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December 8, 1941
Dear Ma and Pa,
I know I just sent you a letter the other day, but so much happened yesterday I had to write again. By the time you get this letter, you will have heard what happened on December 7, 1941. You heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt's speech. What you do not know is, your son played an important role in that speech and I will not be coming back to New Market, Iowa. I have been offered a job with the President's staff here in Washington, DC.
Ma, no need to worry about me. I have a room in a dormitory for the staff. I'll be working for a trial period of two months and then I may be offered a full time position. I'll need my things sent to the address at the end of the letter.
Pa, you won't believe all the important people of Congress and the White House I've seen in the last twenty-four hours; President Roosevelt, Mr. Stephen Early, other members of his staff and some the President's cabinet members.
This is what happened and how I came to have this job. Yesterday, our group went to the Capitol Building for a tour. I took notes on everything I saw. I planned to write about it for our paper. I figured on doing a series on famous buildings in Washington, if Mr. Marshall will let me. We left the Capitol Building and arrived at the White House. After half way into the tour, I noticed a lot of people running past us and whispering. Our tour leader announced, "Pearl Harbor has just been bombed by the Japanese." We were shocked of course, but the tour guide said we would finish the tour.
I could see people as they went back and forth in the halls; like our bees do, in and out of flowers. I lagged behind a little and saw, PRESS with an arrow, on a sign, pointing down a hallway. I know you've always taught me to follow the rules, Ma, but sometimes a bit of rebellion can lead to great things. Maybe, I was inspired by the ghosts of Washington and Jefferson and a few of those who wrote the Declaration of Independence.
I slipped away and followed a man rushing down the marble walk to a door. When I got there, PRESS ROOM was lettered on the window. Inside numerous men and women typed from Dictaphones, they are like a tape recorder, or from shorthand notes. It was chaos with runners going back and forth between typists and those who picked up their finished work. My heart beat faster as I watched all the excitement. Pa, I really wanted to be a part of what was going on.
I heard voices behind me and someone pressed next to me. At the same time a man opened the door from the inside and pushed his way out into the hall.
I stepped inside the noisy room and held the door open for the men behind me to go through. One of the men grabbed my arm and growled, "Can you type, boy?"
"Yes, Sir." My voice was firm, but I was shaking.
He pulled me to a typewriter and pushed me into the chair. "You type this up. When you're through hand it to this man and no one else. You don't speak a word to anyone or let anyone read what you are typing. Got that, Son?" He leaned his fist on the desk, his face at my level.
I nodded, grabbed paper from the box next to the machine, rolled it into the typewriter and began to type the words from the paper as he left.
Ma, thanks for making me stick to typing class when I wanted to quit. Being the second fastest typist in the class was a honor, but here I was, in Washington, DC., typing something for someone important, and they wanted it fast.
As I typed, I read the words with changes that had been made on the original sheet. I made some additional changes that sounded better. I didn't think it would matter, no one knew who I was. When I finished I'd slip out the door and be on my way. I rolled out the last page and took them all to the man who kept his eye on me. He took the original sheets and looked over the ones I'd typed then nodded, "Good job, Son. How long have you worked here?"
My heart pounded and I swallowed hard over the lump in my throat. What would he say if I told him the truth? I coughed and answered, "Long enough to know when to keep my mouth shut."
The man laughed out loud and squeezed my shoulder. "You go back and stay there until I come and get you." He walked out and I went back to my chair. Another young man, not much older than myself, pushed a cart setting folders or papers next to the typists. He came to my desk and I waited to be ordered to leave.
"You new here?"
I just nodded.
"Here, type these up and put them in a new folder along with the originals then put them in that box." He pointed to a wooden box at the front of the room with a slot in the side to accept the folders. I nodded and began typing.
I finished the last page when the man I gave the papers to came to my desk. "Come with me." He turned to walk away without waiting for me.
"Wait, Sir, let me put these all together and send them on their way." I called out. He stopped and looked at me a moment and nodded. I assembled the stacks and put them in their designated box.
We moved down long hallways at a brisk pace. I sometimes had to skip a bit to keep up. Men passed us, others saluted the man and gave me an odd look. I wondered who he was, but he didn't speak to me. We went through a number of doors and through offices with men and women working. We stopped, he gave a knock on a door and we went in. There were groups of men talking loud, almost trying to out talk the other.
"Wait here," he ordered and walked to one group. One of the men stepped away and pointed at me. All the others stopped talking and turned to look at me. I got real nervous. I wanted to turn and run out the door as fast as I could, but I didn't know where to run so I just stood there.
"Come here, Son." A voice came from the middle of the group. It was President Roosevelt. He shook my hand when my leaden feet moved toward him. "Thank you for your service. Where are you from?" He stood stiff, his hands rested on an ornate cane.
"You live in Washington, DC, now?"
"No, Sir, just visiting."
He frowned at me, "But you're working here."
"No Sir, I was on a tour and stopped to look into the Press Room. A gentleman asked me to type something. I did what I was told, Sir"
He took a moment to digest what I said then laughed aloud. Everyone else laughed at the same time as the President and stopped when he did.
"Early, here's the kind of man we want working on our side." He spoke to the man who had ordered me to type the pages. "We're really impressed with your work. You did a good job and I like your changes. If you're willing, we've got a spot open on our staff. I like a man that 'knows when to keep his mouth shut', especially when he isn't an employee." He grinned at me. I still had that big stone in my throat, so I just nodded.
That's how your son got a job, working for the President of the United States. When you heard the words that started his speech;
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy," spoken by President Roosevelt, the last words are mine. He had written 'world history' and I changed them.
Here I sit at my new desk, at a new typewriter, waiting to put history making facts on paper. These are exciting times and I'm thrilled to be a part of them. I work directly for Mr. Stephen Early and Melissa LaHand, the President's secretary. The President calls her Missy. She does everything for him. Early wishes he had as much influence with the President. Already I've been sworn to keep a secret about the President from the world and I cannot tell you either. National Security, I was told.
No Ma, I haven't seen Mrs. Eleanor yet, but I will tell you everything about her when I do.
I will send you letters with all the news I'm allowed to write.
Your Son Always,
This story is a fictionalized account of my five times great-grandfather acquiring land in Kansas.
Dr.Barton Robinson's winced as he gripped the leather reins. Arthritis crippled his hands. As a doctor he saw the signs. His swollen knuckles and a couple of his fingers would not bend anymore. His doctoring days were over. Barton tugged on the reins and the mare shook her head, anxious to get moving faster than just a walk.
He felt just as anxious as the horse, to be off to somewhere new. A man could set down roots in the Kansas Territory and have a family tree that would spread far across this new land. They'd traveled from Illinois. All their belongings were stored until they found a parcel of land to build on. He pulled on the reins. The surrey with its faded fabric top and often missing tasseled fringe slowed to a stop in front of the hotel.
“Father! we've been waiting forever. What took you so long?” Three young boys jumped from the wooden porch pushing each other to get the best seat in the buggy.
Behind them, Barton’s eldest son Herbert, escorted his mother to the surrey’s step and helped her in to the seat behind his father.
“Father, if it’s all right with you. Could I take the reins today? I need some practice finding my way around these roads.” He stood beside the step up to the front bench and waited.
Barton knew what his son asked. Herbert had watched him put liniment on his hands the night before. It was his way of taking over a duty too taxing for his father by the end of the day's adventure.
“Herbert, the only way to learn the lay of the land is to drive it.” His smile welcomed his son and the answer was the rock of the buggy when Herbert climbed up the step and settled on the bench.
“You can handle this. I'll sit back with your mother like a proper Englishman and enjoy a ride in the country.” He thickened his British accent and touched the brim of his new Bowler hat as he moved to sit next to Mahala.
“I want to sit with Herbert.” Lander and James began to scramble over the seat to reach the front. John Charles just bounced on the back seat with excitement.
“Here now, none of that. Herbert doesn’t need you as navigators. Sit back there and enjoy the ride.” Barton grabbed one son by his collar and the other by his britches, preventing them from going any further. “Onward Herbert.”
The sun rose in the sky and a slight wind stirred the hot air. As they passed plowed lands, they saw both sod and board farm houses with matching barns. Forests of trees gave them cool cover from the blazing sun.
“It sure is different from Illinois,” Herbert called over his shoulder.
Barton nodded as the buggy made the sudden dip in the road that led to a small bridge over a creek.
“Do you miss it?’ Mahala turned her face toward him so that she could see his expression and not just the sides of her bonnet.
“It was getting too crowded. Houses being built on top of each other. The roads so full of carriages and lorry’s it's no wonder my practice was full of clients. No, I love it here. I won't hear my neighbors. They're not just a few yards away, most are a mile or two.”
“Are you sure that isn’t too close?” She teased.
“Father, look! there are Indians here.” James yelled and pointed to a group of Indians moving almost single file down the road toward them. Some rode and others walked.
“How do you know they're Indians?” Barton asked. He tapped Herbert to slow the carriage. The horse shook her head and pawed at the ground. Herbert held her in check, speaking in low tones to calm her.
“Our teacher, in Mt. Pulaski, showed us pictures of them. They're wearing the same clothes.”
“These are different Indians. They aren’t wearing the same clothes as the Indians in Illinois.” Lander chided his brother.
“Stop it boys,” Barton ordered. He turned back to look at the group. The men at the hotel told him the Indians around here treated the settlers kindly and traded with them. "They're Indians. They're not heathens to be shunned. Let’s go Herbert.” Barton held on to the front seat and his wife as the surrey jerked forward.The horse seemed to know the way and started to trot. The younger boys leaned over the back seat until they had moved out of site.
"Our first Indians up close!" James leaned forward to inform his father.
They stopped in the shops of a couple villages. After the sun rose to its peak they stopped, spread a blanket and set out the lunch basket. Mahala requested a lunch from the hotel’s kitchen. They ate mouth watering fried chicken, biscuits and fresh vegetables with a cake for dessert. Cool sweet tea in a gallon jar quenched their thirst in the heat of the day. The boys expended their energy in the afternoon sun.
Mahala and Barton gathered the remnants of lunch and called the boys to the surrey to finish the tour. They hadn't traveled more than a mile down the road when a cloud of dust appeared ahead of them and from cloud came a line of men on horses, led by a man in military attire . Herbert pulled the surrey to the side of the road to let them pass.
The leader slowed his mount next to the surrey. “Good afternoon Sirs, Ma’am,” he tilting the wide brim of his hat and touching it with a gloved hand. “What brings you out on this fine day?”
“We're looking for land to purchase.” Barton offered, not sure why this many men were armed to the teeth for battle and out on the road. The war was over, he reminded himself.
“British you are.” The man observed. “I'm Colonel Montgomery. We've just run a pro-slaver, who's been terrorizing Negro freemen off their property. He ordered the Negros to leave the territory with in twenty-four hours or have their houses burned down. We can’t have that. The war is over and all men are free. If you're looking for a piece of land that's already proven and a house ready to move in, I have one for you.”
“Sir, we would very much like to see this place.” Barton held out his hand to the Colonel, who leaned forward to shake it. The Colonel ordered a couple of the men on horses to escort the surrey to the farm they'd left.
At the farm, people scurried back and forth piling furniture and goods into a wagon. The two families didn't speak. Men stood guard watching the family remove their belongings.
Barton viewed the house from a distance. It was a white washed sod home. Built sturdy, it stood not far from a grove of trees. A bluff a few yards away looked over a valley below.
"It's the Sugar Creek." One of Montgomery's men informed him. "Good water, The land beyond the grove has been planted."
"How much land?" Barton asked.
"I'm not sure. You can inquire in Pleasanton, just down the road a ways."
"Tell the Colonel we'll take it and thank him for the reference." They returned to Pleasanton to make arrangements to move.
They moved in and settled firmly in the community. Barton bought a number of plots, one for each of his four boys.
They farmed the land and watched the local Indians as they ran buffalo over the bluff, not far from their house. Below their women would skin and butcher meat for winter. They never bothered Barton or his family, but shared some of the meat.
Many years later, after the boys were grown and married, Barton stood in the grove where white stones outlined the graves of his niece and babies that didn't live long after their birth. He looked out over the land his son's had settled and built their own homes.
This land would be here for many years to come. It would house his descendants. He smiled with contentment.
The original sod house was destroyed in a tornado and Barton built a wood house closer to the bluff and it is standing today, though not livable as the present owner allowed the horses to use it as a barn.
Arrow heads are found in the vicinity of Flat Rock on Sugar Creek. Later it was a place young people came to have picnics in the summer.
Barton added plots to the original property making sure all his sons had plenty of room to build a home and farm their own land.
Two of his sons had the same itch for open spaces. Charles moved on to Wyoming, married and had many jobs, one as a sheep herder. Lander found oil in Hays, Kansas. He married and his family is still there.
Note: After I located my ancestors, I arranged for a family reunion. Decedents from all four boys were represented. We toured the old homestead and found white painted stones outlining unmarked graves. The woman from the Linn Co. Historical Society, who had accompanied us to verify the graves, contacted the owner at that time and he agreed to fence off the grave area from the livestock that roamed the homestead. I imagine there is nothing left down there after a hundred years, but it was a nice gesture. When the owner decided to sell the property, I heard one of the family members purchased it.
The account of this story is found in the Linn County Historical book.
Up coming information about my new book
I hope to be able to have The Vanishing of Katherine Sullivan republished. Watch here for news