Monday, February 1, 2010

Making plans for after the return from Japan

Today's letter again deals primarily with family matters brought up in Frances' letters, and this is the first time he talks in earnest about the family's trip back to Atlanta.  As you will see, it was still very much up in the air as to whether Frances and the children would drive home to Atlanta and then return to California or simply stay in Atlanta.

29 Nov 1945

Dearest Darling,

Yesterday was a beautiful day.  I had an extra day off coming to me so I arranged to take it today and now it is raining steadily.  However, I enjoyed sleeping late.  I finally got up and made me some coffee.  It is a handy thing to have, and I think of you whenever I see my pretty jar and bottle.

Your letter of the 14th came yesterday.  It was written to the old APO and was the one in which you asked me about what I thought about your returning to Calif.  On that question, if you feel like making the trip both ways, it suits me fine, and I think it is a good idea.  Be sure you are rested before you start back.  By going the southern route you can make it easily in the winter.  I mean by Phoenix and El Paso -- not Flagstaff (that is too high.  I had some trouble with ice on the windshield and snow storms coming through there last winter).  As I see it, it would be nice for you to be in Calif when I return next year -- about May, I think.  Then whatever we do from there, we can work it out together.  You won't have to worry of packing and shipping, and if you can help Jack build a house it will do you more good than anything I can think of.  If you do this be sure you have definite plans and agreements with everyone concerned before you leave.  Be sure you can get Jack's little house, pending the completion of the other one.  And it might be a good idea just to have your phone moved over there before you leave and not disconnected.  Then there is no hitch on that.  I think you would make out fine that way.  I don't think you need worry about returning the baby bed to the Presidio until you just want to get rid of it.

After you have been east and returned tell me if you want to go back there to live when I return.  I can try for a job in Calif., but it would be anywhere on the west coast where I could make a living -- not in Robles or La Jolla.

Let me know your plans.  I am with you 100% whatever you do.

Lots of love,



The details of many of the matters discussed in these letters, including the building of Jack's second house, are now lost to the fog of time, but it all serves as an illustration of how difficult it was for a couple to make life's most important decisions while separated by the Pacific Ocean.

Cross-country travel in the 1940s was not for the faint-hearted, but it had improved greatly since the first automobile made the journey in 1913.  The U.S. highway system was designed in 1926 and provided for the creation of several cross-country routes (mainly the routes numbered with multiples of ten).  The famed Route 66 was technically not cross-country since it began in Chicago, but it is the northerly route across the Southwest that Maj. Gillham deemed "too high" in this letter.  The route he suggests was probably U.S. 80, which ran from Savannah, GA, to California via Dallas, El Paso and Phoenix.  Most of the route has since been decomissioned and the route now extends only as far west as Dallas.

In the 1940s, there was not yet the concept of the family cross-country trip that became popular in the 1950s thanks largely to the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, in 1955.  During wartime, such a trip was fraught with challenges such as rationing of food and gas, lack of lodging, poor roads and no roadside assistance.  My mother tells stories of the four cross-country treks she made in the 1940s, saying that they would routinely begin looking for a hotel around 3pm, since one was never sure how far the next hotel might be.  Toilet breaks were usually just "green stops," as they called them, and my grandfather would seek out country churches for lunch stops, where there were usually outdoor benches and tables.

The details of the family's trip from Robles del Rio to Atlanta are lost now, as Monty and Emily recall very little of it, but one of the things Monty and Emily remember well about the trip was that it was in a blue 1940 Ford and that there was a very unusual seating arrangement. All of their belongings were packed in the trunk as well as the bottom of the back seat area. On top of that they laid a mattress flat along the width of the seat where one of the girls would sit with baby Martha and their dog Flip Flop. In the front seat the other girl would sit between Frances and Frances' father, Daniel Marshall Holsenbeck, who the family called Pop. He lived at 992 Washita Avenue in Atlanta and had flown out to California to accompany the Gillhams on their trip east.

Even though this was no longer the Depression, Frances wanted to make sure that they didn't appear like Okies, so she would straighten the girls' hair and dresses before they would get out at a rest stop or enter a motel.

The other thing that both sisters remember vividly about the trip was how it ended. The last stretch of the trip took them along U.S. 78 heading east into Atlanta (which parallels the current I-20), and they were on course to arrive in Atlanta on Christmas Eve. However, just 60 miles outside of Atlanta in Tallapoosa (just on the Georgia side of the Alabama border), the headlights stopped working. Pop pulled into a filling station to have them checked out and the mechanic on duty informed Pop that he would have to leave the car overnight to be repaired. This news caused the girls great distress, because they were sure that Santa Claus wouldn't know that they were in Tallapoosa and that they wouldn't get their presents. Luckily, there was a man there who was driving into Atlanta that evening, so Pop drove all the way to Atlanta following him very closely and letting him lead the way with his headlights. And sure enough, Santa was able to find the girls and Christmas was saved.