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Home Front Girl
A Diary Of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America
By Joan Wehlen Morrison, Susan Signe Morrison
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2013 Susan Signe Morrison
All rights reserved.
"I felt like Hilter or Mussolini or Stalin or somebody."
Tuesday, April 13, 1937
Hello! Tests next week! Oh boy! Have pity on me and sympathize.
Today I rang the bell after first lunch. Oh, but it was beautiful. Yesterday, you see, Sheldon promised me that I could ring it, so today I appeared and did so. I just pushed it and everyone started rushing around. I felt like Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin or somebody — (not Eddie VIII).
Monday, April 19, 1937
Mr. Lucas thinks I'm a communist. Today in Study, you see, Ruth and I were — well — you know — doing Latin together. Which isn't approved of. Then Alice asked me what onomatopoeia is and, while I was explaining, Mr. L. came over and said, "Can't you work by yourself?" to me. "Are you helping these girls or are they helping you?" And I said, "Well, it's sort of community work, you see." And he said, "Well, you know we can't have a lot of little communities in study hall." And I said, thinking of Latin, "No, but why not one big community." I guess he must have thought I was a communist then, 'cause he looked sort of frightened and said we'd better work alone. And I said, "Uh-huh." And that was that. Once before he made me (and Ruth) stand in the corner for community work — me the socialist! And I had my red sweater on, too!
Tuesday, April 20, 1937
Hello! Do you realize it's spring! Spring. And the weather's lovely (only it rained) and the air is sweet (sometimes) and the grass is green (in patches) and there isn't a handsome boy in [Horace] Greeley [Elementary School]! It's positively outrageous! And on top of that, there isn't any R.O.T.C. unit in Greeley (they do look so handsome in uniforms!). When we went to the main building for the music festival, they were there in their uniforms and looked so gorgeous! And to top that, they're even discussing doing away with the R.O.T.C. on account of putting war into [the] open minds (?) of the boys! Phooey, what about the uniforms, we don't think about war. (Or do we?) Which all goes to show that spring is wrong ...
Thursday, April 29, 1937
On the way back to the baseball field, we passed two boys who made two remarks on seeing Betty and me — remark the first: "Look — the mosquitoes are out already" — meanwhile looking directly at us. Also, there were no real mosquitoes out. Mmm? Remark the second: "Hi ya, good-looking." Now, of course, no person in his right senses would address either Betty or me as "good-looking," but these boys didn't look very sensible. Anyhow, what we're trying to find out was which remark — (if either) — was referring to us. Mom says they probably meant we were good-looking mosquitoes, but I wonder, now ...
Sunday, May 2, 1937
I went downtown yesterday to Art Institute and saw the Mayday communist parade — very scraggly and the uniforms looked like they'd been thro' the war — the Civil War.
P.S. In church, I was indirectly referred to as a "little girl" four times and directly twice! "Little girl" indeed! I'm 14 ½ yrs. old and 5 ft. 11/2 inches high! "Little girl" — humph!
Monday, May 3, 1937
Got my hair set today. In my opinion, if I had hollower cheeks, I'd be a perfect double for Garbo.
Thursday, May 6, 1937
Hello! The German zeppelin Von Hindenburg crashed not three hours ago at Lakehurst, New Jersey. That great new sister ship to the Graf Zeppelin!! Just burnt up like that. The radio announcer said it was 'cause the lightening set fire to the explosive hydrogen in the ship and then it exploded. Airships seem to have a curse or something — to everyone except the Graf Something disaster has happened. Now the Graf is the only one left. The Herald Examiner said 100 people were killed, but as it's a Hearst paper, 50 is a safer guess. They always exaggerate! Ho-hum — must read about Renaissance art now — um — um.
Wednesday, May 12, 1937
This day is the 12th of May in the year 1937 and it was Coronation Day. I woke up at five o'clock, turned off the alarm, awoke again at six and listened to the actual coronation. I bundled up in all my blankets, leaving one ear out, and sat on the sofa listening.
I heard George pronounced and anointed King and Elizabeth Queen.' Wonder what Edward VIII who abdicated is thinking tonight. When they sang "God Save the King," while I was putting on my stocking, I simply listened like a loyal Englishwoman. I would have even stood up, except for the cold and I couldn't stand on one foot. I just sort of listened and thought of the peoples of all colors in all lands who were listening and wondered what they thought. (That shows what reading Kipling can do — it's made me a better Englishman than American.) Well, Coronation or no Coronation — there was school today.
The whole school practically — maybe 400 — went to see Romeo and Juliet at [a] special 10¢ rate. Romeo and Juliet was really beautiful. Especially Norma Shearer who played the part of Juliet. She's so classic — really. Classic. Betty and I went together and of course got into a mess. She didn't have her note from home so she wrote herself one and signed a teacher's name. The teacher had given Betty permission to come. Well, it so happened that same teacher who was taking tickets was the same one whose name Betty signed. So Betty said sweetly, "I gave myself permission to come and signed your name." I don't believe the teacher has recovered yet, but Betty got in. O, shades of Shakespeare had he been there (at the show) to hear all Greeley titter every time Romeo kissed Juliet — shades of Shakespeare! Good Night!
Friday, May 21, 1937
Oh, I went down and saw them today at Soldier's [sic] Field. Who? Why the R.O.T.C. boys in the annual review. Eight thousands troops there were — 8,000 — and probably 50,000 young folk in the audience. Mayor Kelly was there and oh — biggest news of all! — Lake View — Lake View — the school I'll attend next year — won the first place along with St. Mel High School!! Isn't that marvelous! About Lake View, I mean! My own school!
"Breathes there a girl with soul so dead,
Who never to herself has said,
'This is my own, my darling school.'"
Anyhow, Lake View won.
The review was at Soldier's [sic] Field — a beautiful place, you know, open air — near the Lake — classical pillars on either side. It might have been a Roman forum or something.
If there only had been some gladiators to be eaten by lions, it would have been a perfect Roman arena.
The sky was pretty threatening for a while and it even rained a few drops, but for the Grand Finale with all 8,000 troops in uniform the sun came up in glory to behold the sight of it. They all looked so tall and young and proud. It must be the pagan in me but when I saw all those boys so much like soldiers in their khaki uniforms and guns — and swords and solemn, eager faces — why, my heart just thrilled for the pure glory of them in the breaking sunlight. They all looked so bright and strong and fair and brave besides — well, I might have been Caesar himself so gladsome was I at the sight.
And then Lake View was presented with her prized colors and the band burst into "The Star-Spangled Banner" and we stood up and shouted for our anthem, glad, and school.
"A hundred thousand voices.
Raised in proud salute."
Isn't that pretty — of course there were only 50,000, but what's the difference? It's pretty just the same....
Saturday, May 29, 1937
I have walked downtown and back today — about eight miles I guess and, oh, it's so lovely out. Glorious you know — full flush of spring — tulips at their brightest — blossoming reds and purples startingly vivid on the green. Sky as blue as ever could be and lake as blue-green — as — as — as — as, well, as the lake. Lilac bushes shedding loveliness and the pool in the park just covered with floating fallen petals. Bright-haired children reaching up to sniff vivid flowers or racing around 'plashing fonts in the park. (Excuse me if I get poetical — I walked eight miles).
Then going on to the Art Institute — lovely pictures — and pretty little garden in the center — the one I like. Sort of a relief to see cool white marble and green grass after all the color — but I do love the color. Then out to see the splendid "Fountain of the Great Lakes." Lovely Goddess of the Waters pouring from her shell onto the sister lakes with nymphs sporting on the side. Then to the library — Kipling — then walked home along [the] lovely lake with elongated purple shadows thrown along the sands. Still bright-haired children playing — still flowers no less vivid or sky less blue — sun like blood in the West. Oh I felt the glory and the spring of Kipling's poem —
But as the faithful years return
And hearts undaunted sing again.
Isn't that a lovely thought — "hearts undaunted sing again" — though ever the years are long and hard — the Spring will always come and our hearts can sing again — oh how beautiful!!!
Ever and again today I wondered at the infinite magnitude of God to give so unsparingly of beauty — what artist ever splashed his colors so boldly or to better effect than He? The dandelion may be a weed, but when I saw it glowing in lusty color, I thought it the loveliest, brightest, most glorious day-flower in the whole wide world. There's something about Spring which makes you feel good and pure and free and — trusting — and more religious than ever a church could — because the world is the only real church and Spring is the bedecked altar. And surely it is not wrong to worship the Spring because God is all that is Good and Beautiful as is the spring. Oh that's how I feel now.
I feel so glorious and uplifted and my heart is just bursting with spring and love of the world and life.
Well — maybe my feet will hurt in the morning but I certainly feel grand now —
P.S. Thank Heaven for Kipling!
Sunday, May 30, 1937
This is Memorial Day and it rained. Daddy and I went out for a walk and when it rained went under a tree near the statue of the Unknown Soldier. He looked so lonely there in the rain (the Soldier, I mean), and there wasn't even a wreath to mark the day. It seemed so pitiful. So I picked a little flower from the tree and ran in the rain to lay it at his feet. And I'm sure he knew I did it and was glad that someone remembered him on this day. It was only a little flower, but I'm sure it meant as much as a wreath. I'm glad I did it, as I'm sure the Soldier is.
Thursday, October 7, 1937
Hello! Here I am again, after all these years — or at least three months. You know I've been at camp for two of those months and — oh so much happened! And now school's started and I'm a sophomore!!! I taught nature study all summer at camp — three classes a day and the flower table to take care of, which makes me feel quite responsible — and they called me "Miss Joan." I think that was the crowning glory of my life — "Miss Joan" — and all my pupils called me that....
There were dances every Saturday night, of course, and I had a great deal of fun at them. He came out once every two weeks over the weekend so I did see him and even spoke with him. The very last night at the very last dance he asked me for the very last waltz and oh — gosh! And the last morning, just before the train left, he made me the acorn ring he had promised. But — well, anyhow, I — like him. There was another nice boy out there — Andy was his name. He's quite good-looking and I liked him too. He also taught nature study and we often discussed birds. He had made a list of all the birds he saw that summer and it was terribly long — I should have made one too.
I was more alive this summer I think than I had ever been before. I mean really alive — not just breathing and eating. I used to go to bed at night all full of something or other — either terribly happy or terribly glad — always so full of things that it hurt. During the last two weeks for awhile I thought I would burst — I expected to be so unhappy that it was almost a relief to look forward to it and say, "Monday will be the awfullest day." You see Monday was the nature pageant — I did not expect to get anything there and, after lights out, there was the honor service, and I certainly didn't expect an honor bracelet! Well, Saturday was the worst day in the summer for me — I went to bed so full of pent-up unhappiness I could hardly sleep.
Then Sunday things began to change — I mean the relief of expecting the awfulness [of] Monday almost comforted me. Then Kathryn and I were invited to the Scott Honor Service and went over to [the] Brownie [cabin] to pass the evening. All the other Peppers were on a hike. Andy and he were there, and we four talked and played records and discussed music, the zodiac and the baseball teams until it got dark enough for the Scott Service. Then Kathryn and I went to that.
It was down by the lake — with the waves grey and angry and the moon dull red as it had been the night I got my Scott Honor pin. We sat there and the Honor girl lit the fire as I had long ago and said the words that I had said and took the oath that I had taken and thought the thoughts that I had thought — not so long ago. It made me feel the way I had when I got my pin — happy and sad — and wanting to burst.
Then the Scotts went up the hill and Kathryn and I went up last of all. When we reached the head of the stairs we walked over to the bluff and stood in front of the log facing the lake and the moon. Just as we stood there alone, dark taps began to play — timed so perfectly that it seemed for the moment that we were in a magic circle of moonlight and music. Then the enchantment ceased and we went back along the white shadowy road through the sleeping camp to our cottage and got into bed. All the unhappiness I had felt the night before was fled and I slept as I had the night I got the Scott pin a year ago. The next day was tense because of the night that was to follow, but as evening came on I again felt the relief that I knew I was to be disappointed.
Then the pageant began and indeed it was lovely — the king and queen of nature dressed in Grecian gowns on the Sacred Carpet and all the procession of children following them. Really the pageant was lovely. Then the award-giving time came — and oh — I got my tree badge and my Star Book!
Then, after the moon was above, the Great Spirit walked around the circle and picked out Beverly Kennelly and me, Joan Wehlen, as honor bracelet girls. Oh — and we repeated the pledge with unbelief in our hearts and surprise in our eyes — "I promise to live up to the meanings of the lighted candles — to never let their light grow dim through lack of courage or because of difficulties." And Beverly and I could not — we did not — cry as some girls do, but just stood and looked at each other and the bracelets — I wear [mine] this minute.
And all that night I lay with the Star Book and tree badge beneath my pillow and held my wrist in the moonlight to see the bracelet shine. I really thought I was dreaming all through that evening.
The next morning we got up early and went swimming in naturalibus and it really is a grand thing to swim unhampered out of a grey sea into the sunrise. I had never seen the sun rise before, and he slid rather grandly from the grey. Then we went up cold and shivering as we gazed upon our bracelets. That night was the last dance and he asked me for the last waltz and we danced it together and went back to Pepperville — he and I and some others. Then everyone played Farmer in the Dell, Streets and Alleys and London Bridge and Red Rover and I went to bed terribly happy.
The next morning I asked him for the acorn ring he had promised me, but he said he hadn't finished it yet. So we went back to the kitchen and he borrowed a knife and made it right there before the trains left.
And that night I slept at home.
So now I'm in high school and a sophomore and have been called "Miss Joan" and taught nature study and am in the honor society so you must treat me with proper respect, dear diary.
Monday, November 15, 1937
Lake View [High School] had an Open House Friday night and Mrs. Turner, my ex-English teacher, told Mother I'd be a great writer someday — Hm ... hm ...
I got a nice piece in the Lake reView about me — see. You see, I take care of the "Vox Pop" column and it got the Greeley headline and took up most of the Greeley column besides, so I feel pretty good. Besides that, I contributed enough news to add to the rest of the column besides. I feel so elated!
Sunday, November 21, 1937
When I asked Mrs. Topping who'd be famous from our school for the paper and how, she said me — in journalism. That's two teachers said that in one week. I'm getting hopeful....
Excerpted from Home Front Girl by Joan Wehlen Morrison, Susan Signe Morrison. Copyright © 2013 Susan Signe Morrison. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsPreface by Susan Signe Morrison,
1937: Age 14,
1938: Age 15,
1939: Age 16,
1940: Age 17,
1941: Age 18,
1942: Age 19,
1943: Age 20,
What People are Saying About This
“An important and refreshingly engaging word painting of a far more innocent time in U.S. history. Home Front Girl is all about the thrill of being young, of questioning, and dreaming … and how those dreams can so easily begin to shatter under the crush of impending world events. The perspective here could not be more pure. Recommended!” —Graham Salisbury, author of Under the Blood-Red Sun and Eyes of the Emperor
“This captivating diary of the years leading into World War II provides a fresh view of the American scene, before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor." —Donald A. Ritchie, author of Doing Oral History
"Home Front Girl reveals the perceptions of a creative, brilliant, and hopeful yet genuine teenage girl in an uncertain and perilous era. Joan’s charm, naiveté, curiosity, and philosophies (reminiscent of Anne Frank) revealed in her journals left me with the hope that such depth of thought, creativity, sweetness, and forgiveness—as well as her sense of wonder—may still be found in today’s generation of young people." —Joan Hiatt Harlow, author of Star in the Storm
"A Chicago teenager's journal–riveting and real–recalls an era when adolescence was a preparation for adult life." —Richard Peck, author of Fair Weather
"Her sensitivity to and exuberance about events large and small is contagious, though her poetic tendencies are tempered by her doubts, intellect, sarcasm, and savvy. Witnessing Morrison mature as a woman and a writer is invigorating and memorable." — PublishersWeekly.com
"These diaries are a treasure on a scale with Anne Frank's. They tell the remarkable story of a real girl in a momentous time in history, from a unique viewpoint full of humor, insight, and emotional highs and lows on both a personal and an international level." —BlogCritics
"A fine, insightful and sometimes moving journal composed by a wholly likable young woman—better than fiction." —Kirkus
"[The book] provides a window into the 1940s, a time so different than today, technologically, but strikingly similar as well. . . . An excellent [way to] . . . understand what the average citizen was experiencing while war unfolded." —VOYA
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Joan was an extraordinarily bright and insightful young girl growing up in Chicago at the advent of the second world war. She had a profound love of literature, an introspective outlook on relationships with the opposite sex and was an extremely gifted writer. After Joan's passing in 2010, her adult daughter (award-winning author, Susan Signe Morrison) discovered Joan's diaries and other collections of her writings, which she skillfully compiled into the literary treasure Home Front Girl. This book offers a wonderfully unique and genuinely honest glimpse into the life of a precocious young girl during the tumultuous time leading up to and during World War II. A fascinating and entertaining read, Home Front Girl is equal parts wit and grit. Readers of all ages will delight in the verbal meanderings, assertions, and contemplations of Joan Whelen Morrison as they follow her through her early teens on up to young adulthood. Recommended for home and school libraries, Home Front Girl has earned the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.