When World War Two began, my dad and his family were living in Dunellen, NJ, and he was a student at Dunellen High School. In 1943 he enlisted into the Army. He was unable to finish high school, but granted a diploma anyway along with other young men who enlisted. George C. Klein was born on March 10, 1924, and was probably eighteen when he reported for basic training at Fort Dix, NJ. I think by May or June of 1943 he went for further training at the Army Air Forces center at High Point College in North Carolina. While he may have hoped to become a pilot, instead he was trained as an Artillery Flash Range Observer. He learned to use a transit and other surveying equipment to estimate the range of artillery fire, and performed this job when sent to Europe in 1944. He was given the rank of Corporal, and oversaw five men. Continue reading
This is a story about my father’s mother, much of it in her own words. My grandmother, born Hedwig Massar, seen above at age 16, was born in 1900 in Germany. Her family emigrated to the United States in 1905. She never liked the name Hedwig, and around age 14 started calling herself Harriett. She met my grandfather, George Klein, some time around 1919-1920 we think, and they were married in 1921.
Growing up, I didn’t feel as close to my father’s parents as I did to my mother’s family, who we spent more time with, but I knew they loved me and enjoyed visiting me. Recently my cousin, Jody Andreatch, has been putting together a huge photo album/scrapbook for the Massar and Klein families, and looking through it got me more interested in that part of my family history. Among the documents included were pages from a 1981 book, “Grandma’s Story,” one of those books children or grandchildren can give their grandmother that has questions and places to write personal answers. It was given to Grandma Klein around 1981 by Jody, and I found her answers fascinating. They paint a picture of a childhood mostly in Queens, NYC in the early years of the last century, a time that seems like ancient history even to me, and I’m pretty old myself.
The questions and answers in the book are scattershot across time and topics, but I decided to put Harriett’s answers together to make a more complete narrative, combining some, adding small bits of connecting material where necessary, and putting my own comments in where warranted. This is mainly of interest to her family, but I thought some readers of this blog might also enjoy it. Here we go. Sections in italics are by me, the rest is nearly all in Harriett’s own words.
GRANDMA KLEIN’S STORY
I was born at home in Edigheim, Germany on November 5, 1900 at six o’clock in the morning. I was 6 pounds 2 ounces with green eyes and blond hair. My full name was Hedwig Massar, named after my mother’s sister. I didn’t like my name so I changed it to Harriett after I got out of school. I learned to walk when I was one year old, I was two years old when I talked. I looked like my mother.
I did not know or ever see my great-grandparents. I don’t remember my grandparents well. They stayed in Germany. I remember a few things about my grandmother. She was always selling bread. They had a bake shop. I also remember the walnut tree my grandfather had in his back yard. I sat under that tree and ate walnuts till I got sick and threw up. Then I got a licking. We were always with them for Thanksgiving until we came to America in 1905. Continue reading
I’ve always liked maps, especially ones of places where I’ve spent time. In 1960, when I was nine, our family moved to Somerset County, New Jersey, from a town not too far to the east. Above is part of a map of Somerset County from 1961 that used to hang on the wall of my room when I was a child. On it, marked with thin red drafting tape, are all the roads I rode my bike on from our house on Washington Valley Road in Pluckemin. It’s hard to make out here, but Pluckemin was soon to become the crossroads of two interstate highways: Route 287 and Route 78. They were already marked on this map as thick dotted lines. One of the most memorable rides was taken by my two younger brothers and I from our house (the yellow square) to Martinsville on the lower right. This was a round trip of about 11 miles, which doesn’t sound that bad, but it was a blazing hot day in July by the time we were done, and we foolishly took our middle-aged Labrador Retriever mix Pepper with us. We were all in sad shape when we got back, and Pepper hardly moved for several days. Continue reading
What follows is a letter I wrote, with input from my parents, to my two brothers who were spending much of the summer at our grandparents’ trailer in northern New York State near the St. Lawrence Seaway. It’s a fanciful look at life in our home in the rural town of Pluckemin, New Jersey. I was 17 and had my first manual typewriter, probably not for very long. I made the letter in the style of a local newspaper, perhaps inspired by Walter R. Brooks’ “Freddy the Pig,” who among many other avocations was the writer, editor and publisher of his own newspaper on the Bean family farm, as seen above. The Freddy books were fun and funny, and I identified with Freddy’s literary asperations. Here’s the entire four-page letter, notes follow. Continue reading
Our second week in England (and Wales) began with a train ride from Paddington Station, London to Oxford, where we checked into our rooms at the Turf Tavern, a wonderful and very old pub tucked away on a back street. I don’t think they rent rooms anymore, but it was great then. In Oxford we visited as many of the famous colleges as we had time for in one day. Continue reading