The people who live in our memory…
Beginning so many of my recollections with the expression “those of a certain age” is an apt description of what is to follow as long as the kind editor of the Mountain Messenger accepts my submissions declaring them as “Memories.” Truth be told, that is accurate as you know who you are, have come to the point of remembering exactly events of 50 years ago, but have difficulty remembering what you wore yesterday and that is exactly the reason why I hang my shirts in a sequence so I won’t wear the same shirt two days in a row. “Those of a certain age” will recall when a young man, who was still getting around, wore the same necktie on consecutive days, it was a sure sign he hadn’t spent the night at his home, someone else’s, but not his. This would not say that I have reached the point of knocking on doors saying, “Do I live here?” but time will tell.
In the early 1970s there was a gentleman who presented himself as an image of President Abraham Lincoln, frock coat, high collar, shirt, shoes of the period and with the beard and top hat very much resembled the late President. On an almost daily basis you would find him having a modest lunch in the US Senate staff & public cafeteria and when he was approached by a young visitor, he would have a conversation appropriate for who he was and give them an Lincoln faced penny as a souvenir of the occasion. One particular day, I mentioned to my wife an obituary notice noting his passing and that there was a Memorial Service scheduled at the New York Presbyterian Church (President Lincoln’s Church) thinking it would be interesting if anyone would go, as so often a solitary purpose doesn’t attract a following. Truth be told, I wasn’t surprised when several days later my wife, Isabel, said I was right in judging the crowd at the service, she was one of the few who attended.
The Reader’s Digest had a regular feature, “The Most Interesting Person…” that could describe a lot of people along your life’s journey, if you just had the time to listen and remember. On an almost daily basis, a Mr. Emile Telle, a retired university professor of French & Italian Literature would make his way from the Union Station subway and walk to the Library of Congress where he had a desk in the coveted Scholars Section, reserved for dedicated professional persons doing research of a historical nature that would later be published. As he explained, his publisher was in Switzerland and all in all may print only a few copies of Dr. Telle’s work but it was deemed by the publisher as an obligation to preserve knowledge revealed by the efforts of Dr. Telle. Interesting in itself, as I accompanied him he told me that he had been born and educated in France, emigrated to the United States accepting employment at a American University, conducting studies in French & Italian Literature. At the beginning of WW II, he was drafted and as he explained, what does the military do with a person with his background, of course, he was assigned to Military Intelligence. Further explaining, when it was realized he did not speak Italian, only read it, he was sent someplace in the desert prison camp housing German & Italian POW’s, to conduct interviews. He found it of interest that if an Italian prisoner turned up missing, there was very little concern as it was presumed they would all head for Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York City, any place where they might have relatives and just blend in until the war was over. A missing German prisoner was another matter, taken very seriously as even before the war, it had been demonstrated, given the opportunity they liked to blow things up, especially railroads and factories.
A personal memory was whenever I have seen photographs of The Greenbrier Hotel when during the early years of WWII, they housed German & Italian nationals, pending relocation. Do you remember, some years ago, a Presidential visit to The Greenbrier was canceled due to the discovery of a case of dynamite by the railroad tracks? Wonder how long it had been there.
Jack D. Ballard