Monday, February 27, 2023

1941: Made-up details that turned out to be actually true

 I know quite a bit about my grandparents' experiences in WW2 through three main primary sources:

  • Recorded oral testimony from 1988
  • A journal he wrote in the 1940s surrounding the events of May 8-11, 1940 (the birth of his daughter and the Nazi invasion of Western Europe).
  • The Yellow Pad Stories - 30 or so handwritten pages written in (I think) 1974, not long before his oldest daughter died of MS, about his time in the Maquis.  
And when I wrote Biscuit, I used his experiences as my outline, and when I didn't know something, I sometimes made up detail to fill the gaps, just enough to make a coherent narrative.  Because not everything in it is factual, I'm calling it a historical fiction novel based on the life of my grandparents, but I am sticking to the truth where it's known, and I'm trying to make the rest at least plausible.

One of the gaps I had to fill was based on the following exchange between myself and my grandfather in the transcript of the oral testimony:
Me: You told me of the third place that you lived in Valence. What about the first two?
Arthur: No. The first, I arrived in Beaumont-lès-Valence, where I lived at three different places. I already talked about the last one to make a long story shorter.
I thought it was odd that he wouldn't talk about the first two places they lived in Beaumont, and I got the sense that he just thought of it as a waste of time, but ... (shrug)

I elected to write about only two of the three places they lived, the main one, of course, which he did tell me about:

In Beaumont-lès-Valence, we lived at two different addresses; let's not talk about the first one. Oh, no, three, three. Let's talk about the last one, which lasted the longest. We were living in a house, a home several centuries old. Which was not used for a long, long time. It had inside one room and no floor, and the floor was dirt, hard dirt because it never rained inside, and the roof was covered with straw. Thatched roof.
But I did write about a second place - when they first moved to Beaumont, I wrote that they moved in with a widow who took them in, subletting her extra bedroom. The widow's home served as a breather for them. A small place of calm and safety before she dies, and because they cannot afford to pay all of the rent themselves, they move into the home where they were to live for the next three years.

Anyway, last summer, my aunt sent me a folder of materials, letters, telegrams, postcards, etc., which provided some missing details. And two of them gave their return address in late 1941, right after they moved to Beaumont.  

Chez Madame Charles Mouriquand means, house of Mrs. Charles Mouriquand.  The second address (that's my grandfather's handwriting) says "Veuve," which means ... widow.  The house of Widow Marquand.  

Holy mackerel... I just made that up, and it turns out to be true! They really did live with a widow.

My historian friend in Etoile told me that in 1936 when Monsieur Mouriquand was still alive, the house was in the Les Granges neighborhood, and there are many houses now in the same place, and my friend is looking for which address is the actual house. He also told me her name: Maria Marthe.

Oof. I should find out when Madame Maria Mouriquand died - because I might have contradicted a historical fact. 

Custom-modifications to a gardening tool-belt pattern

Note: You can click on any image to see a bigger version.

Chris modeling his nearly-finished gardening belt.

    So, for Christmas (2022) I made shop aprons or tool-belts for my brothers and mom, using Spoonflower fabrics that reflected each person's interests.   It was a blast, and they were well-received.

    One of the patterns I used was the Helen's Closet Dogwood Apron from an indie-pattern designer. It looks like an apron that waitstaff might use, but it's designed for easy customization, for any activity where you might need a variety of different tools.  Note the cool pockets in the images below (I love pockets!). I thought it was a good candidate for gardening tools, so I offered to make one for my husband. Note: the pattern designer calls it an advanced-beginner pattern. I personally would call it an intermediate pattern - the welt pocket opening is a little tricky.

Image from the pattern designer.

Image from the pattern designer.

    Chris wasn't sure he'd wear or use a tool belt (no matter how well-designed it was) but he was willing to give it a go, as long as I understood he'd try it, but that he might not end up finding it useful.  I like a challenge, so I agreed.

    Right off the bat, I knew I wanted to modify the pattern: 

  • I used 2"  heavy-duty cotton webbing for the waistband instead of matching fabric.
  • I didn't bother with the snap loop, and moved U-shaped loop on the left, to the right.
  • I placed the buckle on one side at the hip, not in the middle of the back. Much easier to manage on one side. (I probably should have checked with Chris on that one - he finds a center-back buckle easier. If the belt proves useful, I'll pick out the stitches and re-attach it so the buckle is centered).
But what other changes should I make? His response:  "I want one big pocket in the middle for general use, one pocket for a gardening pen, one pocket for secateurs, and a way to attach my hori-hori."* Then he brought me all three items so that I could use them for sizing purposes.

So that meant the following changes:
  • I made the height of the bottom pocket band about 3/4" taller/deeper, so the gardening clippers (hopefully) couldn't fall out.
  • The bottom pocket band has only three pockets:  a narrow pen pocket with an adjusted bottom depth so it wouldn't slip too far down on the left side (his right when worn; he's right-handed).
  • A 2.5" wide pocket on the right side for the gardening shears. It's lined with faux leather so the blades wouldn't cut through the fabric (or stab my husband).  I also made the front of the holster slightly wider than the back, so when I sewed the edges together, the front bowed out a little, making it easy to drop the blades in without catching them on the fabric. I hand-sewed the edges of the holster/liner inside the pocket, so he couldn't accidentally insert the shears between the layers.
  • Loops or ties on the side to hold the hori-hori holster in place.  The spade comes with a hard-plastic sheath with an attached belt loop, so I simply hung the loop from the apron belt. The belt loop on the spade is about 2.5" wide, and the webbing and buckle are just small enough to slip through. So he can remove it and place it on another belt if he wants to.
I also had him pick the fabric he wanted from Spoonflower and a favorite was a rainbow of vegetables on a white background. The print came from an indie designer and I requested they add the same print but on a black background (so it wouldn't look instantly dirty), and they were happy to create that option. So I bought one yard printed on Spoonflower's heavy-denim fabric. I used tightly-woven cotton batiks as the lining and backing fabrics.  

Note: I washed and dried the denim three times once it arrived.  Denim is a "progressive shrinker" and to avoid it shrinking weirdly after the garment is made, you should wash/dry it at least 3 times (flannel is another fabric like that).

At first, I thought the hori-hori should have ties, as I thought ties were better to add flexibility, should he want to put something other than the hori-hori there.  But the fabric ties were stiff and hard to use:


    So, I removed them, and fashioned loops that are fitted to the hori-hori scabbard, and that worked much better:


Pen pocket and small
decorative pocket above.

Big middle pocket for general use.

Welt pocket flap

Hidden welt pocket

Secateur pocket lined with heavy-duty faux leather. 
I added the leather lining after the belt was constructed,
and should be easily replaceable if it wears through.

Belt as a whole

What I would do differently: the welt pocket should be much bigger. It's only a little wider than the flap, and 2-3 (?) inches shorter than the height of the apron itself.  I would make it 3-4" wider (or perhaps nearly as wide as the apron?) and extend down to the bottom edge of the apron body.

* For the non-gardeners: a gardening pen is like a Sharpie, but with UV-resistant ink, secateurs are gardening shears/clippers, and a hori-hori is a Japanese gardening spade/knife/soil-depth measurement tool.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

1940: In which Arthur smuggles a letter to America

     On pages 60 and 61 of my grandfather's immigration folder, there were two letters from my grandfather to two different people. The first was to a Monsieur Tuck, the (vice) president of the Belgian American Education Foundation in Brussels.  Here's the letter: (click on the image to enlarge it). 

     Here's a (rough) translation of the letter:

Brussels, July 15, 1940.
286 May Ave.

President of the “Belgian American
Educational Foundation Inc.

      I offer you my apologies. I so unnecessarily importunate you. Please attribute it to my great nervousness due to the present situation.
   I enclose herewith the letter that you may send to the addressee after arrival in the United States. If however you think it is better not to take it - tear it up without further ado.
      If you were to return to Belgium soon, as you told me about, could you not notify my brother-in-law, the recipient of this letter, before leaving the United States? This only if the time available and your occupations would allow you to do something for an individual.
      Thanking you and once again presenting my apologies, please believe, Sir, in my deepest respect.

P.S. Address of my brother-in-law:

Engineering Laboratories Inc.
709 Kennedy Building

Note that this letter has my grandfather's name and (then) current address in Brussels, and it has his brother-in-law's address in Tulsa.

Here's the second letter (which immediately followed the letter to Mr. Tuck in the folder), from my grandfather to my great-uncle, who was already in the United States.

    Here's a rough translation:

Brussels, July 15, 1940.


Engineering Laboratories Inc.

709 Kennedy Building


      My dear Jacques, 

      Our child was born on May 8th. The state of health of the young mother formally prevented us from leaving at the start of the war. We left unnecessarily by taxi on May 15 and arrived in very sad conditions in Montreuil in France, from where we could no longer continue the journey. After a restorative rest of 3 weeks on a farm, we returned to Brussels. I temporarily resumed work at the Company that previously occupied me. We are all in good health.

      Currently it is impossible to go to the United States. Besides, we don't have a visa. Until the day when Washington suspended the issuance of visas. So we wait. [Handwritten: Refuge!]

      We have no news of your parents.

      Paul is in the south of France.

      We embrace you wholeheartedly

    At first glance they don't appear to be related, but upon further inspection, there are some interesting connections and oddities:

  • They are dated the same day: July 15, 1940, nine weeks after the invasion of western Europe.
  • The letters are on exactly the same kind/color/weight of paper whereas everything else in the file was on a variety of papers, different colors, sizes, weights. This implies that they were written not just on the same day, but at the same time/place and by the same person.
  • The two letters have the same goofy formatting, with an approximately three-inch (7.5 cm) left margin, and almost no right margin, as if my grandfather improperly set up the left margin on his typewriter, then didn't bother to reset it when he typed the second letter.
  • The letter to Mr. Tuck has my grandfather's name and return address, while the letter to my Uncle Jake is not signed and has no address on it, which implies that Jake would know who it was from, and where he lived. It also implies that if the two letters were separated, and if the letter to Jake were intercepted that Grandpa Arthur didn't want anyone to be able to trace it back to him.
  • I also think the letters are carbon copies. If you look closely at the text, it's slightly smooshy, like a carbon-paper copy would be.  But, I can't be sure about that.  If I'm right then these were just copies that Grandpa kept.  If I'm wrong about them being carbon copies, then it implies that either a) Grandpa never sent the letters, or b) Mr. Tuck gave BOTH letters to Uncle Jake, and Jake returned them to Arthur after the war.  Given that the letters are towards the back of the folder (pages 60-61 out of 92), and that the folder is generally (though not entirely) in backwards chronological order, then they were placed in the folder very early on. So I think Grandpa never sent them, or they are copies. 

The letter to Jake also provided us some information that we didn't have before:
  • The town in France where they stayed after they joined the French Exodus.  Montreuil-sur-Mer in the department of Pas-de-Calais in northern France.
  • The date they left Belgium (May 15th), and while we don't know when they returned, we know at very least that there were back in town by the date of the letter (July 15). BUT, it's 165 miles (265 km) from Brussels to Montreuil, and Grandpa said the roads were so clogged they couldn't go more than 10 miles (16 km) per day. That means they arrived in Montreuil 16 days after they left Brussels. That means they arrived in Montreuil on May 31.  They stayed for three weeks and returned (easily, no clogged roads) and returned on or around June 21.  It is of course, still guesswork, but it's a far more educated guess.
  • Grandpa thought his younger brother (Paul Lubinski) was in southern France. I don't know if Uncle Paul was actually in southern France at that time or if Grandpa just thought he was.  Uncle Paul did go to southern France a couple of years later.

So, who was this Mr. Tuck that my grandfather was writing to?  The Belgian American Education Foundation is still around. And on their history page, I found someone named Tuck mentioned twice (on the "First Quarter Century" and the "Second Quarter Century" pages):

During the invasion of Belgium in May 1940, the Brussels office continued its activities and the officers undertook to render emergency help to former Belgian fellows and Professors as well as to those organizations with which the Foundation was closely linked. A new Commission for Relief in Belgium, Inc. was incorporated on May 16, 1940, by means of a direct gift of the Foundation, to render such service as it could in Belgium. The Secretary in Belgium, Mr. Jacques van der Belen returned to the Brussels office on June 3, 1940 from his army service. The Vice-President in Belgium Mr. Tuck left Belgium on July 17, 1940. Communication of the New York office with the Brussels office ceased in December 1941.

In the face of declining B.A.E.F. resources, the first reverse flow of funds among the sister Foundations of B.A.E.F. occurred in 1956. The Francqui Foundation donated annually $8,000 and later $10,000 to B.A.E.F. in order to permit two Belgian B.A.E.F. Fellows to be brought to the United States, under the designation of Edgar Rickard Fellow and Millard Shaler Fellow. These two men were early officers of B.A.E.F. Moreover, Millard K. Shaler and William Hallam Tuck were the first Representatives of B.A.E.F. in Belgium, before they each became Vice-President in Belgium

The history page states that Mr. Tuck left Belgium two days after my grandfather wrote those letters. Did the man receive my grandfather's letters? Did he carry them? I may never know, but I AM going to write to the BAEF to see if they have any knowledge.