Running commentary from Sick Bay

May 3 – 1942

Sunday night

Dear Folks

Is it raining at home?  It is here, a nice spring shower.  It has been raining an hour or so now.  I’m glad I don’t have to be out in it.  I won’t have to stand any more Seaman guard watches.  The diesel boys just stand the gate sentries & we have little guard houses to stay in.  That shouldn’t be bad at all. Some of the seaman guard boys didn’t have their raincoats when it started raining so I expect they got wet.

We started wearing our white hats the first of May.  They look very nice, I think.


Monday noon

Its pretty chilly today, guess the rain cooled things off.  I am still in bed here in sick bay but I never felt better in my life.  My temperature has been normal for several days.  Today is my eleventh day so I should be getting out of here soon.  I have a pretty fair-sized boil on my neck.  You should have seen my nurse dance with joy when she saw it.  She says that she just loves to squeeze those things & I believe her.  It didn’t take her long to get started on it after I told her that she could squeeze it.  Its getting better now & I don’t have any more.

Monday evening.

Well I’ll see if I can finish this letter this evening.  I’m afraid it won’t be 18 pages though.  A hundred players from Hollywood are putting on a show in Detroit tonight.  Seats cost from one dollar to five hundred dollars.  Only three & five dollar seats are left & not many of those.  The money is to be turned over to army & navy relief societies.  It should be a good show with Bob Hope as master of ceremonies.

Tuesday afternoon.  I’m going to mail this today even if I have to let it go unfinished.  The doctor said I might be up two hours today so I’m hoping to get out before long.  The reason this is harder to read than usual is that I’m laying on my side with a hot water bottle on my neck so I can’t get in a very convenient position to write.  We have a quiet hour from one until two each afternoon & it is time for it so I will close.  I’m feeling fine.




Wednesday noon

May 6 – 1942


Dear Folks

Well, the mumps are all gone & the doctors have said that I may return to duty this evening.  I’m glad of that.  I haven’t had any fever for a long time & am feeling fine.  They don’t take any chances of us developing any complications.  There isn’t any danger now.  The swelling has been down about a week, I think.  The boil on my neck is practically okay.

I hope you don’t have any floods from the rains you have been having.  We have just had a nice little rain & it is still cloudy.  This river seems to just stay the same, never rises or falls.  It has been quite warm but is a little cooler now.  Is the garden up yet?  The grass, trees & shrubs are all green up here.  I believe it is warmer here than at home because it hasn’t been nearly cold enough to freeze or frost.  You certainly must have had a lot of mud to burn out two clutches in the car.  You may take the fenders off if you want to make a mud car out of it.  You had just about as well do that if you can use it only for the route on account of the tires.  I helped rebuild some V-8 engines up here but I didn’t work on any model A’s.  I have liked my work fine but haven’t gone to any diesel yet so don’t know what it will be like.  The boys tell me that is hasn’t been very interesting but perhaps it will get better.  Some of the fellows brought my lessons over so I have just about kept up with them.  I won’t be penalized for what I have missed.  I was getting a little anxious because if we miss ten school days we are set back with the next class & I want to go ahead & finish with my bunch so that we may get to go to sea together.  I have missed eight days now.  Don’t worry about the mumps because the doctors won’t release us until they are certain we are safe.  They don’t care if we miss two days or twenty.

Teachers are scarce this year, aren’t they?  You will be fortunate if you can keep all of them.  Will there be only four in high school?

So Caroline still feeds you, does she, dad?  Its rather odd but I was just telling my roommate yesterday about the cookies she gave us.  Did you tell Wallace & Paul where she gets her water to make that cake?  No need to spoil it if the cake was good.  Josephine sent me some candy the other day & I still have some of it.  It was good.  You don’t need to send any cookies or anything that uses sugar because you probably need it & we have all the sweet stuff we need.  Of course, the cookies are good.

Mom, I am sending you a little money as a mother’s day gift.  I haven’t had a chance to get out & get anything & I want to give you something.  Buy whatever you want for yourself but don’t send it back to me.  I have all I need.  When I get ready to leave here I expect to have a good deal of my pay be put into defense bonds or something.  I don’t spend a great deal in here.  Some of the boys are always broke but I have saved fifty dollars up til now & we get paid again soon.  The check is yours too.  Guess I’ll have to get me a date book & put down all the anniversarys & birthdays.  I forgot Frances’ wedding. I was thinking it was June 5th.

It is evening now & I have got moved back into the barracks & done some washing.  I’m going to bed pretty soon.  If ever you want to call me, the number is Oregon 9482.  That is different than the old number so don’t get them mixed.

Love to all.


Wallace, I found the Bulletin you sent me this evening.  Some one had put it in my coat.  Thanks.












Mother’s Day Tribute


Last evening my grandson came for an overnight visit. When he finally settled down, he crawled up between his grandpa and me on the sofa. We cuddled a few minutes before he willingly headed to bed. I felt like a link in a chain, a connection between generations, made more poignant because today I’m thinking of my own mother. It’s been a decade since she was here to celebrate Mother’s Day with us.

Helen Peterson was born in 1918, the youngest of Franklin and Mary Peterson’s four beautiful, daughters. When she was five, her father unexpectedly died. The rest of her childhood was marked by hardship and sacrifice. Her mother bravely struggled to raise her family. Many of Helen’s lifelong habits of thrift originated during her childhood as she watched her mother’s efforts to raise her family, a single parent in the twenties and thirties.

I vividly recall her devotion to her own mother. The rest of her youth I sometimes have a hard time imagining. Helen as a young college student frolicking barefoot in the snow—in a swimsuit—I did not know at all. I did not know the young career woman who worked as an engineer at Western Electric, as a physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. during World War II, nor the college physics and mathematics professor. Mother gave up all these phases of her life when she married my Dad in 1950 to become a full-time wife, mother and homemaker. That is the Helen I knew.

Mother did a lot of preserving with garden produce. It became a matter of pride to see how much of a meal could be produced from the seed to the table, especially Thanksgiving dinner. Other dishes which became family traditions include her apple coffee cake, cherry chocolate cake, and pecan pies at the holidays. These became favorites of my own family.

Determined that her daughters would have opportunities she did not have, as well as be exposed to things she had grown to love and appreciate, my sisters and I fell asleep listening to classical music that Mother played at bedtime on the record player. Sometimes she even played her favorite pieces on the piano. We took years of piano lessons.  And we rose early to practice before school every morning. For a few months when we were without a piano, she marched us to a neighbor’s house two doors down for our daily practice sessions.

Alaska trip 1970
Alaska trip 1970

Mother had never learned to roller skate or ride a bike, but she was determined that her daughters would have those experiences. She spent hours running beside us as we learned. We took swimming lessons every summer so that we’d be at ease in the water.

And we traveled. Our folks began to camp with us with we were still toddlers, when my younger sister was still in diapers. This was before the day of disposable diapers. Our camping trips continued as we grew. By the time we left home, we’d enjoyed treks through every state west of the Mississippi River, except California and Hawaii.

Mother loved people. She made two solo treks to England to look up distant relatives during her geneology searches. We were always on the list as a host family whenever any kind of touring group came to our hometown. She participated eagerly in the regional and international foods interest clubs. She enjoyed preparing meals for guests. She would do anything to help people. Being of service in some way was her greatest joy in life.

Mother was rarely sick. She was in remarkably good health most of her life. When she became ill in late 1999, we were quite shocked and expected the worst then. We rallied together, wrote our memories, and . . . she got better. My mother has the unusual distinction of being admitted and released from Hospice care, not once, but twice. She got better and read the thoughts we had jotted down and the obituary notes my Dad had put together. And she corrected them. Red ink all over our memories.


On this Mother’s Day, I remember my own mother with love. She never met my grandson, and he never met her. But I can surely tell him about her and how much she shaped my life. Happy Mother’s Day!

A Letter From My Mother

I’m convinced that one of the hardest things to do is to switch piano teachers during the formative years. It’s hard on a student. And it’s hard for the new teacher to assess prior skills and develop a rapport with a transfer student. I know this from both a student’s and a teacher’s viewpoint. Recently I stumbled across a letter from my own mother. She wrote in response to a long epistle I had penned as a teenager. I waxed eloquent in my plea to stop my own private study in piano after we moved to a new community. Her letter smacked with impact. I could have written it to my own daughter a few years ago. Since tomorrow is Mother’s Day, I remember Mother with love. Here are her timeless words, from another time and another place.


Dear Daughter,

Last evening while thinking about the situation, I felt your father and I should no longer ask you to take lessons on the piano and resolved to discuss this with him. Upon reading your letter to us this morning, I wondered if your thought waves had influenced my thoughts. If you change your mind at any future date, please let us know; I had hoped that your experience with lessons under an inexperienced person would not preclude all future lessons. But in any case, do return to playing the piano for your own pleasure (and mine) and don’t hold a grudge against Chopin.

There’s little that I can say but to caution you that while you feel you are an adult, you still have much growing and learning to do. You have many “do-it-yourself” interests but I’m sure that after an initial learning stage you may find it wise to turn to someone more skilled or knowledgeable in that interest in order to keep improving. Try to keep an open mind. There are many things or ideas to which you have not been exposed.  In the meantime, we should all keep learning and improving in the fields of religion, music, writing, drawing, painting, speaking and personal development. No matter what one’s vocation, life will be richer and more complete because of these experiences.

Yes, darling, we are biased parents—biased in favor of our daughters. But we’re conscious that we have failed you in many ways. We love all of you very much and are proud of you.

Love always, Mother