Nobody Was Surprised

Yesterday, I wrote on my other blog about my recent discovery that my dad attended intelligence school (aka the “Ritchie Boys” Spy School in Maryland) while he was in the army. If you haven’t seen it, check out “Daddy Went to Spy School.”

The reactions by members of my family were amusing considering the subject matter. While two of my siblings had not heard this, they were, like me, not surprised. I guess because of Grandpa’s Russian background and the visit by the FBI during the fifties, it was always a thought in the back of our minds that there was a lot more to him.  I think he would have elaborated, but most of us never asked him.

One of my sisters said my father had mentioned it to her, but she did not know any of the details, particularly why he never worked as a spy after having been trained as one.

Dad and Mark said they thought this had been a fact. It was not news to them. “Of course your father worked in intelligence. Didn’t everyone know this?”

I need to take another trip to the National Archives to see what else I can dig up about him.

A Peek Back in Time- Part 2

What did you think about and worry about when you were ten? You all had the same fifth grade teacher who you all liked. Did you worry about school, did you think about current events, did you think about your future careers, or did you and your friends talk about love, marriage, and children?

In 1940 and 1941, Grandma and her friends wrote primarily about their future as wives and mothers. Are you all horrified that this topic consumed more pages than any other subject?

July 1: Jean now/Jean forever/Carey now/But not forever-Your chum Phyllis (Phyl)-                     Don’t you just love the use of the word chum? Does anyone ever use that term in reference to a friend anymore? Maybe we should try to resurrect that word in the same way Aunt Ellen and I are trying to bring back “feeling groovy.”

Eleanor Crane


June 26: May you live long and be happily blessed/With twenty children/Ten on each knee.-Eleanor Crane

I need to do Eleanor Crane’s family tree and see just how many children she ended up having. Fortunately, Grandma ignored that advice.


Arlene- 2


Undated: Aunt Ar just can’t keep her paws from Grandma’s book. Lucky for her, she grew up to be the best daughter of us all.

2 in a car / 2 little kisses

2 weeks later/ Mr. and Mrs.



Barbara Merchak


March 10, 1941: First comes love/Then comes marriage/Then comes Jean/Then a baby carriage.—Barbara Merchak  

This is a classic. I believe I used to jump rope to this cute little rhyme.





Carlyle Breiding (1)


July 1, 1940: When you get married/And your husband gets drunk/ Come over to my house and sleep in a trunk—Your pal, Carlyle Breiding

This is a shocking statement, based upon their ages! Oh, Mom! Did you know what a poor example you are setting for your future grandchildren?




May Anne Avallone


June 9, 1941: When you get married to your husband/Do not work too much/ And don’t get sick or drink too much.–Goodbye sweetheart see you next September—Your friend May Anne Avallone

There they go again! These fifth graders are certainly interested in drinking! Little did these innocent children know that just 6 months lafter these words were written, many of their older brothers would be going off to war.


June Ratley


June 26, 1940 (Morristown, NJ): Hair was made to comb and curl/Cheeks were made to flush/Eyes were made to flirt with boys/and lips were made to “Oh hush.”–June Ratley

I will discuss at a later date, all the boyfriends Grandma had as a high school student just four years later. Based on this book, it is not at all surprising.




Barbara Morrison


June 26, 1940: To have enough room in this book for you and your lover/  Poor little me has to write on the cover.—Barbara Morrison

Notice the telephone number: “0437W”- 5 characters — That’s it! Now we need to dial ten in so many places. (Not at my house yet!)





June 20, 1941: May God and His Blessed Mother protect and bless you now and always.

I will have to ask Grandma if she has any stories about sister Caritas. Some of the nuns she was quite fond of. One sent her off to deliver a note to another nun, and I believe that Grandma peaked out it. Uh oh!


When these words were written in this book, no one knew how much their world would be changing in a very short time—rationing, war, death. I am glad they had this time of innocence.


Thanks for the Help and Encouragement

I would like to thank all of you for putting up with me during the last seven years while I wrote the book about Grandpa. You all had to tolerate me, particularly Dad, while I disappeared into my dark hole of writing and researching while I tried to uncover the details of Grandpa’s life—all stuff I could have learned if only I had sat down and really talked to him years ago.

If I could roll back time, I would ask him how he and his siblings felt when they learned they were moving from New Jersey to Russia. You were unhappy when we moved to North Carolina, so I am sure that gives you an idea how they felt—just so, so much worse.

“Tell me about the trip,” I would ask, now knowing that they traveled on a luxury liner from New York to London.  Then I would ask about the remainder of the trip as they journeyed on a small Finish steamer stopping first at Copenhagen and then Helsinki.

I want to know exactly what the living conditions were like in that apartment that they shared with a Communist party member. I am interested in knowing precisely what it was like to be an American boy growing up in the Soviet Union.

Then I would question him about the long ride home across the Soviet Union on that train. What did he eat, and who did he hang out with on the Trans-Siberian Railway? Was he scared to be returning to New Jersey alone—only twenty-two years old–during a time when much of the world was at war?

I would wrap up the conversation inquiring about all those years trying to get the rest of his family home, and ask if he really spoke with the Secretary of State on the phone. It was clear from the letters I found at the National Archives that Secretary Hull knew Grandpa.

So many unanswered questions that I never asked but spoke about in my book. I wrote it from Grandpa’s perspective to try to put you all in his shoes. I wish he could read it and tell me if I did a good job telling his story.

Now it’s done. It’s out there and I feel proud, relieved, and fearful. It is like the naked dream, because while my book was sitting on my computer, I was safe. Now my words are exposed and that is a scary feeling, but I have no regrets.

I am grateful to your suggestions on what changes to make on each revision. You encouraged me when I had doubts about continuing. You all have busy lives, which makes me all the more thankful for your help.

So it’s available on Kindle now and in paperback tomorrow. (Don’t worry. I will give you each a copy) In a month or so, it will be available online at other booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and Books a Million.

Do Svidanya Dad- The Story of an American Family Trapped in the USSR

The End!

Grandpa’s Legendary Story

For all of us familiar with U.S. History and our family history, today’s thoughts should be expected. This is the seventy-fourth anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. We all know about Grandpa’s repeated story that he learned of the attack six months earlier when he was passing through Japan on his way home after living in Russia for ten years.

He traveled across the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Railway and then took a Japanese steamer from Vladivostok across the Sea of Japan. When he reached Japan, he boarded a train to Tokyo, and then a bus to Yokohama.

The bus driver got lost, so Grandpa asked to be dropped off at a police station for directions. The legendary story is that when one of the officers at the station learned Grandpa was an American, he warned Grandpa to leave Japan as quickly as possible because the Japanese were going to “boom boom” the United States.

After Grandpa’s ship docked in Honolulu, he went ashore to purchase some newspapers and was approached by a United States Intelligence officer named Sullivan, who was inquiring about troop movements Grandpa may have seen while on the Trans-Siberian. Naturally, Grandpa was anxious to pass on his news, but he never knew if he was taken seriously by Mr. Sullivan.

On the day of the attack, Grandpa had been in the army for one month. He was stationed at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, enrolled in a sixteen week medical training course. The rest of his family—his parents and three sisters—were at a train station in Yaroslavl, which was about 400 miles southeast of the city where they were all living when Grandpa left. The family evacuated in mid-August when their city was attacked by the Germans. The traveled on foot until they were finally able to reach a train.  My grandparents were sixty-three and fifty-five at this time, and my Aunt Nancy was pregnant. At the onset of the journey they encountered heavy rains which made travel on the roads impossible, and then winter set in, with temperatures as low as -40 degrees. I cannot imagine the hardships they endured!

Grandpa’s family had not been in contact with him since he left, so they did not know he had been drafted or if he had even arrived back in New Jersey. How different from our world of instant communication where we become impatient when we cannot reach someone quickly enough!

The question today is whether Grandpa’s story was true. I did a lot of research and learned that reports surface each year on this anniversary stating that President Roosevelt, like Grandpa, was not surprised by the attack. One of the researchers at the National Archives told me he believed the story, telling me that many of the Japanese were aware of the plans. So what do you all think?

Grandpa and Friend on Ship Heading to US from Japan- 1941
Grandpa and Friend on Ship Heading to US from Japan- 1941