Thursday, January 15, 2009
I spent about three hours at the East Hampton Library last Tuesday doing research for an upcoming lecture at Clinton Academy. I had to retreive some information about the WWII years so I began by loading up the microfilm machine with the reel that contained all the East Hampton Star newspapers from 1941 through 1944. I expected to be there about an hour but became so engrossed in what I was doing I stayed for a good part of the day. It was great fun.
I began with the paper which was published right after the attack on Pearl Harbor and it was fasinating to follow the community as it came to grips with war and to see how it affected life around here, with notices for air raid drills and instructions for black-out regulations posted regularly. One week they were announcing a scrap drive, the next the need for bandages to be made. The community was wholly involved in the war effort, yet at the same time there were reports of such things as birthday parties being celebrated and town meetings being held. Life went on.
The best thing about rolling through page after page of the local paper was spotting familiar names and faces, or events that I'd heard of growing up. When that happened my mission was momentarily forgotten and I'd read with interest about the wedding of a couple that I'd known only as elderly people. I studied photos of beautiful young brides to catch sight of the people I'd thought of only in the context of being mothers of friends, or ladies who belonged to the LVIS.
Sometimes it was the advertising that grabbed my attention. Ads for businesses long gone but still remembered. Or ones that touted things like cigarettes that would never be seen now. It was an escape from the world of today and a trip back in time to an amazing part of our history. I really loved it.
By the end of the three hours I'd picked up all the information I needed, along with a stiff neck from looking through my bifocols at the screen and a sore back from holding my arms out so long to work the machine. If I could have those reels and that machine at my house I'd be as addicted as my son is to his video games. Because I felt the history of this place in my soul. Within those newspapers I scanned I'd caught site of announcements for my father's graduation from high school (with a photo!) and my great-grandfather's sudden and unexpected death. I felt somehow connected to every report of a dead soldier - and my heart ached at the reports of families who were waiting for word of their sons who were missing. I may not have been alive then, but this was my community and my people I was reading about. It was the parents and grandparents of my friends and neighbors - people I go to church with and see at the grocery store.
I came home exhausted and exhilirated. What a great way to spend a day!