went home to pack a bag and told Gertrude she would have to find a place for us to live temporarily, after which she could look for a big cheap place to house us and Gingie and Caroline and three of her four children.
As I filed my first story on the nudist trial, it suddenly swept over me, the bottom had dropped out of my life. I knew it was best that way--anything but to remain with Jerry. But how to manage? I couldn't concentrate--and I had stiff opposition, too--a tall guy from the Examiner with a wooden leg. The rumor was that more than once when a cop had bothered him in one of his drinking sprees he had taken off the leg and threatened to beat him with it. After the story was filed I joined him (his name was Mahoney) and other reporters for a drink or two. I thought, "My heart is breaking and it must show." But it didn't; and I made page one with my byline story next morning, and the next day, too. The attorney for the nudist who ran the camp was Clare Hoffman, later a Congressman and diehard reactionary; when I covered Congress for Federated Press we once reminisced about the nudist trial.
Gertrude began to forage around for a big apartment. She found one, too, on the Northwest Side, in a working class neighborhood. Caroline and the kids arrived from Kentucky. I don't remember what year it was, only that Gingie was walking before we left the Irving apartments.
Extrication from marriage with assistance of psychiatrist - Tribune journalism experiences - Romance with Red Marberry.
It was a period when I was learning fast. Up to then I had been content to be only a good reporter. My biggest lesson came when I was sent to cover the Chicago school teachers being paid off in scrip. I was nearing the blocks-long line of teachers on a snowy day when Kay Hall, a friend and a reporter on the Daily Times, saw me and hastened toward me. "Don't come any nearer. They thought I might be Virginia Gardner and they were ready to slay me until I showed them my credentials. Wait here and I'll come back an fill you in." We were in front of a drug store next door to the Chicago Evening American and agreed to meet inside.
The trouble was that I had done a series on junior high schools, an RRMcC (Robert R. McCormick) assignment. I had gone about it unwittingly. All I wrote was true, factual, but I had no idea of its underlying significance. When it appeared, the head lines featured the "facts and frills," and Colonel McCormick in the eyes of the teachers was trying to wreck junior high schools. The teachers, who still were not being paid in real money but in scrip they had to coax merchants to accept, were standing in the snow with inadequate shoes and murder in their hearts, and were all too believable to me. I took Kay's fill-in, went back and wrote a short routine story, and said nothing, but I thought a great deal.
Another assignment I had--I am not sure of the sequence, it probably was a good deal later--illustrates my changing viewpoint. The Work Projects Administration (WPA) was in force, and being pilloried by the Tribune. In the national theater it sponsored, and the "living newspaper," it had been an outstanding success under Hallie Flanagan, but not in the eyes of the Tribune. Now it was trying out theater in a more modest vein in the neighborhood parks of the city. Pat Maloney, the afternoon city editor or assignment editor, told me: "There will be a dress rehearsal of the first of these this afternoon." He named a park on the West Side, adding: "It ought to make a good Tribune story."
I knew what a good Tribune story meant--a story knocking it. I took a trolley out to the park. I at once said who I was to the director. The program went on. In between the numbers one and then another of the performers sought me out. "I know you're with the Trib, but listen, can't you give us a break? You're a writer, you always can have your typewriter when you're out of work, but we have to have an audience, get it?" And, "Do you know how many years it's been since I had a chance to do my act?" They were trapeze performers, tap-dancers, what would today be called standup comics.
I sat through the performance, then went to a phone. Ordinarily I would not have been so frank, but Tom Morrow was on the city desk phone, for the first time in my experience, and I considered him a friend. He was a very funny guy and I couldn't imagine that he was a stooge.
So I told him, "Listen, Tom, there is a good Tribune story here but I'm not going to write it. So just mark the book N.G." He said nothing. I went in and was happily writing a letter home at 5 P.M. when Pat Maloney, overcoat buttoned, strode by, but paused at my desk.
"So, you have a good Tribune story but you're not going to write it."
I was caught good and proper. I expostulated feebly, "Mr. Maloney, it's easy for you to sit here and decide what is what. But if you'd been there and heard these poor down-and-out actors say, 'I know you're with the Trib but give us a break' it wouldn't be so easy."
At which Maloney raised an arm skyward and said, "Girl, harden your heart and write the truth!" and marched out of the local room on his way to catch his train to a South Side suburb populated by home owners. And, dear God, I wrote the story, and it made page one, with a byline. Excruciating, Tom Morrow's idea of humor.
Meanwhile, at home, things were not so good. Jerry had begun to intercept me on my way home from the Tribune, so I now regularly left by the back entrance, crossed Wacker Drive and walked to Grand Avenue, where I took the trolley. Night after night, however, after I had instituted this practice, by the time I got home I would be accosted by Jerry, sitting on the steps leading to the apartment. I had left instructions to answer no bell unless the caller was known. Often Jerry on seeing me waved a gun around and threatened various things--to kill himself, or, a thing he felt would get to me more, "to cut your Gingie's throat from ear to ear."
In desperation I finally went to a psychiatrist. I had met him several times on stories and was impressed that he didn't give a damn about publicity--in contrast to some others. He was Dr. Francis J. Gerty, the head of Cook County Psychiatric Hospital. He explained when I went to see him that he was too busy with very sick people to take psychoneurotics such as I was as patients, but occasionally he would see one through a crisis. He admitted, too, that newspaper people interested him somewhat; I think he found them all a little nutty.
Dr. Gerty was a Catholic. After taking my history he was very plain-spoken. "I couldn't say this to you if you were a Catholic but you aren't. I will tell you therefore that you should not go back to your husband and that if you do it will mean your life. Not that he would kill you, either. But it would be an end of your life in any meaningful sense. I'm going to try to see him."
"Oh, he is rabid against psychiatry. He'd never agree."
But Dr. Gerty did see him. Sheer magic, I thought. He even got Jerry to agree to see my lawyer and sign a statement essential if I was to obtain a divorce. Dr. Gerty after seeing him said, "Now, Miss Gardner, he's not going to commit suicide. He thinks far too highly of himself to want to. But I must warn you that he is apt to arrange what appears to be a suicide. If he does so, just stay cool--and stay out of his bed."
It happened just that way. Gertrude and Gingie and I had moved to a small apartment on the North Side--after Caroline and Gertrude failed to get along and Caroline departed for Fort Smith with the three youngest children. Jerry moved in two doors away from Gertrude and me, and his brother Charlie and wife, a few blocks north of him. One night after I was asleep the phone rang. It was Charlie, saying in sepulchral tones: "Jerry's done it. Come quick. He's unconscious."
I remembered Dr. Gerty's words and with deliberation got dressed, put on a hat and coat, woke Gertrude to tell her and made my way without haste to Jerry's apartment. Charlie let me in, then resumed his position of kneeling by Jerry's side. I saw a phone box on the kitchen wall. Instead of dialing, I called the operator and said clearly, "Police 1313." To every newspaper person that meant that the police, once they obtained the address, would be on their way speedily with every device for saving lives. Without waiting for any other word on my part it was enough for Jerry, who bounded up from his place on the kitchen floor and shot out the back door, Charlie after him.
I waited, not removing my coat and hat, and soon Charlie brought him in, saying unctuously, "Now I'll run along and leave you two together."
I said, "Oh, no, you don't. I'd have gone by now except I didn't want to leave the door unlocked. You can stay if you like, Charlie. I have nothing to say to Jerry."
Gertrude was waiting up for me. We each had a cigarette and I told her my account, admitting I'd not have been so smart had Dr. Gerty not prepared me and stiffened my spine. She gave me a glass of warm milk to drink. It was a cold night.
I went out to the Cook County Hospital every Saturday and sat on a bench in the hall until Dr. Gerty was free to see me. Once in a long while he told me something about others I saw go into his office at Cook County. One was a man wearing a derby and proper dark business clothes. Dr. Gerty said he had a wife and children and lived a properly subdued life for weeks at a time; then his urge to get tattooed became irresistible and off he went. Through him Dr. Gerty met others who had the same craving. He was writing a paper on them to present to some psychiatric parley.
He never sent me a bill. Each week I'd mail him a $5 bill. When it came to advising his patients, however, he was nothing if not practical. He asked how much money I had in the bank and insisted I begin saving regularly. He made me quit sending my stepmother money. "She's bled you white," he said.
I was learning what having a little capital meant compared to having only a weekly paycheck.
For months when we'd all been together in the big apartment on the Northwest Side I knew Gertrude and Caroline were having problems. I'd no sooner get rid of Jerry in the hall and make my entry than each of them would try to get my ear. I resolutely refused to take sides. All I wanted was to get to bed. For insomnia I began reading Henry James.
But then Dr. Gerty said I'd have to begin making Gertrude independent. This I resisted, but he kept on about it. For her own sake she should get her nursing credentials in shape and get her Illinois license. I did manage to persuade her to do that, and at last she had done so.
One day I came home from work and found an empty apartment. A note said that they were going to Milwaukee to live with Katherine. Nothing ever hurt me so much. But I could not blame her. Katharine could look after Gingie. That is what she did, and Gertrude had crummy little--then eventually, with her nursing credentials extended to Wisconsin, a better job with Milwaukee Downer Seminary.
She had long ago gotten her divorce from Ed, and now I was getting mine. I visited Milwaukee frequently; Gertrude and I were still close, and if Katharine or Aunt Bess felt critical of me for having urged Gertrude to go to work, it was not expressed. But I lived meanwhile a lonely life, missing Gingie terribly, and missing Gertrude's attentions and her company.
I was still going to Dr. Gerty. On some days after I left him and the dismal Cook County Psychiatric Hospital I walked for blocks through those West Side streets, figuring I'd meet no one I knew, and cried, I didn't know why. I felt at such times lonely and lost. I had told him when he was taking my history about my adolescence and my becoming very religious, and strange, and about my being banished from my home and sent to Kansas City to live with Aunt Bess and Uncle for a time. I heard him dictating at the end of that session and asked him, "Did you say I had a near break?" He replied: "I said nothing of the kind. You came out of it all right, didn't you?"
Dr. Gerty asked me what newspaperwoman I envied, and I said, "No one. I'm as good as any," and he seemed surprised. I was asked to speak at the University of Missouri Journalism Week program; my talk had to do with the first quack doctors' expose I did for the Tribune. I had expected to go see Dr. Belden but had no idea he would come to hear me, but there he was. Suddenly all I was saying (I was reading a paper as I become terrified at speaking) seemed trivial. Later I went to see him and tried to let him know in some way that I adored him and hoped to some day do something he would feel proud of.
Margaret Hester, an alumna of the school and my former city editor on the Fort Smith paper, was there, and had in tow John McShane, with whom I'd gone to the dance shortly before Father died. He was on his way to the Derby and Margaret offered him a ride that far. When I left Columbia John rode in the train with me to Centralia, where everyone going to or from Columbia had to change trains.
On the train he told me he was going to marry me. How could you, I said, since I'm a divorced woman and you're a Catholic? It was the beginning of a real romance nonetheless. We used to meet for a short weekend in St. Louis when I could get away. We stayed at the Coronado, where men were on certain floors and women on alternate floors. It was all very correct and if I was in his room he left the door open and phoned the desk to make the visit known. We spent a lot of time in going around seeing priests, and talking to my Catholic Uncle Hugh. Uncle Hugh said if I could learn that Jerry had been baptized as a Protestant, it would be in the eyes of the Catholic Church as if I were never married. So John had his black driver--he usually drove from Ft. Smith--take us to Belleville, Illinois, and there I went in to see Mr. Butler. Of course the once ardent socialist would not have favored any baptism at all for Jerry, but Jerry's mother, who had divorced Mr. Butler because he insisted on driving eighty miles an hour, might have felt differently. She was now dead. The old man was uncertain, he told me, but he thought that Jerry never was baptized.
Another weekend I met John in St. Louis he took me to see a priest who went far enough to ask about children. I said I had agreed that they would be brought up as Catholics. To John, privately, I said, as I had earlier, that I would insist on one thing, however. No books would be banned in our home and the children would be free to read anything they chose to. John agreed. The priest in St. Louis held out little hope for us, in any event. I think John also went to Little Rock to see what he could do there, and came away discouraged. After more than a year, possibly eighteen months, he finally set a date and said that church or no, Mother McShane or no, we should be married then.
I was confident enough so that I bought a new suit, plum colored wool, the skirt with a narrow gray stripe, a new hat to match of plum felt, shoes to match--my trousseau, if you please, and met him at the Coronado.
Always before we had a lot of fun in between seeing priests, for John had a fertile mind for humor and there was poetry in him. But because he had said we would be married that weekend he was miserable. First he would say we should see about a license; then he would decide to call his mother and tell her. He apparently could do neither, though. He began a long account of how he was involved with a Fort Smith woman who threatened to commit suicide if he left her. "And so I said to go ahead."
I figured he was desperately trying to make me withdraw and that would make it easier for him. On the pretext of wanting to change my blouse before dinner, I went to my room--and within ten minutes was packed and on my way to the station. He came bounding up as I was getting on the train. "You can't do this." he said. But I did. When I got back to Chicago I moved and asked the Tribune operators to give my phone number or address to no one. But John had heard me talk about the Nangle family, my good friends, and reached one of them and found me. He then came to Chicago. It was when I was getting serious about the labor movement, and when I heard him say that the CIO was trying to organize his store and that he would break the union, I saw how hopeless my marriage to him would have been. "And I'd be out leading a picket line against you," I said.
I even tried to go to New York; I told Mr. Maloney I was quitting. He said Mr. Lee would have to be informed. Lee called me in. Why did I want to leave? "It's over a man, isn't it?" I said yes. He wasn't going to let me quit, he said, but he'd lend me the money to go to Europe if I wanted to. Mr. Lee was known for generous acts to individuals. But I did not want a loan. I stayed.
Dr. Gerty once told me, "You idealized your father and that's all right, it just makes it a little more difficult for you to find a man who is right for you, for he must measure up to your father." He was anxious for me not to hasten into another marriage. I was still smarting from the disappointment over John, determined if I ever again met a man of so much charm I'd run in the opposite direction, when I was assigned to a long trial in the Federal Building. The trial, which concerned the descendants of Sir Francis Drake, squabbling over money, was a bore. I brought my knitting and under the table knitted most of a rose sweater.
One of the reporters whose regular beat was the Federal Building dropped in occasionally, never for long, and wrote funny little notes and passed them around the press table. He was M. M.("Red") Marberry, tall, lean, red-haired, taciturn when he wasn't being witty. He had a boil on his seat and carried a telephone directory hollowed out to protect it and sat on that. He walked me to the Tribune one day when the snow was falling gently. I met him at the Art Institute one Saturday and he took me home, but I was outraged at how brazenly fresh he was, and it was a good long time after that before I agreed to see him again. Meanwhile the trial ended.
While the jury was out the judge sent for me, and introduced me to his wife in chambers. He said: "I just wanted to let you know I knew all the time you were crocheting. I was almost ready to take it up myself."
The next time I saw Red Marberry was when a number of us were interviewing Father Coughlin of radio fame. Red left with me and said, "I liked the way you asked him how he got all his money." Well, I thought, that's one way to get back in a woman's good graces after you've played the boor. I was by then having an occasional date with Bob Bean, assistant director of the Zoo at Brookfield, Illinois. I had found him a marvelous source for stories and through the years had written some crackerjacks, thanks to him. At the Zoo he was always sober but away from the Zoo he enjoyed drinking--that is, if no animal birth was pending. If a birth was in the offing he remained sober because he attended all births. He was a fascinating man and knew more about wild animals than anyone in the country unless it was his father. I introduced him to Red; they liked each other. Red also drank too much.
I mentioned both of them to Dr. Gerty and found him definitely not impressed with either. I should never drink more than two drinks, he said. I stuck to that for a while but it was difficult with Red and his friends. Dr. Gerty let me know I was not ready for any other romance, because I was still psychoneurotic with problems. He thought I was right not to flee to New York, but he also saw me drifting into another inappropriate marriage. I agreed in theory, but just to work to put money in the bank didn't inspire me. Dr. Gerty couldn't understand why I wasn't more ambitious. And he couldn't seem to understand that I had a very good job and got very good assignments.
Red was more serious and consistent in regards to me than Bob. I knew I was getting in pretty deep. When I told Dr. Gerty I was also getting interested in the labor movement and was thinking of joining the Newspaper Guild I found him sympathetic. If I'd been smarter I'd have put the idea of Red on the shelf until I settled this problem about going into the labor movement. But I wasn't. The American Newspaper Guild had been organized in 1934, and not long after, the Guild had a stronghold in the Hearst papers in Chicago, and contracts, but it was rough going. At the Daily Times, a pro-New Deal paper, where Red worked, the Guild had a contract before long. But a strike on the Chicago Herald and Examiner, and The American too, was brewing. When it burst into reality, it was for me personally an issue to face. Was I content to be a freeloader, to take the benefits that would accrue to newspaper people on all papers, organized and unorganized, as a result of a strike, and do nothing to contribute to the effort? But although Red had joined the Guild at the outset of organizing at the Times, whenever I spoke of joining he hooted with scorn. What did I think I could do on the Chicago Tribune (which to this day remains totally unorganized, the only one in the U.S.A. still unorganized in the mechanical department)?
But Dr. Gerty encouraged me. I felt as if we were in a conspiracy together against Red on this issue. At the same time I was not giving up Red. I decided I should have a party and invite the Gertys and they would meet Red. I had met Mrs. Gerty--a lovely, attractive woman with gorgeous red hair--when they had me and one other woman reporter over to dinner at their home in a suburb west of Chicago, Western Springs.
The Gertys came to the party, and Bob Bean, and my special friend Kay Hall, and some of the Nangle sisters and friends of Red's. In general I'd steered away from cliques and turned down most invitations--and they were few--from Tribune people.
The Gertys of course were the center of attention. I believe they had a good time. Dr. Gerty was witty and astute when someone asked a fairly hostile question regarding psychiatry; then someone else asked a blunter question, trying to take him on, and was annihilated--with a smile, as Dr. Gerty was enjoying it hugely. But most of the guests were bewitched or at least immensely charmed by this attractive man with a nimble wit and a beautiful, intelligent wife. A small hope on my part was that he had a feeling that some newspaper people were less crazy than for example the one Tribune man assigned to Cook County Psychiatric whose passion was following fires. At every seven-eleven alarm he was out and at the scene, and in dull times, at less pyrotechnical effects.
The next time I saw Dr. Gerty it was because the Tribune had sent me to the Psychiatric Hospital. I told him it was just because I was in the doghouse (because I was in the Guild?) and was getting all kinds of assignments that were expected to lead to nothing. A young woman was incarcerated there, I think because she had been found wandering, an amnesiac, and, as it developed, the daughter of a well-known man in the Midwest. "The Trib knows people are not allowed to see people here, so it's just a drag," I said. Dr. Gerty said, rather gaily, "Suppose I let you in to see her? Then they can't say you didn't get the story." What could I say? So, with him I went, past any number of doors that were locked, and magically opened by him, until I got in this rather large room with many wandering about, and he made it known I was to see one of them. Lord, what an experience!
I thought I would never get out. I went through all kinds of scenarios, because I found her so sane, and, even listening to some of the talks around me and disregarding those that were so obviously nutty, I had come to the conclusion that that was where I should be. Had Dr. Gerty known that all along? No, I rejected that. With half a mind I was recording what she said, and thinking it eminently wise, and the other half trying to accommodate myself to a life behind bars, when the door opened and Dr. Gerty summoned me. When we were back in his office, no longer a sombre office but both ordinary and free, Dr. Gerty asked: "So what did you think?" Why was he smiling?
"Why, it seemed to me that that was where I belonged," I replied, in some confusion.
Then he said, no longer smiling. "That is a very healthy reaction, Miss Gardner. If more people on the outside felt that about people on the inside, this would be a better world."
"Do you mean it? You're not kidding me?"
"I never kid you."
It was not a farewell. I went back to Dr. Gerty several times in the future, and always felt I had a friend. But I knew that I was doing what he said, "rushing into something, like someone taking a train, the first in sight, to change her life. It's not the way to do it."
I married Red. Not a success as a marriage, but we loved each other and in time I had a child, I had a life to live! A life which did not exclude the labor movement, although including it ended the marriage eventually. I was never sure, I may add, that it was fair to Red, or to his son, for that matter.
Marriage - Radicalization - Union activism at the Tribune
I had started a novel because I felt lonely for Gertrude and Gingie. I had written about a hundred pages or so in the North Side apartment where I lived alone. Although Red hadn't read it, he always encouraged my writing. Once in the night, while he and I slept, a storm came up. In the morning most of the pages were gone, blown out the window. Red quickly dressed and was out the door; by the time I had joined him in the alley below, he was running here and there, grabbing all the pages, muddy or not. I said it wasn't worth saving, but he persisted. He packed up all the pages and put them in a box. I never did get back to the novel, but I was touched by his concern.
It wasn't, however, until I'd moved to Crilly Court and had a light, attractive apartment and had bookcases made that Red decided we should marry. Jerry had given me two bookcases and a fine Welsh cupboard, or so I called it, one of his handmade pieces of furniture, when he went to Paris to live. I needed two more bookcases and hired a carpenter to make them. Eyeing them hungrily, Red said I should have another two, but larger, for his books and we'd get married. I agreed. At least I'd not have to look at his books stacked up on the floor of his hotel room any more.
I cannot say that the course of our love had run smoothly. There was a period when Red was seeing a student at the University of Chicago. I did not know her but was told by others that she was tall and beautiful and rich, too. I also heard she was crazy about Red. I reacted as I had when I knew I'd lost Brady, the only time before then that I'd been jealous. I didn't want to compete, just wanted to run away. This time I faced it and decided I would remain where I was; I'd sit it out. One night he called me. It was after midnight. He asked me please to take a cab and come quickly. He was home. I went, and after we were in bed he told me in whispers, "I almost did, but I just couldn't. I wanted my honey." So we made it up. No questions, no further confessions.
Far more serious was a quarrel in which jealousy played no part. We had gone to stay over Friday and Saturday night with his closest friends, Eddie Shoaf and his wife Pete, at their home way out in Cook County. I had no idea how to get back to Chicago, and I had to be at work at 1 P.M. Sunday. I knew that Eddie and Pete had the Tribune delivered, and I got up early that morning and went to the front porch, that I might be the first to get the paper. All hell had broken loose. The Little Steel Massacre, or the Memorial Day Massacre. Ten men killed.
The Tribune's front page was unbelievable. It was all the strikers' fault. Instead of a peaceful march before the struck Republic Steel plant, the Tribune said they made a frontal attack! (An assignment from Col. R. McCormick had suggested they must have been organized for the frontal attack, I learned later.) How was the fact that all the dead were shot in the back explained? As I remember, it wasn't. Tears of anger were choking me as I looked at the back page, the picture page--devoted entirely to photos of cops with little pieces of adhesive tape here and there on their fat faces.
"The bastards, the bastards!" I was sobbing and weeping as Red came out on the porch.
He was sarcastic, poking fun at me. I knew he agreed with me, but he seemed to feel it a matter of principle to put down any emotion or indignation I felt about the ways of the world. I thrust the picture page at him.
"So what?" he sneered. "Do you expect the Colonel to come to Jesus suddenly? All those tears!"
"Read it!" I said and went inside, dressed hurriedly, and went out. I was walking along the road, still crying, not knowing where to get a bus but aware that it was early and I had lots of time, when Pete drove up and I got in the car. I appreciated her not trying to soothe me. I had no idea how she felt about things like strikes, but she was tactful. She drove me to a bus stop, told me how to get to Tribune Tower, and left me.
The result was that I arrived at the Tribune very early. The local news room was empty, but I had no sooner hung up my coat when one of my photographer friends came out of the dark room and motioned to me. "Come here, Miss Gardner, I want to show you something."
Inside--we were alone in the dark room--he showed me the pictures he had made which the Tribune had not used. He was crying, maddened by frustration, a sense of injustice, and pity for the bodies sprawled limply. One was still being beaten by a man in uniform. I cried, too.
"Shadow Browne saw all of that," he said, pointing to his photos. "How could he phone in what he did? And there were others."
I said: "They didn't use these but the ones they did use--those smug faced cops allegedly wounded--those bits of adhesive tape! Only the Colonel will believe it."
But I felt I should go. I didn't want to compromise him. I dried my eyes and went to the washroom to powder my face. I was sitting at my desk, scarcely composed but respectable-looking, when Red Hodgson walked in. He hung up his coat, nodded to me, said, "Of course, the ten people killed is not the worst of it, it's just the beginning." I agreed. I didn't want to say more. I didn't feel I needed to; I had the feeling that we understood each other. Red was the most sensitive of all the copy readers. I am sure that had he been able to, he would have toned down that basely lying story in the Sunday paper.
No one was more conscientious than Red Hodgson in the matter of protecting the Tribune. I heard they put up a plaque to him in the local room when he died during World War II, taking note of how he died in the service of his country--though he never left the copy desk. I remember, too, times when he was not so appreciated. Almost behind my shoulder he and Bob Lee were in earnest talk and I was mortified to hear Red pleading for a raise, saying his two girls had to have music lessons. Was there another on the way? Presumably, or it was only a fear; I heard Lee say, "I would suggest continence hereafter, Red."
The important thing for me is that it was on that day in 1937, Memorial Day, I decided that the thing I must do was to join the Communist Party. I said nothing to Red. In fact, I was so angry with him, I didn't see him for days. But I made my resolution, I figured that the heart of the Fascist movement in America was in Chicago, and more, in the Tribune Tower. I had no illusions that I'd change things. If I could make Colonel McCormick and his like a mite less comfortable, I wanted to do it.
What I had seen in the darkroom was suppressed for some time. Only when the Paramount film was shown for the first time before the La Follette Committee and described in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of June 17, 1937 (the film was never released for public viewing) did the action of Republic Steel guards and uniformed police become known in all its sickening brutality.
The bookcases at Crilly Court were built, Red's books were moved in, taking up far more space than mine, and again we talked of marriage. He had a vacation coming up. He wanted to go to the Virgin Islands, an old dream of his, and thought it would be fine to honeymoon there. Because of his connection with the Times, an airline had agreed to give him a pass provided they had an empty seat. I'd have to pay my fare, he acknowledged with his usual gallantry, and it was quite an item, but I now had money in the bank, thanks to Dr. Gerty's strictures.
First, however, I had to get permission to take my vacation. I was on my second expose of quack doctors, and all the legwork was done, but the stories had to be written. I was now considered an old hand at exposing medical quacks, so had been allowed to work at my own pace and little attention had been paid to the memos I turned in at the end of each day. My request for a vacation in order to get married brought such a tepid response that I offered to write the stories while I was gone and mail them in. That was acceptable. Meanwhile, I was to write a general memo summing up the series and attach a couple of the daily memos that I thought would make the most readable stories.
I did, picking two of the most colorful--and fairly threatening ........at least threatening enough that I was glad to make my escape from their offices. Before I began the series I had had a thorough physical examination and been pronounced by Tribune doctors to be in excellent health. Early the next morning, Mr. Maloney called me. He had taken the general memo and the two attached memos on quacks home with him, and was so disturbed he couldn't sleep. "I want to remind you, young lady, that if you are not very careful one of these men is going to rape you--and that would be very embarrassing to The Chicago Tribune!" He added, as an afterthought, that the two memos ought to make very good stories.
I told Bob Casey that and he put it in his book Some Interesting People (1943) in a slightly cleaner version, and even then, to justify it he wrote at length about me, and very complimentary it was.
Naturally, my complete medical examination at the Tribune's expense included a report that I was free of syphilis, but there was a new law in Illinois requiring that both partners have such certificates before they could wed, and Red had not taken any such test. We had already lost several days of our vacations waiting for Red's empty seat on a Florida plane. I found that Indiana also had such a marriage law. "Let's just go to Minnesota," Red said.
Which is what we did. Kay Hall put us on the train. Without telling us, she visited the Milwaukee Road's publicity office in the station after we departed, and at dinner time we heard over the loudspeaker that "Mr. Marberry and Miss Gardner are to be the guests of the Milwaukee Road at dinner." When we got off the train at Minneapolis, a railway publicity man met us and told us that Minnesota had the same marriage law as Illinois did, but that he had arranged for a license to be issued to us and that if a justice of the peace would do, he had just the man for us. We assured him a justice of the peace would be fine.
We put up at a hotel, in properly separate rooms. I went up to my room early. I was tired, but I couldn't sleep. All the reasons for not marrying Red presented themselves. I thought of the night we had been at the home of his friends when he picked at me and bullied me until I was in tears and took a cab home. I'd no sooner got in bed that night when the doorbell rang and it was my hostess, pleading with me not to marry Red. "He was always making Eleanor cry," she said, mentioning my predecessor, a woman Red was madly in love with for seven years. "He shouldn't marry anyone. Your life would be miserable. Promise me you won't." I had protested almost instinctively: "No, we love each other. And I'm sick of living this kind of life. I want to be married, live a more orderly life and have a baby."
Now, alone in a hotel room in a strange city, it seemed I was taking a terrible risk. I phoned Red early the next morning. "Red, will you come up here? I have to talk to you."
"Now what? I'm shaving, I'll come up after a while."
"I've changed my mind," I said when he arrived. "It's crazy for us to get married."
He used to tell the story later. He was very funny. "Here I was happily shaving, whistling to myself, and she calls, sounding funereal. 'Come quick, I have to talk to you.' When I get there, Mme. Doloroso declares, 'It's all off. I can't marry you.' I in my patient way ask what's up and she says she has just thought of what happened four months ago. I was not nice, I insulted her. Well, why didn't she tell me then? She just remembered it." And every time he told the story I was afraid someone would see how much I had meant it.
Actually I was touched by his jauntiness. I thought, perhaps for the first time, "Why, he really seems happy about it." In that case maybe it was okay.
But I wanted some flowers to wear and said so. Just a gardenia or two. Red had absolutely refused to buy me a ring--he didn't believe in such nonsense. So I would wear the ring Jerry had given me--once the justice had married us. But the least he could do was get me a flower or two. He said I could get my own flowers. I did. "But where are we going then?" He said it didn't matter much, we'd wasted so much time anyway. But we went to a travel agency and looked at maps and folders and he said, "Leech Lake. That sounds all right."
It was raining when we reached Leech Lake. It kept on raining. But nothing could dampen Red's cheeriness. We lay in bed and listened to the rain on the roof and that was good. There was nothing wrong with our lovemaking, either. There never was. After all, I had never had an orgasm before knowing Red. With John McShane, whenever he kissed me rather ardently he said, "I think it's time for us to walk around the block." So when Red came along you might say I was rather love starved. Not being a Catholic, he had no compunctions.
The next day some enthusiastic fishermen tried to induce Red to go fishing with them. They were astounded when he replied that he didn't fish. When I asked if, when the sun came out, one could swim in the lake, they shook their heads. The lake was called Leech Lake because it was full of leeches, they said. But it was famous for fishing.
I batted out my stories on the quack doctors and Red went to the post office daily to mail one to the Tribune. The paper, he said, was making a good thing out of this as I was working on my vacation time. He hunted for, and bought provisions for us and I did a moderate amount of cooking. He bought newspapers, such as they were, and had brought along books to read. As I remember it we had no booze and didn't miss it. When some fishermen were kind enough to bring us newly caught fish I was at a loss, though. "I just can't clean fish." I told Red. He saw no problem. "We'll just throw them out, then. The men will never know."
I made corned beef hash several times and it was wonderful. Ed Lahey, my friend on the Chicago Daily News, had taught me how to make it. Raw potatoes cut up and onions likewise, fried with a can of corned beef and lots of black pepper, it came out all crispy brown and we wolfed it down. It was cheaper than meat. Whatever I made, though, Red always ate happily. His mother had many virtues and fine points, but cooking was not one of them.
Not long after we got back to Chicago, I said I thought I'd like to join the Newspaper Guild. Red said: "Are you crazy?" I reminded him that he was among the first on the Times to join. He pointed out that the Times wasn't the Tribune. "It would be just like your waving a red flag. I should say not!" He assumed that that ended the matter.
I think we were married less than a year when Red left me, I forget why. We were both hot-tempered and he was drinking too much. I knew he would want to come back, and that I would take him back, but I decided to take advantage of my single state. I had a vacation coming and decided to go to Sturgeon, Missouri, to visit Aunt Bess and Uncle Dudley, who had bought a weekly newspaper there. I stopped off in St. Louis to meet a man unknown to me, but a good friend of Paul Garrison. I figured he would know about me from Paul. I wired him and he met the train.
The conversation I had with him at dinner has a fantastic sound now, but that was a period when great things were happening in the labor movement, and when people were going into (and moving out of) the Communist Party at a great rate. I asked him: "I'd like to know what you think. I have an idea I'd like to join the American Newspaper Guild and the Communist Party. Would you advise such a course?"
Rather like an investment broker suggesting a client trade in mutual bonds, he replied, "Why yes, Miss Gardner, I think that a sensible idea."
I said I didn't know anyone in Chicago to go to about it. I was not even sure I'd be trusted. He promised to take care of that and I didn't ask how.
In Sturgeon, I had a good visit with Aunt Bess and Uncle Dudley, although they thought it strange I was taking a vacation without my husband. Back in Chicago, I waited, but Red took his time returning. I agreed to make up with him and try again, but told him that he should know what I had in mind. At first he hit the ceiling. But when he saw I was serious, and that I was willing to go live with him again, when he was the one who had walked out, he yielded to this extent:
"I think you're insane to do it, and you can't join the Guild secretly any more, you have to announce it to your bosses as soon as you've joined. I'm not at all sure the Guild will want to take you on. Don't you think it has enough trouble on its hands with the Hearst strike? And as for the Party, if you do get in, I'll only say this: I'll not interfere with your being a member providing that you never try to recruit me."
I agreed. It was a long time before I even got into the Guild.
Ever since we first spoke of marriage we'd had a dream. We'd both take a year off, go to a secluded spot, if not the Virgin Islands, someplace, maybe an Ozark mountain cabin, and he would write the great American novel and I'd have a child.
The day came when Red was fired as Sunday editor of the Chicago Daily Times. Ruppel, the managing editor, told someone it was almost a pleasure to fire Marberry, because Red started out of the room as if he were afraid Ruppel would change his mind then, with his foot in the door, turned to ask, "Do I get my severance pay?" On learning he did, he was on his way.
He came home delighted. Now I could quit the Tribune, he said, and we'd have our year off. But by now I was in the Guild, we had mustered up a unit with the minimum requirement of seven members and I had been made head of the unit. We issued a little paper, The Tribunit. We also, early on, got out a mailing to employees and it was the great inspiration of another Guild member on the Tribune to use a secret code that we would know the identity of anyone who filled out our questionnaire. Of course, that got out and, as Red said, it ended then and there any chance of getting any more members at the Tribune. He thought it put me in a terrible light. I couldn't say I didn't know about it, as that would be divisive. He felt strongly that I should quit, and secretly I longed to, but I felt it would only make matters worse. I am not sure, but I believe that it cost us one of our stalwart members, Dave Anderson. He went over to the Sun-Times and I knew he was bitter about something.
But now, if I quit the Tribune, it would be just what the Tribune wanted. Red understood and agreed I couldn't. We did the next best thing, though. We rented a marvelous house on the Indiana sand dunes, on the other side of Gary, Indiana. I kept my job and Red began his novel. I went out after work on Friday unless I got off too late, in which case I went out early Saturday, laden with foodstuffs. Or we ordered from stores in Gary. It was a perfect Indian summer; I recall we went swimming in Lake Michigan on Thanksgiving. On weekends we always had guests. I cooked huge meals, legs of lamb, pork roasts, baked stuffed chicken, and saw to it that Red was left with something to eat while I was gone. I always baked three loaves of bread and often cornbread, too, which Red liked. While I had things in the oven I'd rush out and lie on a sand dune, even take a quick dip in the lake. It was a happy time--but the world was going to hell, the Spanish civil war was going badly and we listened to the news with horrible foreboding.
My younger sister Jane visited us there, and my younger brother John, so handsome in his white slacks. Jane was in Wellesley and, fired by the Hearst strike, wanted to become a labor lawyer. I took her with me to a huge picnic of steel workers on an anniversary of the Little Steel Massacre. Sad, but inspiring, too. We were getting signatures on petitions in support of the Hearst strike, and Jane came to me with round eyes to report, "Bibby, do you know what one man asked me? He said, 'Sister, are you in the Party, too?'"
A friend of Red's from Chicago arrived in the Indian summer, Marcia Masters, a daughter of Edgar Lee Masters--a pretty, charming young woman. Red, with a big straw hat to protect his fair skin, and derelict pants, did a dance on the sand with Marcia and Fran Coughlin took their picture.
One winter night Houstin Shockey, whom I'd known at the University of Missouri, showed up with a new wife, Janet. Red's oldest friends, Eddie and Pete Shoaf, were there. After the Shockeys left us, Pete and I were surprised to hear Red and Eddie utter swooning sounds, and ejaculations such as, "What a woman!" and "How did that bastard Shockey get her?"
It was always a mystery to me why some women had men at their feet and others, every bit as attractive, did not. Pete also was fascinated by this puzzle. To us women, Janet was a person who had little to say, she was reticent, and while not clearly outlined, she had, we both fancied, deep stores of common sense. What they saw that made them whoop it up we never discovered, but she was loaded with sex appeal, they maintained. As for the potential common sense, they never considered such potentials.
The sixty-five dollars a week that I was paid at the Tribune went a long way when it came to buying food, and we loved being freehanded with our guests, mostly impecunious strikers. The Hearst strike was not going well, though, and we were soon entertaining discouraged strikers who were sent to us in the hope their enthusiasm for the strike could be rekindled. Don Stevens, the executive secretary of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, whose steam for the strike never faltered, came out with his wife Sada, a singularly gloomy woman. Don and Red played chess for hours on end, and I had Sada on my hands. Red liked Don. He liked his wit, more on the sardonic side than Red's, if possible; alongside Don, Red seemed almost sunny. After it snowed, we had strikers who came just to do some skiing.
Red was working in earnest. During the week he wrote me occasional funny notes, as he had when he was courting, or away from Chicago on an assignment. I have often thought that if we could have continued an arrangement whereby we were apart during the week, and on weekends were free to make passionate love together, or entertain guests around the big fire in the living room, eating well and drinking only moderately, our marriage would have lasted. We found it especially good when occasionally we were alone for an evening and Red showed me his manuscript. He was writing a novel about a red-baiting publisher. It was good.
The snow became a problem, but not a serious one. Red tried to walk in it a little each day to get exercise, although he'd never paid any attention to that need before. One night, when it was hard for me to walk from the railway line to the house, I found it exhilarating and finally made it.
It was a good time. When I arrived for the weekend I wanted first to know what Red had eaten during the week, and he wanted to boast of how many hours he's put in on his novel. When we were alone he also read aloud to me. We wept as he read Of Mice and Men, and we both wept when he read Grapes of Wrath.
Newspaper Guild activism at the Tribune - The Hitler-Stalin Pact (personal and political impact)
I had heard Red say more than once that he'd never join a picketline, it would make him feel too conspicuous. It didn't occur to him that he was inevitably pretty conspicuous. His height--just over 6 feet--his red hair, his thinness and a generally skeptical expression on his face set him apart. He had a perfect face for poker, but his voice was expressive, with its hint of the Illinois plains.
Eventually he did join a picketline on the struck Hearst papers, the Examiner and the American, in Chicago. I was incredulous when I heard about it--and touched, for it came about in this way: snowbound as he was out there in the Indiana dunes, he had learned that there were many arrests during a mass picketline one cold day shortly before Christmas, and that I was among the arrested. He wasn't worried, it developed, he was mad, and he came into the city and walked in the snow on the picketline. Then he went to strike headquarters and said they might put him to work. Probably he said it casually, the only way he would say it. Nonetheless he was prepared to move into town and abandon his precious novel for the time being, to help. But the strike leadership lacked the imagination to realize how useful he might be--especially among those who had not yet gone into the Guild from other papers, raising money, for example, as I did. No one took him up on his offer, and, after taking another turn on the picketline, the following day Red went back to the sand dunes and his novel.
The picketline itself, the marching and the improvised singing are very clear in my memory. It was sometime after Christmas, an exceedingly cold morning. The line assembled early. I didn't have to be at the Tribune until 1 P.M. and saw no reason why I couldn't take a spell on the picketline and still report to the Tribune on time.
Circulation trucks (not supporting the strike) drew up alongside the picketline and, at a signal, began emitting noxious fumes. Facing us at the head of the line appeared Merrill Meigs, publisher--accompanied by the head of the Red Squad detectives, the same man who presided over the slaying of the strikers in the Memorial Day (or Republic Steel) Massacre. We chanted, "Monoxide Meigs, Monoxide Meigs," and stepped up our march. Then we saw Meigs pointing out certain people on the line to the detective. All he had pointed to were strike leaders or well-known Guild officials, including some international representatives; the one exception was Sada Stevens, whose only offense was that she worked for nothing for the Guild. Then Meigs disappeared.
Immediately the drivers of the trucks emerged, wielding rubber truncheons filled with lead. The drivers waded in with blows on targeted leaders--and many on photographers who were known to be a militant lot--and after them came the cops, heading for the leaders. I happened to be marching just behind a gray-haired man who, it developed, was an organizer of the Guild from New England who was visiting his mother. I saw a cop swing his club a cracking blow on the top of his head. But the gray-haired organizer did not fold up or go down. I'd have felt happier if he did. He just stood erect. The blows continued. The blood also continued, trickling down his head, over his gray hair, onto his overcoat. I kept seeing the blood flow, at two feet away, and seeing the cop's night-stick descend; it was like a slow-motion picture that would never stop.
I don't remember thinking anything. I just lost my head and, reacting automatically, compulsively, went into action. Holding my little picket sign, actually pretty harmless, I felt compelled to hit over the head--as the cop was hitting the gray-haired man--every cop I could find. Of course I didn't get very far. I had not been pointed out as a target by the publisher; I wasn't even a striker, let alone a leader. But the police had no choice but to arrest me. In my scuffling with them I had lost my purse. A clever man on the sidelines retrieved it and handed it to me when I was waiting with the others for the paddy-wagon to pick us up.
As we waited, I found myself next to Nate Aleskovsky, a friend, who was trying to console me. The striking photographers made photos, one of which appeared on page one of a Guild Reporter. However it appeared, I was not crying, I was mad. The picture served to antagonize my former husband, the "Socialist" Jerry Butler, for another reason: he cabled from Paris his disgust that I was now a "dirty-necked agitator."
I was not allowed to make a phone call when Sada and I were deposited at the women's lockup. But with the entire leadership under arrest, the Guild was busy petitioning the city council, the mayor and congressmen, and after a few hours the pressure was such that a bit trickled down to affect Sada and myself. I got into the local room at the Tribune about 4 or 4:30. Time enough for Maloney to have read choice paragraphs of the City News Service to me. I remained silent even at the most lurid ones on how I'd left them bleeding. Then he added: "And you are more than three hours late to work." I noted; "And the Tribune did nothing to get me out." A mistake, as it enabled him to say smugly, "Why should it when you were resorting to force and violence?"
At 9:30 that night I was off work and went to strike headquarters. I was standing behind the platform unseen, listening to Don Stevens as he described the events of the picketline. An effective speaker, he was outdoing himself that day, as he had been proud of the militant photographers, the stalwart New England gray-haired organizer, and everyone else. Then he came behind the screen to get me, insisting I go out and speak, a thing that filled me with horror. I said no, and he simply picked me up and in a minute I was on the stage. Everything blurred to me; it was packed and I tried to concentrate on a face, having heard that a speaker gains control that way, but I could not make out a single face. I turned to Don helplessly; I think he thought I was going to faint. He picked me up to carry me back, saying as he went, "She wants me to tell you she loves you all." The applause was warm indeed.
A few days later I felt worse. Sada and I were in court, and I had bought a gardenia for each of us, and felt that, with my white gloves and a hat and suit under my topcoat, I looked lady-like, and Sada always did. But I learned that of all the Guild people on trial, I was the only one charged with A & B, assault and battery. I got the distinct impression that the Guild lawyer at the time, whom I liked and felt at home with, Ben Meyers, was worried about my case, and Sada and I, gardenias and all, left a lot to be desired, at least in my case, with an A & B charge against me. But Meyers was very clever, anyway. Between him and Don Stevens they somehow won a dismissal. Obviously they must have made a deal with the prosecution; I didn't think it could have been done and was terribly grateful. If Ben Meyers had not been so hostile to gardenias I would have sent him a bunch that night.
It was in January, and in that same month, I learned that I was pregnant. We hadn't planned on my getting pregnant there, but one weekend when there weren't any guests Red found me on a dune near the water and felt amorous and we made love and when I said, "You know, I haven't any protection," he said, "No matter; you wanted a baby, and we can't wait for the perfect time." It was not a convenient time for it to happen. Mr. Lee, my stalwart protector (however much I disagreed with him privately and at times publicly, I doubt if he ever would have consented to my being fired so long as he was managing editor) was dead. Also, I did not want another abortion.
Now Red reminded me that I had done everything but make him sign on the dotted line that I could have a child. "I thought it was your idea to have a kid. Now's your time. I doubt if it's ever a convenient time to have a baby." Although he had never spoken of it, nor had I, we were particularly close at this time. I believe that he was so angry over my arrest that he felt altogether on my side; it was a sweet feeling for me. It wouldn't last, but for the time being he even stopped making critical remarks about our Tribune unit, such as, "What is the membership now, two and one-half?"
He didn't care whether he ever had a kid, he said. But since it was important to me, I should be allowed to have one and to hell with the Colonel. So I decided just to be happy about it. To tell the truth, I actually felt grateful to Red for his approach, however sexist his remarks sound now. Nor was this a sign I wasn't a liberated woman. I thought of myself as a feminist, but after years with the maniac Jerry Butler whose first fear was that I become pregnant, this seemed something like bliss. (Actually I couldn't have been totally liberated, but in later years when I was supposed to be, I realized that I was finally less liberated than ever.)
We told absolutely no one that I was pregnant. I had discovered a little book of rules for employees' benefits, or welfare, installed when Captain Joseph Patterson, my hero for a time, ran the Tribune (I was not there) before taking off to invest a million in the Daily News of New York. I was startled to read a rule that said that if an employee becomes pregnant she could claim six months' leave of absence, after which she could return to her old job at undiminished pay. I was sure it had never been invoked. I intended to do so, but not until my pregnancy showed and I would begin the leave.
It was especially important no one know in the meantime, for not only was Bob Lee dead, but Teddy E.S. Beck had been kicked upstairs and a fathead, William Donald Maxwell, was managing editor. I had never been able to abide Don Maxwell, and Mr. Lee and I once agreed that he was just as impossible as his brother Phil, except that he had a slight coating of gloss that actually made him more repulsive. In my early years Don Maxwell, when he came to work at 4 P.M., usually passed my desk, where I would often be writing something for the first edition. Invariably he would shake a finger at me, saying reprovingly, "I want to see a smile on that face!" I went on writing or simply looked glum for a time without a reply. At length I said to him: "Mr Maxwell, the Chicago Tribune couldn't pay me enough to have me sit here with a smile on my face." After that, he often challenged others as to whether a story of mine should rate page one. I remember one instance, before Mr. Beck, the managing editor, had departed from the local room. I had covered a story on the arrest of Sally Rand, the fan dancer. This was when the World's Fair had closed and she was appearing in a local movie house. The mayor took exception to this affront to the purity and uprightness of Chicago. In police court, the chief witness was an aging lieutenant from the vice squad who of course knew the legal definition of obscenity. Rand had been hauled in on a charge of giving an obscene performance. The prosecutor asked the witness what he had seen.
"I seen her butticks."
"And how did this affect you?" the prosecutor persisted.
The leathery countenance of the aging detective remained impassive, according to my story. He replied: "It aroused my passions."
For the first and only time in my experience, I was called to join the desk where apparently there was a difference of opinion on whether the story should appear on page one. Mr Beck asked me kindly if I had an opinion on it. I said I did not think it would be amiss. Why? asked Maxwell. I remember saying the aging detective's testimony revealed a lot about the virtue, or lack of it, in arresting Rand. In addition, I said, to be amusing.
The story printed, and on page one, with "butticks" spelled as the detective had pronounced the word. On the next day, Don Maxwell came by my desk and said, "At least I kept that out of the home edition, so my kids didn't see it." I never knew whether he meant the word or the story.
Now that Maxwell was able to issue orders unchallenged, he sent me into the Metropolitan section of the Sunday paper, where high school kids got their training, or perhaps they were now graduates of journalism schools. I found the pink slip in my mailbox with a general phrasing, similar to an army's discharge, if there is one, for the good of the service. I reported the next Monday to George Watt. Some things Maxwell couldn't prevent: Watt was the most decent and genial of men, and a friend. So it was a very comfortable, albeit unexciting, time I spent in the Met section, and the only problem was that it was a bore, and there was still the temptation to go into the women's room and nap.
I think there is something in pregnancy itself that invites optimism. I was sure that the rule Captain Patterson had introduced would be unassailable. I felt so self-confident that, when we moved to a larger apartment I bought raspberry colored taffeta and made window curtains for five windows. In the baby's room would be only white ones, also hand hemmed. When I was six months along I told Mr. Maloney I was invoking the rule. Not a murmur in protest. I felt triumphant.
The Hearst strike was over--with rather disastrous settlement terms. The Guild had a local election, and I, by then unmistakably pregnant, walked up to the ballot box and cast my vote. My side lost for the most part. Red had moved into town as the owners of the pleasant place in the dunes claimed it for their summer home. I had a big party for the benefit of the strikers, making quite a bit of money for the strike in its ebbing days, and Red was a genial and good host. I was enjoying having my days free from the Tribune. There was no reason we had to stay in town, however, and when Red's friends John and Dorothy Morese asked us to visit them in Detroit, we rented a car and drove up. On the way back, the news of the Soviet-Nazi pact came over the car radio. I was stunned. I said it would be denied in a few days, wait and see. Red said I was hopeless; he was positive it was true. I began thinking of reasons it might be--to prepare for war that might include more than Nazi Germany. We drove the rest of the way in a deep silence.
Before long he had a grim hint of how the pact would change our lives. His novel had been accepted by the first publisher to whom he sent it, Houghton-Mifflin--with the sole suggestion that one minor angle could be eliminated in the publisher's opinion. I agreed with the suggestion. But Red was pretty unbearable when he felt near the top of the heap. "I'll not alter a word of it," he said. "I'll go on and finish it and have it just the way I want it. If I get this response the first time I send it out, I'll get it published, it will be a cinch, just as I want it."
After the pact, it was returned swiftly by one publisher after another, for no one wanted a satirical novel about a red-baiting publisher. Overnight the market for such a gem had evaporated. Red blamed Stalin and, by inference, I was also to blame. Actually I was bitter about the pact, too, but would not criticize it to Red, and thought of it as a play for time to prepare for the real war that inevitably would be against the Soviet Union.
Red was unsparing. He bought each edition of every newspaper and read choice excerpts to me as I ironed or sewed. He taunted me: "So what's become of all your anti-fascist rigamarole? I read and read but I don't find you people saying a word now about fascism." It couldn't be true! I denied it but, unknown to him, I heaved my large bulk down to the Loop in the hot summer days and searched. I bought New Masses, I bought the Daily Worker. I sought out a book store where left literature of a sort was sold at times. I read omnivorously, standing on my swollen feet. But I could find nothing worth taking home to Red to refute him. I believe now that there was a letup in the emphasis against fascism which up to now had been unremitting. I think it was a terrible, tragic mistake that there was any diminution of our passionate stand against fascism for any time. I went home and said I'd been looking for knitting patterns.
When the day came that he called me a fascist, I walked out. I found a cheap rooming house, obviously not respectable as no requirement of baggage was made. I paid a week's rent in advance. The baby was due in about three weeks, as I remember. Very well, other babies had been born without fathers around; mine wouldn't be the first. I telephoned no one. What would I say? I bought a paper a day, and very little food, but enough. All summer I'd walked two miles a day, ordered by my tough obstetrician; I still did. I washed my hair, manicured my nails. The days went by.
But I wasn't as brave as I thought. One day, feeling incredible loneliness, I telephoned Red. I refused to say where I was but we agreed to meet in a park on the Northeast Side. "Do you take it back?" I demanded when I saw him. He did not argue. With a slight hang-dog air he said, "OK, I take it back." "I'm not a fascist? Say it." He complied.
As it happened, the baby was about two weeks premature. So it was almost the next day or the day after that I went to the hospital.
It was Passavant Memorial Hospital, a good but snooty hospital. I had no advance warning that one could have only two visitors a day, resulting in dear friends being rebuffed.
But with plenty of real things to worry about, Red managed to find unlikely happenstances and, in addition, prejudices that seemed to me idiotic. A nurse told me that when she showed him the baby he had asked, "Where's the other one?" It's true, there were twins in each family, but there had been no indication of twins. Red had worked himself up into a fearful state. When I said, "Well, what if there had been two?" he said mildly, "Oh, I wouldn't mind having twins, I just always felt I'd mind being one." I was allowed to name him John after my father, but not John Gardner Marberry or John Carnall Marberry. Why? He didn't want him to have a middle name. I suspect it was because Red's first name he chose to ignore except for an initial. I never learned what it was. When he wrote books they were signed M. Marion Marberry.
The birth itself was painless; it was the waiting for it that was a nuisance. Red had been terrified--and indeed, the cab driver, too--that the baby would come before we reached Passavant Hospital, however few blocks away. My obstetrician, Dr. Hillis, refused to believe the first intern who telephoned him the baby was imminent. It was in the small hours of the morning, when obstetricians like to go back to sleep. Luckily for me, a nurse executive came down to the floor I was on and didn't leave my side. She was lovely and I felt complete gratitude when she took my hands and let me squeeze hers. I remember her voice as she said to me, "This--is--labor."
I heard her say wonderingly to a colleague, "I'd give anything to know what she had for dinner." I had gone with Red and his pals to a beer hangout, me with my big belly and my knitting, and had beer along with them. But the word "beer" wouldn't come out--or any other word. Eventually, Dr. Hillary came, I presume in time to catch the baby.
All was forgotten when they brought the baby in to me. I looked at his hands and feet--long and narrow, and his palm lined like mine.
I was in a room with a woman who had a 10-pound boy. She refused to nurse him and that was apparently all right with her doctor. On the other hand I had plenty of milk and I wanted to nurse John, but my little one wasn't interested. He just wanted to sleep. My obstetrician, Dr. Hillis, was the head of the obstetrics department at Passavant Hospital, and he marched into my room, followed by a retinue of nurses and interns, and announced he would make that baby take the nipple. He pinched and slapped my baby's feet and worked away until, exhausted, he walked out--but not before giving the order: "Starve him into it."
I lay there and cried. But I also went into action. I called the pediatrician I had engaged, a young doctor, Dr. Faulkner; he confirmed my belief that a pediatrician has authority over the obstetrician. He came to the hospital and left orders for the mother's milk to be pumped and fed to the baby in a bottle with good big holes in the cap. "He's not premature but immature and I don't want him under any pressure. We're going to make it easy for him, not more difficult." I quit crying.
Red had told Dr. Hillis that he wanted John circumcised, and one evening Dr. Hillis came by to argue with Red about it. Months earlier I had told Red I was convinced Dr. Hillis was pro-fascist; we considered whether I should change obstetricians, but I had paid for certain tests and I decided to be practical about it. Now I heard the first part of Dr. Hillis's harangue; it had been the practice of a certain tribe of people under conditions scarcely civilized to circumcise infants as a sanitary measure, and so on. At one point the doctor suggested they go into the hall. Red told me that after more of the same, to which Red made no response save remaining glum, that the doctor said that if he were not circumcised sex would be much better when he was no longer young. Red said he replied that he wanted him to have fun when he was young. Hillis then returned to the "strange tribe" theme, and Red said, "Dr. Hillis, did anyone ever tell you you were a fascist?"
Red came back into the room. "He told me what the bill would be and I paid off the bastard." So there went a big hunk of our joint bank account, but I did not blame Red. Politics were most urgent at the time--the Nazis had marched into and crushed Poland by then; it seemed that for each stage of my pregnancy some awful event was staged and now was continuing. The next day one of the nurses told me. "The way your husband talked to Dr. Hillis--why, no one ever talked to him like that."
That worried me, and then the day came when the circumcision was scheduled, and again, I lay in tears all day, waiting in vain for someone to bring the baby in to see me. That evening, having visions of Dr. Hillis cutting off John's penis entirely, I asked to see the resident doctor. When he finally appeared I said, "Where is my baby and why have I not seen him?" He said it was not customary to bring the baby to his mother after a circumcision. He swore all had gone well. The baby had been given the usual spoonful of whiskey and the circumcision was entirely successful. He had seen him.
When we went home from the hospital John had a nurse whom Dr. Hillis had recommended--a German woman strong on discipline. She announced she would make him take the breast. I called in the pediatrician and he got rid of her; a breast pump was installed and I began the ordeal of pumping several times a day, for the pump cleans the breast and that makes the milk come. Red used to tell people he was having to throw out half the milk I gave, and that was about true. He said I could make as much selling the surplus to Dr. Bundesen, the city health commissioner, as I would by going back to the Tribune. Mother's milk was in great demand then.
One morning as I was pumping I heard a familiar voice; looking up, I saw Bob Bean of the Brookfield zoo. I was furious. Red had met him downstairs and given him his key, saying he'd be up after he got the papers.
"Get out of here, Bob," I stormed, but Bob looked on with great approval and regret that he couldn't arrange for such a thing for the mothers at the zoo he had charge of.
I now had a fine baby nurse. I'd called Provident Hospital, then the only hospital in Chicago where black doctors could practice openly (although a black dermatologist who was the envy of many whites did practice at Passavant, being shown in by the back door, I was told). I had an interview with a Miss Costello, who had dropped out of training before graduation. She was all that could be desired, I felt, and if she did insist on wearing all-white uniforms, it was worth it to me even though I had to pay for their laundry; it was the equivalent of a degree in her eyes. I asked her to keep a record of John's day, his weight, amount of milk he took, how long she walked him in the buggy and so on. The little notebook she kept was a model of information neatly and succinctly recorded. I knew I'd have to go back to the Tribune and wanted her to be well broken in. Meanwhile at Dr. Faulkner's insistence the breast pumping went on apace although one breast was getting to be the size of a watermelon. The breast pump was nothing really. The real prison sentence I felt hanging over me was a call from the Tribune we both feared; and I think it was a happy time for Red as well as for me.
One night I awoke and found Red was not in the room. I had heard nothing, but automatically went into the baby's room--and there found Red, who motioned me away. When we were back in our room he confessed rather sheepishly, "No, he didn't cry. But I woke up--and I just went in to see if he was breathing." Because he knew so little about babies he was more paranoid than I in those first weeks.
In our building were Mary and Larry Coughlin and their baby, older than John, and often visiting them or us were Maggie and Fran Coughlin and their baby Dan, a bit younger than John. Fran was an excellent photographer as well as a doting father, and made copious photos of Danny and John together, and John alone, for that matter. Both Mary and Maggie worked and both breastfed their infants, but I was the only one who had to pump.
When Maloney called and said I must be back at work by a certain day--a week, possibly 10 days, distant--I'd argued against it, but was told I must come back by then, or else. I phoned Dr. Faulkner then, to ask, "How do I wean a breast pump?" He said mildly then that he had had some anxiety about one breast--but if I must return to work, "You have no choice. You must wean the breast pump and it is not simple." I should buy yards and yards of unbleached muslin and wrap it around and around my breasts.
Having no sense of any immediate loss of job, I bought two expensive dresses before returning to work; one of them I had made, with a hat to match (dear God, how many years I wore that hat!) and Red and I in leisurely fashion discussed our options. He knew by then that he was blacklisted in Chicago on account of me. But even smart Red did not expect the Tribune would strike so quickly.
I went back to work on the required date, content with the thought that Miss Costello would care for the baby as carefully as if his ma had been home. But however tightly I bound the muslin, by noon my breasts began to leak and I had to take a taxi home and pump, then take a cab back to work to be on time, after I bound the breasts again. But gradually the leakage grew less.
I found George Watts, the editor of the Metropolitan section to which I'd been assigned before I became pregnant, as angelic as ever. None of this discrimination against me was of his making, I knew, nor did I ever blame him.
Fired from the Tribune - Move to New York
The Hearst strike in Chicago had gone on far too long, one reason the settlement was less than ideal, to put it mildly. But some of the scabs who had gone to work there did not feel so certain of that and were seeking jobs elsewhere. One day the nervous little man who was the sparkplug for the Tribune Guild unit, Graham ("Cozy") Dolan, called me on the phone from his desk in the Sunday room to say that a scab was on his way to the Tribune to look for work.
Dolan had received a call from striking photographers on the struck Examiner about the scab. Dolan suggested that he and I meet the man in the hall as he came out of the local room after being interviewed. I disagreed, saying it would look as if we were ganging up on him; Cozy should talk to the scab and then I'd come out of the Metropolitan section and look around, and if Cozy had departed I'd approach the scab.
When I opened the door from the Met section I saw Dolan with a man I presumed to be the scab; I turned to go in the opposite direction. Dolan, seeing me, took the hint and left him, and so I went up to the stranger, introduced myself and told him that many people on the Tribune not in the Guild, including a number of photographers, gave money to the strike fund, and that if he came to work on the Tribune I doubted that he'd be very popular. But Cozy couldn't keep to our agreement.
I saw Dolan had returned and was sashaying around the periphery, apparently with the idea of joining us, so I departed. I went back to the Met section and except for being mildly irritated with Cozy for his hovering, felt nothing much at all.
I had forgotten the incident when, almost a week or ten days later, Mr. Maloney called me on the telephone and said to meet him in what I think he called "the executive office"--which turned out to be Mr. Lee's old office. Maloney told me that Dolan had already been fired--and given ten minutes to get out of the building--for "intimidating a prospective employee." It was made clear I would be next.
I was serene in my own mind, knowing I had not made any threats to the scab. I remembered, however, that when I had last been in court after the picketline ruckus, the Guild attorney, a labor lawyer, experienced, had given me some earnest advice--and that I instinctively trusted him. He had said, "If you are called in by your superior and questioned at any time, demand to have your attorney present, call me and I'll be there quickly. If you are not allowed to do this, say nothing at all; refuse to answer questions."
When I got to the big corner office, there sat Frank Sturdy, one of the real pills of the editorial department, a born stooge, and Maloney. I said I wanted to have the Guild lawyer present. Denied. "But you have Sturdy as your witness," I pointed out. The answer was no, Maloney said curtly. Then, I declared, I would refuse to answer any questions or make any statement. He said he would do all the talking.
I tried to cultivate a bland facial expression. Deliberately I looked about the office, concentrating on not trying to hear what was said, while Maloney's voice went on and on in rounded sentences, asking ridiculous questions, making outlandish declarations.
I remembered other experiences in that corner room when Mr. Lee (Robert Morton) occupied the seat now graced by P. Maloney. That was where he had interviewed me and given me a job on the Tribune in 1929 and this was now 1940. It was also there that I reported to Mr. Lee after I told Maloney I was leaving and Maloney had replied I would have to see Mr. Lee about that. Mr. Lee only said, "My guess is that all this is about a man, am I right?" I had nodded numbly, unable to speak. "Look," he went on, "you can go to New York and look around if you want to, you can even go to Europe. I'll lend you the money to go on if you like. But remember, Miss Gardner, you have to thrash it out in your own head, whether you're here or a few thousand miles from here." I still could not say anything, in those so different circumstances than those I now faced, but Mr. Lee could say, "You don't have to speak. Don't answer a thing. Just know that this is where I hope you'll return--or, even better, that you'll decide to stay." That was when I had realized John McShane would never marry me and I just wanted to get away, out of sight. But I stayed.
Occasionally Maloney's voice interrupted my daydreams, such as when he droned: "And then didn't you say to Mr.________ (I have forgotten the man's name) that you had your goons who would take care of him? Maybe you used the words 'photographers who are sympathetic'?" I had to laugh aloud at that one, so crude it was. But I made sure to utter no single word. It may have been a mistake, but I felt that whatever I said or did not say I would be fired; it had been decided. At the same time I was equally convinced that the charge of intimidation would never stand up.
I knew little about the man involved. I was under the impression when I approached him that he was a photographer, as it was the striking photographers who had called Dolan. I learned later he was a copyreader, and that he did get a job on the Tribune.
I also learned later, for I still had sympathetic friends on the Tribune in or out of the Guild, that my case reputedly had been carefully gone over by the Tribune lawyers for days or a week prior to my firing. I heard reports, fantastic as they seemed, that by the time Dolan and I were out of the building the entire force of Tribune armed and uniformed guards had been deployed throughout the newspaper premises in the event the Guild should stage a "rebellion."
Not a chance. Not even a whisper of annoyance on the part of the national Newspaper Guild. Someone from the office of the International came speedily to Chicago. I was summoned to a tiny gathering in his hotel room, where he presided. It seemed to me then that the sole purpose of his coming to Chicago was that there would be never a peep in Chicago protesting the elimination of Dolan and VG.
It was, after all, in 1940, and 1940 was the year in which the American Newspaper Guild was among those unions which had been strongly left wing, but were now undergoing changes. It was if the left leadership was abdicating almost completely to the right. In the case of the Guild, it was bowing out, retaining only one office, the right-wing leadership in firm control otherwise.
After I left the Tribune Tower, I was greeted by Dolan, alongside his wife, a tearful Eunice, who felt we should go somewhere to talk and eat. I remember sitting somewhere in a booth and hearing Eunice upbraid Dolan and point out, with some justice that the two boys had to eat, and on what? (And wasn't there a girl? Didn't she eat, too?) We were joined by someone, I forgot whom. Somehow nothing was said by anyone about the child I had given birth to, or his father who was made unemployable in Chicago because of me. I felt more sympathy with Eunice than with Dolan at the moment. I soon left them to go home as it seemed impossible to lighten the gloom. Nor did it seem the right moment to indulge in some pertinent criticism and self-criticism.
But I asked myself why in the world I had to do everything because Cozy suggested it. I had thought of him as a zealot, irritating but sincere, until the treacherous business of the mailing, about which I had not been consulted. That had put me and all of our tiny Tribune unit in the light of being both inept and dishonest. But I had limped along, rather than quit. Now this sorry business with the scab.
Red Marberry took the news stonily insofar as I could tell, remarking that the whole thing was a stupid business--with which I agreed. I looked at Miss Costello's record of Johnnie's day, to which his papa had added after she'd gone for the night. I would have to fire her at the end of the week; I did, with rather handsome severance pay. I hated to lose her.
It was only a matter of days before Red left for New York. Our bank account was perilously low but we decided he could withdraw railroad fare plus $300, as I remember it. We put our furniture in storage. I moved to a cheap rooming-house in a working-class neighborhood on the Northwest Side. When he got a job he'd send for us. I realized it was hard for him to leave us, and it was tough to see him go, too.
John had had two and one-half months of mother's milk--enough to be helpful in allowing him to fight children's diseases, but not enough to suit me. And by now my breasts were dried up, I was involved in buying cans of baby food and heating things for him on our two-burner hot plate. It was cold and snowy, the days were dark, but I took John out in his buggy every day. Once a week I had to report to the unemployment office, and in this neighborhood the line always seemed to be a long one. I must say that Johnnie was angelic, though, even when we had to stand for a time in the snow before entering the building.
I was confident the Tribune's case would not stand up, but they had to perfect it, and this meant they had to deny me unemployment pay. I had to be as careful as they, which meant I had to report every week at my neighborhood unemployment office with proof of having looked for work.
Except for the roaches--which I had never seen before--the room was pretty clean. I had to use the public bath down the hall but Johnnie had his own bath--a white enamel tub which I filled with water in the common bathroom and carried to our room, putting it on his bath table, where he bathed in luxurious privacy.
I seem to remember Joe Carroll coming over one evening. Our voices as we talked awoke Johnnie and I picked him up, changed him and asked Joe to hold him while I fixed a bottle of warm sterile water. Joe looked at him warily but when Johnnie smiled, Joe did likewise. I think Joe was upset seeing the way we were living. Not that he said anything to that effect, but in a few days Nate Aleskovsky came over. I had a feeling Joe had suggested he come by.
Nate said he knew I'd lent money to some of the strikers. I asked him how about minding his own business. He made lots of things his business, he said, and proved it by naming one striker to whom I had lent money. How much? he demanded to know. Listen, I said, when I run out I'll tell you and you can lend me some. But, he said, this guy had gone back to work, the strike was over and I might as well have what was coming to me. So I relented and told him, and within the week I got the one hundred dollars I'd lent. It helped. Some of the strikers did not get their jobs back and Nate was among them. He set off for New York shortly.
Wonderful letters or at least short notes arrived daily from New York; Caroline had let Red stay rent free at the Gardners' apartment on Thirteenth Street in Greenwich Village. He missed us. He wanted to know everything about Johnnie. Caroline and Jane were being very nice to him. Caroline was generous, and she liked men, and Red liked her.
Finally when spring came was a promise Red wrote that he had a job on trial--at the World-Telegram. He knew he really shouldn't send for us, as he might be let go. But he was so lonely, and he was so crazy to see Johnnie, and please come! With some misgivings about the conditional aspect of the job, I wrote saying what train we'd arrive on. I picked a day when he would be off work so he could meet us.
In those days the Twentieth Century Limited was quite a train, and had a car for mothers and children. I tucked John into his snuggle-ducky (awful name, but marvelous object and one insisted on by Dr. Faulkner), pinned its ties to the seat, and I sat opposite. This was after I had taken him into the diner where I had a real meal and felt elegant. Born October 13, he was then five and a half months old.
Caroline's place was crowded but we piled in there, too, for a week or so. It was long enough for her, in my absence, as I looked for a job, to take away his snuggle-ducky and make away with it. I was furious. Dr. Faulkner had a reason for insisting on it--it gave the baby a sense of security. John had slept marvelously until then. I was a guest, though, and we were beholden to Caroline. I kept my temper. I even smiled, although I was outraged.
I was job hunting in a desultory fashion. I had visited the Guild office and seen Vic Pasche; the Guild had no suggestions. I felt it would be a waste of effort to apply at the Daily News but others thought I should. I had often written for the Daily News--at times on Captain Joseph Patterson's direct assignment. This was allowed by the Tribune, and it was nice to get the extra pay from the News without any diminution of my paycheck. At times the Tribune made some use of the story, usually from a different angle, as happened after I was assigned by the Daily News to do a replay of the Loeb-Leopold murder case, bringing up to date all I could learn about the principals and even minor characters touched by the tragedy. In a completely other form, the Tribune finally decided to use it. The News gave it a big play and paid me $75.
I have a letter of July 20, 1933, from the then managing editor of the Daily News regarding a story Captain Patterson had assigned me to, of a polo player's rape of a nurse. I was especially glad to get the chance to do this for the News, as it was one story on which I differed with Mr. Lee as to policy. He felt the nurse was lying, I felt strongly she was telling the truth. As Mr. Hause wrote, "Mr. Patterson said yesterday that he considered the story well done.
"It was unfortunate," Mr. Hause continued. "that the News editors trimmed the story, contrary to Mr. Patterson's instructions, because our 'editing' did anything but improve the feature." What made it a sheer pleasure to do this piece for the News was that it appeared it was strongly sympathetic with the nurse. On the Tribune it was not only Mr. Lee who condemned the nurse and accepted the polo player's denial as true; in talking of it with members of the staff in the local room I met with a solid phalanx of masculine prejudice against the nurse--indeed, all nurses, it seemed.
Now in New York, I felt certain that the News, a sister paper to the Tribune, would never hire me, but I wrote Frank Carson, the managing editor. I do not find a copy of the letter I wrote him, but his reply, dated June 17, 1940, follows:
As I have no recollection of going to the News and seeing Frank Carson, I doubt that I went. I did go to one of the Hearst papers, where I saw the managing editor, who turned out to be an acquaintance, Seymour Berkson, who told me: "We have a Guild contract, Virginia, but frankly, to have gone into the Guild while on the Chicago Tribune is like waving a red flag, and doesn't make you a prize package for any publisher."
I had given up looking for a job, actually, and was less and less anxious to do anything to take me away from the baby, when Hazel Reavis called me. She did publicity for the women's division of the Democratic National Committee and asked that I come in to see her. I did, and she declined to tell me who it was that recommended me, but she offered me an inane job doing rewrite for the woman's division for the balance of the campaign at $50. I felt it was an insult to me. She was frank enough to explain that I would not be meeting the public; I was to be tucked away in a cubicle doing rewrite of items. In other words, they would be safe in hiring me. All of which was slightly nauseating. I said I would have to talk it over with my husband; I would let her know.
I pointed out to Red that on $50 there would be nothing left after I had paid a woman, and not even a professional baby nurse, to care for Johnnie and had transportation and lunch for myself to consider. Was it worthwhile when the baby was doing so well? I saw that Red felt strongly that I should take the job. The truth is that Red was terrified of losing his job.
My hours were regular on the new job and I got home every day at the same exact time--and invariably found Johnnie in bed but listening for my footsteps on the stairs. I bounded up the last stairs and went in to him; he held his arms out and of course I took him in my arms and rocked him and sang him to sleep.
I had the worrisome feeling that I was not doing the right thing, either. Was it all right to leave him for a professional job, but not for this? After being with him these latest months without a helper it would be in any event painful to leave him. But it would be conceivable, it would make more sense, than to be away from him on a job that was in a way demeaning. If it made Red feel more secure for me to have some sort of job, it served a purpose, I supposed--but was all a bit depressing.
We were then living at 23 Bank Street, in Greenwich Village, sub-renting the apartment on the third and top floor from the writer Katherine Anthony, who came from Fort Smith, Arkansas, was a friend of Father's and of Caroline's. Kate Anthony was a towering figure among writers. Of the Americans chosen to write On Civilization in the United States: An Inquiry by Thirty Americans, edited by Harold E. Stearns (Harcourt, Brace, 1922), she is one of the two women included in this book often regarded as seminal for the period.
As the newest member of the staff, Red was still on early shifts at the World-Telegram. He still was nervous about keeping his job, and when his hours allowed it he liked to join some members of the staff at drinks in a nearby bar. He had been wild for me and the baby to come to New York, and I had seen no reason not to come. I already had a case filed with the National Labor Relations Board on account of my demotion to the Metropolitan Section. Since then I had added a great deal of material, and the charge that I was fired for Guild activity after more than ten year's employment.
It so happened that Pat Maloney made a practice of writing words of praise that went with clippings he felt deserved it, either typed or handwritten after the copy boy pasted them on half-sheets. I don't know what he wrote on others' but regarding mine he seemed discerning. Especially if a story did not make page one he liked to write "good", and often more, as when he noted he had enjoyed more than anything in the paper that day a piece I did on a politician's talk to a woman's club.
On a page one story, "City Welcomes German Flyers on Second Visit," he noted, "Continue your excellent coverage of the flying Dutchmen." But below a story headed "Happy Group Makes Merry Trip to Camp" he typed, "A compelling story I think." In 1935 he typed, "I like your story on Mrs. Insull very much." Unlike that story, one on an art exhibit that not only did not make page one but didn't even survive intact after the first editions, brought his comment in 1933: "I thought your Indiana story--especially as in the early edition--was a peach."
"Nice work--pm" he wrote on a page one story based on an interview with Acting Police Commissioner Alcock--commanded to clear the city of criminals, he was ordering policemen again to pound the streets. But on "Notes of the Eclipse" he had dictated, "I think these were fine--" p. maloney. And in a page of instructions to half a dozen he was assigning to an American Legion "jubilee" he included this: "Gardner - Notes. We want a column of Jubilee notes. The neatly turned thumbnail stories for which you are justly famous." And on another occasion, a Republican convention, he had typed on the notes I did: "You may be lacking in many things but one of them is certainly not inability to write swell notes. Thank you," signed the familiar "pmaloney."
Over the years I had formed the habit of keeping many of these. I bundled up a great number of these clippings with Maloney's comments, and of course the note Mr. Lee had left for me early on, which was followed by a raise in pay, and a later one. The first, undated, was in 1929, in longhand, addressed to "Dear Miss Gardner." It read: "Your work on the Buchanan story Tuesday was fine, the Cunningham story this morning charmingly handled and the O'Brien story tonight is beautifully done. It won't hurt you.
Indeed it did not. On the Tribune less than three months, I had a $10 raise in my next paycheck, or $60. Not good, but not bad, for 1930. It was the beginning of the Depression. The Buchanan story I don't remember, or the Cunningham story, but the O'Brien story involved the fatal shooting of William J. O'Brien by Howard Door after he intervened between his tenants, O'Brien and his wife Genevieve.
The other note by Mr. Lee read: "You wrote a beautiful story on Greeter Gaw & everybody enjoyed it and praised it. Thanks and more power.
The head over the story was "Slight Discord Mars Greeter Gaw's Song Hit." Another songwriter, Mrs. Margaret McHale Wright, heard some of the words of the Gaw lyrics over the radio and declared she detected in certain lines a strong influence of "A Windy City," her song, dedicated to the Century of Progress. He took his title, "Greetings: Chicago Welcomes You," from her chorus, his idea of the skyline from her word "towers" and infringed upon her inspiration, she charged; he also failed to answer her letter when she sent him her song. The amazing thing about this story is that it ran for a column on page one and a full column on an inside page. Interviewed in his Hotel Sherman suite, Greeter Gaw defended his inspiration. It came to him one spring night in his Owensboro, Kentucky, home, the tune, that is, for a Century of Progress song. He returned to Chiacgo and wrote the words. "I took the history of Chicago and added the gist of the speech I always make about our boulevards and churches and skyline. I had the music arranged but the tune was mine. Now take my first verse."
That line, he said, I got from the early father--who was it?--wasn't it Joliet?--who thrust his sword in the ground and said, 'Here is a city of destiny.'" In this way Mr.Gaw went through two stanzas and the chorus, explaining everything. In his exuberance he threw in a stanza of a song he'd written to Owensboro, beginning "When I was just a barefoot lad I dreamed I'd like to roam" and ending "Through all these years I feel Mother's tears saying 'Sonny, come home again.'"
But his challenger was no slouch, either. She had the last word, too. "I wouldn't wonder but what the big song trust is behind him. Well, they do say that Bacon wrote all of Shakespeare's plays."
These items, notes from Lee and Maloney and clippings of a large number of stories that appeared on page one, all byline stories, formed my "case," and were submitted to the National Labor Relations Board before Johnnie and I set out for New York. The strikers had been helpful in obtaining copies of the Tribune I thought might be required.
Fortunately my job ended with the election. A comfortable majority for F.D.R.--about whom I felt only lukewarm, in contrast to the situation, four years earlier, in 1936, when those few on the paper who would admit our preference felt embattled, all passionately hoping for a victory against Colonel McCormick, which is the way we saw it.
While I was still at the Democratic National Committee office and before the election, the phone rang in my little cubbyhole one day and it was Don Stevens, executive secretary of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, with a singular, an incredible, proposal.
The Newspaper Guild pressures Gardner to drop her NLRB case and accept at financial settlement with the Tribune - Going to work for the Citizens Committee for Harry Bridges
I was still working with my amiable but unexciting sisters at the Democratic National Committee and looking forward with relief to the 1940 elections; Roosevelt would win comfortably, we felt, and I would be free of my job. No more jobs for me, thank you; I now knew the undiluted joy of climbing those stairs at home while I heard Johnnie's squeals of delight at hearing my step.
We had rented and before long would be in our new place; I could hardly wait to get to work arranging things, and figured Red would be less restless once we were in our own flat. But one night he announced that he was having a bunch of the guys from the World-Telegram in for drinks; he had been invited to some of the homes of members of the staff, but because of the baby he had reneged for me. Now he said frankly he'd rather I clear out for the day. I thought I recognized the old syndrome operating; fear of being fired for having a wife who was a red.
I had even gone to a lawyer I'd met, but he just gave me hell in a mild way. "Look at yourself--going about with a safety-pin in your dress, no makeup, your hair sloppy, looking down-at-heel. Your baby is adorable, but you can't live his life for him. Spruce up and go back and try again with the idea you'll make it work. Don't talk politics. If he does, don't enter into it, beyond talking as they would where you're working now."
We both proved we could omit politics from conversation and get along, when there were others around us. Betty Lindley, one of the important factors in the woman's shebang, invited us to celebrate Roosevelt's victory in a huge affair, specifying Johnnie was to come, too--and we should spend the night. Since there were few children of his age there--and none lovelier, with his yellow ringlets and brown eyes--we were made much of, occupied a little cottage not far from the big house with the big fire, and meanwhile we went outdoors to watch the fascinating procedure of how to cook various kinds of meat, chicken and fish for hundreds of people in the open air; there must have been six fires in deep crevices.
Our little cottage had in addition to a big bed a little crib outfitted with sheets and blankets, but we had no idea of leaving Johnnie alone lest he wake up and be startled. "You stay with him, honey," Red said. "I'll bring you in a drink. Too many lechers out there. Now if we only were among Republicans--."
We slept late, went to another beautiful house higher on the hill, and a magnificent breakfast, everyone ordering what he chose. At long last we made our way home. "You were an awfully good boy," Red told Johnnie. "You were, too," I told him, and he admitted it.
By now we had moved into a large, floor-through apartment at 80 Perry Street in Greenwich Village. It was newly decorated just as we'd planned; we had sent for our furniture. There was a working fireplace in the living room, with windows facing Perry. A large bedroom, with two windows, an enormous dining room, a little room for Johnnie, and an old-fashioned, roomy kitchen, a real pantry and a bathroom with shower installed, obviously in recent years--that was 80 Perry, and it had a tiny back porch rather than a fire escape landing. In those days the few buildings allowed to be higher than four stories were even fewer than now, and ours was a five-story walkup, so that the sun streamed into our windows when there was any. Overhead was a completely flat roof, for a big stretch unimpeded so that Johnnie had a good play space, surrounded by sturdy fence. It was still warm enough so that on sunny days he ran about without a stitch on, but Red and I or both always watched close by.
Johnnie had a special friend in Lucile, my youngest half-sister, about eleven, and although she preferred practicing on her violin to anything, she was glad to help out occasionally. So when Red called and asked her if she could take care of John and, providing I was willing, let me meet him at lunch, she agreed. Then Red told me: he was aware he'd been drinking too much and he was going on the wagon. The resolution didn't make me at all mad. So Red and I made up that night; neither did it make me mad that, in stead of sleeping on the sofa, he was his former self and passionate lover.
I looked forward to a real stretch of tranquility. But all this vanished overnight after Victor Pasche, whom I'd met, called me and asked me to drop into his Guild office, and made a "suggestion"--the kind I had never learned to say "No" to. It was to organize, nationwide, a group of professionals around the case of Harry Bridges, the embattled longshoremen's head whom the government still was trying to deport. I felt greatly honored. But I had to be candid with Pasche and told him it would be foolhardy to take it since I did not have the qualifications: I knew nothing at all about organizing, I felt no slight talent for it; as for speaking, it was impossible. The mere thought of having to make a short talk paralyzed my tongue, and as for a long one, it would be more dreadful.
He argued. I'd have help from dedicated trade unionists, he said, who would act informally as a sort of steering committee, and their wives and other women were already looking forward to showing me around, making it clear when I should avoid something, and so on. "Then," I said, feeling it was my strongest card, "there's my husband. I'm not at all sure that he would agree."
I left Vic with that the only thing to be settled between us. To my amazement, Red was delighted with the idea. He tried to calm my very real fears about the job. Just refuse to speak; you can take your choice: just you get a hall, and whoever is speaking, if it's on Bridges, that will fill it!
But Red became really excited when he learned that F.O. Matthiessen, who had agreed to be chairman, would come down from Harvard (this was in 1941, when his epochal American Renaissance appeared) when Bridges came to New York, and others in the executive committee of the Citizen's Committee for Harry Bridges, including Carol King, would meet at dinner at my house.
We had drinks (it was long before Harry had to have about two-thirds of his stomach cut out), and Johnnie was brought in and introduced by Eve, his young Austrian nurse, a refugee from Hitler whom he had been fortunate enough to find. She lived with us but we had purloined her quarters, the dining room, for the meal. Harry was in marvelous form. But "form" gives the wrong idea of it. It was obvious that he wanted to make sure that Eve understood just what fascism was. Not all well-to-do Viennese Jews did, it was rumored at the time. It was Harry's passionate anxiety that she do so that informed that talk. If she had not understood, she surely did so by the time dinner was served. Red said later he could almost see Matthiessen jotting down notes on his cuff as Bridges spoke.
I had made my exit to get the meal on the table, for Eve, however lovely with Johnnie, had never boiled an egg until I taught her. We had put on my best linen, china and silver, including some delicate old silver spoons my grandma inherited from her foster mother. Harry was launched on a story that has us all spellbound, about his first shipping out from Australia at the age of sixteen. I saw with a sort of paralysis of nerve what he was doing: bending one of the fragile spoons back and forth (I still have it, in two pieces. My grandchildren can fight over it.)
The dinner was a success. I excused myself to strip the table and put Johnnie to bed and Red, who was gracious and charming that night because he was charmed by both the professor and the longshore leader, took the guests back into the living room and told me later the talk was sparkling. Matthiessen had to catch a train back to Harvard that night, and left a bit early. Red and I went to the door with him, where he said shyly that he had had the most interesting evening he had known in fourteen years. We asked each other later what that previous evening could have held for him. It was when he was twenty-five years old.
Red and I spoke together later that evening--(and what a happy one it was!) of its being too bad that we hadn't managed to persuade our great literary scholar to talk more. Or at least I spoke of it. I even upbraided Red a little: "You could have done it. You have read enough. I wouldn't know how, but you could have." He answered: "Don't be silly. He wouldn't have liked it a bit. What he wanted to do was listen to Bridges."
I never again saw that lovely man with the quiet but stirring voice. But I saw Harry not long ago after Matthiessen's suicide early in the morning of April 1, 1950--an act widely interpreted, as a protest or a casualty of the Cold War. He had been questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and red-baited by Life magazine and by Irving Howe in Partisan Review. Harry was shaken by the news. In the last of several postscripts to his suicide note, Matthiessen wrote that "as a Christian and a socialist believing in international peace, I find myself terribly oppressed by the present tensions."
In an article, Leo Marx, who studied under Matthiessen and later returned to Harvard as a graduate student and tutor working under Matthiessen, in the February 1983 Monthly Review, "Double Consciousness and the Cultural Politics of F.O. Matthiessen," points out: "By now we know a lot more about his mental condition during the winter of 1949-50 than anyone knew, or cared to discuss, at the time." By his own account his state of mind resembled the suicidal depression from which he had recovered twelve years earlier. "But a vital difference between the two episodes. . .is that in 1938 Matthiessen's closest friend and lover, the painter Russell Cheney, was standing by, ready to help him re-enter the world. They had lived together for some twenty years before Cheney's death in 1945.
The same article declares, "It comes as something of a shock, if also as an encouraging index of cultural change, to realize that as recently as 1950 Matthiessen's friends considered his homosexuality unmentionable--at least in print." It also concludes that "The fascination that Matthiessen continues to exercise upon new generations of scholars is unusual," and notes that "Unlike most academic writing. . .his work conveys a strong sense of passionate involvement."
To go back in time a bit, while I was working with the Democratic women doing rewrite in 1940 before the elections, my phone rang in my little cubicle. It was Don Stevens, calling from Chicago where he was still executive secretary of the Chicago Newspaper Guild. He told me that Arthur J. Goldberg, about whom I felt none too warmly, although there was no reason that Stevens should have known it, had received a tip that the National Labor Relations Board was issuing a citation against the Chicago Tribune. (It was then the practice of the NLRB to issue a citation before bringing an employer to trial.) But before I could say that in itself thrilled me, Stevens went on; he had a proposal to present to me: that I drop my case against the Tribune in the interests of the Guild as a whole and even the interests of the people employed by the Tribune! The long strike on the two Hearst newspapers in Chicago had exhausted the Guild's finances nationally.
And how would Guild people on the Tribune (I was not sure any were left) be helped? I asked. Oh, Don replied, the most important thing of all was that if my case went on, it would hurt organization at the Tribune! I interrupted to ask what had been done regarding such organization. Nothing, he said. But they had plans. Goldberg thought it would be good to advertise the victory. I wasn't being sarcastic when I replied (Red Marberry liked to tell people I was slow on the uptake and at times I was). I asked: "What victory?" He explained that Goldberg wanted to have the Tribune check photographed for the Guild Reporter and a copy of the photo sent to each employee. As it happened, the mailing to the employees never happened, but why should it have been sent?
Goldberg impressed me as an ignoramus. He asked a barrage of beside-the-point questions, with Dick Sellers, an international vice president of the Guild, drooling over him and urging me to answer even the most inane. I still have the copy I'd made from notes, and it still reads like points of a conundrum. I could imagine Goldberg's dreams of being invited to the Overset Club to have lunch with or at least see the Colonel; few people outside of Tribune executives were invited and few of them.
Stevens let me know he was speaking not for himself only, and that he would require a Yes or No answer AT ONCE. He did allow himself time to tell me that Cozy Dolan had decided to drop his case. He thought he had a chance to go on the payroll of a union as an organizer; it might mean the golden opportunity to become a labor leader. I think he lasted with IATSE, or the International Alliance of Theatrical State Employees, notorious at the time as a racket-ridden and corrupt union, all of three months.
Well, I asked, where did all this leave me? I was interested in only one thing; going to trial against the Tribune. I was confident enough in the Tribune clippings, painstakingly gathered in working at the Public Library by strikers, byline stories of mine, that had been sent to the NLRB. They were my "case," and I had added the two notes I had had from Mr. Lee, and numerous notes on stories, all congratulatory, written by P. Maloney.
Don told me that Goldberg had been meeting with the Tribune's lawyers and was delighted when they reported that Colonel McCormick "will accept anything but reinstatement."
"And that's exactly what I would demand," I said. I startled myself when I said it. I had never visualized having to return to the Trib. I had thought it likely that the newspaper would be ordered to take me back, but it hadn't occurred to me I'd have to go. Now, thinking of the staff, I knew of course I would, and, my heart sinking, said: "I'll change that to say that it is what I will demand."
Don then put on the real pressure, making me feel I would be doing a selfish and futile thing by demanding trial. He again spoke of the check (for $2,860), the severance pay at the terms fixed in the Guild contract with the Tribune-owned Daily News of New York and the rest, back pay owed me.
"Well, Don, you know I have to talk to Red about this," I told Don wearily. "Especially since it was I who got him blacklisted with every Chicago newspaper, I owe it to him."
"No, I'm under instruction to get an answer from you now."
Everything in me told me that it was wrong to say, "All right," but I said it.
I went home and told Red. He was livid. "Call him and tell him you've changed your mind."
"Oh, I"m sure that Goldberg has already called Washington and said I was withdrawing my case." I wept bitter tears, more of shame at my capitulation than in anger, although I was angry through and through.
"When Stevens and you had to give an answer there and then and not talk to your husband about it, you should have told him, 'Drop dead.' Or all you had to say was, 'The answer is NO.' I can't imagine your saying to him. 'All right.' What in the world possessed you?"
In all probability, I felt, Red was right. But I kept thinking--what if it was from the Party? If it was, and I had known it was? In ruminating over this abstraction, which was all that it was even then, I had to admit to myself that even if it might be one of those wacky actions the Party at times is known to have indulged in, with righteous motives even--if I had had to choose, it would be "Yes." I might think I ought to say "No" because I was given no chance to respond, but even so, I'd say "Yes," just in case.
Before I had said that "All right," I had missed a point Don was making--that he had to report to lawyer Goldberg, or to the top Guild people in New York (or were they interchangeable?). For my part, I assumed it was Goldberg--possible because I disliked him so. I had no great, important issue at stake with him--none that I knew of at the time. I just felt that he was a nincompoop. It was at a time when he was on the lowest rung of the ladder, before he represented the CIO, then became Secretary of Labor under Kennedy, then a Justice of the Supreme Court, before he was persuaded to drop it and travel on, to become, as Len De Caux wrote, "apologist for United States Imperialism in the United Nations."
I had several letters from Goldberg, all happy as a lark over his "victory" (it certainly was not mine), and one from Don that sounded more in character--he at least had caught on to a move on foot among some comrades or Guild members to see that Lawyer Goldberg got a hunk of the check. Don Stevens said he had written Goldberg that such was not Guild policy, that if he thought he had earned some additional fee other that he had been paid he should take it up with the Guild. Actually Goldberg's chirruping letters to me ignored the matter of any legal fee.
I deposited the check in the joint savings account of Red and me, taking two hundred and fifty dollars to send Aunt Bess; Uncle's dream of owning a successful smalltown newspaper seemed close to bankruptcy in spite of the hit Aunt Bess's features made. I also sent a check to the Chicago Newspaper Guild, of which I was reminded in a yellowing letter I'd had, from Al Jackson, president of the Chicago Guild, to Vic Pasche; Al sent a copy to me, and a letter to me assuring me that in case the new International Executive Board of the Newspaper Guild had not already granted me permanent eligibility, he was repeating the request made earlier by the Chicago local. His letter to Pasche went on:
Virginia was fired from the Tribune for Guild activity. A labor board case was started in her behalf and was settled with payment of severance pay equal to that in the New York News contract, as you probably remember. Virginia's dues were paid here and in addition she made a large donation to the Chicago Guild out of the settlement pay she received. She says there seems to be a matter of 35 cents unemployment dues involved in the difficulty also. I am enclosing that amount.
I remember that I also, without mentioning it in my letter to Jackson, naturally, made a contribution to the Communist Party. I had been to Party headquarters on 13th Street earlier, trying to establish my status as a member from Illinois, but was rejected. It seems I had no credentials. Someone was to write from Chicago, I said. Lottie Gordon, whom I still see at occasional large functions, always with pleasure, was behind the window and explained I should have brought a part of a torn dollar bill that would have fitted one sent by Illinois. Pleased at the voluntary donation, she waved aside the torn bill--or possible just forgot what she had told me. I wondered if it was customary in New York City to assume strangers were lying. Now when I see Lottie, though, I just think, how wonderful to know that a few are still around--and she is equally warm to me.
A few days before or after my first active week with the Citizen's Committee, I attended a large cause party, as they were often called then. I forget the exact cause, but it had to do with an eloquent young black labor leader--whose job was in jeopardy. My guide was one of several professional executive secretaries on the left in New York who could be maddening but at other moments were most helpful; this one was in an amiable mood this evening and was introducing me right and left. Walking from the subway to the hotel where the dinner was being held, I suggested that hereafter she not announce in front of me how much I was paid; sooner or later she could tell people, and let them know that the Bridges policy was not to require anyone to take a pay cut. I was being paid $65 a week and I hoped it was policy; if not, I never heard otherwise. She seemed to take it with approval. I could understand why the stress on the sixty-five, when most of them, if my most frequent caller among the secretaries was correct, got about half that. She was shoving me here and there; it seemed we were joining a line waiting to see someone. It proved to be Nathan Witt, secretary of the National Labor Relations Board since 1937 until his recent retirement in 1941. Mr. Witt piloted me through corridors, avoiding handshakers when possible, until we found a spot less jammed than others.
Was I the Miss Gardner from the Chicago Tribune? he inquired with a puzzled, baffled look. I nodded yes and he went on: "Whatever happened to your case? We on the Board had considered it the most perfect newspaper case ever to come before the Labor Board. We simply couldn't understand what happened. All that we were told was that there was a baby, and that Miss Gardner had decided not to proceed with her charges against the Tribune."
I could hardly believe my ears. I had held the trump card in my hand--I had a chance to beat the Tribune--and I'd blown it!
For the moment I was speechless. My mouth went dry, my tongue clung to the roof of my mouth, I could not breathe. At last I managed to tell Mr. Witt about the mysterious call from Don Stevens. The dinner was to commence, Witt and others were being called to the dais. But he heard me out--and listened. "Miss Gardner," he said, "it seems you were sold down the river."
"I believe you," I said breathlessly--never having thought of it before. "And they were my own people."
He nodded and departed, I let my guide find me and appeared as if I were listening. I heard nothing that was said, I heard only Nat Witt's voice. Down the river. Such nice homely language. How could I go home and tell Red, how could I say, surprise, surprise, the NLRB was considering my case--the most perfect newspaper case yet. Nice, isn't it, Red, to have such a smart wife?
As Red always said, everything gets out in the end, it's bound to. When it did, it might even seem logical that I was in cahoots with both Goldberg and possible even the ACTU (Association of Catholic Trade Unionists). Gardner a traitor! I told my evening's guide farewell at the corner and walked home. I had made up my mind. I was not telling Red a thing! I could never forget entirely that he had once called me a fascist. Maybe this time he'd say I was helping the ACTU take over the Guild.
I crept in guiltily, called out softly when I saw he was reading in the big bed, and let him know I'd be right in as soon as I checked on John. It was a cold night.
Not long after I met Nat Witt I ran into an old friend, Joe Carroll, once a Chicagoan. It was at the annual luncheon meeting given by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Even now when everything is impossibly costly, I always go to the vets' affairs and always see the same friends there--Spain you don't forget. So I saw Joe there and his wife Anne. I had not seen them since I was in the East, but I had heard about the play he had written, and I did see it later--absolutely satisfying. At the VALB affair in 1941, we talked little about Chicago as we had no news from there.
Joe said: "I was out of town for a period there and when I got back I heard something about what had happened. I was told that an old-timer, a reporter who never leaves police headquarters, remarked, 'Why should anyone go into the Guild after the way they treated Virginia Gardner?'" Then Joe asked: "You didn't have any such feeling, did you, Virginia?" It was close enough to the event for me to still be sensitive.
"Oh, no," I said airily, or in a way I hoped sounded that way. Anne and I agreed we'd meet "one of these days," and the conversation ended. But it rankled. I tried to tell myself how close Joe had been to Don and Sada. But he had been close to me, too!
Meanwhile I had touching letters from Aunt Bess--and soon after, a meticulously wrapped and insured large box. For years, editing woman's pages in Kansas City and then Milwaukee, she had become sort of a collector. What she had sent me, in return for the paltry (considering the china's worth) two-fifty, was her still intact, entire set of the French Limoges game china. My sister Gertrude insisted that the platter should bring an extra thousand because of the odd shape of the turkey; but I never sold it. It is a comfort to know it is there. It is like having a solid life insurance policy tucked away. Believe me, the china is not tucked away in a safe deposit box. Wherever I have lived, moving from coast to coast, it has added a touch of elegance.
It is now 1985, I am 81 years old and in touch with Don Stevens. He told me that he had no memory of any conversation with me after I'd gone to New York, nor any angle of it I had brought up. Both of us quickly established (can twenty years be quick?) that we had complete belief in the other's integrity. We have not seen each other, but from snapshots of Don I would say he looks about 45 or 50. He is 86. He is in what seems to be just about perfect physical condition, works a long day, selfimposed, as he is a general contractor in Mill Valley, California.
He left Chicago shortly after I did, going to the West Coast, where he was well known. You might say he started the Guild on the West Coast, and literally, it's so. That was in 1933-34, when he became the Guild's first member on the West Coast and one of the leading organizers of the Bay Area local. In 1936 he resigned his local posts to become the first full-time organizer for the international organization of the Guild, originally in the American Federation of Labor, and later swung into the CIO at its 1936 convention by Stevens and others who fought a good fight.
A letter from a family friend that may have linked Harry Bridges to Soviet agents
At a time when I was seeing Harry Bridges frequently, trying to get him to go public with his great detective story--men he had reason to believe were G-men occupied the room next to his in the Hotel Edison in New York City--a remarkable letter reached me.
It was from General Breckenridge--J.C. or James C. to some, "Carson" to family and intimates--and I had just received it. In fact I was on a bus taking me and Bridges when I first opened and read it and, before I got off, read it again, savoring his words. It was just as well that I did, for once I showed it to Harry, I never saw it again.
I can't recall whether I had told Harry before this that I knew the Breckenridge family, including the legendary officer, then a colonel, who brought me and Gertrude those magical eggs from Peking when he came to Ft. Smith to visit his mother. In the event I hadn't, I explained now that his sister was Mary Breckenridge, head of the Frontier Nursing Service, in Kentucky, and to her I had sent a pamphlet on Harry Bridges, and a form letter asking her to join the committee. Had she a mind to, she could have, too; we had people on the committee just as distinguished and famous as she. But she didn't. Knowing her brother very well, though, and his sustained interest in the destitute, the underdog, those who labor, the exploited, she sent the pamphlet on to him. Now he had written me. It was in the summer of 1941.
Carson was a deeply emotional man, despite his exterior that was so controlled. The letter was tender, affectionate and eloquent, but plain, too. Until his sister Mary sent the pamphlet he had had no idea of what I was doing. Now that he knew, he spoke of how proud it would have made my father to know. On my part, I thought it likelier that Father would turn over in his grave. No matter, we both loved him, it was just that Carson couldn't bear to think that John Gardner had not agreed with him on everything.
The letter told of Bridge's being a guest at a dinner of the Breckenridge's, Carson and Dorothy and their sons John and Jim. He told John and Jim in advance, as nearly as I can remember: You will meet a great man. All he is trying to do is create conditions so that all children in North America will have the advantages you boys have now.
Carson stated in the letter that he was sending me some of the correspondence he had had on the Bridges case with Madame Perkins. Apparently he had had second thoughts about that, however, as he did not send the correspondence or any part of it, then or ever. He was alluding, of course, to Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, and the first woman in the cabinet.
I watched Harry as he read the Breckenridge letter with care, folded it, and put it in his pocket. "So," he said, "the old codger was on the level, after all."
"I just received it, Harry. I'll get it photostated and give to you."
"No, Virginia. I am keeping this." There was a finality in the way Harry said it.
I saw that clamped jaw. In the first place, I wasn't all that brave with Harry. What could I do but trust to luck? No, I meant to get that letter back, some way. Meanwhile I reconnoitered.
The letter had said that he had been eager to meet Bridges. It didn't say when that was. Only that it was when he became Commandant of the Marines, Department of the Pacific. That set me to looking. I found that he arrived in San Francisco on January 6, 1935, according to his marine record. In other words, the maritime world on the West Coast was only newly victorious, it was still reeling. The organizing genius that was Bridges's solidified the ranks of the San Francisco longshoremen in 1933 and 1934, and the union had struck in May, 1934, adding new demands to some issued earlier; a closed shop and the end of the "shapeup," by which men lined up each day before sunup to be hired or to be passed over; hereafter, all hiring to be done in union halls. When on July 5, 1934, police attacked a picket line of several thousand, leaving two dead from coppers' bullets and a couple of hundred wounded, "bloody Thursday" signaled the beginning of a general strike. With 160,000 joining in from all industries, the National Guard was called out, but three days later there was peace, an end to company unionism and hiring by union halls instead of the shapeup.
The men who had handled the cargo along the Embarcadero had averaged in 1934 $10.40 a week, and in 1940, six years after the strike, the average annual income of longshoremen of San Francisco was $2550. Their scale, Bridges told Edwin A. Lahey Jr. of the Chicago Daily News in "Portrait of Harry Bridges," reprinted on the editorial page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch June 25, 1941, "is $55 a week, compared to a $40 West Coast average."
Although Bridges always credited the rank-and-file with the victory, saying he himself only happened to be there at the right time, suddenly Bridges, before the end of 1934, was a man with incalculable power whom many persons wished to meet. General Breckenridge one of them. Carson was, of course, aware that Bridges could not be expected to agree to meet him without being encouraged to by a liaison whom both respected.
In his letter Carson spoke of the difficulty this presented. But he didn't say who was the go-between. If I didn't ask Harry, I might never know, and I was curious. I asked him. Oh, that? Why, the Russian consulate in San Francisco. Well, how did it work out? Oh, he recalled casually, fine: a limousine from the consulate called for him and deposited him at the Breckenridge home.
A happy solution to the problem, once I thought about it. Bridges always took delight in extolling the virtues of the USSR, according to his testimony, involving his denial of being a Communist, accompanied by many admiring words about Soviet Russia. And as it happened, Carson's father, Clifton R. Breckenridge, once a congressman from Arkansas, was appointed ambassador to Russia by President Grover Cleveland in the nineteenth century. There Carson lived with his family in St. Petersburg, and Mary, too. He went to schools in Switzerland, but witnessed enough in his time in St. Petersburg--enough of the repression practiced by the autocracy--to incline him toward a sympathetic understanding of the Russian Revolution.
In my "Friend and Lover," The Life of Louise Bryant2, I noted that young Major Breckenridge, in 1918 Naval Attache at Christiania (Oslo), Norway, alerted as to Bryant's plight, got her aboard a ship leaving for home the next day. The person who did the alerting was Col. Raymond Robins, head of the American Red Cross in Petrograd. Louise carried with her and presented to young Breckenridge, a letter from Robins. Robins didn't know how to spell his name correctly, and failed to note his initials or given names, but Breckenridge went into action. Robins had let Breckenridge know that Miss Bryant was a correspondent, the wife of John Reed; both had "been helpful in the work we have been doing in Petrograd," and Mrs. Reed was leaving Petrograd "without the assurance of transportation on the first boat leaving Christiania." He commended her to "such special consideration as may be possible for you." Telegrams from Washington the next day ordered visas to Reed or Louise not be signed without department permission. The reply explained that Bryant had departed the previous day.
Breckenridge's marine record disclosed that he had served as assistant naval attache at Petrograd from April 1916 to August 1917, or the eve of the Bolshevik insurrection. Thus he must have been at least acquainted with Robins, whose sympathetic understanding of at least the causes of the Russian Revolution has been compared to Breckenridge's own. His action in getting Louise and her companions on board a ship leaving the next day may have saved Louise from becoming a virtual hostage waiting for weeks for passage home, as her husband would become later in 1918.
I had written Carson in 1939 that I had joined the American Newspaper Guild in Chicago, and sent him material on the Hearst strike in Chicago, and my arrest on a picket line with others, and he responded in moving letters.3
I have no idea what year it was that Carson and I had our longest visit together since we sat up all night talking on the train going to St. Louis after Father's funeral. My sister Gertrude came from Milwaukee to join us, I had chosen the Palmer House, a horrible, noisy place, dictated by utter ignorance of places to dance in Chicago, where I worked on a morning newspaper. The invitation had specified dinner and dancing. So Carson danced dutifully with first one and then the other sister.
Gertrude went back to Milwaukee the next morning but Carson stayed on, and I had lots of free time to spend with him. The reason was that I had been given a dumb assignment by Mr. Lee, my generally compatible and immensely intelligent city editor--the only one of its kind he ever gave me. I was supposed to be doing an expose of night clubs, and had been told to stop by the advertising department and pick up a list of my targets. It proved to be only a list of those who advertised in the Herald & Examiner and not in the Chicago Tribune. I told Carson of this and he was outraged. I was far less exercised than he about it, for I knew that it gave me time to be with him in the daytime and early in the evening, for I'd been relieved of all the other assignments. I also knew that the way to get out of the assignment was not to object at the outset, but cover two or three, write one story that I didn't expect to print and a memo to Mr. Lee that would show I'd tried, but that there was nothing to expose. (Which is what took place after Carson left Chicago, but he fulminated over it for years.)
Meanwhile Carson and I went to the finest eating places on the Near North Side and along Lakeshore Drive. We talked and we talked and we talked. This was long before the Hearst papers were on strike. It was before I was in the Communist Party, or even the Newspaper Guild. I must have been between marriages, as I remember no husband around and I had no one to escort me to the nightclubs and managed to get a cameraman to take me only by dint of real pleading. One afternoon I met Carson and we went for drinks and the most ravishing smorgasbord I ever tasted. I felt comfortable with him. No bars were put up to my asking any question I pleased. I asked, "But isn't the Marine Corps a direct arm of imperialism?"
He agreed with alacrity that it very definitely was.
"Then," I continued, beginning my second helping of the lovely smorgasbord, "how do you justify to yourself what you are doing?"
He was imperturbable. "It is what I was raised to do, I was trained for it. More importantly, better I than anyone else."
I asked him about the time, in 1919 and the very early twenties when, my stepmother Caroline had hinted, he had almost gotten into serious trouble because of his concern about peasants. In her love of melodrama Caroline might get a few facts wrong. In this case, it turned out not to be Haiti, but the Dominican Republic. She was right about his concern over peasants. But as Carson put it, he was sent there to restore order, and when he found that the peasants had been dispossessed of their land and were hungry, the first thing for him to do was to open soup kitchens. This was done with such success that Carson then took the first tentative steps towards restoring their land to some peasants--but he hadn't gotten far when, touchy about such matters, Wall Street sent a boat down to see him. An emissary entered the little tin hut that served as his office, and said he was expected to board the ship. Oh, no, replied the General, anyone who wished to see him would find him where he was. A spokesman duly found him and offered him a bribe. Carson let him double and triple it and then said,
"I am a Breckenridge, suh. Now will you get the hell out of my office?"
But how did he get away with it? He said there were others in the services who did, for example, Col. Billy Mitchell of the Air Force. "The truth is that, if you keep your skirts clean you can do a great deal in the services. Then, too, it never hurts to be a Breckenridge."
Carson, or General Breckenridge, liked to be met when it was possible, and loved to be taken to his train when departing. That I could arrange on this occasion, and as we neared his car, he paused and said he wanted to give me something. He handed me his cane-a pleasant-hued tan leather on the surface. I could barely lift it.
"Now, Virginia," he said earnestly, "I am going to ask you never to be without this when you go out on an assignment."
To jump ahead of my story briefly, I was in Los Angeles in 1950 and Harry Bridges was on trial in San Francisco when I had a phone call from an assistant to his chief attorney, Richard Gladstein. His lawyers hoped to make a reference to the Breckenridge letter in summation, and asked me to recall all of it I could. I did so, with the greatest of pleasure. Had I been able to afford it I'd have dropped in that court room just to hear mention of it. Carson would have been glad to hear of it, I felt.
On December 8, 1941, the day following Pearl Harbor, he had wired to offer his services again anywhere in any capacity, his sister Mary wrote. He himself, she wrote, felt that he had done his best work as Commandant of the Marine Corps Schools. He taught, she wrote, "That military training should include statecraft so that if military ends could be achieved without bloodshed it was better so. That he did his own work that way when he could is shown by his having been given the Military Medal of Merit of the Dominican Republic after he commanded a regiment sent to Santo Domingo to quell disorder." General Breckenridge died March 2, 1942. He had attained the statutory retiring age of 64 years October 1, 1941.
To return to New York City and 1941: it was nerve-wracking waiting for Harry Bridges to make known to the public how he was being spied on by G-men occupying a room next to his in the Hotel Edison. The trouble was that Harry was having a perfectly wonderful time spying on the spies.
He had found a shop that rented field glasses. Eventually, out of fondness for the binoculars he had enjoyed so much, he bought them. He had gone to the roof garden of the Piccadilly Hotel, close by and with a fine view of the Edison Hotel unobscured; when he had made sure he found his room in the Edison, he managed to obtain a room in the Piccadilly just opposite, and level with, the room of the wire tappers. He took me to that room, showed me how to train the binoculars on the wire tappers' windows, then went back to the Edison with Nancy, to whom he was engaged, and, in time, I saw the figure at the window drop away--presumably making for that corner of the room where earphones to listen to the phone and conversations in the room were available.
At some point I introduced myself to a lone figure waiting in the corridor outside Bridges's Edison hotel room. He was Lawrence Kammet of the Greater New York Industrial Union Council. Later on we found we were in agreement on one thing: Harry was enjoying taking other labor leaders to observe the antics of the tappers through the field glasses from the Piccadilly, but he should not sit much longer on a story that was so hot. Not until Kammet got the ear of a couple of CIO leaders who were especially serious about the Bridges case, and they in turn cautioned Harry, did he move.
Leon Goodelman, a reporter with PM newspaper, and a PM cameraman, Eugene Badger, after a four-day vigil in the Piccadilly room, broke the story. Using a long-range camera, Badger made pictures of the tappers' room next to that of Bridges; of one of them pasting together scraps from Harry's wastebasket, and of their "induction mike," the instrument with which they tapped his telephone wire and through which they could listen to phone conversations in the room itself. Goodelman arranged for Bridges to enter and leave his room at specified times and to have Harry telephoned at definite intervals. Whenever the phone rang in the maritime leader's room, the PM men saw one of the tappers dash for the left corner of the room where the tapping apparatus was. Eventually, cornered in his room, one G-man broke away and ran down a fire exit. Badger caught another in the hall, running.
After the hurried departure of the spies, special friends or labor figures were invited to see the microphone in Bridges's telephone. Having found other evidence in the tappers' room that corroborated his suspicion his former neighbors worked for the Department of Justice, Bridges charged that from August 4 to August 21, 1941, his telephone was tapped by FBI agents. PM called editorially for a Congressional investigation of the illegal spying on a labor leader conducting union business. He had called John L. Lewis and others in Washington, so the business he conducted was interstate.
At a meeting of the subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee considering the nomination of Francis Biddle as Attorney General, Kammet and I had asked to be heard. Mr. Biddle had been Acting Attorney General at the time of the wiretapping of Harry Bridges. Senator Tom Connally, the Texas Democrat was acting as chairman, and moved to make the hearing executive, with the press barred. The prospective witnesses retired to another room and the committee decided whether to hear them. Meanwhile a meeting of the full committee assembled and decided to hold a public meeting.
Eventually Kammet, myself, and Leon Goodelman, as well as Mr. Biddle, testified, and after spending most of the day listening to us, the committee spent five minutes before voting to accept the nomination. The FBI was not reproved, nor was there any interest shown in the agents' violation of law.
PM carried a story September 4, 1941, under a Washington dateline, on facing pages 12 and 13, with a streamer headline of more than eight columns, "SENATE COMMITTEE HEARS BRIDGES WIRE-TAPPING TESTIMONY. . . . . . .Confirms Biddle's Appointment as Attorney General." The story ran under Nathan Robertson's byline. He was chief of PM's Washington bureau. He quoted Biddle as testifying that wiretapping "is dirty business, but sometime's it's needed." Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada expressed apprehension, lest wire tapping become "promiscuous."
To this Biddle replied: "I"m equally apprehensive." He argued that there are times "when individual rights must be subordinated."
Senator McCarran retorted that "if you go that far," it would include tapping the wires of members of Congress, as had been done in the past. Biddle quickly denied he would approve of anything like that. He granted that wire tapping had been "generally abused," and that it was "understood that all police departments used it"; he maintained, in a not very specific way, that it should "never be used to spy on labor for labor activities."
I was asked while testifying about the objective of my committee. I said it was composed of prominent ministers, teachers, lawyers, social workers and people well known in the arts and other professionals "who objected to making Mr. Bridges twice prove his right to stay in the country." (In 1939 Dean James M. Landis of the Harvard Law School, the trial examiner appointed by the Department of Labor, found that the evidence established neither that Bridges was a member of or affiliated with the Communist Party. Congress then amended the Immigration Act to cover past membership, and Judge Charles B. Sears presided over a second hearing, concluded June 12, 1931 in San Francisco; at the time of my testimony the Sears ruling was pending.)
When the Sears decision in the case of Harry Bridges was handed down--an unfavorable one, totally in opposition to the Landis decision--my son Johnnie, 2, was very, very ill. An assistant in the office was getting out statements from prominent members of the Citizens Committee for Harry Bridges and writing and sending out press releases, and I was home, along with nurses around the clock and my wonderful sister Gertrude, who had wangled time off and come to New York with her nurse's uniforms to help care for her adored nephew Johnnie.
He was too sick, his temperatures too high, to be hospitalized, and I was glad he was at home. At the time my pediatrician was going on the theory that until samples of his stool were proved negative, we would assume that Johnnie had typhus. One case had been found in New York, brought in, it was said, by someone in an old wooden ship coming from Spain and loaded with refugees. Our beloved Eve, who cared for Johnnie, was a refugee from Hitler who had come in on just such an old wooden tub from Spain. Eventually it was found that John did not have typhus. Not only was his stool found to be all right, but--after he was well enough to be hospitalized, a two-weeks' stay in St. Vincent's Hospital--with his mother and father not permitted to see him; this barbarous practice is now a thing of the past, I'm glad to learn; were it today I could have occupied a bed right next to his--resulted in a verdict of "fever of unexplained origin." By that time we had lost Eve. The doctor had been convinced she was a carrier, and had her quarantined; we looked for her but it was a loss we had to bear.
But while we still were going by the instructions given for typhus, anyone emerging from Johnnie's little room had to wash their hands in a bucket of water mixed with Lysol. One morning early I was asleep on the floor in Johnnie's room; after a night of wildly fluctuating temperatures he had fallen asleep, and I waved the nurse and Gertrude out. Gertrude answered the phone when it rang and, coming to the door of Johnnie's room, whispered, "Mr. Bridges on the phone. I told him it would take a few minutes to get you and he should wait. So wash your hands."
"Virginia," Harry said, "I just want to tell you to stay right there taking care of Johnnie." Carol King had told him.
"Yes," I said. "But Harry, what about the Sears decision?"
"Oh, the Sears decision? It will help wake up the working class of America. Now take care of that boy."
Dissolution of marriage - Abortion - Brief job as executive secretary of the National Council of American-Soviet Relations
Sometime in 1941 I was on my way to a radio station one morning when Jerry Butler appeared out of nowhere. He was on the last boat of Americans fleeing France after the Nazi occupation. I made my apologies but could not linger, I said, as I had an appointment, and left him on the sidewalk. I was then hoping to get Harry Bridges on the air if I could get his consent, but I had no luck, and when I left the building, there was Jerry, waiting for me. Wouldn't I go with him to have a drink?
Reluctantly I agreed. As we walked along I thought of the last time I had seen him. It was on Michigan Avenue that I ran into him, and again he had offered to buy me a drink, although I was working and never drank on the job. But I went along, ordering a coke, and he showed me a magnificent watch he was wearing. "From Scottie," he said, naming one of our free boarders in the worst of the Depression years. "He actually did come into his inheritance he was always talking about. And he had made notations on all the time he spent with us and gave me a check for board and room." It only occurred to me later that I should have had half of that check since Jerry and I split expenses fifty-fifty.
He was telling me that he went with a young woman employed by our State Department in Paris and they would be married soon. I congratulated him, we ordered, and he launched into a heavily anti-Semitic diatribe.
"You sound like the Protocols of Zion," I remarked.
This brought from him only serious praise for the book. He owned it and was engaged in getting it into the hands of others, he said. "I assure you that I see things with the eyes of our State Department," he said solemnly. He started to make another remark about Jews. I arose, just as the drinks arrived.
"You're a fascist, Jerry." I sped out the door, feeling I had the edge on him as he had to pay his bill even if he wanted to leave his drink untouched. I was running. But soon I realized he was striding after me.
Fortunately I was not far from my office, and although he did catch up with me and walked alongside, in the last half block I sprinted and managed to get into my building ahead of him and say to a friendly black elevator man, "Take me up at once and don't let that man who will come right along get to my floor if you can help it. I want to avoid him."
I locked the door and got my breath. The elevator man was as good as his word; no Jerry appeared. But I called Red and told him the story. I had feared he would make fun of my concern over Jerry; it was one of the times I underestimated Red. He was entirely serious. "Keep your door locked, and if he even knocks on it, call the police. If he tries to phone you, also call the police. He is insane as well as being a fascist. If at any future time he tries to see you, do the same thing." An hour later he called to make sure I was all right.
(That was the last I saw of Jerry, until, some years later, when I was visiting the Washington zoo with my son, we met him. He was with a little girl with great dark eyes and an air of timidity. He introduced her, and I asked her if she was enjoying the zoo. When she answered shyly in English, Jerry spoke to her severely: "Speak in French." To me he explained she was enrolled in a French school and was not allowed to speak English at the table when they had meals. Johnnie and I walked on. I felt sure that daily he employed methods with that child more cruel than beatings.)
Not since our honeymoon at Leech Lake had Red and I had another interlude of boozeless harmony, so when he took me out to dinner one night and announced he was going on the wagon I was delighted, especially as I'd noticed how our bank account was dwindling. He didn't stop there, however: he declared we should start all over again. He asked, "Do you agree?" I said, "I'm game."
After dinner, and as we were considering a movie, we ran into Ed Lahey, here from Washington on some story. Ed had once been a heavy drinker but had been in Alcoholics Anonymous for some years now. In his expansive mood, Red confided that he was going on the wagon and that we were beginning life anew. Such a resolution called for celebration, he went on. Wouldn't he come with us to celebrate? Ed patiently went with us on what turned out to be a round of drinking spots, for Red was celebrating going on the wagon by falling off of it!
Ed was an old and dear friend; I first knew him in St. Louis when he worked for the East St. Louis Journal. There were years in Chicago when we saw each other at trials in the Criminal Courts Building on the West Side and occasionally elsewhere. We always managed to spend time together and I poured out thoughts and feelings to Ed I hadn't even known I had. He had seen me through one unhappy marriage. Since his paper, the Chicago Daily News had sent him to Washington the year before, he was seeing me and Red together for only the second or third time.
However it happened, Red and I wound up spending the night with Red in his spacious room in the Waldorf Astoria. There we were, at any rate, Ed in one twin bed and the Marberrys in the other. I called Eve from there and told her we were staying with friends of Red's. Of course Johnnie was safe with her, but it was very irresponsible of us to end this wild drinking night in the Waldorf Astoria.
I went off to sleep, but Red awakened me, feeling amorous, how long after I dozed off I do not know. I whispered anxious injunctions to him, believing Ed to be asleep, but they were to no avail: Red ignored me and I could not push him off. He knew I had no protection, too. Ed had left a bathroom light on and the door was open a crack. I made my way to the bathroom, and returning, saw that Ed was wide awake. I felt humiliated.
Discussing it with Red later when the pregnancy was confirmed, I asked him, "What do you think? Do we want another child now?"
He said without batting an eye--nor had he apologized for raping me with Ed as a witness, which it was--"I don't see why not. I imagine that no time is ever really convenient."
I could think of several reasons why not, one that he never had gotten around to going on the wagon. I did not want to bring that up, though. Basically my worry was the queasiness with which I viewed our marriage; I could get no feeling that it would last out the storm. On the other hand, I never intended having only one child; there should be two to keep each other company, I felt.
Seeing me hesitate, Red said, "I thought you said you'd never have another abortion."
"I know. True. Well, let's go ahead then."
He had spoken of a time a year or more before we were married. I had asked that he meet me at the Art Institute. When we departed and were walking up Michigan Avenue, I told him I was pregnant. I thought he was pretty flippant about it. He didn't say he was sorry or wonder if he had been at fault, he didn't ask whether I'd like to have the baby or point out that we could be married. He just said, "All right, you arrange it and tell me and I'll pay half of whatever it costs." I think I'd have felt the same way if he had said "I'll pay for the cost," because that would have seemed to equate the money with the experience of having the abortion. It was better his saying he'd pay for half. But since there was no word of tenderness or regret, I simply said, "Don't bother," and made up my mind I'd never see him again.
Nor did I, until the night when I was alone in my hotel room, a Saturday night, when I aborted alone. It was a kind of abortion achieved by packing. I should have been in the doctor's office when it happened. But the doctor I had gone to had served in prison on an abortion charge. I had not given her my real name, let alone told her where I worked. I don't know what it was, but I had no other doctor (I should have called Dr. Gerty, of course; he would have told me someone to call). And this doctor who had packed me wasn't even in her office on Saturday night. Oh, if Gertrude were only here! She and Gingie were in Milwaukee, though. I had had no idea what it would be like.
I was deathly afraid--that I should die, and the shame of being found in a pool of blood with an incomplete abortion sent me to the phone. I tried to get Bobby, a woman I had known very well when I lived in the Irving apartments, but not seen of late. She was having a cocktail party. Again, with the utmost effort I crawled to the phone, which was on the wall, and called Red. He was having a date--his first--but he came, quickly, too. I must say he was very helpful and far more practical and ingenious in finding ways of mopping up the blood and later disposing of the towels and things than I thought he could be.
I was very sick. When I did return to the doctor who had packed me she was distressed at what had happened; she told me that the labor pains must have been far worse than they are normally in a live birth. Although I had had no intention of resuming our association Red held my hand and gripped both hands when pain came, and there were no wisecracks from him now, he was very much sobered by all this. He put a wet washcloth on my forehead and refused to leave me. And once it was over, we saw each other again.
As time went on, after our decision to have this second baby, I felt more secure about it all. It seemed to show that Red was not so fearful of losing his job at the World-Telegram. Besides, I was kept too busy with the Citizens Committee work to have much incentive to wonder or probe.
One evening we had gone to bed peacefully enough, when Red got up, saying he was going to the kitchen to get a glass of milk. I asked him to bring back one for me, too, and I got up and went into the living room. That evening a good while after the surprise attack on the Soviet Union by the Nazis--that was on June 22, 1941. There had been the early defeats for the Russians, costly, but then toward the end of 1941, when encircled Leningrad began its long resistance to its besiegers, the Nazis also were converging on Moscow. It must have been just at the time, and Red, coming into the living room, handed me my milk and said, "Well, those Boy Scout troops of yours will be mowed right down by the Germans at Moscow."
Without a moment's hesitation I threw the milk at him. I saw with a sick feeling milk trickling down the raspberry colored wallpaper we'd chosen with such care. But I had no time to grieve over it, for just as swiftly, Red knocked me down. I picked myself up off the floor, more startled than injured. He had never before struck me. Nor had any man, except the time when my father slapped me because I sassed him. I was outraged and in the morning I had a very black eye.
I went to work, locked the door and was sitting at my desk crying when someone knocked, then pounded on the door and I heard a familiar voice. It was Eleanor, the last person in the world I wanted to see at this time. She was another executive secretary, who always lectured me about something. I let her in.
"There's no point in shedding tears about it. But you should be deciding what you're going to do."
I told her: "I don't want to make any decisions now. I really don't feel like discussing it at all."
She went on briskly: "Well, you can thank your lucky stars you have only one child."
I said crossly: "You are always so sure of everything, this is good, that is bad. It happens that I am going to have a second child and I'm very glad of it."
I was less than three months pregnant and showed nothing, but Eleanor, never to be surprised or taken off guard, replied: "I thought you were getting a trifle heavier." She was silent for a few seconds, then went on ominously: "All I can say is that--well, naturally you won't stay with him, or he won't stay with you; whichever it is, it will be you going on alone. If you have only one child, people will say, 'Isn't she gallant? A gutsy woman.' And if there are two, they will feel pity. Two kids and one job after another, none paying as well as this one in all probability, and you know you're not young any longer; who will want to marry you and take on another man's kids? Please think about it!"
Finally the antagonism I felt must have got to her; besides, she had shot her bolt, so she left me of her own accord. But once she had gone, I was more vulnerable to her suggestions than in her presence.
I no longer had an assistant and knew of no place that would send food in, so I was forced to go out for lunch as I was ravenously hungry. I went to the cafeteria down the block, crowded with people who couldn't care less about my black eye, and on the way back stopped in a cigar store where there was a phone booth. Figuring my phone was tapped, I did not want to call from the office. I called a friend who, I knew, had had an abortion, and got the name of her abortionist--telling myself I would decide later whether to go to him or whether to keep the baby. She warned me he was dirty and ruthless; but knew of no one else.
The next day, still undecided whether I would do it, I drew money out of the bank and made the appointment, giving another name. It was for 3 P.M. the following day. That day, still feeling ambivalent about it, I sat in my Bridges office, hoping for some omen, or some real happening that would prevent my going. Such as what? Among the wilder of my fantasies was this: the news that morning gave indications that the Soviets were beginning a counter-offensive around Moscow (later it proved wildly successful); suppose that Red decided he had been harsh and unfair and altogether wrong, would be relent somewhat about my throwing the milk at him? And would that lead him to believe he had been a sort of jackass, which was the truth, in knocking me down?
I waited until 2:30 P.M., then reluctantly took the subway to Grand Central, shuttled across town and took the Broadway train uptown and got the abortion. Of the three I now had had it was the quickest and most painful for that moment--performed with nothing to relieve the pain. The dirty old man had me out of there in five minutes and I wondered if I could make it to the subway, but I did. I don't remember what I paid him, but made a mental note that it was more than I had paid the woman who packed me and that she at least was clean.
I simply drew a blank on how I told Red about it, or when. It may have been that night. But I remember he left a note that I got the next day after he had gone to work--he told me that Johnnie and I should be out of the apartment by, say, Tuesday--I had three days to find a place and move. I did it and did not see him in the meantime.
As I went about doing as he said, hunting for a place, throwing together what I simply had to have for Johnnie and leaving most things to be decided on later, I veered from sympathy with him and in conjunction with it, blame for myself, and thinking icily, if he could do this when he knew I was pregnant, he would be capable of repeated cruelty and repression, and do I ever want to be in a position of helplessness, or dependency on his goodwill?
Meanwhile I had to get a new job as Bridges had appealed the order of deportation that followed on the Sears decision, and although the Citizens Committee might be needed later on, for the time being it was in effect put on ice, with Harry writing the members a gracious letter thanking them. I went to work in a few weeks as executive secretary of the National Council of American-Soviet Relations and instead of my munificent $65 a week I got $40.
Johnnie and I were in our new place now: a rundown slum tenement on Charles Street, on the first floor. In the next building, separated from us by a very narrow space in our back rooms, many Italian families lived. Johnnie's room was in the back part, next to a roomy kitchen. In the front was a living room and, off of it, a small room, windowless, that I occupied. Myra, whose husband ran an elevator in the building where the Citizens Committee had been, came to work for me five days a week from 3:30 to 7 P.M. By the time I reached home at 7 P.M., she had picked Johnnie up at the nursery school atop the Little Red School House, taking along a stroller, and aired him in Washington Square Park or just wheeled him about the Village, shopping for vegetables and fruit if they were needed. Every Sunday I baked bread and made beef and vegetable soup that lasted us for days, but Myra fixed his supper and if the soup was exhausted it meant quite a lot of things for her to do.
Johnnie had a lot of new things to get used to--plus the absence of his father, except for weekly or twice-weekly short visits. He had a new home, a new nurse and nursery school, where at 2 years he was the youngest. He made no objections when I left him at the school. I took him there after we had breakfast, and there was a time limit, as I had to be at work at 9 A.M. He had learned how to lace his shoes--high sturdy shoes--and insisted on doing it himself, unaided. All would be ready, my hat and lipstick on, my eyes on the clock, while he finished lacing them. Then we would dash. At night he wanted nothing but to have me sing to him or read to him. But I remembered the pediatrician's orders: give him a final bottle of milk and let him cry himself to sleep in a darkened room.
By this time he no longer had to have things sterile and had his milk from Coca-Cola bottles with a nipple attached. He would fling the bottle against the wall, then wail piteously: "I wants milk!"
One evening at about 8:30 there was a knock on my kitchen door that opened onto the hallway. I answered. It was a delegation from the house next door, fathers and mothers. A spokesman said they represented the tenants' organization there and that they had come to offer help. They had heard my baby crying for milk and it had been decided they could donate the milk and wished to do so.
A day or two later I managed to see the supervisor of the kindergarten or nursery in the afternoon just after the children had gone. To do so I forfeited my lunch hour that day and would the next day, and took a taxi to and from my office, which was not far away. I told the supervisor my problem (she taught Johnnie) and she asked me: "What do you want to do when you get home?" Just what he wanted, I said, I wanted to hold him and sing to him and all that, but he had to eat his dinner. She advised: "You do just what you want, and let the doctor's rigid rules go to the devil. See if you can work it out with Myra to feed him before you get home, even if it means you have to do more of the shopping on weekends and leave less for her to do."
She asked me if he was from a broken home. A few days earlier, she said, he had fallen and got a scratch and when she put the children to bed for their naps he kept on crying for quite a while, first for me and then for his dad. She said he got along well with the children and was the only one of the little boys to slide down the firemen's pole, which had been installed for the bigger boys. She was worried about one thing: he did not react much at all when children took his things away from him; he did not fight back or protest. Was it so bad to be so civilized? I thought. But she had been very wise and nice and I said nothing. At home, I put her ideas into effect and said nothing to the doctor about it. I did not close the door when I put him to bed, either. I let him stay up when he wanted to; I read Mother Goose to him--he could finish the rhymes himself if I gave him the chance--and sang the songs I'd sung to Jane and John and Kiki.
There were things about my new job I did not like at all; some cliques in the office, for example. I was told they recently had got rid of a stoolpigeon, and everything that was wrong, such as the condition of the files, was blamed on him. I had to spend an inordinate amount of time getting the files in order, and having never been taught how to file, it was hardly a pleasure. I got out a number of good leaflets and brochures, however, and for the layout and art work I engaged a very able artist and made a point of paying him properly. The Soviet Union was an ally of ours now, and the war was the theme of all we got out; we began to campaign for the opening of a second front.
I had written Aunt Bess and Uncle Dudley Moffett about my new job and was pleased when a letter came from Uncle. He was an oldfashioned newspaper man who believed unions were only needed for mechanical department workers, and had not thought much of my Bridges job, but now wrote that nothing was more important than helping the public understand the Soviet Union in a more creative and intelligent way. I don't know what Aunt Bess thought, but Uncle never wavered from that stance.
After Red and I had been apart about two months he telephoned and said he'd like to see me when he came on Saturday. Up to now I had not seen him when he came to see Johnnie, getting Myra or my sister Lucile, now about 13, to stay when Red called. I found myself dreading the encounter. When Red felt on top of the heap, such as when his novel was accepted by the first publisher to get it, he was irritatingly arrogant. But when he was down he put up few defenses and he wrung my heart.
John wasn't yet asleep when he rang the doorbell, so I let him get up to see his father. I left them in the front room and went to the kitchen to wash dishes while they were together. When I finally got John off to sleep I went in and joined Red on the musty-smelling sofa, steeling myself as I went. I had taken a furnished place as it was cheaper and I didn't want to take on the burden of sorting out our things. So I had with me only what I absolutely needed.
Red said he wanted us back again because he missed Johnnie so.
I said, "He misses you, too," and told him what the nursery school supervisor had told me.
In the end I told him that I'd think it over. I had the feeling that if I did go back I'd never know when I'd be ejected again. He asked about my new job and whether I'd stick to it at such low pay. I had no choice at the present time, I said--and this reminded me of how little I had left after we'd split our joint bank account, and of his contention I should really pay him half of the $250 I'd sent Aunt Bess from the Tribune check. When I said that actually I was entitled to all that check as it represented many years of work before I ever knew him, he withdrew his complaint. I needed this recollection now in order to feel resentful, before I recklessly promised to go back to him.
Aunt Bess had been hurting for money and was touched at the $250 and for Christmas had sent us that handsome platter and plates of French china, handpainted and signed by the artist, showing that the man who sold her such things-and at a bargain--had priced it at $250. I now said: "By the way, Red, I didn't give you all of my books and all that china. You understand I have no place for it here." He said not to worry.
"Tell Johnnie I'll see him Wednesday after I get off work." Red was out the door. He had made no move to touch me.
We had been through so much together, including Johnnie's long and grave illness, how could we not stay together? On the other hand, I could not imagine a life with Red that was not stormy.
Red and I did not get together after all. He was brought to Chicago by Marshall Field's paper, The Chicago Sun-Times, for a special mission, and I got a job in Washington with Federated Press.
I got the Washington job just in time. My job with the National Council on American-Soviet Relations was becoming sticky and I could feel myself heading for a blowup. I met periodically with the board of directors. There I was criticized by the stalwart watchdog for spending too much time putting the files in order, for example, when I should be out organizing, which should be my real job. I was defended by Corliss Lamont, the chairman, who was determined to see the files put in apple-pie order. It wasn't a membership organization, and I wasn't sure whom I should organize, but more to the point, I had little talent for that, and it was a recurrent plaint of my chief critic.
It was on some other matter, however, that I offended her. I cannot remember what it was about, but a vote was taken and I voted against her position. She called me and we met outside the office at a restaurant. I might explain here that when I took the job she had told me to drop my Party activities for the time being; it was all arranged, I needn't do anything about it, just cease going to meetings or paying dues. I listened to her reprimand me for the way I voted. I asked: "Why was it such a mistake on my part?"
She said: "Because you heard what I said, and my voice is the voice of the Party to you."
I countered that that was news to me; since I had no voice in anything, I would be reduced to a cipher, following her lead and unable to argue anywhere against it.
It was a very tense moment. Vaguely I heard her saying something about how she had admired the way I managed "with that little baby." How irrelevant could you get? I sensed that she was making a farewell speech before she acted. When we parted it was clear that on each side more would be said.
I went to the lawyer to whom I had gone when I had first thought of leaving Red. I told him the situation. He said, in effect, it was definitely off base. "No one can expect you to follow anything, a general line or a particular vote, unless you have input somewhere along the line. If you say the word, I'll bring her up on charges." Then he informed me he was on the control commission for the Party.
But I had my Washington job offer by then. I said no to the lawyer friend, I didn't want any more confrontations. I admired her in her totality, from a distance. I just wanted to be able to maintain that distance.
So I quit my job before I could get fired, and with a sense of relief that I again would be working as a reporter. It would be difficult, I knew. I would take the place of a man who had been drafted. He had been there for twenty years and the only reason I was being hired is because of the paucity of men available.
I saw Red once again before he went to Chicago and I set out with Johnnie for Washington. Red wanted to know about my job. He had never heard of Federated Press; was it some fly-by-night operation? Not at all, I assured him. It was a labor press service, quite well established and its pay was, to me, substantial.
Red said: "You ought to be very, very careful, accepting a job in another city. You have to remember that you've got a kid to support now."
Actually, though, Red did pay me $10 a week for child support for some years, until John was 8 years old. He paid it so long as he got a weekly paycheck, either from newspapers or the Office of War Information, in which he worked for a part of the time we were in the war. He also wrote John charming letters when he was little. It was after Red had begun writing books that he couldn't manage the child support. He wrote half a dozen books, all favorably reviewed, but made little money on them. I kept all the reviews for John. Once a year Red would write me and say that he was keeping track of what he owed me, and state the amount. I think the last time he acknowledged owing me anything it came to $1,700. I never saw any of it.
It didn't keep Johnnie from loving him passionately. As he became an adult, an ambivalence set in, but he was never indifferent to this father who over the years was, in my opinion, a pretty miserable father--but not in his son's eyes.
Move to Washington, DC - Covering Congress for the Federated Press - Start of reporting for the New Masses.
Covering Washington for Federated Press involved such long days that, even though I nightly took a taxi to the attic apartment where John and I lived in the southeast, my highly valued maid finally quit me. It was either that or her marriage, she told me, and it was true that night after night when I did get home her husband was there waiting for my arrival before driving her home. Keeping a maid remained a problem until we acquired Emily.
Every working mother should have an Emily. My stepmother, Carlone [Caroline?-pmf], alerted me to Emily's joblessness and I rushed to New York and brought her back. She had worked for someone Caroline knew whose children were no longer small. Emily was a Polish peasant woman who had little use for adults but felt for all children only the tenderest and most patient love. By the time Emily came we were living in Arlington in the Buckingham housing development, I having obtained the flat formerly occupied by my cousin, Joe Dodson, a captain in the army who was transferred. Caroline had warned me. "You'll have to plan your meals and be very explicit about what Emily is to buy, for otherwise, to save you money, she would feed you all on oatmeal." We had no problems--and she remained with us, adored by John, until the FBI after two or three years persuaded her she should return to New Jersey. "They say you're bad, Missus," she said sorrowfully, and departed.
Even without a three and a half year old child, I'd have had to put in long hours on that Federated Press job. A man had always had it until then, and as the office was in the National Press Club building, he was free to drop in and look at the ticker at any time. But in those days a woman was not allowed to get even close to it. If invited by a member, she could eat a meal in the dining room providing it was with the member who asked her; otherwise she was excluded from the area. The result was that I had to spend a great deal of time on the Hill, in addition to cultivating sources at the Office of Price Administration, union legislative offices and committees of the Senate and House. Of course I never missed a press conference that President Roosevelt had, and I attended several held by Mrs. Roosevelt.
The real stumbling block for me came when I had to get out the service physically, too. A young woman was supposed to take over the duplication of the columns and the stories I wrote, and mail them daily to the 200-odd labor papers who took Federated Press. But her help was uncertain and finally, as I remember it, I had to handle all that alone, and it was drudgery at the end of a full enough day. I am amazed when I look at some of the interviews I had with Senators or Congressmen--F.P. published a booklet of the same that year--at the insouciant tone I achieved in my copy.
Buckingham was 45 minutes from the National Press Building by bus, and to take a cab home was exorbitant, but with Emily guarding John, I almost never had to. I tried for a time but without success to get Emily to take a day off. A Catholic church was close by, but she would say she could read the Bible at home. I think she disliked letting the priest have any of her money. At least I insisted on doing the cooking on Saturdays and Sundays, though, and often went back to making soup and baking bread. My pay began to seem less munificent than it seemed originally.
I ran into some of the men I'd been on the Chicago-Tribune with, and always enjoyed seeing Walter Fitzmaurice. Once he asked me if he could come out and talk to me about something. I agreed. He asked me how much I was paid by Federated Press, and I told him, feeling rather good about the amount. He said he could not tell me for whom he spoke, but assured me I could get three times that sum if I went to work for the editor in question, One thing would be required, however: it would not be made public but I would have to assure the editor privately that I was not in the Communist Party.
I didn't explore it further, but I was sure Fitz acted in my best interests.
I imagine that Dick Seller and the other guys who ran F.P.'s New York bureau felt embarrassed when, so soon after they published the booklet incorporating a number of my columns, they had to fire me. Carl Haessler, who worked out of Detroit and was the editor of Federated Press, demanded it. They had boasted that my column Washington Scene was the most widely used single feature in the American labor press. No reason was given to me for my being ousted. None had to be.
I went to New York to try to get a job on the Daily Worker. Alan Max, the managing editor, came down to see me--accompanied by Louis Budenz. Budenz, who had been in Chicago where he nearly wrecked the Midwest Record, suggested I go to Chicago and submit occasional columns to the Sunday Worker. "But, Mr. Budenz," I remember saying, "I have a child to support. Anything that does not pay me a specified salary is out of the question." Alan Max simply said they had no way they could employ me. They started out the door, but Budenz turned before they reached it, held out one arm dramatically and said: "On Federated Press you still are part of the bourgeois world. You want to think about it before you take any step that cuts you off from other newspaper jobs." I told him: "Mr. Budenz, I have a great deal of self-confidence, and I think I always would have something to offer the Party press, thus would not be afraid of being unemployed." This was not long before Budenz repudiated the Party and became very popular as a witness for the government in fingering people.
I went from the Daily Worker office to the New Masses, and talked to Joe North and Abe Magil. Their Washington correspondent, Richard Bransten, had quit to go with his wife Ruth McKenny to Hollywood, and he had recommended me to take his place. I got the job, but on condition that I move to New York for three months to oblige the magazine. Something was said as to how I could receive "orientation" before taking on the Washington duties, but the fact was that a member of the staff, Barbara Giles, was having a baby and I was to do the proofreading she ordinarily did and some of the editing she handled. I would be taking a big pay cut. But the outrageous part of bringing me to New York was that I had to rent out my apartment for three months and move to a city where no effort was made by anyone to find a decent place for me and my son, still little more than a baby. And so during the entire three months we lived under pretty unspeakable conditions. In one of those places, we were ordered out in a snowstorm because John, who had a cold, wandered into the room where the infant son of my landlady, a comrade, lay in his crib, thereby supposedly creating the possibility of spreading germs in the five minutes he was there before I grabbed him. In another place we had a room in a large, rickety house that was transparently unsafe, and bitterly cold.
What made this experience worse for me was that I had to hear a lecture on how I should be more aware of women's rights. This was given to me by Joe and Abe and arose in this fashion. They had suggested that while I was in New York I should consider a series of stories primarily for interest to women--and I was unenlightened enough to reply that I never wrote for women but for men and women. In all my years of reporting I had never been on the women's page, and in my more than ten years on the Chicago Tribune I was often on page one, which presumably was read by both sexes. All this showed how much I needed to acquaint myself with New Masses policy, they said. It would take time and effort to correct my viewpoint but by dint of effort I could prevail. It never occurred to either Joe or Abe that they were exploiting me shamefully by this enforced residence in New York, and that they had about as much notion of women's rights as would fit in a thimble.
I forgot about the series of stories of prime interest to women, and so did they. Meanwhile I returned with John to our home in Arlington, to work until Christmas day, when we were to set out for New York, our apartment in the hands of an odious couple who, it turned out, would injure china and small Chinese rugs and make inroads on my serenity.
So much for my work history in this first effort to return to reporting. It omits, however, the crucial event in my personal life. It seems that Arkansas now had a labor paper which was a subscriber to Federated Press. One day I had a letter, a "Dear Miss Gardner" letter, typed on a letterhead of a state senator from Arkansas. My old love, Brady Pryor, was a state senator. The letter concerned the legislation sponsored by Sen. W. Lee (Pappy) O'Daniel making the closed shop illegal, which various southern states speedily passed after O'Daniel appeared before the legislatures.
The senator explained to me that the O'Daniel law had been passed by the Arkansas legislature--but was now inoperable, as enabling legislation essential to it had been defeated. I checked with a reporter from Little Rock and was told that this was correct, and that Brady had played the leading role in its defeat. I also found, in the booklet F.P. issued on some of my interviews, one with O'Daniel headed "A Clown To Take Seriously." It began:
"Despite his nickname and his buildup as a great clown, a wag, and a singing wag, at that, Sen. W. Lee (Pappy) O'Daniel (D., Tex.) is a very serious man." It quoted his claim that he was always for labor, and that "all these measures I've introduced are for its own good."
"Then, in what was the most businesslike way," the article goes on, "he zipped open a briefcase and pulled out a bill. 'Now this one,' he said, 'Joint Resolution 4, the same I introduced last year, would add an amendment to the Constitution giving a man freedom to work.' "It's the one to make a closed shop illegal, in other words. But he was rummaging in his briefcase. 'And here's this one,' handing me another, S191, which would amend the fair labor standards act and make any employer who recognized a closed shop unable to sell to the U.S. during the war." There were four more!
I believe it was after I received the letter that I heard that Brady's wife, Dorothy, had died. Certainly he did not mention it; his letter was strictly impersonal. Nor do I know he read that interview, but he did mention the Arkansas labor paper; presumably from it he obtained my Washington address. I answered in kind, maintaining the fiction that I knew him only as a reader, and congratulating him on the turnabout Arkansas had delivered to the Pappy O'Daniel law.
Then came the phone call. It was in the period when I was breaking in Miriam Kolkin to take my place, and as I recall it, she and Eva Lapin were in my room when the call from Arkansas came in--and they remained. Why I didn't throw them out I cannot understand. They made it almost impossible for me to talk freely.
Brady said he had written me a thirteen page letter in longhand. He had kept adding to it as he put off mailing it--but would do so that day if I promised that I would call him Christmas Eve. He asked if Johnnie and I could come to Fort Smith for Christmas. We could stay at his mother's house. I suggested we meet some place very soon, but explained I had tickets to go to New York by train Christmas Day. I told him I had to leave Washington and that I had applied for and obtained a new job in New York I had to go to before January 1.
Brady then said something tinged with sarcasm, in effect that he might know I had to think of my career. "Brady, I don't have a career, I'm a Communist," I said.
"Virginia, I've known for years you were a Communist," he said wearily. "I don't suppose you'd ever want to come back to Arkansas."
"Don't be too sure about that," I said.
He cautioned me to be sure to telephone him by midnight Christmas Eve. The letter arrived only a day or so before that time, and did not directly propose we marry but was filled with details such as his need of someone to take care of his children. It also was surprisingly self-critical, admitting that he drank too much. An ominous note but I persuaded myself that it was a good sign that he was confessing to it. Still, I thought it best we meet on neutral territory. Above all, I was exhausted, having gotten out my daily service to Federated Press, packed and bought two or three inexpensive gifts, and a small tree, for John. I at last got him off to bed, promising to wake him very early for the tree, as my cousin Boltwood Dodson, a submarine commander stationed in Washington at the time, would call for us at 8 A.M. and take us to the station.
I then began to try to reach Fort Smith. All circuits were closed and although I tried up to past midnight, I was unable to reach Brady. I felt terribly about it, knowing how sensitive he was and how he would draw all sorts of conclusions about my failure to reach him. I determined to call as soon as I got Johnnie and myself located in New York. But he was running a fever and quite sick by the time we arrived. Moreover, the comrades who put us up did not have a phone of their own. They occupied the top floor of a house in the West Village, and said the occupants on the first floor did not appreciate lending their phone. I felt trapped, and worried about John.
The next day I telephoned New Masses and explained I could not come to work for a few days because of John's illness. I did not know anyone I could get to come in to care for him. It was three days later before I felt I could take John out. It was very cold and I went only so far as a telephone. I also was running short of cash and decided to ask my stepmother, Caroline, to send the telegram to Brady for me, charging it to her phone and assuring her I could reimburse her when I got my first paycheck. The wire I composed simply explained that I could not reach him as agreed on Christmas Eve and that since then John was sick, but that we would be in touch.
A number of days later I had a telegram from Brady. The wire had reached him only the day before--and some few hours after he was married. When I asked Caroline about it she confessed that she and Jane had delayed sending the telegram--because they were convinced that I would ruin Brady's career. I was pretty bitter about if for a time, but Jane and I never discussed it.
The entire business was characteristic of Brady's on-again off-again feeling for me that I should not have been surprised. Possibly it was because I saw little justice in what had taken place in Federated Press, and other disappointments, that all this threw me as much as it did. I was angry, for one thing. I wanted to ask him what made him think he had a right to act as he had. I think I was a little crazy that night, as I picked up the telephone (I had now moved to a bedroom in another comrade's home) and called him at his home. He said he would call me at a certain day and hour. That was good, it gave me time to collect myself. But I was just as crazy when I heard his voice. Crying my eyes out, I asked him why he had so little faith. He had never given me a chance.
"You know you wouldn't have come back," he said. "And I needed someone to care for my children."
"But I was thinking very seriously about it. And I figured I could work on you, get you to run for Congress, and you would certainly be an asset over Fadjo Cravens, who never opens his mouth. And that way I would feel justified in my doing nothing except what would help you."
That was too much for Brady, who inquired: "I suppose you mean you'd join the Democratic Woman's Club--"
"Yes, even that, and the League of Women Voters--"
"You always were a damned fool," he said despairingly. "But I always loved you. And I loved Dorothy; she was the mother of my children and I loved her."
He was a little crazy, too. He asked if I was going to bring Johnnie up living in top floor apartments that had no phones; didn't I think he deserved better than that? He even insisted on telling me that he'd thought that we could bring up his two children and my one, and one of our own. "Why are you telling me this" I asked. After I'd hung up I went to my room and did some thinking. I also resolved never even to think of marrying again; it was too upsetting to my equanimity. It would have been nice, I told myself, to be loved and to know security. On the other hand, marriage might mean neither. I would do for Johnnie what I could, and for the other things he wanted in life he would have to shift for himself. I had to recognize, too, that I might be extremely lucky that Brady decided to marry someone else rather that wait around to see whether I would return to him and Arkansas.
Romance with Steve Gardner (no relation) - The Duclos Letter
My three-month durance in New York at an end, Johnnie and I were back in Arlington, I was working hard but not under pressure, New Masses was taking all my copy and generally loving it, and life was again beautiful. It was especially so one day, early in the war, as I think of it, when someone knocked on the door of my office in the National Press Building. I called out, "It's open, come in!" and an Air Force lieutenant, resplendent in uniform, came in, smiling.
I tried to act as if it were nothing out of the way to have such a visitor. He was modest, too, and apologized for bursting in on me. He was returning to Africa, and he wanted to take some literature to some men there who were behind barbed wire. What did I have? But literally I had nothing. I told him where to find a left book store; I felt distressed because I saw that he thought, at first, I simply was being cautious. He had very little time, and he was about to go when the phone rang. It was Johnnie, and he lingered a minute, frankly listening to me, then turned as he was about to go out the door, and emptied his pockets of Hershey bars. It was impossible to get them in Washington, and my eyes bugged.
"For your kid," he said. Then he smiled--a radiant smile--and said he might write me. "Oh, do, and I'll answer right away," I said, giving him my home address. He told me his name--Steve Gardner. We were not related. He was a second lieutenant, sent here on business of some kind, but trying to do a little business of his own. I said I hoped the book store had some things for him. I heard from Steve again, not once but fairly often, until he got in action that permitted few letters. I wasn't prepared for the letters, however. They were fascinating; and he wrote very well indeed. When I wrote in reply I felt at a loss to write anything half so interesting as his letters deserved. I didn't just dash off letters; I worked hard to try to be as nonboring as possible.
I did not see Steve again until after the war was over, but he once came to Washington when Johnnie was with his father, visiting Mr. and Mrs. Marberry, but he was not with me then.
I don't remember whether we ate anything or drank anything. I only remember sitting across the room from each other while I played the hostess. Aware that I was years older than he, I was not going to be caught making any assumptions. Hours passed. At last he looked at me and laughed. I found myself laughing, too. It must have occurred to both of us simultaneously that we didn't have to keep a room's distance apart.
We made love; I had forgotten how wonderful it could be. We slept and then, hungry, awoke and I got us something to eat and some vodka, too. I told him then, "Johnnie is gone now so I can let you stay but if he were here I couldn't." I tried to say why: a woman bringing up a child alone had to have a stable home life. Steve was smart to ask, seriously, if there were anyone else. But he could make a sort of joke about it; he said, "Well, I'd better not hear of anyone else occupying this bed when Johnnie is here."
Meanwhile problems for me were approaching. Or, more correctly, had always been there but were thickening. In 1944 the CP of the USA had ceased to exist. Under Earl Browder's regime (for there were regimes in the Party), we had become a Communist Political Association, and all of the Southern branches of the Party were decimated. We went on, however much grumbling there was in the clubs, and were effective in many ways, judging from the reactions of enemies. I remember Senator Eastland of Mississippi telephoning me at my office once and saying he had read my piece about him; it was too bad the editors had to alter it. I said he was incorrect, the editors hadn't touched my copy--and that I was merely quoting him. The Senator replied: "You're a hard worker. When we take over, we'll let you operate--and we'll tell you what to say."
One night I was going home late when I met in the elevator of the National Press Club the head of the Washington bureau of one of the wire services whose name I forget. He offered to drive me home. I wasn't apt to turn down a ride. I warned him that I lived in Virginia. He seemed to look forward to having a good long way to go. It was a cold night, I seem to recall, but he even drove slowly, to give himself time enough to say all he wanted to. I do not remember it all, for he had many things to find fault with, but the climax was that "the very worst thing you people do" was to "enlist the support of Negroes, giving them false ideas of what they could achieve."
Well, I thought, as he let me out of his car on North Piedmont Street, where I lived, we must at least be doing one thing right.
Red was working on his first book, The Golden Voice, and occasionally came to Washington to do research. When Emily was with me I let him stay at our place and she cooked for him and I went to stay with a friend. This delighted Johnnie and his dad, too. Usually I made no carbon copies of letters I wrote him, but I find I made one in which I listed medical expenses incurred during Johnnie's scarlet fever siege and "recent checkup," totaling some $53.73. In addition, the letter says, "I paid out when we were in quarantine $28.60 in cab fees just carting Gaddy to and fro to comply with Virginia Board of Health--a ridiculous business but their 'compromise' for not quarantining her--when Buckingham wouldn't let her stay!"
Buckingham, the rather extensive housing project where we lived, was adamant about enforcing its rule that no black person could stay there overnight. I explained to Red in what sounds like a too humble way (but it must be realized that I had gotten sole custody of Johnnie and to do so could not make any plea to the court for financial aid, thus all Red did was voluntary):
The letter mentions that "The magazine also owes me about fifty dollars in expense money. They are hard up and I don't know when I'll get it. However I will in time." I also told him that his mother had sent Johnnie a box the day before--two pairs of pants she made, including one long pair "with three pockets which he loves--he calls them his 'work pants.' And a blouse she made. And five dollars, which he has consented to put in a savings bank. . . . " The letter, dated June 13, 1946, suggests some of the difficulties of living in Virginia--and on a salary much smaller that the Federated Press salary I had when I moved to Washington--all aside from the problems arising between me and my editors on New Masses that arose in this period.
It was "the Duclos Period," named for Jacques Duclos, the French Communist who criticized the Party in the U.S.A. for following Earl Browder's line that business and labor should lie down together. Suddenly among other things it was laudable to be distinctly proletarian. For the first time I began to think uncomfortably that my dear father had been a banker.
As a member of the Maryland state committee (of which the District of Columbia Communists were a part), I was asked to write a history of my family and submit it by a certain date. Night after night I toiled over this. "My father was a banker, but he was brought up on a small farm in Massard Prairie, outside of Fort Smith, Arkansas," one version began. Another went: "My father's father was a poor dirt farmer in Arkansas, but my father eventually did head a small bank." Whatever I wrote, it sounded fishy, as if I was apologizing for something--which indeed I was.
It was all somewhat confusing. I wouldn't have been on the state committee, for that matter, had it not been for the "Duclos Period." As a concession to the membership, nominations could be made from the floor for the first time, and not by the Party establishment. It was a motion made by the other delegate from my club which made us stand out in the convention like sore thumbs. She had arisen and moved that William Z. Foster be criticized for not taking his disagreement with Browder to the membership. I hadn't known she was going to make the motion, but, although it hurt me to do so because I so liked Foster for his Pages From a Worker's Life (1939), I seconded it, along with others. It didn't win, but it appealed to the rebellious membership, and as a result, I was on the state committee, having been nominated from the floor by a trade unionist I knew.
Apparently those who voted for me figured I had nothing to do with setting the policy of Masses (in which they were correct), as the magazine had been attacked, once we were in the "Duclos Period," for out-Browdering Browder.
Like others in the rank-and-file, I was grateful to Monsieur Duclos. We now had our first chance to register resentment that all this--as well as the act of abolishing the Party and making it the Communist Political Association--had gone on without giving the members a chance to say beans about it.
But there I was, after the convention, continuing to write versions of my family history and picturing myself being fired from the Commmunist Party. I was growing hollow-eyed from lack of sleep when it occurred to me to ask Al Lannon, the head of the Party in Baltimore, what I should do. I didn't really know him, but I heard him speak at state committee meetings. I reached him by telephone and asked if he could give me a few minutes. He said he had to go to Washington the next day and told me what train he'd be on; he would see me in the Union Station.
I should like to describe Al Lannon, what qualities he had that made him a person to instantly inspire trust. His blue eyes were open, attractive and level; he was lean and of average build and height. (Years later, I was asked by someone if I had known any Party leaders who were inspiring; yes, I said, Al Lannon.)
He was leaving the district, to go to New York regarding maritime work. I felt lucky to have a moment with him. I produced my sheaf of versions on my father and other antecedents and told him of my fears. He stuffed them into a pocket of his coat and said he'd take care of the matter. With complete assurance that he would choose the best version, I gave the matter no more thought, and we stood over cokes and talked briefly about what awaited him in New York. Like many others, I hated to see him go.
I never heard any more regarding the dossier on my family I had written, and assumed that Al had smoothes out any problems I presented. The date on which, following the condemnation of the American Party by Jacques Duclos, the U.S. leaders ejected Browder as general secretary was February 13, 1946. Johnnie and I went to California in the fall of 1947 and I saw Al next in 1953. I asked him, "By the way, whatever happened to that document on my family I gave you so long ago?" He replied, "Oh, that? I took everything you'd given me and put them all in an incinerator."
It was after the scorching criticism from abroad that it came out that Foster, who had objected to the Browder position from the outset, had been persuaded to withdraw a letter he had written to the National Committee, in the interests of unity. Now the Foster message was revealed, the membership that had been kept in ignorance was up in arms. Eugene Dennis succeeded Browder, and Foster again was elected chairman of a recreated CPUSA. Actually the Party had been dissolved in 1944 and replaced by the Communist Political Association, after which Browder was suggesting only an educational association--actually class collaboration. The Party leadership had been sorely wrong in attempting to bury the internal conflict until forced by the intervention of the French comrades to admit it.
The state committee meetings were less interesting after Al Lannon left Baltimore. I attended them faithfully, nevertheless, Johnnie and I driving to Baltimore for the monthly meetings with Bob Minor. I would leave John with children of a comrade and Bob and I would pick him up at the end of the day.
By this time I had grown fond of Bob Minor, the once great cartoonist, who had laid aside his crayon to enter politics as a Communist, and his artist wife Lydia Minor. It had been a sort of anguish for me to see how some little pipsqueak on the Washington city committee had held forth on how this really great man should not be allowed to speak as he had been closely identified with Browder. Bob took all this with amazing dignity. He did speak, after all, and was effective. But I felt that the "Duclos Period" was for him exquisitely painful in all likelihood.
I had been alone in the office--at a time when I was working for both the New Masses and the Daily Worker--when there was a knock on the door. I opened it and this still handsome, gently gracious man introduced himself, and explained that he would just drop in to get his mail, but would not be interfering, or giving me any instructions. I was touched at his anxiety. I gave him keys and told him he was welcome always, at any time.
The "Duclos Period" had put an end to the happy relations I had maintained with my editors on the New Masses. When I first began to write for them in Washington, my friend Adam Lapin, the Daily Worker correspondent, used to laugh at me and say to others I must be in love with my editors. But Joe North had been criticized now in the storm following the Duclos blast, and he had become unavailable. Joe Lapin had gone to California to work and I was trying to get there, leaving it to him to see what he could do about getting me on the Los Angeles staff of the Daily People's World. But one delay after another developed.
One morning I was seated with my head in my arms, crying, as Johnnie was quite sick with scarlet fever and I was wishing I still had our Emily, the Polish woman who so loved children, with us, when Bob Minor came in. He was very dear about it. I told him about the elusive job in California and he offered to take it up "at the center," saying he was going to New York soon. I should have let him. I'm not sure why I didn't, except that my experiences on newspapers had not fitted me to ask people for help.
When John was well, our drives with Bob to Baltimore resumed. He was marvelous with children, never talking down to them, and John adored him. There was a patch of woods not long before we reached Baltimore--thick with sweetgum trees, with a few pines and cedars mixed in so that the sweetgum showed off at its best. Bob and I both loved that stretch, and in the autumn, when the sweet-gums turned all the colors of the rainbow, I thought of my beloved Ozarks in October.
We used to see Bob and Lydia at the house of friends, too; they owned a boat and we all put work in on it, and at last would be rewarded by a boat ride, Johnnie in his element. One Sunday when we were going to see him there, I took along the bird house some friend had sent Johnnie which I tried without much success to put together. Bob finished it, and painted it, and put it in the tree in the parking lot before our house at 227 North Piedmont.
It attracted various birds, who for one reason or another failed to nest in it. But one bird used to serenade me every morning about 2 A.M. from that tree--a mocking bird. Finally I devised a way of cutting short the untimely song. I would crouch by my front window and throw raw potatoes at the tree. I never dared let Johnnie know of my potato throwing, though--he would have sided with the bird.
The repression of the left that followed the second world war was intensifying by the summer of 1947, so that I was kept busy going from one courtroom to another covering trials for New Masses. I had stepped out of the courtroom where the sixteen members of the board of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee were on trial for failure to turn over records to the House Un-American Activities Committee. I meant to look in on another courtroom down the hall, where motions were slated to be made in the case of the German Communist, Gerhart Eisler. But there in the corridor I saw a familiar figure, that of Carol King, lawyer for Harry Bridges, and another lawyer I first knew during the Hearst strike in Chicago, Abe Isserman. Both were now defending the imperturbable Gerhart Eisler, to whom Carol introduced me.
A short, muscular man of middle age, Eisler, on hearing that I was assigned to the trial of the sixteen Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee people, expressed concern over their case. They were liberals, it was a shame that they were being treated that way; with himself, whether he was in jail or out was no great matter, he said in effect, but to disrupt the lives of doctors, lawyers and housewives he found shocking.
I took my leave of Eisler and his lawyers, to return to the case of the sixteen. When the Eisler case went to trial I would see them again. My story headed "The Case of the Sixteen" was in the July 15, 1947, New Masses.
Called by the House Un-American Activities Committee the nation's Number One Communist, Eisler was for months the subject of stories inspired by witnesses before the Committee on how powerful he was among U.S. Communists. Up to then I had never heard of him, but much earlier than his trial I wrote of the Eisler case (New Masses, March 4, 1947): "The use of the Eisler case as a prelude to the stepped-up anti-labor offensive in Congress. . .is clear enough by now."
The Republicans had gained a majority in Congress, and a slew of anti-labor bills had been introduced in both the House and Senate. A servile House had voted 370 to one in favor of the contempt citation against Eisler--who had insisted on reading a statement before taking the oath. The only negative vote came from Rep. Vito Marcantonio (ALP, NY), as he warned, "This is the beginning of a Red scare." Eisler the Communist was named, he said, but in actuality "it is aimed at all advocates of democracy."
Now, in July, 1947, Eisler's trial on contempt of Congress faced him. The charge was giving false information on about three out of forty questions he was asked by immigration authorities when he sought a permit in 1942 to go to Mexico. I was attending his trial, but for a few days I had to bring my son along with me when my domestic worker failed to appear. John, then seven, enjoyed this, and was taken by Eisler and his attorneys to lunch with them, while I took advantage of his absence, going to my office and writing a part of my story.
Eisler took a fancy to John, too, and used to walk with him along the corridors for exercise between sessions. After he testified, I heard John say to him, "That was a good speech you made, Gerhart." It was a matter that might be distressing to his attorneys, who were ever and anon trying to get him to curb his tongue--but not to John, and Gerhart accepted his praise as his due.
The next day John did not go with me as the domestic worker was back on the job. As I remember it now, the case went to the jury that day; it was August 15. I know that I went in to my office to write a short add to the story I had mailed in, when the phone rang. It was the young woman from North Carolina who was taking care of John. She told me he had a severe headache that did not respond to aspirin. She was a very intelligent young woman and doubtless knew that that could be a sign of polio. "You're thinking of polio?" I asked and she said she was. I asked her to tell John I would leave at once and take a cab home. That new lead could wait until another day.
I belonged to some group health service, and telephoned when I reached home. A doctor with a German accent (I believe that only refugees were employed at this group service) told me two simple tests to make. One was to get John to sit up in bed and touch his forehead to his knees. The other was even simpler, touching his chin to his chest. He called back in minutes. "He says he can't do either of them," I told him. "But, you see, he is very tired, and may just feel perverse."
"He tells you he cannot do it, he cannot do it," the doctor rasped furiously at me. "He knows what he can do." I felt a surge of gratitude for the German doctor.
The doctor asked me to bring Johnnie into Children's Hospital early the next day. Meanwhile I had the whole night to get through with this sick little boy. I told him that Gerhart had asked about him, and the lawyers, too. (So they had, and Gerhart had praised John as more considerate of his elders that he thought was usual in North America.)
John was diverted. What had happened that day in the trial? I told him it had gone to the jury, and that Gerhart was found guilty. Would that mean he would go to jail? I said maybe, but not at once, as he was still out on bond, and there was a chance that in a higher court he would be freed.
"I want to talk to Gerhart," he said.
All right, I said, we would see if he was in. I knew the hotel where Eisler and his wife and Joe Starobin, who had him in charge, were staying. I reached Joe and he called back and put Gerhart on the phone. I handed it to John and let him talk. I was a bit startled to hear him saying,
"And if they should put you in jail, Gerhart, you're not to worry. Because you know what we'll do? We'll get all the good people together and give them sticks and stones, maybe some knives, and we'll march on the jail and take you out!"
I was gesturing to him, horrified, seeing the phone tapped and the government adding a charge of conspiracy to all those made against Eisler and as they were pretty shoddy themselves the government would need this little jazzing up of charges, claiming a conspiracy to overthrow the government or, at the very least, the penal system. John was smiling into the phone and saying goodby.
I asked weakly. "And what did Gerhart say?"
"Oh," said John, "he said that would be just fine."
At the hospital next morning--this is all too clear to me--they took John and told me that if the result of the spinal tap was negative I would see him again later in the day, otherwise no. For two weeks, if it was positive, he would remain there, and I would not be able to see him. My doctor, the German refugee, reported back to me. It was positive--but it was believed he had a milder form of poliomyelitis than was often the case. He added that when John had the spinal tap he had not cried and that it was very painful.
I wandered out into the blistering sunshine. Except that the late President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, suffered from polio, I knew nothing about it. Even in the medical world at that time, however, the etiology of the disease remained mysterious. I was told that I could learn nothing by staying or returning to the hospital. But what was I to do with myself?
I have before me the first story I wrote on the Eisler trial. It was in New Mases of August 5, 1947, and was headed, "Trial by Perjury: The Loyal Sons of Ananias & Finks Inc. are called to order at the Eisler Trial." I described the "procession of employers' spies, rats, stoolpigeons and psychopaths" paraded before the jury,
And now Johnnie had a new hero--who welcomed all his subversive fantasies about rescuing him! My immediate problem was now to cope while I was separated from John. I called an old friend, Kay Hall of Chicago, a reporter there when I was. She and Gordon Sessions were married and the parents of Nancy Sessions, just two or so years older than Johnnie. Kay and I were close in Chicago, and she had never been other than hospitable on the times I had seen her in Washington, but they were infrequent. Now I thought of her. None of my women friends in Washington who were comrades had children at the time.
Kay met me at the hospital. I welcomed her complete absence of unctuousness, her delicacy, her tact. It was reassuring just to see her--her close-cropped hair, small features, her slow smile. I told her the little I knew. Polio was little known to her, either. I had spoken to my doctor once on the phone and he said that were using the hot packs devised by the Australian nurse Elizabeth Kenny, called, "Sister Kenny." It was then about the only treatment.
Kay customarily was chary of words, so that usually I felt garrulous beside her. Now I found it hard to talk--but all the same it was a comfort to have Kay's presence. It was fiercely hot, as Washington can be. We walked through the neighborhood, had cokes together and parted, for several days. To go back to Arlington, Virginia seemed to distance me from Johnnie, unbearably so, although it was pointless, I liked to come into Washington and meet Kay at the hospital, or on its grounds.
Then came the night when the hospital called me, around midnight or later. An operator said that there had been a change in my son's condition. Now it was considered that he would be "at least crippled" by the polio; I must be prepared for any eventuality. I asked if I could leave a message for my doctor. I was told that he had left town for the holiday. The next day was Labor Day.
I did not sleep that night. I told myself I would not pray. But eventually I did. Down on my knees, I denied my belief in Him, but went on to say, "I will settle for life itself. Let him live and I'll never complain, no matter how lame he is."
I called Kay early the next morning. She said she wanted to call a wonderful woman doctor she knew to see if she had any ideas; she would call me back. She did. Her doctor knew the man who knew more about polio than anyone in the District of Columbia. Kay suggested I stand by until she called again. Then Kay said that her doctor learned that the man she wanted was at a country club and playing golf. She persisted, Kay said later, until she reached him. He promised to go into town at once and examine John; he would see me in the lobby of the hospital.
The doctor had found John seriously dehydrated. He ordered the Kenny hot packs stopped at once; he got John started on intravenous injections. After two more nights, the hospital again called me in the middle of the night--this time with joyful news. He had passed the crisis and was "dramatically improved." It was thought that no paralysis would set in. In other words, that he would not be lame.
That doctor whose knowledge and quick action--and his willingness to leave the golf course and come into Washington on Labor Day --may very well have saved John's life, would not let me and Kay see each other after that. He had a theory that mothers might be spreading polio with one another. But Kay and I talked by phone.
The next day after hearing the good report on John from the hospital, I asked how many children were in the ward with him, all polio cases, and bought balloons for them, giving them to a nurse. And at the end of his two weeks stay, I came to get him, and he walked out of the hospital "muscle-free," as the medical people termed it. When I signed him out at the admitting desk, a woman said to him, "We heard about your not crying when the spinal tap was made. It's the first time Children's Hospital had such a brave boy."
I had splurged and bought him a box of paraphernalia used by beginning magicians, and in the cab on our way home, he was deeply engaged by it.
As things turned out, Gerhart got along quite well without John's having to rescue him. While he was free on bonds of $23,500 pending his appeals, he escaped on the Polish liner Batory in New York on May 6, 1949. When the ship arrived at Southampton, British police officers removed him against his protests and those of Polish officials on the Batory. He did spend two nights in jail, but after appearing before a bench of magistrates in Southampton was remanded to the Bow Street Court in London, where extradition cases were heard. On arriving at the court he could see Communist pickets slowly circling past the entrance.
In a page one story under the byline of Clifton Daniel in The New York Times of May 17, 1949, datelined London, May 16, he was described:
While his application for bail was being heard, the Polish Ambassador, Jerzy Michalowski, called at the Foreign Office and told Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin that British police violated international law by taking United States representatives aboard the Batory without permission and that forcibly kept the Batory's captain in his cabin. He protested the "violation of the rights of the Polish flag and the rights of Mr. Eisler."
Nor was this all. In the House of Commons, William Gallacher, Communist member, called Britain's conduct "shocking and shameless." He wanted to know if there was "no limit to the depths of degradation to which this country can be drawn at the command of the Americans."
Konni Zilliacus, left-wing Labor member of Parliament, pointed out in the House that political offenders were officially excluded from extradition. Arguing for bail, Eisler's lawyer, Dudley Collard, told the court that Eisler had been declared by British authorities in Trinidad a political refugee. During the war, he had been on his way from Germany and France to a refuge in Mexico and he had been held in the United States against his will ever since. He expected to show that his client had inadvertently or in ignorance answered incorrectly three of the forty or fifty questions in his application for a permit to leave the country.
Earlier that day, May 16, 1949, Poland's Minister Plenipotentiary Victor Grosz, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before a press conference said the British move had aroused deep indignation and amazement. "Indignation," he said,
While Magistrate J.F. Eastwood refused to grant bail that day, the Batory remained lying at anchor in British ports, and it was shortly found that Eisler was not extraditable and he rejoined the Batory and sailed to Gdynia, the chief port city of Poland.
Eisler had been sentenced to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine in the contempt case, and another three-year sentence resulted from the passport conviction. On June 27, 1949, the Supreme Court denied the government's request that the contempt case be dismissed, and denied an appeal filed after he fled on his passport conviction. The Court decided by a vote of 5 to 4 that it would not rule then on the contempt case, now would it dismiss the matter. A United Press dispatch on the Supreme Court's decision, of the same date, stated that Eisler "now is in the Russian sector of Germany."
Later, on November 22, 1949, a New York Times dispatch from Washington said the appeal from Eisler's contempt conviction "was stripped from the docket by the Supreme Court" the day before, and noted that recently Eisler had turned up as propaganda chief of the East German government.
Reporting for the Peoples World - A romantic disappointment
One of the joys about Los Angeles--where the horrors were numerous enough so the joys really stood out--was Dr. Murray Abowitz. When I first took Johnnie to him he questioned me about his history. Later, as John waited in the outer office, Murray said, "He's one of the very few allergy kids I ever saw who isn't a hypochondriac." No, I said, he went to the other extreme. Although it was only weeks after he was released from a polio ward, he seemed interested in everything else but that.
Now that I think of it, John never had told me about how painful the treatment was. It happened that two or three years after we arrived in Los Angeles, he was at the home of his pal Ned when Ned's younger brother David was taken in an ambulance to a hospital, and likewise, was there when David returned, seriously crippled in both legs to the hip. As the father told me, "They were like two old veterans. 'Weren't the hot packs awful?' asked John, and David agreed, as they hugged each other."
Dr. Abowitz as a contribution to the paper, the Daily People's World, treated free any member of the staff. He was not a pediatrician, but, hesitantly, cared for John, too, which as it turned out proved to be a large order. Twice John was extremely ill, and Murray called in person daily, once even returning that night on his way home from making a speech.
When we arrived in Los Angeles, John and I were met at the train by Nemmy Sparks, the head of the Party in Los Angeles, who warned me that the head of the Los Angeles Bureau of the paper was extremely hard on women. This was Sidney Burke. I wasn't prepared for how hard he was, however. True, I had even had a hint of future problems before I came West, when in New York I met Bill Schneiderman, Communist leader of California, for the first and last time, on an elevator coming from the Party office. He acknowledged the introduction by saying, "Don't tell me you have a child care problem." I did not reply except to admit I had a child. Just the same, I was unprepared for someone as unfair as Sid Burke, and after his departure, for his successor.
When I was subpoenaed to appear before California's Factfinding Committee on Un-American Activities, known as the Tenney Committee after its flamboyant chairman Jack Tenney, Sid told Jack Young to leave town and did the same himself. Of course you might say that this showed his confidence in women, as he was turning over to me and Helen Taylor, aided by Ted Kalmon, a bright kid who was acting as office boy and learning to be a reporter, the entire work of getting out the Los Angeles copy for days on end.
It was a long list of witnesses, many of them important Hollywood actors. I was among the last few who testified. Frank Spector, active in organizing lettuce workers in early years and ordered deported to the Soviet Union, which declined to accept him, so that he was jailed for a time, and I were summoned to the office of John T. McTernan, attorney, where Dorothy Healey tried to convince us to take the Fifth amendment. Both of us resisted, taking the First amendment.
Aside from my natural repugnance toward dodging the issue of whether I was a Communist, I had stated in more than one story written and published in New Masses that I was a Communist. One story especially, an interview with Chairman J. Parnell Thomas, of the Un-American Committee, I felt certain would have come to the attention of the Tenney Committee counsel, Richard E. Combs. Thomas had called in his entire staff to gaze upon "a real card-carrying Communist" and before them he boasted that he would see that I was "put on a ship and sent back to where you come from." What, I asked, did ships go down the Mississippi again? It made a funny story, and I wrote and xeroxed a brief statement in which I referred to the interview with Thomas, passing copies to the press table on my way to the witness chair.
I had called Helen Taylor earlier that day, and she was there covering the hearing when I began testifying. She wrote a vivid, witty account that made page one of the Daily People's World next day, February 21, 1948. I had been able to say that I took pride in my Communist membership; I had refused to answer questions as to whom I knew, saying that it was none of the committee's business. Helen made it all sound as if I scored some sort of triumph.
The trouble was that when the Tenney Committee published a report on the hearing, I was listed in the index as a cooperating witness! I had said I was a Communist, while those who didn't were classified as unfriendly witnesses. I have written my grandchildren how this monstrosity came about, for what if one day, doing a study of that witch-hunting period, they came across the name of their grandmother as a friendly witness? Perish the thought!
At some point, Sid quit or was removed--and, I was told, soon after quit the Party. Shortly thereafter Phillip M. Connelly replaced him. I had not met Connelly up to then. He once had been a newspaper man, I believe with Hearst, and I respected him as such, and could see he knew his way about as a craftsman. He had been a power in California, as head of the CIO in Los Angeles. When he had been defeated in running for reelection he was made head of the Los Angeles bureau of the Daily People's World.
Basically, things went on as usual in the LA bureau--except that instead of Sid we had Slim, for such was Connelly's nickname. My son John called him Slid, and in a sense he was absolutely right. The name "Slid" encompassed the principal characteristics of both, at least in the ways they affected me. I remember that at one point I would get to the office of the paper, and, unable to enter, walk around the block. At times I had to do so twice before I could control myself enough to feel I could enter and be fairly bland.
The competitiveness of the staff that I had been so aware of since my arrival--and tried in vain to tone down--was the same--except that Helen was now gone, with her CIO-employed husband to other scenes, leaving her marvelous connections with the Hispanic people in Los Angeles largely lost. I had initiated a number of assignments for myself out of town because I was given too little to do in the city. In 1949, a recession year, I found that large numbers of workers were applying to pick cotton in the San Joaquin Valley, and Slim agreed to my going on a cotton-picking quest. Leaving Johnnie with the mother of his pal Ned, I put some lemons and salt in my jeans pockets and did a stint in Bakersfield for two days. I had picked in Arkansas with others in my high school class to make money for the Red Cross in World War I, so I knew enough to wear thick pads over my knees.
After a scary ride down the mountains in the truck we came in, arriving home very late, I contacted Johnnie the next morning and said I was home, and called the office to say I'd write at home that day. I did, and took in three stories and left them for Slim. I must say that when he called late one night he was ungrudging in his praise of the stories. Nor did I mind much when to the staff he said that Gardner "must take someone with her when she goes out of town--she never writes like that here," because the stories spoke for themselves. They inspired Lloyd Brown, an editor of Masses and Mainstream, to ask me to do an article for the magazine, and it in turn brought a generous reply from Lloyd.
In November of 1949 I was sent to Hanford, California, to cover what one headline in the Daily People's World described as "VALLEY HUNGER." A subhead added: "Officials do nothing as 10 babies starve." An inquest into the death of sixteen-months-old Robert Aquilar featured a coroner's report that he died of "malnutrition, gastroenteritis and dehydration." The lead on this November 10 story, appearing beside a photo of the mother, Mrs. Annie Aguilar and five of her remaining six children, and under a Hanford dateline, was:
Department of Employment figures for the week ending November 5 showed 17,000 persons picking cotton in Kings County; of this number 8500 were classified as "non-local." I asked Mrs. Harriet Styles, director of the Department of Welfare, what happened to the 8500 non-local workers when the picking was over and there were no jobs. Did they get emergency relief? Her reply:
"We don't issue emergency relief to anyone, whether they fill residence requirements or not, if they're employables--except in February, March and April, we have to issue some emergency relief. We consider an employable becomes an emergency if he's unemployed long enough.
"Probably along in February some might be getting hungry."
"How hungry do you have to be to get relief?" I asked.
"Well, we have to find out how long it's been since the cotton picking was over, and what the foreman at the camp where they worked has to say," she replied.
"Do you consider foremen trained social workers?" she was asked.
"No," she said imperturbably, "but they can give information. Someone like a foreman has a better idea of whether the relief applicant is pretending."
Asked if it were so difficult for trained social workers to find out whether a family was feigning hunger, she said, "You can't tell, with that type of people." Of course, she added, "We have people reporting on whether they're spending money in poolrooms or not."
Vernon E. Timmons, manager of the Chamber of Commerce in Hanford, saw the problem as one of education, "but it's hard to educate that class of people." Cotton, he added, "breeds poverty, and cotton pickers live a hand-to-mouth existence, and want it that way."
My story of November 13, also under a Hanford dateline, quotes witnesses at the inquest, including the father of the dead Robert Aguilar, Jesse, who was serving a jail term for non-support. I described him as 36 years old, a lifelong resident of Kings county, and "a small, scrupulously neat man," who as a prisoner had been working around the yard of the courthouse. District Attorney William Harp asked him if he considered his wife a good mother and on Aguilar's reply that he did, added sneeringly, "She doesn't get much help from you, does she?"
Aguilar's reply was too low to hear, but a Mexican-American translator was heard whispering: "He's a good worker when he works." After the hearing, I approached her and she explained, "Employers try to get Jesse, he's such a hard worker."
After my first stories on picking cotton, a Hollywood group connected with the Independent Progressive Party, invited me to address them, and I did. A delegation from the Women's Division of the I.P.P. of Los Angeles County combined a Christmas-giving and fact-finding survey of the San Joaquin Valley a few days after Christmas. Children were in the group, and I took Johnnie along.
Returning to Los Angeles, I had to endure a long series of dull assignments. One day I flared up at Slim, I forgot over what. I went out to see Dr. Abowitz, and told him: "Murray, I must be having a siege of menopause. You know I don't want to fight with Slim, and that's just what I've done." Murray scolded me. "Don't forget, I know Slim very well, he's a patient of mine, too. If you didn't fight with him I'd think there was something wrong with you. But not menopause. I'm surprised at you, you've fallen for old wives' tales about menopause. It should hold no fears for you or any intelligent woman."
Too often, he said, it was used by women who wanted to kick their husbands out of bed; they made it an excuse for refusing sex. But he admitted that all too often the old codgers had cared little about pleasing their wives sexually.
At one point Al Richmond was in Los Angeles making a speech. He was the executive editor of the Daily People's World, located in San Francisco. He came out to my place for dinner one night while there. I was busy in the kitchen but overheard some of what he and John were talking about. Al, obviously sensitive to a child's problems, was telling him about his life at an earlier age. His mother, an active radical, took Al and returned to Russia when the 1917-18 revolution was in progress. She left him in an orphanage while she took an active part in the revolution. He used to miss her dreadfully, but she would dart in to see him when she could. I have no idea how much John made of this.
Then we had dinner, and Al at some point asked me, had any of the editors seen how I lived? Why, no, I said, none of them had been out. I gathered he did not think much of our housing, but to me it was vastly preferable to the first two places where we'd lived. I really loved it, our home on Cove Avenue, compared to one over an hour distant in the far north, what suburb I've forgotten, and another just as distant on the South side, with comrade landlords as exploitive as any bourgeois landlords.
At any rate, Al after this visit proposed that I come to San Francisco. I figured he felt my position was impossible in the Los Angeles bureau, and the only real relief could be in my changing. But, alas, at that time I had a beau. And Murray knew it. He sent a wire saying that I needed to stay in Los Angeles because my son's health required special care, and he was providing it. All of which was true. (Had I gone to San Francisco there was no guarantee, not even a hint, that any medical authority, let alone the best that money could buy, could be provided, as in Murray's case, scot-free.)
Well, and as to the "beau," it all came about rather mysteriously. When we had been in the Cove Avenue house only briefly, someone appeared in the doorway. I must explain that after we moved in I summoned an expert locksmith, a Party member, asking him to make the place foolproof. He said that that was impossible; the entire screen porch had no locks, and could not have, and so, the best thing I could do was to leave the house open, day and night. Which I did.
Then one day this charming man appeared, expecting to find a couple who had lived there, who were comrades; I had heard of them. It was a delightful interruption.
We were having soup I had made the previous Sunday and I invited him to have a bowl, and he agreed. He and Johnnie got on well, and it seemed no great surprise when he asked us to go on a picnic the coming Sunday. I told him I was on the paper, in the event the former tenants did not tell him who I was; I felt that, knowing, he would desist from playing games. I accepted for Sunday.
The Sunday came, a delightful day. I had made bread the day before, and took along sandwiches, put in various green vegetables and plenty of fruit. The weather was divine. John was enchanted; Milt, also, with him. I could see those two would have a great deal in common.
After I put Johnnie to bed, I approached the charming stranger, saying, "Thank you for a lovely day." Instead of answering, he kissed me.
"But I hardly know you," I said and then had a hunch. "Surely you're not married?"
When he said he was, I asked: "Why didn't you tell me?"
He replied: "Why didn't you ask me?"
His reply was a reproach! I felt as if I were in enemy territory. I floundered "I thought I could assume that you knew who I was. And--well, that, knowing, you would--respect me. I must sound insane to you. I guess that up to now I have been protected by the fact that I was an open Communist. And from something you said I felt you were in the Party."
He assured me he was. I wondered if my words had sounded self-righteous, or pompous. Now I said: "So, there was a kiss. Nothing so dreadful in that. And I learned a lesson; never take anything for granted."
"Shall we talk again some time?" he said as he opened the door.
"I think it's best not to."
I crawled into bed and lay awake trying to analyze what had happened. Ultimately I had to face the fact. My need must have been so apparent to him that he felt he might not be rejected. He was no fool. It amounted, then, to my having been provocative; a galling thought. Well, a close call, but it was over with. And no sooner had I said that to myself than I was shaken with the recollection of the gusts of sheer happiness I had felt that day. A thing to guard against, that.
My friend Rose Segure, of San Francisco, whom we had known in Washington, came to visit in Los Angeles about that time. When I told her about the mysterious stranger and the picnic, she grew upset. He's obviously an FBI man. It stands to reason. Who else but an FBI man would seek you out?"
No, I said, he was in the Party, all right; but he was married. She needn't worry, I was not going to see him again. "I really don't make head or tail of you, Virginia. Reading an article in the paper by you, I'm convinced you are knowing, sophisticated and smart. But when I talk to you, you come across like someone who's never left Arkansas. Why did you ever agree to go out with him?"
"Just dumb." To myself, I added, it's not always easy to be the iron woman; but I'd be caught dead before I said that to Rose. To her it would be a copout. Who asked me to lead the kind of life I did?
Weeks went by and I'd begun to forget the mysterious stranger. I had just come home from work and was fixing corn cakes and syrup and frying bacon for John's supper, when a knock sounded. John went to the door and returned, triumphant, with Milt.
"I just thought I'd drop by and say hello," Milt said.
And John went on: "I thought he could come into my room and we'd talk, while you fix supper."
I broke another egg into the batter and added some corn meal, and when I had a big stack, called in that supper was ready. To Milt I said, "Won't you have some hot corn cakes with John? While I put some more on to cook."
"Thank you, I'd like that." I left the two wolfing down the cakes and was busy in the kitchen. When I returned with fresh pancakes, I sat down and ate with them. Worried that I had been too hospitable, I forced myself to be distant in manner, and that night I made a point of waiting until Milt had gone before I told John to go to bed.
On Sunday Milt appeared with his children, a boy much younger than Johnnie and a girl a few years older than he. He thought John would like to go with them for a drive in the country. Of course John did. I was invited, too, but explained I had bread in the oven. If they liked they could have some warm bread on their return. I had gone back to the standbys, making bread and soup each weekend, for otherwise my weekly pay was not enough, in view of the number of night assignments I had, at which times I had a baby sitter to pay.
I was keeping my emotions on a leash, and was impersonal, when we did see Milt. Once I asked what he and John talked about when they were shut away in that little room. "I'm a shellshocked veteran, with a great urge to have an audience for my stories on the Great War. John's a marvelous listener and it is the best medicine I could have."
"Did you really come off so badly?"
"Oh, not physically. I wasn't wounded. But there are other scars." After this, he began telling me some of his experiences, too. He had been a sergeant, with superior officers who were in the main anti-Semitic. His men were loyal to him, and he went out on as many patrols as he sent them on. He detested his captain, a Southerner and a West Point man. The captain tried in every conceivable way to try to get something on Milt, but was unable to. It was Milt's constant awareness of this, and the need to watch out for booby-traps, that were so taxing psychologically. Milt knew something about psychiatry, too--he had studied to become a psychologist, but, told in his last year that he was too sympathetic with the men he was sent to study, he abandoned it for--of all things, accounting. An accountant he still was--but he was definitely a creative person.
"You should try writing some of your stories about the war." I told him. I meant it. We had tried writing one article together, after going on a tour of the labor camps where pickers lived in the San Joaquin Valley. It made Masses and Mainstream, too, under a joint byline. But to see me rattle things off so quickly, after he had spent painful hours over his, almost infuriated him.
I had begun to tell him some of my problems on the paper. It always helped to have one person to whom I could gripe. I always had had, and it made life in the Party bearable when we were less than enthusiastic over some of the goings-on in our Party. Here, Rose Segure was too far away. So Milt began to take the role of a comrade, up to now a woman friend, to whom I could assume that anything I said was buried, and the same with him--although he had never any conflicts with the Party, and he did a great deal of work such as going to plant gates to distribute leaflets, then going home to dress for work, and we were now in a nasty period, when there were many attacks on Communists, especially at plant gates. So it was good for him, too, to have a confidante.
As I remember, it was at a time when he and his wife were first separated that he became much more than that to me. But I am clear about one thing, that when we did make love I retained some sense of caution, of holding back, due to some lingering doubts.
It became almost routine for him to have dinner with me and Johnnie on Friday nights. I was paid on Friday, and went to the farmers' market across the street from where the Daily People's World was at the time. I'd arrive home on the P-E train with my arms loaded with bundles, and walk up those myriad steps leading to Cove Avenue. Then I'd cook, while Milt and Johnnie talked to each other, man to man.
Strange, I only now realize it--most of the time, as little as I made, it was I who provided the place where we met and the food that we ate. Once, and only once, Milt took me to a night club. I got in a sitter to stay with John, I got out the only dress I had that was presentable, in a dim sort of way. I still have the photo that Milt had made of us-he looking glamorous, I looking pretty hard in that black dress, with my hair slicked back neat and anything but soft. He had made some extra money in a tax case, and explained that that was why he was taking me.
There came the time when I went out with Milt in a really exuberant mood. For the first time, we were going to spend the whole night together--and in the romantic mountain area about a mile from Los Angeles. John was staying with his pal Ned, and I felt secure about him. On the road going up the mountain I was singing. Milt said, "I never knew you to sing this way." I replied: "You never saw me feel so utterly happy."
So I sang my heart out--only to prove, once again, the fool. Ensconced in one of the charming log cabins making up the resort at the top of the mountain, I exulted over the real log furnishings and the stone fireplace, then stood at a window, enchanted with the moonlight and the wind in the pine trees. Milt said, "Come, let's lie outdoors." All willingly, I did--and heard his odd confession. He had never really loved only one woman, always two. What was he telling me was that he, now that he was divorced, was going to marry a young woman.
"Why did you pick this way to tell me?" If I got an answer, I do not remember it. That he could be so cruel so casually was beyond my understanding.
I let him go in to the cabin. I stayed outside until I was cold, and until I figured he would be asleep; then I cautiously crept in and lay at the outer edge of the bed. I wanted only to get away. I felt absurd, heartbroken. I arose very early and was packed and waiting on the roadside hoping to catch a bus going to the city--or even ride with a stranger, although I didn't relish that prospect.
But no bus came by, and Milt's was the first car that did. I am not too clear about what happened then. He said he would take me home, and I agreed. We had a miserable lunch somewhere, actually breakfast for us both. Milt then left me to do some shopping--which turned out to be presents for his kids and his wife, now newly divorced. I waited for him in stony silence, wishing only there were some other less painful way of getting home.
I felt that I never wanted to see Milt again, but I did--not to go to bed with him. That I made clear. But he came around occasionally, and John always was overjoyed when he did. I must say that Milt always seemed devoted to Johnnie, too. Even so, it did not end my association with Milt; after some years and under changed conditions, it began again, in a subdued, but to me, important, way.
End of job at the Peoples World - Working in a meatpacking plant
The worst thing that could be said of anyone in the Party was that that person was "subjective." Once in Washington I had written out what I planned to say when I went to New York to do battle with New Masses editors, and showed it to Al Lannon. He felt one paragraph was defensive and suggested I omit it. "Of course, if you're a woman, or if you're Black, they'll say you're being 'subjective' anyway, if they want to--but don't make it easier for them," Al had said.
But here there was no Al Lannon to advise. The Los Angeles staff of the Daily People's World had been ordered to hold a meeting of criticism and self-criticism by a county convention of the Party, and we had about a week to prepare for it. I had taken home copies of the paper for about a month, and at night read them, studied them, trying to analyze our strengths and our weaknesses. I jotted down notes in longhand on yards of foolscap, pasted together, and beyond trying to be objective, did not let it agitate me overmuch. Others would have their criticisms, too, I thought; I couldn't be too exhaustive.
That week before our meeting I had lunch several times with Don Wheeldon, a fairly new member of the staff. I told him some of the points I meant to raise--for example, that we all needed to get out of the office more on stories--and he seemed to agree. We met at night in the office and A. A. Averbuck met with us. Dorothy Healey, who headed the Los Angeles county office next to Nemmy Sparks, was married to Slim Connelly and made it a principle never to intervene in affairs of the paper. She may have asked Buck Averbuck to be present, or the county may have asked it. At the outset of the meeting young Wheeldon appeared, saying that he had an assignment and could not stay for the meeting. Averbuck objected, but Slim did nothing to question Don, and allowed him to depart. Later I learned that Don had been called out to meet with Dorothy in private.
Elizabeth Ricardo, a Black woman in the business office of the People's World, spoke first, making a point about women manning the switchboard about which I had no opinion. There I sat with my bundle of voluminous notes, and was called on to follow Elizabeth. Considering how small the editorial staff was, it did seem that I had written a powerful lot of notes. I kept in mind the necessity of being objective, though, and felt I had not laid myself open to that terrible charge of being "subjective." I had praised Slim as a good newspaperman, which he had been and still was; at the same time, I mentioned the baseball bat he kept by his side under his desk--not that he used it on his staff, but his remarks to his staff often fell on the ears with its suggested impact.
Having distributed only moderate amounts of praise and criticism to each, I then proceeded to do what I had over the years understood was essential if ever a Marxist opened her/his mouth to cast aspersions on anyone: to be much harder on myself, at the risk of otherwise being drawn and quartered, or its mental counterpart.
So what did I say?
I pointed out that I had been longer in the Party press than anyone else in the bureau and thus had a special obligation. For some time, under Sid Burke, I had urged that we have daily staff meetings, feeling that if we could speak out in a mature manner on issues or ways of improving our work methods that it would make for a more responsible and better-knit staff. Burke opposed the very idea of staff meetings, however, and, getting no support from others, which I attributed to intimidation by Sid, I gave up on it. Then, under Slim, I felt very hopeful for a time, knowing of his solid training as a news man, and a good one. But again, there was little unity in the staff, I found more competitiveness that I had found on large capitalist papers. Something was clearly wrong, and there were many complaints about the paper, judging from the action of the county convention in demanding such a meeting as this.
At the time I knew of no publication where a majority of the workers were Marxists that did not have staff meetings of some sort, whether daily or weekly. It was a way of sharing experiences, but, more, it created the feeling that, however unimportant the individual, each was doing his or her utmost in a great cause. But I again failed to obtain staff meetings where all could speak out on things, and was given only assignments no one else wanted. Thus, I said, according to notes to myself made later, that I had become cynical, more or less hopeless, and my attitude was "pretty close to that of hanging on to a job for the sake of the job."
When Slim spoke, it was to say that they had just heard "what this comrade said about herself." And as was obvious, it was something I had prepared deliberately, written out in advance. He would be "going up north" in a month or so, and he would let the state board know how I felt about my job. He was confident that they would see to it that I lost it.
And that is just what happened in the next few months.
It was left to Buck Averbuck to sum up, and my notes to self speak of "Buck's saying we had hit at some real problems but in oblique ways." I also noted "Buck's rather heavy emphasis on 'the American technician' and how Lenin said they would borrow all possible from American technology while using Socialist discipline." Slim, "preening himself" at that, apparently seeing himself as embodying American technology, was "rejecting utterly other things Buck said, or ignoring them, as to 'bourgeois pressures, etc.' But wasn't Buck's criticisms too oblique? It gave Slim a chance to ignore it all. It had plenty of depth, but was not specifically applied to him." (I might have added that had it been, that baseball bat might have gone into action--although Buck, a former football star, still kept himself in good condition, while Slim was simply fat.)
Buck drove me home. We lived nearby, relatively, and it was fairly late. I thought of the last time he had been there, not too long ago. He had suggested we take a walk--for one assumed that even cars were bugged--and he had then told me that he had been instructed to ask me to decide, in the event things became worse nationally, whether I would rather work aboveground or go underground, as it had been decided that half the staff of the paper could get it out and the other half go underground. I answered without hesitation I would rather stay aboveground because of Johnnie. Buck said I would be much more liable for arrest. "Yes, Buck, but John could accept that. What he couldn't accept would be that I would be away, and invisible to him, not to be reached by letter or by phone--and not under arrest." I think he had expected that reply. I also let him know that, while no one had asked me, or seemed to be interested in what the rank and file felt, I did not agree that fascism was imminent. Well, he said, whether or not I did, he also had to tell me that I would have to get a couple who would sign a statement that they would care for Johnnie in the event I went to jail.
Now a few months later we climbed out of the car to take a stroll to the top of the hill as he wanted to ask me something. He said: "Virginia, I wish you'd let me take that huge bunch of foolscap with your notes on it, just to keep for twenty-four hours."
"I trust you enough not to ask you what you intend to do with it," I replied. "I'm not ashamed of it. It won't help me to keep my job, that I know, but it might do some good somewhere. I know you wouldn't ask it as a whim." (But I never learned why he wanted them.)
It occurred to me then to take advantage of the solitude of the hilltop to let Buck know that the couple who had agreed to take Johnnie had reneged on it. I now had the enthusiastic word of my oldest friend, Sara Saper Gauldin and her husband Aubrey,; they were not in the Party but they would be solid--and Dr. Murray Abowitz had agreed to pay for Johnnie's education. I asked if I should get their signatures on a formal agreement whether or not I were removed from the paper. Of course, Buck said; it wasn't the Party but the government that decided who would be arrested. So I said I would go out and see them--they lived in a suburb--soon.
I went in to tell the sitter she could leave now, and Buck with the foolscap drove away. I began taking stock of where I stood. Up until now I had believed in justice in the Party, at least most of the time. I was now beginning to envision what one person's power could bring about--at least for a time. It would also take time for Slim to get me separated from my job. Meanwhile I just hung on, waiting for the axe to fall.
We were told that the staff would remain as was for a few months after which there would be a review to see if I was carrying my full share of the load. Notes to myself say, "For one period, during the senate education hearings, and a second one, also for about a week, during smog hearings, Slim did make use of me in the ensuing period. Never let me get a smell at a labor story, except to do a roundup of the telephone strike obtained by phoning from the office. He said later, reading my copy, 'Well, you've covered it like a blanket.' Perfectly obvious that he meant all along simply to keep me on only until after the [Party] conventions, inasmuch as Don had threatened to quit too and take it to the convention if I were let go in order to put a man on as labor editor. . ."
At one point, when Connelly was telling us of decisions made weeks earlier, apparently, according to my notes or self-memo, "I said it was typical of the lousy stinking treatment I had had ever since coming here and that I had never been used properly, but given--except for emergencies when no one else was available--stuff a high school journalism student could handle, and not even kept busy at that. He said I was 'absolutely right,' and invited me, 'Why don't you keep fighting me on it?'"
Eventually, I learned, the entire central committee of the Communist Party California, those underground as well as aboveground, voted to back Slim Connelly. I appealed formally, and years later learned that a committee appointed by a national convention had considered my case and voted I should be reinstated. But nothing was done about it, and by the time I heard of it I appreciated feeling vindicated but had no desire to return to California.
I worked until May 23, 1951. For a Red with no credentials, finding a job in 1951 was hardly a breeze. On June 4 the Supreme Court had upheld the constitutionality of the Smith Act's anti-sedition's provisions, confirming the conviction of eleven Communist leaders (William Z. Foster's case had been severed because of his health), and on June 20 a federal grand jury in New York indicted twenty-one more, of whom seventeen were arrested and dubbed by the press the "second string" leaders. The trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the so-called "atom spies," opened in New York March 6, 1951; Alger Hiss was already in jail on perjury charges.
I began collecting unemployment insurance. The only job ever suggested to me by the state employment officials in all the time I collected it (I finally exhausted the insurance) was to do publicity for the U.S. Air Force at a camp nearby. When I asked the woman who had this in mind if she thought it realistic in view of my recent employment as a reporter for the Daily People's World, she said apologetically, "It's seldom we have any writing jobs."
I applied for a job as waitress at a Woolworth's in Glendale, to which I was nearby on the old P.E. line. The counter was a block long, a good bit to travel to get a dish of ice cream. I had a problem with my eyeglasses, which I needed to see the prices on menus before I made out a check. Since they were not bifocals, I had to keep pushing them down from the top of my head, or up, inasmuch as our uniforms were without pockets: Woolworth's took no chances. For the same reason we had to deposit our tips with the manager. On the third day I dropped a tray full of glasses and kicked them aside and went back for others. "I told you I thought you were too old," the manager said, not unkindly, as she paid me off that night. "This counter makes for a fast pace." I pointed out that having to wear a uniform without pockets had added to my difficulties, and collected from her the fifty-cent tip a man had given me that morning when he brought three children in for breakfast.
This experience sent me to get new glasses--years earlier than I needed to have had bifocals, but at the time I didn't see what other jobs I was going to be able to get. I next applied at the huge chain of the Thrifty drug stores. I was sent out to a place much farther away than Glendale. On the way I read the literature I'd been given and learned that for the job in question I'd have to be bonded. That was hardly the job for me, I decided. My name would be checked automatically with the FBI and the old A & B charge stemming from my arrest on the Hearst picketline in Chicago would be reported, whether or not I had been convicted. I needn't accept that though, because the hours were 3 P.M. to 11:30 P.M. and as a mother of a 10 year-old, I was not required to work such hours. Thrifty fought my claim, however--as it systematically fought every claim made against it for unemployment, and my unemployment pay was held up for the maximum, seven weeks. In this way Thrifty saved a large sum each year. For me it meant reporting to the unemployment office once a week and waiting hours until it was decided that Thrifty wouldn't appear. The state agency eventually held for me, but it was a warning to me not to reject jobs lightly.
What was maddening about all the Thrifty business, aside from doing without my weekly unemployment pay, was the unreasonableness of it. The people at the state office knew, in fact they were the first to tell me, that Thrifty challenged each claim. But they made me wait each time until it was undeniable that Thrifty would not appear.
I was still jobless when it was suggested that my section would like to hold a farewell banquet for me, the proceeds of which would go to the Daily People's World! I didn't know it until later, but Buck Averbuck was in on it from the beginning, although it was a young woman I shall call Abby here who came to me with the proposition. She was a bright, attractive young woman, with kids by a former marriage, now married to a brilliant young poet. When she told me that the man who had agreed to act as toastmaster if I consented to the dinner party was Robert W. Kenny I was won over. Kenny, the former attorney general of the state, was an extremely witty, knowing person. My friend Rose Segure knew him, and I had met him at the home of Murray and Ellie Abowitz.
Because Abby knew I had been fired I was certain Bob Kenny did, and knowing that, I had somehow leaped to the conclusion that most of the people who accepted would know. I realize now, rereading all the telegrams and letters written to Abby--obviously at her requests--from editors such as Lloyd Brown and Herbert Aptheker, and lawyers such as Ben Margolis, all solemnly speaking of my great attributes, that they definitely did not know I had been fired. Even Murray, in saying in a note to me that he and Ellie, his first wife, would be there and that it was "about time" I was honored, didn't know the reality.
At the banquet, I was aware of the innuendoes in Bob Kenny's subtle and hilariously funny introduction. Since I had been fired the California leaders of the Party had been arrested and the times were solemn; I spent time to impress on the audience that we must not let the paper down, but honor its editors who were under arrest. After I lectured them, I relaxed. As the invitation for some reason (and beautiful printed ones they were) hit upon sixteen years as the length of my contribution to the labor press, I ranged over the nine years when I had been with it. I was glad I got a few laughs from Bob Kenny when, speaking of a period in Washington when I worked for New Masses, I told how Johnnie had had a series of illnesses ending with scarlet fever. I had not missed a day of work, I related, but what with the elaborate washing of sheets and towels and other fumigation demanded by the Virginia Board of Health, there were days when I mailed in copy without having read it over. Then a plaintive note from one of my editors said: "For some reason your copy seems to have a quality of breathlessness of late. Don't you think you might profitably spend more time in polishing it up?" And when on another occasion I decided to let my editors in on some of the problems I faced, one editor wrote fondly: "I just don't see why you can't get some nice man to marry you." I was laughing about this to some dinner guests one night when Johnnie, then about five, said seriously, "Well, Ma, you could advertise in the Daily Worker!"
It was an elegant dinner in every way, and more than one hundred tickets were paid for. Abby knew everyone, and those she lured to the Taix Restaurant that night seemed sophisticated enough, or so I thought, to catch the double entendre in Bob Kenny's talk, or at least his ambiguities.
The high point of the evening came when a magician, known to the Left, arrived to perform his sleight-of-hand tricks. I was seated at the dais next to Kenny, and Johhnie was at a distance from me and beyond my control. I saw him move his seat to one a few feet from the magician; I was helpless. (The book and paraphernalia on magic I had given him when he got out of the polio ward in Washington had been devoured and he was really adept now.) Kenny was in his element when Johnnie began telling the crowd how each trick would be played, and when the magician, who was very clever, appeared to take John into his act, Kenny was all the happier, accusing them of having rehearsed a put-up job.
The entire evening was a joy. Abby, who had been careful to find a modest place for the dinner, made a nice sum for the section to give the paper. Of course, no one in the Communist Party was going to pass up any chance to get dollars for a fund drive. But the editors had remained silent when Abby pleaded repeatedly for some help in publicizing the dinner. Finally, an item under the head, "Here's a way to honor top fund drivers," urged readers "to honor their outstanding workers in The Daily People's World Fund Drive by giving them tickets to the dinner honoring Virginia Gardner Friday night."
Once the dinner was held, Abby began a futile effort to get the paper to acknowledge the sum that was raised. It never did, but in the ninth paragraph of a story on fair bail petitions for Smith Act political prisoners, mention was made of 200 petitions "distributed at a banquet last Friday night." That story printed on September 5.
I had had to write Adam Lapin several times before I could get the editors to say I had been fired. Only after I threatened to write myself and say I had been fired in a letter to the paper did a three-paragraph story appear under the head, "Released with Regret--Three Staff Members." The reason put forth was "the resulting retrenchment that took place with the reduction of the size of the paper." The item appeared on July 3, 1951, and the three named were myself, Ted Kalmon, who wrote on youth issues in San Francisco, and John Kykryi, a copy reader, who was married to Connelly's former wife, unmentioned by the story. No mention was made in the paper of its efforts to add another member to the Los Angeles staff.
Although it was billed as a farewell dinner, Johnnie and I were not leaving town. We hung around for almost a year, until July 1952. Without his getting very far, Johnnie had twice run away from home, with the idea of going to New York to see his father. Early in August of 1951 I announced I wished to appeal the decision which had resulted in the appointment of a new member of the editorial staff; I had been dropped around June 1 for the stated reason of retrenchment. I then wrote out a document and had it delivered as instructed. On inquiring about a reply, I was told verbally that my document was " a statement," not an appeal. On March 11, 1952, I said I thought a rereading of it would show it was an appeal, and if not, I should like advice as to how to institute proceedings from which I could get a reply.
I am amazed at my persistence. Actually I had known about Slim's attempt to get a man to cover labor since November 1950. A November 1, 1950, letter from Graham Dolan said in part: "I'm more than a bit surprised by the turn of events re: that goddam job out there. Let me say that never at any time was there any indication that 'room' would have to be made on the payroll to fill Charlie's job. There was an opening, I was told, and your boss said he had instructions to fill it with a 'top' man. . . He didn't indicate anything at all about you or anyone else getting off the payroll." He had turned down the job.
I had finally gotten a job--peeling wienies in a meat plant in Los Angeles, about ten miles from the apartment John and I had moved to. To get there I had to drive a car I'd bought for thirty-five dollars. Its chief blemish was a hole in the roof directly over the driver's seat. But hadn't everyone said, ever since I arrived in sunny California, that it seldom rained in Los Angeles? It turned out to be the rainiest winter Los Angles had had in many years. To add to my problems I pretty regularly broke down on the freeway, having never really learned to drive. We worked in a cooler, and on occasion I was already chilled when I arrived at the plant and began putting on warm clothes. However, I soon became expert in the science of alternating wool layers with cotton to get the most warmth.
Skinning wieners appears to be simple, but it remained a total mystery to me, oblique, impenetrable, insoluble, overpowering. Never did I work so hard to master a skill. But there were aspects of working there I distinctly enjoyed, and Johnnie loved it when I took home wieners. But having seen what went into them, I never for a moment relented on my complete ban except when funds necessitated reliance on them.
I felt especially warm toward two of the Chicanos there: Maggie, unsurpassed as a peeler, from New Mexico, young and married, and an intellectual, Alicia, even newer that I in the plant, and as inexperienced, having lost her secretarial job in a recession. She attended a movie with me on the rebellion of Zapata in Mexico and had confided in me that her father was an active in that movement. It was Maggie who said to me, when the going became rough, "If they try to fire you, you just tell them that if they do the Communists will throw a picketline around the plant." She pronounced the word with the accent on the second syllable. The very thought of my erstwhile editors and others picketing in my defense was exhilarating. I had never talked politics with Maggie, but I was not surprised at her assumption that I was a Red. The Korean War was on and I made no bones about how I felt about it.
It meant a long day for Johnnie. I was up and gone by 4:30 A.M., leaving him an egg beaten up in milk, with vanilla flavoring and some sugar, and he was supposed to beat it more and drink it for breakfast. When I had it I left him money to buy lunch at school; if not, a peanut butter sandwich. One evening I returned to find him in near tears, a rare event. Someone had called, professing to be with the Hollywood Citizen News, asking the name of his father and where he lived. "I told him his name and that he lived in New York. It was only when he asked where you worked that I realized it was the FBI, and I hung up."
I assured him he had done just fine, that his dad needed no protection and that all was well. One night when I reached home the light was out. I heard the phone as I put my key in the lock. It was a mother who lived next door to the school--the new junior high school Johnnie attended. She said he was injured, lying on the playground (the awful blacktop). She had called an ambulance. I told her I would drive over. It was only a few blocks away but I was so nervous I was terrified lest I have an accident on the way. John looked white and limp when I arrived. Then he was in my arms and conscious, and medics were around me, and a few cops. The ambulance people said he was just bruised, but when it came to driving home, I was shaking so I could not back the car out and had to ask a cop to help me. He did, and I got in with my son and we were on our way. I told Johnnie he would have to see Dr. Abowitz before he went to school; he should do just as he said. The next morning I went on to the meat plant, but managed to phone Murray later; he said John would be all right.
As we peeled, we stood around a long oblong table, packing them in boxes, three at a time, and talked freely. Eleanor, our floorlady, in charge of the peelers, kept firing away. "You're in Amurrica now, you might as well learn to speak Amurrican." Or, "You gotta talk Amurrican around here! This isn't Mexico, it's the good ole U.S.A." Hearing her got under my skin. But I kept silent because they did.
The day came when one of the Mexican-Americans objected, and then another who was as speedy a skinner as Maggie, and Maggie, too. Then I piped up; there was no law against speaking Spanish, I said, it was a free country. Then Alicia put in her word, although she was even less able than I. Then Laura, the tall, rawboned young woman on my right, who was from Arkansas and often exchanged comments with me on picking cotton and other farm chores, added her voice, which pleased me a lot. Laura was no slouch, either, she could skin and pack wienies with almost the best of the Mexican-Americans. The older Anglo woman married to a CIO organizer also spoke up, effectively.
Eleanor announced the next day that after lunch we would be timed, naming those who had spoken out. Except for the personality and obnoxious chauvinism of Eleanor, it was an easy-going place; I had never been timed. Meanwhile Jake, the real boss of this part of the meat plant, including the all-important kitchen--Eleanor was only a straw boss--sent for me to come to his office. His box of an office was suspended high in the air over the kitchen; I climbed up and was aware that all those in the kitchen were Mexican-American. I have a carrying voice and I spoke clearly.
Jake wanted to know if Eleanor's approach was unpopular. I let him know that it had been odious to me ever since I began work there over six months ago (I now had paid my initiation fee and had my union card in the Butcher Workmen of America) but that I had said nothing until the Mexican-Americans did. "I don't need to tell you that none can peel as they can, either," I added.
When the timing began I was greatly touched by what Henrietta did. I worked directly across the table from Henrietta, the possessor of a madonna-like beauty. I knew her story. Her son, aged five, also incredibly beautiful, fell ill. She had no doctor to go to. She carried him to the nearest hospital. In the morning he was dead. Henrietta had never spoken to me; she spoke little English, nor did she speak now. She simply pushed across to me, with no attempt at concealment, a box loaded with wieners. Two or three other Mexican-Americans gave some help to me and to Alicia, but surreptitiously. All the others passed, but neither Alicia nor I made the grade on the timing. Not a word was said, by the way, about Henrietta's so visible aid. She was held in such absolute love and awe that it was obvious that Eleanor had just pretended to look the other way.
At the end of the day, when Alicia and I were fired, we made our way to the dressing room, and here came the entire staff from the kitchen, saying, "Come on, let's go to the union right now."
I could not tell my newfound sisters--although I was near tears at their demonstration of support--why I demurred. The simple fact was that I was the only woman in a small Party club composed of meat plant workers. I had told my club the previous night that I expected to be fired. They had given me their ukase: unless I knew positively of three women who would hit the floor and support me, I should not take it up at a union meeting. In other words, they would not support me unless I played by their rules. What I did not know was that I had a choice: I could ignore my club and remain in the Party.
Even with my refusing to go to the union, several workers, including Laura, my Arkansas friend--who had always wanted to know if my father beat me, too, as hers did, if I didn't show up to pick cotton--accompanied me out of the plant and demanded to see someone who was even higher up than Jake. A young man, intelligent and attractive, said he would see to it that I was timed again the next day. I said it would do no good, I felt I could not make the grade. He asked the others, "What about Eleanor?" and I wandered off, as I was anxious to drive home before I collapsed. I went home to get John and we went out to see Frank Spector. I told him the story.
Frank said: "Virginia, you did everything all wrong. Didn't you know that Lenin said, 'Always go with the workers.' You did not do that."
"I didn't know he said that."
"You were not bound by what the men in your club had told you. They were thinking of their own jobs and intimidating you. So, you have missed your chance of going with the workers. But I hope you do not forget the lesson."
So, once again, I was on unemployment compensation. Before long, out of the blue, I was offered a job by Kay McTernan, helping her put on a cultural festival for the Unitarian Church in Los Angeles, presided over by the Rev. Stephen Fritchman. It was a pleasure to work with Kay on her ambitious program to involve artists, dancers, musicians and dramatists and poets in this weekend festival, which proved highly successful.
Meanwhile I had heard from Steve Gardner. He had been married and divorced since I last saw him. But he had not lost touch. He wrote me occasionally, and sent me money several times, "with no strings attached." Now he telephoned me and suggested that Johnnie and I come East and live with him. I had to remind him that I couldn't do that, that Red had once threatened to get Johnnie away from me if he possibly could find a way to take me into court. For his part, Johnnie, who remembered him well, was ecstatic over the idea of going to New York, figuring that it was all a plan on Steve's part to support him in his longing to see his father. Steve sent a check that would be ample for us to take a train East, but Johnnie was determined to drive and to give our new car, a 1939 Ford, to Aunt Gert.
Cross-country trip - Working again in a meatpacking plant - Arthritis
Steve was being angelic about my slowness in getting off to New York, and when he learned I was going to drive to Milwaukee and go by train from there, he was greatly disappointed. My brother John Gardner, who was going to put me and Johnnie up until I found a place of our own, begged me to take a train instead of driving. Even Frank Spector, who had sold me the car--a 1939 Ford that had been driven by only one family since its production--said, "I think you should remember, Virginia, that although it is in good condition, it may not hold together for such a long trip."
But Johnnie, quite in love with our car Dinky, and, mindful of Aunt Gert's loneliness since her daughter Gingie's death, had his heart set to drive Dinky to Milwaukee and to leave it for her. I was packing china when the phone rang and it was Red Marberry. My brother John had run into him in Greenwich Village and told him I planned to drive. With his usual diplomacy, Red asked: "Have you gone completely out of your mind? What is your aim? Surely not to save money, because you won't; it will cost you more than to come by train. Of course, to travel across the country in an ancient car with a 12-year-old boy shows courage--the courage to take completely unnecessary risks. It is not admirable, only foolhardy."
But I had promised Johnnie, and I persisted. I can say now I think I was a little out of my mind. It was a mistake, and the mistake is that we survived it.
Our progress across the country was infinitely slow. John held a map and told me which way to go. He always loved maps, and was much more intelligent about reading them than I. I was fearful and thus drove slowly--too slowly for safety. I knew that intellectually but could not manage to act on the knowledge. We were going the southern route, and on the third day out of Los Angeles, we had a blowout on a New Mexico hillside, and soon found that the tools we had were quite useless. We had a good tire, but could neither get the old one off or the good one on. After several attempts, we were standing helpless by the car when a hailstorm began. The cars kept right on passing us by. We then espied a figure a fair distance away, a little bowlegged man. Yes, he surely was coming toward us. He had been working in a ditch some half mile away when he saw us. He fumed: "Those big shiny cars going by, and none of them stopping to help a widow lady and her boy. He asked John to come with him; together they could carry back a log, with which he'd prop up the car so that he might get under it. I saw then trudge away, and before long, start back. His name was Seth Thomas, and without doubt, he was remarkably efficient. When the tire was on, he refused the dollar bill I tried to give him.
It was almost dark when we got on our way. At the first chance, we stopped for oil and gas. A young Indian, also a customer, as we were, told the proprietor that he admired our car, he liked it enough to pay $75 for it without any testing, just as it was, if we agreed. John and I consulted each other. Johnnie considered all this--and was flattered that the Indian had appreciated Dinky--but said, "No, Mother, Aunt Gert deserves Dinky. And you agreed we should give it to her. So we turned down the offer.
As our travels continued we had been staying at cheaper and cheaper places for the night. That night's choice wasn't much, and I was exhausted, but John decided he would start his diary. He was writing about Seth Thomas, our rescuer, when he fell asleep. But I lay there sleepless thinking what a fool thing it was for me to be making this trip, in 1952, with a 12-year-old boy as my guide. Why hadn't I listened to any of the people who told me how unrealistic it was for me to attempt to drive? And why was I continuing to let him make the decisions?
From New Mexico we headed for Oklahoma, and the night before we left Oklahoma City was the worst experience we had. I awoke about 3 A.M. to find Johnnie covered with bites and clawing himself. My tough flesh was untouched, but they had dug in with frenzy on his more succulent offering. I knew how to deal with chiggers; but not bedbugs! There was a crude shower in the courtyard of this dreadful hostel, and I gave him a bar of soap and suggested he scrub himself well. It was the kind of dive one had to pay for in advance. I packed up and we drove out, heading for a restaurant. "This is one meal we're not economizing on," I announced. "I'm ordering scrambled eggs but you get whatever you want." He had pancakes and bacon. But he was used to my corncakes, not to limp wheat cakes that turned soggy at the first touch of syrup.
I drove to Columbia to see my faithful friend Dr. Harry Belden, telling myself it was not really out of the way as I bound for Moberly, Missouri, to see Aunt Bess and Uncle Dudley, but I was not strictly accurate. This I couldn't blame on Johnnie; I just couldn't pass up the only chance I would have of seeing Dr. Belden, hearing once more his resonant, musical voice. I would never hear anyone read poetry as it should be read, having taken his course in Versification just to hear him. We did not linger long, and in Moberly, too, cut our visit short.
Uncle insisted upon taking a little walk with me, moving with painful slowness and speaking with emphasis. "I want you to remember, when you get to New York, not to allow any editor to patronize you or denigrate you in any way. You should walk right into the World office with your head held high. You know the Constitution, and it is entirely within your constitutional rights to be a member of the Communist Party, or to have worked for a newspaper such as the one you worked on in California. You are a fine reporter, and don't you let anyone tell you anything different."
I was touched that he made the effort to let me know his convictions, and I would not have dreamed of telling him the World was no longer published. Uncle Dudley wasn't alone in having no understanding why someone who had been through what I had, perforce has a narrow outlook. I agreed with all he said--including my abilities as a reporter. But I had no intention to go against the wind; I had had enough of the storm.
There was a reason that Uncle wanted to speak to me outside of Aunt Bess's presence. She had been upset about my stories on picking cotton, and asked me to cancel the subscription to the paper I'd sent them, which I did. It was that I picked alongside blacks that got her riled. I felt, too, that she had never felt comfortable about my being in the Party. The remarkable thing was that I kept them both as devoted, loving friends. Indeed, in addition to Gertrude, who else in my family did I have? Uncle had prejudices about unions (they were all right for composing room workers but not needed for editorial people) and was unimpressed with my work for the Bridges defense, with which Aunt Bess had no quarrel. But he was now telling me his sincere beliefs. He was oldfashioned; but he did love the Constitution and believed in the Bill of Rights. Fortunately Dinky made it all the way to Milwaukee.
Johnnie was very proud when he gave the keys to Dinky to Aunt Gert. We were all invited to the Carsons' house for dinner, and were to take the train the next day. He told them how the young Indian had wanted to buy Dinky, "but I wouldn't let my mother sell it." I saw Joe Carson's lip curl, and felt sure he would talk Gertrude into selling the car as soon as our backs were turned--which he did. But he said nothing in front of Johnnie, who was happy as we left Aunt Gert. As for me, I was delighted to be boarding a train and aware that I would never be driving again.
I had not gotten sleeper tickets, but we had a good meal in the diner, and John fell asleep sitting up and all was well. I, however, was awake for hours. I wondered how I would adapt to New York. What were some of the realities? I felt dowdy: when had I ever bought clothes? I think I feared that my experiences on the whole had made me a little odd. Nor was it admirable in itself to be the fall guy, the object of a series of dirty tricks. I could answer without apology for everything I had done freely and deliberately, but injustices done to me were no attribute. Having been fired from my job on the People's World remains an acutely painful experience even now.
Steve Gardner met us at the Union Station. My heart skipped a beat. "I can't believe it," I said as he kissed me and I clung to him.
"You can't? What about me? I'm the one who's been waiting and waiting, while you visited friends and relatives and perambulated about the country to study the flora and fauna. Never mind, I have you here now and I shan't let you go roaming."
Johnnie wanted to telephone his father, and announced he was expected there. They would have lunch nearby. I put him in a cab and said he must be at Uncle John's by 5 o'clock. Red would tell him how to take a crosstown bus.
Steve and I proceeded to John Gardner's place on Third Avenue and Twenty-first Street, climbed the three flights of stairs and I noted with relief how large a place he had. He lived with Larkin, whom he planned to marry when his divorce became final; but there was ample room for me and Johnnie, too.
"You've been given a hard time in California, haven't you?" Steve asked.
"Exceedingly. And it's not over. By that I mean I have to check with the unemployment office here tomorrow. They'll send me to my union, and I only hope there are no openings to peel wieners now. I'd just as soon never see another cooler."
"And if there are?"
"Then I have to take what they send me on--or lose my unemployment status. And if I should do that, it might be difficult ever to collect on it again."
It was hard for anyone to realize how fussy the unemployment people were: before I left Los Angeles I had checked in to explain I was going to travel to New York and on their advice, also had checked in while in Milwaukee. But I did not want to spend time to talk about this dreary subject now that I was with Steve.
The phone was ringing. It was John Gardner, who told me when he'd be home, and that Larkin might be there earlier. He would get dinner, he said (he was a marvelous cook), and Steve was invited to stay. He had already laid in supplies. That was sweet of John, but he was the sweetest of Caroline's children, and alone among them, had paid no attention to his mother when she forbade them to have anything to do with their sister Virginia (in 1952 we had had several years of the McCarthy blight).
What awaited me at the unemployment office the next day was very bad news indeed. I had to report to my union office that day. So I hiked there, only to learn that a job peeling wieners in an "ideal" meat plant in Jamaica was vacant; I must report there the next day. My heart sank. But what could I do? Nothing but go.
To be on the job, fully dressed in warm clothes ready to work in a cooler, I would have to get up before 4:30 A. M. Jamaica was a long way. Once I started this crummy job, I was having problems galore in the meat plant. I no longer felt myself, but a totally inadequate person--more so than I had been in the Los Angeles plant. It all looked elegant--instead of standing we peeled each in her little cubicle, surrounded by steel. The wieners were a different size from those I had peeled and we packed them differently, held a different number before we put them in a box. I noticed that my hands were blue and purple, and presumed I had hit the steel with which I was surrounded, and wounded them.
There was a nurse on premises, showing how modern and scientific it all was. So I went to ask her about my purple hands. After all, I told her, I had been used to standing, working on a wooden table, free to move as I wished. I must have knocked then against the steel here. She looked at them. "Oh, no, its just arthritis. An occupational disease. If you work in a cooler you have to expect that." She handed me a container of huge red pills. "You can take these until your ears begin to ring," she instructed. "By then you should be numbed up enough to get through the rest of the day."
I was being timed daily--and not making it. Fritz was our foreman--a small man with white eyebrows and white hair, who looked as if he spent his nights, too, in the cooler. He would descend on me and hiss in his broken English, "You has to speed up!" The union shop steward, a very nice woman who spoke English freely, worked with me on many breaks and even peeled some for me. Most of the women were German refugees with no knowledge of English. I told the shop steward about the difference in the size of the wieners compared to those I worked on in California, and she wanted to help me, but I was not increasing my production.
Week after week, seeing Steve only on Saturday night and once in a while for a movie on Sunday afternoon, I felt increasingly unhinged. At the Vanguard he often brought someone to my table and introduced us. I was far from a sparkling conversationalist in those days, though.
Steve and I drifted apart, not through either's intentions. I had no resentments, only regrets. I have been trying to remember what led up to the break, but have been unable to, as is so often the case. He was writing scripts for movies or television a little later, and I was trying my hand at a slapstick novel I thought might sell--and I sent it to him for advice. When I went to see him about it he said it "definitely had some things," but that I should try again, the plot was too improbable. He was living alone in a small apartment at the time. We went to bed together and it was, as usual, wonderful. But we now inhabited separate worlds, and actually I had known that for some time.
1953 - Depths of the McCarthy Era - Start of work at the Daily Worker - Red's suicide attempt
My working in a meat plant continued to baffle my brother, John Gardner. One evening he called me out to the kitchen, where he was making a salad, and said in a low voice inaudible to others, "Bibby, tell me truly. Is it because you've done something the Party thinks is wrong that you are being punished? Is that why you have to stay in a meat plant?"
I am sure I seemed unreasonable to John Gardner. At times I didn't make much sense to myself. But in Los Angeles I had rushed out trying to get a job before I'd drawn my first unemployment insurance--with the bitter experience that Thrifty Drug challenged my unemployment pay, holding it up for seven weeks. My brother had a good job in the Sunday department of the Daily News, working as a reporter and in addition making extra money writing a script for a cartoon series. He assured me I could stay as long as I liked with him, and seemed to enjoy having us. He was fond of playing chess with my son, Johnnie, now almost 13, however, and Larkin, the very pretty young woman he planned to marry, was childish enough to be jealous of Johnnie. One night she threw a tantrum, and Johnnie and I and all our things departed.
Through an old friend I heard of a flat for rent at a low sum and did rent it. So we found ourselves in our new digs, at Second Avenue and Ninety-fourth Street, our furniture still boarded up as it had arrived from the West Coast. To get it out of hock I had had to borrow $10 from Doretta Tarmon of New Masses. Because of my precipitateness in moving from John Gardner's I did not want to ask him for it, as he would then have known how little I had and insisted on giving me more.
But I refused to be cautious in all money matters. The trial of what the press called the "second-string" Communist leaders, thirteen leaders who included my good friend Al Lannon, was in progress in Foley Square, and I made up my mind I would go hear one day of the proceedings. I was still in the meat plant and forfeited a day's pay to go. I sought out no one. During the break for lunch I took a walk, ruminating over their plight. It made my problems seem small potatoes indeed. Reentering the building, I ran into one of the leaders and was asked what I was doing. Trying to get used to not reporting, I said: presently, skinning wienies in Jamaica. I was told I should not get used to not reporting. Months later I was approached for a job on the Daily Worker, and still later learned that the enigmatic reply I received the day I attended the trial had augured a job for me on the Worker. I couldn't believe it when I bargained for the job--until it dawned on me that Slim Connelly was not the power in New York that he was in California.
Our new flat on Second Avenue was rent-controlled; we paid $21.50 a month for it, and for the favor of getting it, an extra stipend to the departing tenants, in return for which we received several sticks of worthless furniture that we threw out. The couple moving out were comrades, but this was a normal procedure; they were very nice people. Still another emolument went to the "super" or superintendent (who supposedly did janitorial work, if he could be found); it also was an unspoken essential in getting a flat. It was a "cold-water flat"--meaning there was no steam heat. Tenants had to provide their own heat; Johnnie had perused secondhand stores until he located a pot-bellied Franklin stove we carried home in pieces.
Our stove burned coal. To learn how to make the fire, how to bank it so that it lasted through the day, add to it at night, required a high art. I mastered it, but my son refused to have anything to do with it--a bone of contention between us for years. We had other features in our new place that were less than luxurious: we had to share a toilet in the hall with the family who lived opposite to us, whose poverty was unmistakable. They kept a neat pile of torn and folded newspapers on the toilet seat, which extended from one wall to another; they were too honorable to use our toilet paper.
My brother John Gardner and his fiancee, Larkin, never let a long time go by without driving over to see us. I reported to them not unhappily one day that I had been fired from the meat plant, and Johnnie complained, "And she never did buy any wienies to bring home." I answered: "No, they couldn't make a price cheap enough, after I saw what they made me pack. I'd reject those that were very obviously not fit to eat and the foreman would make me pack them." (A few years later I was glad to read that this "ideal" meat plant had been shut down by the Federal government for selling rotten meat. Large fines were levied but no one went to jail.)
"For that you should thank your mother. She may have saved your life," John Gardner said good-naturedly, giving him a punch and a hug.
But my son had another complaint; he had heard about the radio show in which a panel of judges tried to guess what individuals did for a living. "It would have been a cinch for Mother to get fifty bucks; no one would have guessed wienie skinner." My brother had to admit this was probably so. But it was my choice to compete or not to compete for this distinction, he insisted.
John Marberry was enrolled in Public School 30, a junior high school--and a true blackboard jungle, on 88th Street, near Second Avenue. I knew that he was unhappy; I felt he was disappointed in his father, who made no effort to get closer to him than playing a chess game when Johnnie went to the Village to see him. But he said nothing about it; it was only surmise on my part. I had no idea, however, that he was playing hooky until he had been out of school for two weeks. I learned it when his principal called to tell me he was going to turn John over to a truant officer.
"You will over my dead body," I replied. I would be in to see him. By that time I was working as a reporter for The Daily Worker, the Communist Party's newspaper. I called the paper and said an emergency had arisen and I would not be there until past noon. Then I headed for the nearby office of Rep. Vito Marcantonio. Luckily I was in his district, but even had I not been, I would have tried to take him with me to see the principal. Marc and I were friends in Washington; in fact, more than once, when I did not have a caretaker for my son, and so had him with me on the Hill, I had left him with Marcantonio's office staff, as he was well known to Marc. But Marc was already in Washington, I learned, having gone back the night before.
So I marched alone to the school and did battle with the principal. I was all too aware that if my son were sent to a shelter--and a truant officer could arrange that he would be--I might lose him. I told the principal that if Congressman Marcantonio had been in town, that he would have been with me. And how, I asked, did it happen that John had been playing hooky for two weeks before I was informed of it? "You have my phone number--not only at home but at the Daily Worker, and the assurance you can call me there at any time."
Without answering me, he pointed out that "the school had been good to John: we made him the vice president of the student body." I corrected him: "You made him nothing. He won that office by popular vote, after giving a speech against discrimination. I didn't hear that speech, but when I visited the school later more than one teacher stopped to tell me it was the finest they had ever heard here."
He began to complain that John had not maintained standards of leadership, but I was not going to get embroiled in any dispute about that. I said that I had dropped in to visit the school occasionally, although it was not encouraged, and found one room which was pretty much bedlam--but it was a room in which there might be three or four substitute teachers in one week. Clearly something was wrong. I went to see John's homeroom teacher--a lovely, gentle man who taught German, a veteran in the New York public schools. He strongly advised me to try to get a scholarship at a private school in Manhattan, and mentioned Walden. He said, too, "As soon as he has even one friend, you will see a difference." And he did, while still in P.S. 30, find a friend, Tony Savvarone. They became inseparable. The scholarship was forthcoming from Walden, too, thanks to my old friend Elizabeth Sasuly Eudey.
Only later did I learn that before he knew Tony, John was in mortal terror of the gangs in our neighborhood, and he would come home in roundabout fashion. They were mostly tough Catholic kids. I had neglected to warn him against saying anything about God, and when we moved there and some of the kids in our block asked him what church he was in, he replied, "None. We don't believe in God." John hated force and violence, and only fought when he had to. But there came the day when John was borne home on the shoulders of admirers--including the Catholic kids. What had happened to result in a hero's kudos?
His P.S. 30 homeroom teacher had told me, a bit sadly, that he felt it was unfair of him to keep Johnnie seated next to the problem of the class--a pathetic, weak boy, not unintelligent, just backward, with physical disabilities. By rights he should be in a special school, but the waiting lines were so long! "And John is the only one I can trust to be protective of him."
John had described to me many times the school's bully--a big, red-haired tough who was overage and overweight. The bully took delight in plaguing this frail child who shared John's doubleseat. John had had runins with the tyrant, and the teacher was quite aware of what went on. One day the roughneck continued picking at the boy on the stairs leading to the street, and John told him, "Leave him alone!" Before they reached the exit, the bully gave the terrified little boy a vicious shove. This was too much for Johnnie, who, when they reached the sidewalk, threw himself into an attack on the redhaired tyrant and fought him to a standstill, to the delight of the onlookers who had crowded around them.
I now felt relatively serene about Johnnie: day in and day out if Tony weren't at our house Johnnie was at Tony's. But, overjoyed as I had been to be working as a reporter again, I was finding one condition extremely hard: we never got our full pay. We were to get it in time, we were assured, but in the meantime, despite my low rent, it was tough managing. A special staff meeting was scheduled one night on the paper's finances. In charge was a man who would become my bete noire, despite his two lovely sons who became good friends of Johnnie's This was Mac Gordon, business manager of the Worker.
After he spoke and everyone else seemed reluctant to speak, I put a question. Assuming we were all in the same boat, I mentioned that I was finding it hard to manage, as I could not get credit at the A & P or the Safeway and had to patronize the deli across the street. If this was apt to be a running condition, wouldn't it be better for some of us on the staff to go on unemployment for a time, until the entire staff could be paid in full? There was a silence. I had not realized it, but on the Daily such rude facts of life were not broached. If I could buy only six eggs at a time, and at an exorbitant rate, I should keep quiet about it, and I hadn't.
Then Gordon spoke in lugubrious tones, regretting that there were any staff members who had become "demoralized." This was followed by a gungho pep talk from Gordon. Abner Berry, a black columnist, took exception to his remarks, suggesting that I might have certain problems and that I was not necessarily demoralized. At that time I did not know that every man on the staff had a wife who was working, and that the only reason the men on the staff could afford to work there was that their wives worked, some at lucrative jobs.
I also learned--much later, possibly as much as three years--that because Gordon, without ever asking me, said that Red Marberry paid me child support, I had been underpaid ever since I went on the paper. The scale called for members with one child to get so much, and those with two, more. I was listed in neither category, but one that was reserved for the childless. When a woman bookkeeper asked me if John's father gave me support money, I told her he had paid none since John was eight years old. I wanted to obtain the entire backlog, but had to forget about that and take the increase that was offered.
Nineteen hundred and fifty-three was an overwhelmingly sad year for me. My brother John Gardner and Larkin had been over to see us and I had told them about the new assignment I was on, trying to learn about the early lives of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. My brother was helpful. He had interviewed her mother and other members of the family and had been scheduled to interview her brother David but the attorney trying to arrange it disappointed the Daily News; he would look up his notes and see if any might interest me. And before I saw him again he was dead. Larkin called me and I took a taxi there after learning she had called the police; when I got there John was dead. He had fallen on the stairs, after going to one doctor, saying he thought he had angina, and being assured he was all right. I had my arms around Larkin trying to comfort her when Caroline, my stepmother, came up the stairs. Pain, pain, pain. Caroline and I embraced; it was a beginning for us, although it was several more years before we were reunited.
At the funeral I arrived early and found myself alone for a few minutes. I kissed John. Caroline was taking the body home to Fort Smith for burial. I continued to see Larkin and wrote her when she was married, went to see her and her baby, in a town in New York State I had never heard of and no longer remember.
My good friend Sophie Nascimento Lillard, who was married to the black athlete who had made all-American, Joe Lillard, worked at the Party book store, the Jefferson, and introduced me to a customer who, when he liked a book, ordered several copies and hoped his sons would benefit thereby. His name was Ben Dannenberg and after a time we spent many Saturday nights at the Lillards' flat on Second Avenue near 18th Street. Joe had a lovely voice and accompanied himself on the guitar. We listened to Joe sing, and Sophie often cooked dinner for us.
Among us, between Joe's lovely songs, we talked of which years were the best and which the worst. Not in terms of how they affected our own lives, but the movement. We agreed that 1936, the year of the first sit-down strikes, and the blossoming of the CIO, was the best, and that 1945, ushering in the Cold War--the year the United States dropped not one, but two, atom bombs on Japan, surely an exercise in the most cynical overkill, couldn't be worse. But the present was no dream, either.
Sophie and Joe had a way with young people that I envied without being able to emulate it. On Saturday, though, when Johnnie was having a party for a bunch of the Walden kids, Sophie and Joe took matters into their own hands. I had thought Joe would bring his guitar and sing a few songs, but he had other ideas. "We are taking your mother home with us, John," Joe told him. "And we're putting all you kids on your honor to leave the house neat and clean--and not to do anything in her absence that you wouldn't do if she were here." I protested privately to then. They surely did not mean I should stay away all night? That is just what they meant. The kids had a very good time, John said later; they were impressed with Joe, and more so after John told them that he had made all-American.
I never remember John's complaining about the cold-water flat on Second Avenue--the rent for which went up but never beyond $35. Nor was he the slightest bit apologetic about it to his Walden friends, some of whom were from wealthy families. After going to the Village to see Red once, though, he paced the floor and said irritably, "If Dad would let us have just half what he spends on liquor each month, we could live in a better place." It had been Red's birthday, and he and his beloved Therese were drinking and, I gathered, pretty much ignored John. This was especially hard to take because he had searched in secondhand bookstores for weeks and found what he thought would be a treasure to give him as a birthday present--an early collection of Ring Lardner. He knew all his father's 3,000 books and knew Lardner was a favorite. This outburst was his first open admission that he found his father wanting.
He was still in Walden when, in the mid-fifties, Red attempted suicide. John had got the news in this way: a doctor at Bellevue Hospital called and, in the belief that he was speaking to Red's brother, said they wanted to know what he usually drank. When John called me at the paper, I answered by saying, "I'm on a deadline, I'll call back," and I hung up the phone. When I reached him he was scared and mad. I felt that my refusal to hear a word of his news made it worse. I took a cab home, then, with John, went to Bellevue. They would not let him go upstairs. He waited for me. I found Red, looking more dead than alive, on a stretcher in a corridor. He couldn't recognize me, he was still under the effect of the sleeping pills he had taken. I asked an attendant when he would be getting some attention; no bed was currently available, but he would be placed in a ward when there was a bed, I was told.
Johnnie and I took a bus home and were there only briefly when the phone rang. It was someone from the Herald Tribune. I insisted that Red was really a newspaperman who had sold a couple of books, but no celebrity. He said, "And one of them was Splendid Poseur, about the poet Joaquin Miller, brought out by Crowell in 1953, right?" I did all I could to make Red sound obscure, but felt that my pleas did not move him much. I called Harry Raymond, a grand old reporter on the Daily Worker, widely known and highly respected by other newsmen. Luckily I reached him at home. I told him what was up about Red, and the fact that the Herald Trib man seemed so unsympathetic. Harry promised to call around town and try to dissuade papers from running anything.
Actually Harry prevailed, but Johnnie still was terrified something would appear. He would not go to school for two days, he was so afraid a paper would carry something. He went out and got every paper, every edition. He said, "This is the worst, the very worst thing he could do to me. You explain a lot of things, but not why your father tried to commit suicide."
I called Raymond to thank him the next day. He had been a true friend. Then I called the city desk to explain I would be late to work as I would be making efforts to get John's father out of Bellevue--not an easy job after a near suicide. I was informed the head psychiatrist wanted to see me. I went to his office and we immediately hated each other. I refused to admit Red drank more than most newspapermen. Therese had shown up by then, but as the first Mrs. Marberry I bore the brunt of facing his tormentors, assuming the others were like the chief psychiatrist.
As I came out of the latter's office and walked along the corridor, a shy man, rather short and slender, introduced himself to me as a lesser psychiatrist. His accent was not French; possibly he was Belgian. "I think your husband is hallucinating," he said as we walked along. I replied: "I saw him briefly this morning and he seemed very sober, not at all as if he were indulging in fancies."
He said, more emphatically: "But he told me you were a Communist."
"So I am."
He persisted: "He also told me you worked for the Daily Worker." He brought that out triumphantly as if it proved the hallucination.
I was patient. I extracted my press card from my purse and let him see it, feel it. He was clearly at a loss. He said: "But it isn't printed any more." I assured him it was. Then he asked where it was sold. I suggested he try Union Square. He had been looking for it, that much was obvious.
I went in to see Red, thinking he would be amused at the story of his "hallucinatory" behavior. Instead, I found Red looking distressed. He said miserably:
"Virginia, I feel queasy this morning at the idea of being questioned. I decided that the best thing to do was to tell the strict truth about everything or I might get mixed up. So when he asked me why we didn't get along--well, you know I hate to say anyone is a Communist."
"Red, for goodness' sake, that's not important. I'm an open Communist, it couldn't hurt me. And I can see why you'd say it." Then I told him my story. It brought a weak smile. I said I'd see him the next day.
I cannot recall how many days it took before Bellevue agreed to release Red; it seemed a long time. I knew by then how it was that a Bellevue doctor had phoned Johnnie. Red had written letters to a number of people, including John, and left them by his bed, addressed and stamped. He also wrote--and mailed--a letter to the police of his precinct telling the officers at what hour they could find him, dead, at his address. But the pills had not entirely worked; he was bruised and in bad shape, had fallen around his room, before the police arrived. The cops had given the hospital the names on the letters, my phone was listed as both Gardner and Marberry, and when the doctor called he thought John was an adult relative.
Johnnie and I took Red home from the hospital. I had asked for the day off, and had so much overtime coming to me that it was granted without any fuss. We took him home in a cab, and he had the driver stop at the police precinct nearest Morton Street. Soon he was back in the cab, and, selecting the letter to John from the others the police had returned, showed it to me behind John's back. Then he handed it to John. It was a generous, large act on his part, for it said that he was "more to blame than Virginia." For years Johnnie had asked each of us why we had broken up, and each of us had suggested he ask the other.
Johnnie, though, suspicious of me still, asked, "Is it true, Ma?"
I wasn't in a mood to extract the pound of flesh from Red, though, and replied, "I'm not sure."
We drew up to the little red brick house at 68 Morton Street. The cops also had returned his keys, and now Red opened the door and said, "Well, I won't try that again."
Johnnie and I stayed with his father that night, despite the cockroaches everywhere. I had stuffed a chicken, of which each partook voraciously, after which both seemed glad enough to retire together in the same bed. I said I was going to read a while-- and managed to fall asleep sitting up in a chair and remaining there all night. For some reason sitting upright seemed to make me less vulnerable to the cockroaches than lying on the sofa.
Researching The Rosenberg Story
In all my years of reporting, the only time I felt that I had definitely deprived my son of needed care and attention was the period in which I gathered the material and wrote a series for The Worker on the lives of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. It was a demanding and consuming work, and it would have been impossible for me to concentrate on this quest for such a protracted period of time except that Johnnie was interested in the Rosenberg case and he was unusually patient and understanding with me. Ever since our arrival from the West Coast he had done leafleting on the Rosenberg case with the Gordon boys, Nicky and his older brother, and they had taken him to the big rally on the Rosenbergs' behalf on Randall's Island. Luckily for me, Johnnie did not feel deprived, as he vastly preferred to his mother's cooking, a hot dog sandwich or a pizza.
Erik Burt, who gave me the assignment to do the series within days after they were electrocuted as "atom spies" on June 19, 1953, freed me of all other work. I came and went on my own, reported only to him, giving him a memo every few days at least, talking to him as I needed to. He kept my memos locked in a safe and no one else asked me anything about what I was doing--thanks to Erik, presumably.
Except for Erik, an editor with imagination and vision, I had very little encouragement. I went early on to see Manny (Emmanuel) Bloch, attorney for the Rosenbergs; I had known him as a reporter in Washington. He felt that people were too frightened to talk, and that I would get little of worth, but despite his pessimism, he tried to be helpful, and was: he gave me the name of a psychiatrist who Ethel Rosenberg had seen regularly in Sing Sing. From the psychiatrist I obtained a valuable tip: an experience she had had in a strike had changed Ethel's viewpoint around, so that she was no longer primarily involved in a singing career for herself, but in activities with others.
The only thing the psychiatrist could tell me about the strike was that women lay in the street to block trucks. He did not know the year, or whether she was one of them, or if it was a thing she observed that aroused her to the meaning of actions with others. In a search of The New York Times indexes I found that such a strike took place in 1935. Eventually I went to a friendly lawyer's office and looked up the entire story of the strike in the first volume of the National Labor Relations Board cases, of 1935. I learned that Ethel Greenglass was one of several who were found by the NLRB to have been fired in violation of the NLRA, and her company was ordered to reinstate her with back pay; she was the only woman among four who became NLRB cases.
I considered it quite a scoop that, after three months, I had obtained the facts on the strike, especially when it was responsible, according to the psychiatrist, for altering the tenor of her life.
Nevertheless, this came late in the day of my searches, it still was not fleshed out, and I had had many weeks of investigation that seemed a refutation of the impressions I had had at the time of the funeral. I had been assigned, with F. David Platt, to cover the funeral as Ethel and Julius lay in their coffins in a chapel in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Outside, in the blazing sunlight, 10,000 men and women lined the streets, unable to get in. I had had a horrible time getting there. Not that I ever had an easy time getting anywhere in Brooklyn. I was aware I had only so much money in my purse, but I was trying to get there by surface lines, and the streetcar seemed to inch along. At last I said to the conductor-driver, "I want to get to the Rosenberg funeral, I must get there, I'm a reporter, but can I ever make it this way?" And he said, "Lady, if I was you I'd get out and try to flag a cab, or a friendly car. The crowds are only going to get worse." I took his advice--at the time wondering how there could be this outpouring of people when there was so much said of how fearful people were. Their determination to be there outweighed it, that was certain.
It was Manny Bloch who spoke the words the hushed crowd wanted to hear. He told the packed house that President Eisenhower, Attorney General Herbert Brownell were responsible for the murder of the Rosenbergs. "They did not pull the switch. But they were the ones who directed the one who pulled the switch." Dry-eyed, the graying attorney continued:
Once the funeral was over and I had begun on my assignment, it seemed different. I was almost ready to believe Manny's wholly understandable pessimism--that few would be brave enough to talk to me in a significant way. It was hard going. And at night I read the court record once I did get home--in itself a chilling occupation.
So, meanwhile, because its importance overshadowed all other leads I had, I continued to work on the strike. I located a man who had been a striker at the National New York Packing and Shipping Company with Ethel Greenglass and who identified her as one of the women who lay down in the street. She was 19 then, he said, "--a youngster, and quite excitable."
For added color on the strike, I went to the files of the Daily Worker and The New York Times. The Times of August 31, 1935, described how 140 young women pickets moved in squads through the garment district. Wearing raincoats, some of them "lay on the pavement in front of trucks and dared the drivers to move." As in many of the strikes of the 'thirties, there was never a dull moment. Each day strikers were arrested, and promptly released by municipal judges. A young woman chained herself to a lamppost and police had to saw through the chain. A scab emerged from a taxi "naked as the day he was born," the Daily Worker happily reported, with the words "I am a scab" written in lipstick on his back. The Daily Worker of September 5 named the shop at 327 West 36 Street, where Ethel worked, as among those "where the strike was most effective."
I found and interviewed three women who had known Ethel well in Seward Park High School, none with more insight that the one I called Gertrude. She had married Sam, who also knew Ethel, and they formed a foursome with Julius Rosenberg several times. This was after the strike and before any marriages. Gertrude often visited Ethel at 64 Sheriff Street, where she lived with her family. Together the young woman acted in several plays presented by the Clark Players, a dramatic group attached to the settlement, Clark House, a friendly old brick building on Rivington Street, later taken over by the Grand Street Neighborhood Center. Ethel liked to attend Friday night lectures by actors and others from the Group Theater held at the Lavanburg Players, attached to one of the early housing developments. Julius resided there, said Sam, and he remembered seeing him call for Ethel at some of the lectures.
She was an unemployed musician at the time. He recalled having introduced Ethel at a small mass meeting around Loyalist Spain when she sang, "most movingly." Sam and Gertrude and I had been talking for hours, the interview had produced riches, I felt. They looked at each other, absently, then Sam said:
"If you hadn't been crazy enough to burn all those programs and things in your 'memory book'--just because Ethel's name and yours were on them--"
Stung by the reproach, Gertrude answered: "Don't. You're just as responsible as I am. I would give anything in the world to have those things back. It was a time of panic, and everyone lost their heads."
"You remember," she went on, "we heard of the FBI going to one couple who barely knew them, and--well, so I have nothing to show for all those years of association with her, nothing."
Her husband sat staring at his cold coffee, then asked, "What about Louise? Would she have saved anything?"
"Oh, I wouldn't go to her. I don't think she really cared about Ethel. Just superficially. Though--" she halted, turned stricken eyes to her husband, then went on relentlessly: "At least she went to see Ethel's mother afterward. That is more than we did. We didn't do anything."
I left them at 1 A.M., agreeing to return later; I'd write a memo in a few days and show them a copy of it that they might check my accuracy. But when I got to my office next day I was decidedly surprised to learn that the husband had gone to the Daily Worker office early that morning--after a sleepless night--to ask if I were legitimate. This, despite that fact that, noting their hesitancy after I appeared, I had produced not only my Daily Worker press card but an old press card from Los Angeles, a marvelous press card as it contained not only my photo and fingerprint but a police description. When I did return and asked about it, Sam said, "But this said your hair was dark brown, and it's light brown."
I continued to roam through the dusty streets of the Lower East Side where Ethel had spent her childhood and youth. Those were the years when Ethel Greenglass was "the star of every dramatic program in Assembly at Seward Park High," when she was self-centered as only youth can be, when despite her yearning for warmth and affection her relations with her family suffered from self-erected barriers, according to another friend, Laura. At bottom, Laura thought, Ethel might have wanted something out of life her family didn't understand; beauty, perhaps.
More than once Laura had taken me on the route she and Ethel took to go to Seward Park High School from 64 Sheriff Street, and from the school back home. Always there were new things to see, to remember. Now she was leading the way, the last tour complete, towards a bus. It was only then, as she halted for a seldom-seen burst of traffic on Grand Street, that the poster loomed up. It was one of many pasted on the side of an abandoned building of ancient red brick, and it read: "CLEMENCY FOR THE ROSENBERGS!"
To my surprise, I was beginning to find a good many friends of Ethel Greenglass, and they included some who knew Julius Rosenberg, too. Several other members of the Clark Players, in addition to Gertrude, talked to me about Ethel, including a man then in business. Ted knew Ethel when he was with the Clark Players. "She was the star," he exclaimed. "She had a passion for theater, she was a wonderful actress. There was a flame in her."
Rhina, too, was a member, and, like Ethel, entered amateur nights and won occasional prizes. Thursday night was amateur night at Loew's Delancey Theater, in the heart of New York's Lower East Side, and on Thursday Ethel entered the competition; singers who received the most applause won the prizes. Ethel won-not the fabulous first prize of $5, but the second, of $2. This wasn't so bad in 1931, and she began entering competitions fostered by one of the big exploiters of amateur talent, the late "Major" Bowes.
Rhina lost track of Ethel in 1936, before she and Julius met, and in 1931 and 1932, when they were fast friends, neither Ethel nor Rhina had begun dating boys. "We were very immature." Rhina said. "And both of us were conscious of not having 'been out' and not having the right manners. All the Players went regularly to the Paramount Cafeteria on Delancey Street, near Loew's, after rehearsal. Ethel and I were afraid to go, it seemed a dazzling place, and we might use the wrong fork or spoon. Eventually we went. Each girl took her own check, of course. When one of the boys asked to take me home, I thought he didn't have bus fare and suggested we walk. Stiffly, he said no, we'd go by bus; he paid my fare and at the door he made a little speech and said that when a boy offered to take me home that meant he had bus fare.
"We were so young, and so romantic," she smiled. "I remember Ethel's saying once, when she had not given up dreams of a career, that she was not going to just get married and worry about children and shopping and meals, she was going to be different."
The smile trembled, and she swiftly left the room; she came back, however, holding with both hands a small painting. "This wouldn't mean anything to you, or to anyone else, but--" She left the sentence unfinished, adding a little unsteadily: "See, here we are. She's the one with long hair." It was a rather decorative little painting, made by one of the Players, showing two women, their heads back, a youth between them, arms encircled, walking along a road beside a river, their backs to the artist.
"We had brought our lunch, and Ethel had a whole stack of sandwiches made from homemade bread, and ate then all. 'You will get fat' I told her. I was not afraid of her getting fat. But for such an ethereal young woman she certainly could eat."
When Rhina had a chance to turn professional at $40 a week, her father refused to allow it. So she had to go to work at $7 a week, and she held it against him. That is what Ethel averaged, once she had finished the shorthand and typing course she had refused to take before graduation. Actually Ethel began work February 24, 1932--in other words, as soon as her course was finished--in a clerical and checking job which was full-time and overtime and part-time.
"Ethel was in love with art, as was I," Rhina said. "Not that we always knew art when we saw it. Most of the Clark Players' plays were a hodge-podge of mediocrity. But we were in love with the idea of art and hardly noticed the world around us."
About the only play the Clark Players did that was any good, said Rhina, was "The Valiant," in which Ethel starred, as the sister of an older brother facing execution. (By H.E. Porter and Robert Middlemass, it was later made into a movie featuring Paul Muni.) Throughout the play, said Rhina, the warden--and the audience--had doubts as to his guilt. The young sister visits him in the warden's office and the brother appears not to recognize her. She then recites their favorite Shakespeare line, "Parting is such sweet sorrow," but he conceals from her his recognition, tells her to go home, to tell her mother he is not her son, and then comes the punch line--from Julius Caesar--which he recites on his way to his death:
"'Cowards die many times before their death; the valiant never taste of death but once.'"
Rhina said: "So, with the doubts still intact, increased, he goes to his death. Ethel was very good as the kid sister. I often thought of it, when her role was reversed and her brother had accommodated the authorities."
I was making headway in interviewing people who had known Julius, also, including a retired teacher who taught him for four years before he was graduated, with highest honors, from the Downtown Talmud Torah, where he studied Hebrew after school hours and all day long on Saturdays. I remember my nervousness in advance, and how I twice walked around the block debating with myself before taking an elevator to his office. My first question to him assumed a hostility that never appeared; "Your anti-Communist position is well known, but since Julius was a pupil there so for so many years, would it be possible for you to tell something of his record there?"
The boy Jonah, which was his Hebrew name and the name he was called at Downtown Talmud Torah, he said, "left a very deep mark." He came from a home not unlike those of most of his pupils. It was Jewish but not extremely orthodox; a poor home, that of a worker. Many were more cultured homes than his, but "the way he took to Hebrew" made it seem the was the product of generations of scholars.
In 1931, he said, when the Lower East Side was in the grip of the Depression, when teachers were buying milk for pupils and concealing the fact it was paid for with their own money, when many children took bundles of piece work to do at night to eke out the family income, Julie was 13, celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. His parents wanted him to quit Hebrew school but he refused.
Most of the children stayed at the school an hour and a half, but Jonah would spend four and five hours at reading and prayer. Often when he left the school the winter night would have closed in and the teacher watched the boy as he started home over the creaking snow, his head high, while in the cold stillness the hoarse whistle of tugboats sounded from the river. Or, if it was spring, it usually would be dusk when Julius set out for home, past the trees in the little park across the way, in their light new leaves, while the old tenements in the next block seemed mysterious, the tracery of fire-escapes and iron-work window balconies taking on a new character. And the teacher, following with his eyes the lone figure of the boy trudging happily homeward, worried. Like others in the school, he taught religion as meaning service on earth--and he was aware that Jonah was seeking an answer without which the brutalities and indignities of tenement life made no sense.
"I can see his face before me as I taught the Prophets, drink in all I said. Isaiah and Jeremiah were my favorites. But when I taught the Prophets it was not just to speak of what happened 2,000 years ago but what was happening around us. A strike was in progress at Ohrbach's. I spoke of it in connection with a chapter in Isaiah. I saw Julie's eyes glowing. That boy Jonah, as we called him, took it literally. He believed."
"But how did you use the strike at Ohrbach's?" I asked.
"I said, 'Orbach is sitting in the temple now, but who wants his contributions? Let him pay his workers a living wage, then his contributions will be welcome.' You see, I always stressed the theme of service--and that to serve was the greatest joy in life. Well, the boy Jonah believed it."
The former teacher, who confided that he never had found satisfaction since he left off teaching because of a physical disability, placed sincerity above formal erudition. Like other teachers at the Downtown Talmud Torah, he took as his guide the saying in the Talmud, "Words which come from the heart penetrate the heart."
He tried to explain why he felt such concern for the boy Jonah along the way. He was an especially unworldly, sensitive boy. It was not that what he had taught was untrue--it was true, but the teacher knew the world, and he feared the results for children who went out in the world without any armor of self-protection. Julius responded "so whole-heartedly" that it indicated the schoolboy in those adolescent years was "too gullible, too sincere."
It had been suggested, I said, that as a man Julius Rosenberg was gullible in a business sense--in letting David Greenglass stay on in his shop when he had proved himself incompetent.
The former teacher's reply came swiftly: "That David, we did not think much of him here. I am convinced--and I have told this to others--that Julius could never have obtained any information from David, because David was incapable of giving any."
Ethel Greenglass also had been a pupil. He even thought her "more able, brighter" than Julius, but "to her it was just education in Hebrew." With Jonah, it was something far different.
"At times I've blamed myself. Yes, for all this was leading up to the unfortunate thing that overtook him--to me it was much more than unfortunate, it was a tragedy," he said huskily. "And so I have blamed myself. I can never forget that boy. If there is any accusation against him, any guilt--it is that he was guilty of one thing, he was guilty of sincerity."
Without mentioning the words "electric chair," he alluded to what befell his prize pupil. "I can't bear to think of it--and for that boy." His vibrant voice was now little more than a whisper. It was clear that he saw, not the man Julius, but the boy Jonah, in that chair.
I left him there, his figure looming large behind his desk--a man haunted by the memory of a sensitive youth fired by the Prophets' denunciation of oppression and greed, a youth whose heart indeed had been penetrated by the teacher's words which came "from the heart."
The time came when I told my editor, Erik Bert, that I had seen more than fifty persons, of whom forty recalled having known either Julius or Ethel Rosenberg or both. Their friends had reacted differently to the panic that followed their arrest. A union brother admitted he had cut Julius's photo from his wedding group picture and his name from a list of witnesses in a document. He felt miserably about having done so; and he tried hard to help me envision Julie as he was, and Ethel, too; he had known them rather well. He introduced me to other members of their fraternity, the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists and Technicians--all of whom were emphatic in praise of Rosenberg as a union member. One, Al, who was in the City College of New York's Engineering or Technical School when Julius was, spoke of Julie's political maturity and how some of them felt that he "was in a position to teach us, and he did on many occasions."
For example, Al said, there was the letdown after the Munich pact in September, 1938 permitted the immediate occupation by Germany of the Sudetenland--on Czechoslovakia's border--France and Britain guaranteeing the new Czech boundaries. The final conference represented the peak of the appeasement policy adopted by England and France toward Hitler and Mussolini, within a few hours acceding to Hitler's demands. When Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich to London he declared he had secured "peace in our time," but not only Al and Julius but the prevailing student body at CCNY recognized that it meant war, and that the Munich Pact was the symbol of cowardly appeasement.
"I recall the hopeless dejection we were in," said Al. "Some of us got together and met with Julie." It was in one of the "alcoves," a now vanished CCNY institution--niches in the Main building where young people could linger over a nickel cup of coffee while debating issues of the day--that they met him. Without minimizing the reality, he said, Julius "somehow dispelled our mood of pessimism. With us he faced the facts clearly, but without panic; he added them up with a long view. Munich or any other setback was only a temporary defeat. Julie had that sense of history that never left him and which allowed him to be cheerful when others were full of gloom. We left feeling sober but not hopeless."
Of all the people I had seen, only one was downright hostile, and it was a pretty scary experience, largely because every time I tried to depart, he prevented it by continuing to soliloquize. He admitted at the outset he had known both Ethel ad Julius, but that "even if the government didn't prove its case," he believed the FBI man who had come to see him. He "sat just where you're sitting. I asked him about the case; he said where the government spent all that money there must be something to it." He added, as if it were an afterthought, "He scared the stuffing out of me."
He concluded some time ago, he said, that all he had done of a progressive nature was a mistake. "What I was doing wasn't really me." So, he had traveled and took up psychotherapy.
I asked him if he had read the record of the Rosenbergs' trial.
No, he had not read it. He didn't read anything about it, he didn't want to, didn't want to hear about it. He paced up and down the room in his maroon robe, cocktail in hand. I had declined to join him in a drink. He continued angrily:
"You don't know how you've disturbed me. You've disturbed me very deeply." He repeated that he believed that FBI man.
"But can you imagine what it is to have a man you've grown up with go to the electric chair?"
I started to reply. "If you knew in your innermost heart that Julie was innocent--"
He cut in: "No, I wouldn't have raised my finger to save him."
At another point he said, more quietly: "Yes, I'm a frightened man. But I think you underestimate the amount of government surveillance going on. I'm in a position to know. Maybe no one's following you. But someone may be watching me. Maybe someone's posted in a window across the street and saw you come in--"
When I did manage to break away, I took a welcome breath of air once I was outside of his apartment.
One of the oddest situations I found myself in was to be interviewing a most intelligent friend of Julius Rosenberg whom the FBI had questioned and for the duration put on ice, seeing to it that he was relieved from his former job until after the executions. He apparently knew enough about Rosenberg's business affairs to make him suspect, or to make J. Edgar Hoover wish to neutralize him lest he give testimony against David Greenglass, whom he knew to be completely incompetent. He also knew all the Greenglasses--and the government did not want to risk his going to Julius's aid. I had asked Manny Bloch if any persons would have testified for the Rosenbergs, and he replied that there were a few who would testify on some matters, but that Ethel ruled it out, saying it could hurt their careers. Manny had wanted to call them, it seemed. This man might well have been one such.
Leaving the Party - Reflections.
The documentary film Seeing Red states that nearly one million persons were members of the Communist Party at one time or another, with a peak of 100,000 between 1938 and 1945. Droves left the North American Communist Party after the "secret" speech of Nikita Khrushchev at the Twentieth Congress in the Soviet Union described the crimes of the Stalin era. According to the documentary film, about eighty percent of the members left the U.S.A. party within the next two years.
It is hard to know just why I did not leave. Dazed and depressed--who in the Party could be otherwise?--I had stayed. The trauma experienced in reading Khrushchev's blunt revelations remained. It had not been explained at the Twentieth Congress how or why such horrible things had happened. In my club I expressed myself as believing that only the Soviets could give the explanation, and that to wipe out the Stalin cult they would have to do it. I told myself I still believed in socialism and my reasons for joining the Party still held true, however sad I felt that Khrushchev's revelations had set back the task of winning the workers to the cause of North American socialism.
In A Long View from the Left, Al Richmond wrote of Khrushchev's disclosures as posing questions about the Soviet regime, "and to the extent your fundamental beliefs were intertwined with this regime, these, too, were placed in question. When you get to this core of what you live by it requires a personal reckoning, for first of all you must settle accounts with yourself." Had I? Not entirely. Yet I still believed it to be true.
I still was on the paper, and thanks to Erik Burt, an editor with imagination, I had assignments I managed to throw myself into, and at the time, they made it seem worth while that I remained in the Party. What a difference it was from my experiences in Los Angeles when I felt that my talents were being employed in trivia. All I wanted was that my skills be used, and there was no question that Erik was giving me a chance. I was taking it, too. I loved reporting, and whether it was for the Chicago Tribune or the Communist press, I gave it all I had, and was aware I was effective.
What puzzles me now is why I quit the paper in 1959--in December, I think it was. I believed at the time I was not being given much to do. A look at clippings I saved fails to bear that out. Certainly I was as busy as I could be, and my articles on radiation played up prominently, throughout 1957 and 1958, and these exclusive stories began in late 1956. Then, as late as May, 1959, I was sent to do a series on the strikers locked out of their jobs in the Harriet-Henderson Cotton Mills. On my return to the office of the union, the Textile Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, to get some addresses of locals, and was told privately that no coverage of the strike was as complete as that of the Worker.
To get an assignment like that once a year should have held me. But I felt I was unwanted, and that I was being ostracized by the staff, that no one would even go to lunch with me. I suspect now I was being a slight pain in the neck. When I talked to my dearest friend among comrades, Sophie, about wanting to quit the paper, she urged me not to quit, but to stay on and get someone on my side. I had never learned to fight correctly, she told me, and that was why I was always getting my head chopped off. I agreed, but where to start? I was the only woman on the staff, and the men, so I told her, were a solid phalanx lined up against me. All I did, I told her, was sit and write suggestions for stories and turn them in; what happened to them is that Erik put them on the spike.
If I had been content to sit it out I'm sure Erik again would have found a use for me, not because I was a friend but because he had the best interests of the paper at heart. It is true that the morale of the staff was low; I had begun to agitate for a return to our usual staff meetings. But when Erik finally told me that it had been decided to have such a meeting, I asked who would lead it or preside. Joe North, I was told, and to myself I said, "That settles it; it will be a whitewash." I told Erik I was quitting.
At another time I had told Erik I wanted to leave the Party. I believe it was just after the Party's sixteenth national convention in February, 1957. I had said before the convention that the only thing that would make me want to leave was the election of Eugene Dennis, whom I considered the dead center, and he had been reelected. Erik pressed into service George Morris, our labor expert and columnist, and someone else (who I forget), and they took me out and walked around the block with me arguing that for me to leave then would have the result of supporting Johnnie Gates. Gates, then the editor of the Daily Worker, was the nominal leader of a widely varied group that wanted some profound changes in the Party. I also wanted some, but I was on the side of William Z. Foster, not Dennis and certainly not Gates or anyone who did other than condemn Gates. I was convinced, and stayed in the Party. But now, almost three years later, Erik did not try hard to dissuade me when I said I was quitting, not the Party but the paper.
"What shall I tell them?" he asked.
"Just say it's my health."
"You can't do that," Erik replied.
Of course I knew I could not lie to the Party. But I was to have surgery in about ten days, that much was legitimate. I do not know what he said in explaining my resignation.
I was not at all certain what was involved now in this effort of mine. I knew only that I was brooding--and at long last that I was trying to settle accounts with myself, as I had promised myself I would do ever since the Khrushchev speech. I tried to recapture my earlier thinking: I was in the Newspaper Guild and having what appeared at times insurmountable problems with my little Tribune unit. I met a West Coast international vice-president of the Guild, Morgan Hull, and tried to outline my problems and get advice. "Read Lenin" was all he said. I tried, and was not helped. I was annoyed at the glibness with which Guild leaders--at least this one--threw Lenin at people who barely had their toes immersed in the labor movement. But I finally joined the Party in part because of the respect I had for a very few Communist leaders who were inspiring. I never regretted it.
In my struggles to come to terms with myself I now said that since I did not go into the Party because of what had taken place in the Soviet Union, why should I leave because I recognized that there had been serious distortions there since Lenin's death? By now I had been studying many of Lenin's works, in connection with the Albert Rhys Williams memoirs I was putting together. This enabled me to appreciate a most astute observation of Al Richmond. Speaking of Stalin's "uniquely dogmatic and didactic style," he added:
But I think that instead of gaining clarity for myself, my brooding over having quit the paper but staying in the Party only confused things for me at first. Then I tried to remember how it was when I first went in. Had I believed then that I would see socialism in my country? No, I never did; but I was confident it would come, and increasingly so. My grandchildren might see it. So now it was just postponed somewhat. It was only logical that a tremendous ferment was taking place in every Communist movement in the world as a result of the Twentieth Congress, and it well might alter some of the bureaucratic features that marred the American movement.
One thing quitting the paper did for me was to show me it was not impossible to get another job, but, on the contrary, rather easy. I studied Joseph Lasky's Proofreading and Copy-Preparation and a comrade proofreader gave me a few lessons. Before I began jobhunting I spent some time in going to persons I knew as reliable and sounding them out as to the feasibility of saying I had read proof for them at some time. I saw an ad that looked promising one day--and on my way to answer it recalled I had forgotten my sheet of paper containing the places and dates that made up my resume. It was a day on which I felt self-confident, however, and I proceeded to the printing firm that had advertised. I liked the foreman who interviewed me, and when he asked what I had done lately, I said without batting an eye that for the last fifteen years I had worked for Publishers New Press. It was the official name of the publisher of the Daily Worker, and listed in the phone book, but not generally known. I was told to come in Monday and I would get $100 a week, which was a good deal more than I'd received as a reporter.
I went to a phone booth and called Dottie Robinson on the paper and said if anyone asked for me that I had been a proofreader--and that the business of Publishers New Press was a general printing trade. No one ever called. I had not been on my new job long when I hurried to the man on the stone to report an error in page proofs. "Good catch," he said, and this kept me from serious censure later when I made gaffes. I loved proofreading, even the smell of the ink and the sound of the presses.
Part of the mulling over I'd undertaken of things having to do with the Party and me had to do with Johnnie. Essentially I was trying to find a straight answer to a question about which I felt some uneasiness ever since he was a few years old. I had accepted without more than superficial questioning the prevailing reasoning of the Party at that time--that we had a right to live as normal people, specifically, to have a family. The thinking was that we might have less time to spend with our children than bourgeois mothers, but it would be a qualitatively different kind of care. The reality, though, made the concept dubious. True, I never left John alone at night; until he was twelve, when according to California law children could be left alone, if I had a night assignment I got a sitter to stay with him--at my own expense.
I realized in a hundred different ways, though, that from many viewpoints my choice of politics and jobs was unfair to Johnnie. To myself I now admitted that he had had a deprived childhood thanks to me-unrelieved by any financial support from his father after he was eight years old. I had not admitted until now, but the closer I had come to realizing it, the harder I had striven to give him as much as I could, and to share with him the best of what I should be thinking. It tended to keep me from being as cynical as I might be without him. But was even this fair of me, I asked myself in this new weighing of values.
In fairness to myself, I had to admit that I never had indoctrinated Johnnie. I had very consciously watched myself to see that I didn't. The only exception was when we lived in Virginia and his little playmates were the kids of parents who, however pleasant they seemed, were dyed-in-the-wool racists. Then I had no hesitation at all about giving him guidance (probably more than I needed to, for he was a sensitive child). But I wanted him to make up his own mind about Communism, and not to feel my position as a guide.
Possibly it was illusory, my feeling that I could raise Johnnie to think for himself, to not be influenced by his mother. I now remembered the time (he was about five years old) when I heard the bell of the "popsicle man" in our block, and offered to get Johnnie one of his adored confections. "Get me a chocolate popsicle," he called as I left the house. I returned with the vanilla one, as the man was out of the chocolate. He was disappointed but he ate the vanilla popsicle--then I heard him grumble to himself as he sat in the front window, "When we get socialism we'll have chocolate popsicle."
At the time I thought it amusing and, after he had gone to bed, told it to a couple I had had in to dinner with Sasha, a Russian friend. Sasha, who was always correcting me about something, now said, "Virginia, you are bringing up the child all wrong. Socialism is something that has to be worked and fought for very seriously, and even when you have socialism, it still must be struggled for. He probably would not have chocolate popsicle."
We were a long way from realizing how profoundly true what he was saying was. I even argued, a bit flippantly, that when we got socialism we would have a more advanced capitalist structure than the Soviets had had, and we probably would have chocolate popsicle. But now I was interested in this recollection only from one viewpoint: did it disprove my fond claim that I did not indoctrinate Johnnie?
No, I decided. Had I talked to him like Sasha did, I would be telling him what to think. I had not done that. And I didn't think it did him any harm to think of socialism in terms of chocolate popsicle.
One thing I had lost sight of: that there were some people in the Party who were more impossible to deal with than any on the paper. Some woman in my area shortly after I went on the Daily Worker had gone to see Alan Max, the managing editor, to report that I had not kicked through with some extra stipend--that was supposed to be voluntary--which usually, in her experience, meant that someone was not in tune with Party politics. Alan told me about it, and that he had told her we were paid irregularly and that the paper owed me at the moment. Later I learned from my son, who knew her son slightly, that they lived in an imposing building with a doorman always on duty.
In 1965 the Party left me, as it happened. So, for someone who was as afraid as I once had been of being kicked out, I lasted for some time in the Party. And by that time being a member of the Communist Party in New York County had become sort of embarrassing for me. So many of my good friends had been expelled in New York County that I began to feel that to still be in made it look as if something was wrong with me.
My dearest friend in New York, and the person who in my eyes was the finest Communist I ever knew, Sophie Nascimento Lillard, was among them. She had worked tirelessly in the Jefferson Book Store for $35 a week (refusing more because her husband, a black athlete, Joe Lillard, who made all-American, made $65 a week selling athletic goods) until Louis Weinstock walked in one day and told her, "You're through." She had voted wrong on something.
Another friend was expelled because her husband was expelled. He had made some proposal hailed by the brass as liquidationist. He was the only Communist I knew who, when the Soviet Union did some dumb thing, would write Pravda to protest, or the Central Committee there, signing his own name to his lawyer-like pronouncements. By that time I had been nominated from the floor and elected to the New York County Committee of the Party, and spoke in his defense, although I did not defend his proposal, which I had neither seen nor heard.
Still another friend was given her walking papers despite the fact that she headed a vital organization that included both Party and non-Party members--and still does! What was at the bottom of all the purges going on? Was it a Mephistophelian plot to destroy the Party? Not at all. Many who had been expelled or who had quit, including numbers of those in Harlem, had been active in the leadership of a county organization that was aggressive and vigorous and not shy about emphasizing the class struggle. To get rid of these uncomfortably active and uncompromising individuals did not mean that Gus Hall and friends accepted capitalism. No, not at all, the Communist Party, U.S.A., still existed, still was in good standing with the Soviet Union, and--a minor matter, true--still afforded the opportunity to long-suffering officials to take advantage of the red-carpet treatment in the Soviet Union and its satellites.
Now as to my change of status in the Party in 1965. I was living most of the time out of the city, working on a manuscript. One day I inquired and found my club was to meet one night soon, and arranged to attend. A pamphlet by Gus Hall on economics was to be discussed and in addition the leader of the discussion would comment on China. The young woman who had been named to lead the discussion said without more ado that she would limit herself to the Hall pamphlet on economics and Leave China to others. A smart young woman--at least smarter than this old-timer.
The idea was that we would go around the room, after the leader of the discussion declined to shed light on China, a decidedly murky subject at the time, and people would speak in turn. One after another, the comrades volunteered nothing on China--until it came to me.
I suppose I appeared to others as an eager beaver determined to get my convictions on record, but the truth is I had no convictions at all on the long-smoldering topic of the growing rift between Soviet Russia and China. My feeling up to that time was that it couldn't be true, that the two giants in the socialist world, under the respective leadership of Mao Tse-tung and Nikita Khrushchev, simply could not be enemies, and it must be that any such implication was a lie fostered by imperialism.
I always had hated the fear of speaking out that existed so strongly wherever I had been in the Party--a fear of being wrong that could result in opportunism. I could scarcely believe that a person in the room had not seen a long statement by the Chinese that the New York Times had published only a few days previously--but no one made mention of it. So I did.
I intended to be very mild in speaking of it, for I did not know what it signified. I said I had found it most interesting in citing quotations from Lenin; I had been reading Lenin in connection with someone's memoirs I was putting together posthumously for his widow and found many quotations accurate and possibly apt although there was a great deal I did not understand. Then I mentioned that since we were in a period of retreat, it might not be a bad idea to go back to the classics and read Lenin and Marx and even Plekhanov; we often spoke of doing so but seemed to get sidetracked. Then I sat down.
The next two persons had nothing to say. The silence was broken by a woman who did not even arise, but was listened to as to an oracle. She used only a few words, as if I was not worthy of more--but the import was clear; I was a traitor.
I arose and said that if they ever decided to have a discussion to let me know and I would be happy to take part, but that this was no discussion, and I refused to take any further part in it, and I walked out of the pleasant drawing-room, through the lobby and into the fresh air. I never heard again from any of them. No one asked me for any dues, I received no notice of any meeting. Suddenly I was a nonperson, and a non-Communist.
By that time my son was teaching at a college of the University of Wisconsin at Platteville. I had visited there once to get acquainted with my first granddaughter, and now Judy, his first wife, was pregnant again, and I had a yearning to see them. What would they think of my now being no longer a Communist? John had never once criticized me for having joined. For failing to read stories about slave labor camps and other such phenomena, yes, but never for membership.
As soon as I could arrange to go I went to Platteville, going to Milwaukee to see Gertrude, too; her lovely daughter Gingie was dead, and she was terrified of losing her job and her desperate hold on independence. I was in Platteville only a short time. One evening I took the family, my granddaughter Elizabeth included, to an early dinner in Dubuque, Iowa, just across the river, as it afforded more choice than Platteville. When it came time to go home I asked John to drive slowly, as I had something to tell them and didn't want to feel rushed. I sat in the back and held Elizabeth, who was soon asleep.
I told them my story then. There wasn't much to tell, but it took me a long while to get it out. "Well, that's it," I wound up, and waited. I began to wonder if they were asleep, too. "What do you think?" I demanded to know. "I'm thinking," John said. "It seems strange, unreasonable. But I can't put my finger on where you were at fault, if you were."
Judy did not agree or disagree. "How do you feel?" she asked.
We drove the rest of the way, a few blocks, in silence, then John, as we stepped in front of the house, put his hand on my arm and said, "Poor Ma."
I felt a little weepy, but content. I have thought about it since then more than once. There was John's chance to say, "Why didn't you quit a long time ago?" Or, "Now you can see how idiotic it was to give your life to it?" I saw how needless it had been to wonder if I had in some way indoctrinated him. Of course I had, but I could not have influenced him had I wanted to. I saw how complex, how just and how fastidious he was in his way of judging things.
John helped Judy out of the car, then reached in and took the baby from me. I was glad to have a moment alone.
Without knowing it John had allowed me to come to terms with myself and the Party. My only remaining doubt was whether I had had the right to keep on being a Communist when I saw in a hundred ways that his childhood gave him short change. I saw now how he remained himself, mysterious, complex and predictably free of cant.
So, I was glad I had been a Communist, and sorry I no longer was--but I was not heartbroken about it. My values remained the same.
1 Quoted in Labor's Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert N. Morais (United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, New York, 1970), pp 314-315. The La Follette Committee report is also quoted, (315n): "The Republic Steel Corporation has a uniformed police force of nearly 400 men whom it has equipped not only with revolvers, rifles, and shotguns, but also with more tear and sickening gas and gas equipment that has been purchased. . . by any law-enforcement body, local, State or Federal in the country. It has loosed its guards, thus armed, to shoot down citizens on the streets and highways."[return to text]
2 See Friend and Lover: The Life of Louise Bryant by Virginia Gardner, Horizon Press, New York, 1982, pp. 125-126.[return to text]
3 His letter of January 18, 1939, from the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Va., beginning "Dearest Virginia," enclosed a check for $25. He had read my long letter and enclosures "with considerable astonishment. I had never heard of the Hearst strike in Chicago, and did not know anything of the things you wrote me." He would prefer that I use the enclosed to buy a "wedding present with my love," but I must do as I wanted. (Of course it went intothe weekly fund for the strike from Tribune people.) "When I read of you having been arrested I saw the same color as your husband's name - 'Red'. Give him my very best, say I want to meet him. . . .
In a letter of January 31, 1939, also from Quantico, he spoke again of my letter, and of the labor movement with which he long was sympathetic. "You bring the situation home to me in a personal instead of an academic way. . . . Well, you are John Gardner's daughter, and you will do what you think you should do; and I would not have you otherwise: but I do feel responsible for you; and we have been friends for a long time, with an ever in-creasing affection and trust. . . I do appreciate on broad moral grounds the situation I was in and I take whatever side you are on. I will always be with you, and ready to respond when you call on me.
"(signed) Carson B."[return to text]
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