How Deprived Are We?


I’ve been listening to a lot of people complaining about the deprivations brought about by the COVID-19 quarantine. Truth be known, I’ve complained, too. I miss my hairdresser. If I don’t get a cut soon, I’m going to start looking like Cousin Itt.


People want to go to the movies again. They want to get their tattoos. They want toilet paper, even if they have a stockpile. They can’t understand why we can’t have our concerts and parades and baseball games.

When I hear this, I think, “Wow, we’ve gotten soft.” I think of the stories I was told about what life was like during World War II. If we’re freaking out about hairdressers, I can’t imagine how we’d feel about being allowed 4 gallons of gas a week, and only then if we could justify having any at all.

According to Wikipedia, here are some of the austere measures applied to the American public at various points during WWII:

  • There was a shortage of rubber, so tires were allocated to each community based on the number of registered vehicles.

  • Gasoline rationing was also a function of preserving tires.

  • At one point, automobile sales were stopped. Along with the sales of typewriters and bicycles.

  • A national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was imposed to preserve rubber.

  • You were only allowed 5 tires. IF you could justify a need for your vehicle. All other tires (and all tires for those with unjustified use of a vehicle) were confiscated for government use.

  • Low priority vehicles could get 4 gallons of gasoline per week. Military industrial workers could get 8 gallons per week. People essential to the war effort, such as doctors and truckers, could get more. An unlimited supply of gasoline could go to clergy, police, firemen, civil defense workers, and, scandalously, to congressmen.

  • Automobile racing was banned, as was simply driving around to sightsee.

  • Only households with babies and small children could get canned milk.

  • Sugar rationing lasted until 1947 in some parts of the country. It was ½ pound per person per week, which was apparently half the normal consumption at the time.

  • Coffee was restricted to 1 pound every five weeks, also half the normal consumption.

  • Canned dogfood was no longer produced.

  • You had to turn in an empty toothpaste tube before you could buy a new one.

  • All production was halted for metal office furniture, radios, television sets, phonographs, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and sewing machines.

  • Other items that were rationed were shoes, silk, nylon, fuel oil, stoves, meat, lard, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods, dried fruits, firewood, coal, jams, and jellies.

Given the way people are reacting to our current situation, I doubt any of us would have made it through World War II. We actually have it pretty darned good. We can get through this, if we put it into the proper perspective.


An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!


My Imaginary Father

I used to think he was strong.

Recently I came across this photograph of my father. It was taken in 1952, three years before the movie Rebel Without a Cause came out. My father was James Dean before the real James Dean had truly “become” James Dean.

My Father, 1952.jpg

I can see why my mother had married him two years previously. He’s got that sexy, brooding, bad-boy look about him that every 23 year old girl falls for.

Fortunately, most of us snap out of it.

I suspect that by the time this photo was taken, the honeymoon was long since over. My father was drunk in this picture, just as he had been in every other picture that was taken of him as an adult. He was even drunk in his wedding pictures.

My mother had lived a rather sheltered life. Her parents weren’t ones to drink to excess. Her dad protected her as much as he could, right up until his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat in World War II. My mother was 17 at the time, and the family was plunged into poverty.

She carried on, living with her mother, her sister, and her sister’s children in a tiny house that was barely bigger than most people’s garages. I’m pretty sure she got married simply to get out of there. Talk about going from the frying pan to the fire.

She stayed married to my alcoholic, physically abusive father for 17 years. You can’t say she didn’t try. They were divorced when I was 3 months old.

I never met my father. He didn’t send me a single card or letter or gift. He didn’t pay a penny in child support. I never heard his voice. I couldn’t have picked him out of a line up.

My mother didn’t talk about him much unless I asked. She did say that he was an alcoholic and that’s why they got divorced. She said he was a sharpshooter in WWII, and that he sometimes liked to shoot blue jays out of the tree from the top floor bedroom window of our house. (The neighbors must have loved that.)

I didn’t know he used to beat her until long after she was dead. I didn’t think about the fact that they’d been together for 17 whole years until recently. There must have been quite a few stories that went untold.

With that kind of an information vacuum, I was free to make up stories about him in my head. I used to think he was strong. I used to think that if he had been in my life I’d have been protected and loved. I used to think I was worse off because of his absence.

I don’t think those things anymore.

Now, I just think he looked like James Dean.


I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that?

Small World, Indeed.

After graduating from high school, one of the first colleges I attended was Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, the “nation’s oldest city.” I’m using quotes because the Anasazi in Chaco Canyon would have been highly amused by this designation.

Nevertheless, St. Augustine is a beautiful, historic town. But if you’re a student without a car it quickly becomes tedious. There’s no public transportation to speak of, and you’re not within walking distance of the beach, so once you’ve seen all the historic t-shirt shops, the only thing left to do is get royally wasted in one of the pubs, and I had long since outgrown that impulse. So on this particular night, long before Netflix was invented, I was bored senseless.

So I began wandering around the campus in hopes of running into someone, anyone, to do something, anything with. Eventually I ran into my friend Jim, and we decided to go to the only other source of entertainment within walking distance: The dollar movie theater across from the historic slave market. (It’s funny how easily “slave market” rolls off the tongue when you’ve lived in a historic Southern city for any length of time.)

We didn’t even know what was playing at the theater. We didn’t care. But it turned out to be Das Boot, that classic movie about the German U-Boat crew in the North Atlantic during World War II. I won’t get into the plot, but I will say it’s worth seeing if you haven’t already.

We sat there engrossed as we ate our popcorn. Afterward, we were walking in silence back to the dorm and I said, “That movie had extra significance for me, because my grandfather was a merchant marine, and he died when his ship was torpedoed by a u-boat.”

Have you ever been walking next to someone and they are so stunned by what you say that they come to a complete halt, and you take several steps before you realize they’re no longer beside you? That’s what happened.

Naturally, I turned around and said, “What?”

Jim looked at me and said, “Barb, my father served on a German u-boat in the North Atlantic during World War II.”

Now it was my turn to be surprised. I said, “So, your father may have killed my grandfather.”

“Yes,” he said.

After thinking about it, I decided that if I could say “Slave Market” without cringing, I could certainly remain friends with Jim. That tells you all you need to know about how we come to accept history, no matter how brutal it may have been, with the passage of time. I don’t know if this is good or bad. It’s just the way it is.



The Cats of Mirikitani

One of the things I love about being a City of Seattle employee is that I am required to do at least two hours of race and social justice training per year. As part of that this year, I had the distinct pleasure of viewing a documentary called The Cats of Mirikitani. In keeping with my tradition of reviewing things that came out years ago, I will review this amazing video, which came out in 2007.

First of all, if you have the opportunity to see this documentary yourself, I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Second, if you have yet to see it, I should say that the rest of this entry requires a spoiler alert.

This documentary, by Linda Hattendorf, is about an amazing guy named Tsutomu “Jimmy” Mirikitani. She found him sleeping on the streets of Soho in New York City. He would not take any money from anyone. He was 80 years old, and survived by selling his art to people.

As the documentary progresses, you learn more and more about him. He was born in Sacramento, but raised in Hiroshima. Needless to say, he was highly impacted by the bombing of that city. Fortunately he had returned to America in 1937. Unfortunately, that also meant that even though he was born in the US, he got thrown into a Japanese internment camp and lived there for 3 ½ years.

Then, while he was still living on the street, 9/11 happened. The creator of the documentary found him all alone on the street, in the dark, coughing in a toxic cloud of twin tower dust. She took him in. And that’s just the beginning.

This documentary really made me assess how I react to the homeless. I probably pass people by every single day who have hidden talents, and have witnessed history and have amazing stories to tell. The fact that this man lived for decades on the street without being connected to social services is just another in a long line of tragedies that Jimmy Mirikitani experienced in his lifetime. There really is no excuse.

Cats of Mirikitani

Trump is the New Hitler

I have a German last name, and because of that I have always taken the events that led up to, and occurred during, World War II very seriously. Growing up, I was fascinated by the Diaries of Anne Frank and all things related to concentration camps. I was proud of the fact that my father helped to liberate one during the war.

I could never understand what would cause a nation to be sucked in by an insane man who spewed nothing but hate. I could never imagine being so afraid of an entire group of people that I would leave even its women and children out in the cold. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could justify depriving a whole religious group of its human rights.

I still don’t understand it. I never will. But now I can see how it happens. The other day, Donald Trump said, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

First of all, the screening system that allows immigrants into the US is extremely rigorous. If you think people just wander over the border willy nilly, think again. Better yet, Google it. If the system had been this stringent when my grandparents came to this country, they’d very likely have been turned back at Ellis Island, and I wouldn’t exist.

Normally, I wouldn’t take anything Donald Trump said very seriously. In my personal opinion, he’s a racist nut job with a bad comb over. But what was terrifying about this current bit of insanity of his was that when he said it, the crowd cheered. They cheered just as the Germans did when Hitler spouted his racist insanity during the Nuremberg Rally. Do you understand what I’m saying? They cheered.

In Germany, at the time, the economy was in a shambles. People were afraid. They wanted someone to blame. So a charismatic man with a bad hairdo came along and exploited their fear and turned it into hate and as a result over 60 million people died in a war that should never have taken place.

By the way, it wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered, thanks to the Elie Weisel Foundation, that none of my relatives had joined the Nazi Party. My family comes from the Alsace-Lorraine region in what is now France. Although this region has been dragged back and forth between France and Germany throughout history, during most of the last century, and this one so far, it’s part of France. What a huge weight off my shoulders!

But can I truly set down that weight? Now history seems to be repeating itself. Trump doesn’t scare me nearly as much as those cheering people in the crowd. Those people, those fellow Americans, do not seem to have learned from the deadly mistakes of history. Those people vote. I don’t want to see what happens if their hatred wins.

trump hitler
[Image credit:]

Jeannette Rankin: A Woman Who Stood Alone

Recently I watched a program about the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and in it they mentioned in passing that after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt went to congress to ask them to declare war on Japan and there was only one vote against it. Think about that for a minute. That had to take guts. We all remember how much patriotic pressure there was after 9/11. Most of us alive today can only imagine how intense it was after Pearl Harbor.

The resolution passed the Senate 82-0, and in Congress it passed 388-1. Who would have the courage to stand up against 470 of his fellow politicians and overwhelming public sentiment, and say, rightly or wrongly, on public record for all eternity, “I disagree”? There was hissing in the gallery when that vote was cast, and an angry mob pursued the voter after the fact. I had to find out more about this person.

And what an interesting person she turned out to be. Yes, she. Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, was the first woman ever elected to the United States Congress, and ironically this occurred in 1917, when not all women in this country had the right to vote. She was for women’s suffrage, of course, and against child labor, and a devout pacifist her entire life. She voted against the war in Germany in World War I, and she led 5,000 marchers to Washington to protest the war in Vietnam. When she cast that single dissenting vote during World War II, she said, “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”

She also never married, despite many proposals, and she was highly educated. Those were two things that were extremely rare for her generation. Her first degree was in biology, and science is a field that is still underrepresented by women to this day, so you you can imagine what a good ol’ boy network it must have been in 1902.

Jeannette Rankin was a woman who bucked the tide. I never thought I’d say this about a Republican, especially a Republican woman, but I have nothing but admiration for the life she led. If you’d like to learn more about her, start here.


Do you Know this Child? Help Solve a Mystery.


This photograph has haunted me my entire life. If you know anyone from France, Germany or Austria, or the US Army 65th Infantry, please share this story with them on any social media you choose.

My father served during World War II, and he brought home many photographs and even more stories, most of them outlandish. Due to his lifelong battle with alcohol, I never knew him. All I was left with was his photo album and those few stories that have managed to trickle down to me over the years.

Needless to say, I was very obsessed with the entire photo album. But of all the pictures in it, the one that has always fascinated me the most was this one of a little boy in a uniform, sitting on a jeep. Who was this child? Why was he there? What became of him?

The story that was passed down to me was that he was a German boy that the company sort of adopted as a mascot, and that he was killed by the Germans, which made my father so angry he then killed all the Germans he could.

There are several problems with this story. The main one being that when my father’s company was breaking through the Siegfried Line, they were in no one place in Germany long enough to develop a relationship with a child.

Let’s follow his company’s path, and then I’ll give you some of my theories. I’d love it if someone could provide me with more pieces of this puzzle

The year was 1945, and my father was in the United States Army, 65th Infantry Division; 1st Battalion; 261st Infantry Regiment; Company C; 2nd Platoon; 1st squad.

  • The division arrived at Le Havre, France on January 22, 1945. They were stationed in Camp Lucky Strike.
  • They departed Camp Lucky Strike from February 25 – March 1, 1945
  • From there they went to Ennery, Moselle, France on March 3rd.
  • By March 7th, they saw their first combat in Boulay-Moselle, France.
  • In March 17th, they were in Villing, Moselle, France
  • They breached Siegfried Line, March 17-19.
  • On March 20th, they were in Saarlautern and Reisweiler, Saarland, Germany.
  • On March 21, they had reached Neunkirchen, Saarland, Germany.
  • On March 27th, they were in Rockenhausen, Pfalz, Germany.
  • On March 28th, they were in Schwabenheim, Hessen, Germany.
  • They crossed the Rhine, March 29-30, 1945.
  • On March 31, they were in Laubach, Hessen-Nassau, Germany.
  • By April 1st, they had reached Hattenbach, Hessen-Nassau, Germany.
  • On April 2nd, they were in Ersrode, Hessen-Nassau, Germany.
  • On April 3rd they were in Berneberg, Kurhessen, Germany.
  • They fought to secure the Mulhausen-Langensalza Line from April 4-6, 1945.
  • On April 5th, they were in Treffurt, Thuringia, Germany.
  • The fought the Battle of Struth, on April 7.
  • On April 9 they were in Berka, Thuringia, Germany.
  • On April 12, they were in Waltershausen, Bavaria, Germany.
  • By April 14, they arrived in Arnstadt, Bavaria, Germany.
  • April 17th found them in Breitengussbach, Bavaria, Germany.
  • On April 20th, they arrived in Altdorf, Bavaria, Germany
  • They fought the Battle for Neumarkt, April 20-22, 1945.
  • On April 23, they were in Velburg, Bavaria, Germany.
  • On April 24, they were in Deuerling, Bavaria, Germany.
  • They crossed Danube to capture the sector at Regensburg, April 25-26th.
  • On April 275h, they were in Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany.
  • On May 1st, they were in Platting, Bavaria, Germany.
  • On May 2nd, they were in Furstenzell, Bavaria, Germany.
  • May 3rd found them in Neuhaus, Bavaria, Germany.
  • On May 4th, they crossed over to Austria, and were in Scharding and Raab, in the Ober-Oesterreich region.
  • On May 5th, 1945 they were in Linz, Ober-Oesterreich, Austria, and also helped to liberate the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. (This experience, more than any other, forever changed my father.)
  • The Germans surrendered unconditionally on May 8, 1945, and they met with a company of the Soviet 7th Guard Parachute Division.
  • The division remained in Austria until disbanded on August 31, 1945 in Enns River, Austria

What I get from this grueling itinerary is that my father’s company moved through Germany pretty quickly. I find it hard to believe he met the child during that time of heavy combat. Here are some theories I have about the encounter.

  • My father was in the Le Havre area of France for over a month. He may have met the child there. If so, this child could not have been killed by the Germans while my father was there as they had yet to see combat.
  • He was in Austria for almost 4 months. Perhaps he met this child there. If so, again, the child could not have been killed by the Germans, as they had already surrendered.
  • What do the numbers on the jeep’s license plate mean? And what do the symbols on the uniform mean? These could provide clues.
  • Obviously this kid was well liked or they would not have taken the time to fit him out with a uniform. You don’t rustle up spare uniforms and sew those impossibly high hems on a pair of pants for someone you only know for a day or two.
  • I doubt he came from the concentration camp in Austria. He looks too well fed.

So what became of this child? Here are some of my thoughts.

  • Perhaps he was in a neighboring village and hung out with them during the day, going home to his mother at night. I hope so.
  • Perhaps he was orphaned and they did actually take him in. If so, when they left the area, any number of things could have happened.

Maybe he was left with some volunteer organization, but I suspect that regardless of the location, there were not many organizations up and running at the time. As with disasters these days, there’s a substantial lag before these groups gain a foothold. But who knows? Maybe the Red Cross took him.

But what I strongly suspect and fear is that this poor child was an Austrian orphan that they took in as if he were some sort of pet, and when it came time to ship out, each soldier looked at the others and said, “I can’t take him. You take him.” Faced with overwhelming amounts of paperwork, and anxious to get home to wives and sweethearts and start their lives again, they drove away, leaving him standing on the side of the road, amongst the devastation.

That image breaks my heart. I look into this child’s eyes and I long to know more. If he survived the war, he would be about 75 by now, so time has all but run out, and I fear I’ll never have closure on this story.

If you can fill in any of the blanks, please let me know. Thank you!

Dogs for Defense

Proof positive that we Americans are not the people we used to be: shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a program was created called Dogs for Defense. Citizens were asked to volunteer their dogs to be trained to help with the war effort. They were to become sentries, scouts, messengers and mine detectors. For some reason they specified that these dogs must be pure bred.

More than 10,400 families volunteered their dogs for this initiative, and only 549 came home, many to live with their handlers rather than the families who gave them up.

Today, this could never happen. For starters, we are now of a mindset where we don’t expect to sacrifice anything for war. If you tried to impose food rationing for example, riots would break out. I also think we are no longer the starry-eyed patriots we once were. I don’t think that any war has been considered noble since WWII.

Give up my dog? Not on your life. Not unless the front line was right down the street from my house. Not that my dogs would be much help. One is terrified of men based on his brutal start in an abusive puppy mill, and the other is such a lover he’d be kissing the enemy on the nose and begging for Snausages.

Over the years, our love of our pets has become more intense as well. In the 40’s, despite the “boy and his dog” image, pets were often relegated to the back yard and tossed table scraps. Veterinarians were a rare indulgence basically reserved for farm animals, and dry dog food was only just coming into vogue. Annual medication for pets has really only been popular for the past 20 years. I think if people in the 40’s knew we’d be taking our dogs to groomers and dressing them up for Halloween, they’d have laughed.

Moot point entirely. Now the military has its own dogs. Standard Poodles (I kid you not) and German Shepherds are on patrol at Guantanamo even as we speak.

It’s really interesting to see how public perception about various issues evolves over time, isn’t it?

dogs for defense

To War or Not to War

There really hasn’t been a good clean war that everyone could sink their teeth into since World War II. Okay, I’m being sarcastic, but at least we can all agree that Hitler was the bad guy, and people were willing to ration their food and give up their panty hose for the cause. We were all on the same team, and the team spirit was palpable. Maybe modern wars just need better PR people. But today’s audience is much more cynical and selfish than the “Greatest Generation” ever was.

These days we much prefer that our wars not interrupt our primetime TV viewing schedules, and no one wants to actually have to sacrifice anything. Rationing? Are you kidding me? Not gonna happen.

Recently, whether or not to go to war has been on our minds. The consensus seems to be that we don’t want the expense. In these economically difficult times, this is a legitimate concern, but I personally don’t think it should be the only one.

More and more, Americans are questioning why we have been the world’s appointed enforcer, and the world is questioning why the US feels it has the right to stick its nose in everyone else’s business. I think these are both valid points as well.

There are those of us who think that war, in general, is counterproductive. I mean, all the death and destruction and horrendous public relations gets us where, exactly? And proves what? And, as is becoming increasingly obvious, achieves what?

Part of the problem, I think, is that we tend to fight for all the wrong reasons these days. We fight for oil. We fight to stop terrorism, as if it were some identifiable creature that could be corralled in one place and squashed like the cockroach that it is, never to be seen again. Sadly, terrorism is more like smoke. It simply blows away, appearing in other locations, and often our very attempts to combat it inspires more of it to form.

If we’re going to wage wars, the only acceptable reasons, in my opinion, are moral ones. For example, we should have waded right into Rwanda before the rivers flowed with blood. We should have prevented China from setting foot in Tibet. We should have never allowed a single human being to be mutilated in Sierra Leone, and no one should have ever disappeared in Chile. But we averted our eyes every time, and for all those things and many more, we should be ashamed. It’s truly unforgivable.

I certainly think that chemical warfare against civilians is a legitimate reason to be involved in a war. However, we have to stop getting involved in conflicts if clear-cut and achievable goals are not possible. This endless, “Gee, I don’t know, why are we here again?” stuff does no one any good, especially those we are attempting to help. And that’s the confusing fumbling that we’ve been doing since the Korean War. It must be frustrating for our soldiers who so often join the military for good, moral, and decent reasons to discover that they are caught up in bad, politically motivated and undisciplined clusterf***s.

We didn’t fight WWII for oil. We did have an identifiable foe. Not all our reasons for being involved were moral ones, but there was a definite and overwhelming moral element. We could feel proud of what we did, why we did it, and what we helped to stop.

Perhaps that should be the litmus test to determine when we should and should not get involved in international conflicts. Are our motivations something we can be proud of? Can we take pride in our goals and the way we go about achieving them? And will the world be a better place if we achieve those goals?

If we cannot answer yes to all three of those questions, then we have our answer. No.



There’s a streak that runs through my family, and it’s as wide as the Mississippi River. For lack of a better word, I call it “enthusiosity”. It’s curiosity mixed with a great deal of enthusiasm. My mother had it more than anyone else. She’d get interested in a topic such as Australian History, and she’d read every single thing that the library had on the subject. Then she’d move on to something else, like Anasazi basket weaving. She was an amazing woman, my mother. One of those people who could walk into a room and suddenly the lights would seem brighter. She loved to talk to people. She loved to learn.


I love this picture of her. You can see the “enthusiosity” written all over her face.

She would have chewed up college like locusts in a field, but her father, who intended to send her to school, unfortunately died in WWII when she was 17. I often wonder what her life would have been like had he survived.

She never lived to see the internet, and that’s a shame. If she had, we’d have been hard pressed to get her off line each night. She’d have been constantly saying things like, “Oh! Look at this! They’ve found a new species of lobster with HAIR!”

I think of my mother every time I go into a library. I remember her telling me one time that libraries were the most amazing places, because when you went inside, you could go anywhere in the entire universe. To this day, I get butterflies in my stomach whenever I enter a library, not unlike the kind other people would get by going to Disney World for the first time.

If you never lose your “enthusiosity”, if your mind is always open to learning new things, you will have riches beyond measure.