Five Star Bulletin

During World War II, five members of my immediate family served in the U.S. armed forces.  My oldest uncle, Lewis Staton, was a Seabee, an abbreviation for “Construction Battalion,” the branch of the Navy that built and maintained airfields, ports, roads, and other war-related infrastructure.  My youngest uncle, Joe Staton, was an infantryman in the Army who was captured by the Germans in North Africa in March 1943 and spent the rest of the war in German P.O.W. camps until they were liberated in May 1945.  My mother’s cousin, Wallace Tutt, was a pilot in the Army Air Corps and flew “the Hump” between India and Burma.  My uncle, Marv Krenk, served in the Air Corps as an intelligence officer in the Pacific.  And my father, Larry Fischer, was a career Air Force (then called Air Corps) officer assigned to personnel duties on several air bases.  Fortunately, all five of them survived the war and came home.

In September 1943, my grandfather and my aunt Mary decided that the best way to keep all the family up to date on events affecting the servicemen and those on the home front was to publish a weekly newsletter.  Letters from the five members of the family in the military were summarized, and Mary added her column of “Home Front Gossip,” which contained news about everyone else, from babies to grandparents, from family in Eugene, Oregon, the home base, to those in South Dakota and Tennessee and points east and west.  My grandfather typed the newsletters (with multiple carbons on onionskin paper), and copies were mailed to dozens of recipients eager for news.   Luckily, Mary was well organized and kept copies of every bulletin, as well as some personal messages.  There was a strong artistic strain on all sides of my family, which showed itself in many ways: Grandpa and Marv wrote poetry; Lewis was a cartoonist; Joe, who had studied architecture before the war, had the penmanship of a calligrapher; Mary and my mother, Ruth, were singers; and my father was both a musician and an artist.  In the Five Star Bulletin, these traits lend warmth and realism to the descriptions of daily life.

In the days before email and texting, people wrote actual letters; and to read the words and thoughts of those living through the hazards and deprivations of the war, facing terrible uncertainties with courage and fortitude, brings those people to life.  And more important, it keeps them alive in the memories of those of you who never knew them.  No one from the generations before mine still survives; I am the oldest member of my generation, and one of the few who remember any of the extended family outside Oregon.  But you will know them all when you’ve read these pages.

To see sample pages, click here.  Note that these are sample pages only and will be difficult to read without a magnifying glass.  The last image in the gallery is of my grandparents and their five children in the living room of their house at 570 West 10th Avenue in Eugene, taken on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary in 1954.  I’ve identified everyone in the picture and given the names of their spouses, although during the war years Joe was unmarried and Lewis and his wife were divorced.  (They later reconciled and remarried, but this explains why Lydia does not appear in the Bulletin, and why their daughter Sue is rarely mentioned.)

To read individual pages of the entire Five Star Bulletin, download the PDF file here.  You can print any pages that are of special interest to you from the PDF file.  This file is quite large and will take about three minutes to download, depending upon the speed of your computer. If you are a member of the family, or are simply interested in sharing the contemporaneous accounts of some wartime experiences, I think you’ll find the time required to download and read these pages was well spent.

The Five Star Bulletin is an account of one family’s personal war and is not intended for publication other than in this blog.  Any publication rights are reserved to the estate of Mary Krenk.

 

In Lingerie isn’t going to the Kentucky Oaks

After a roller-coaster couple of weeks, it was decided today that In Lingerie won’t be running in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday.  Although she has been training well and turning in good times, Todd Pletcher, our trainer, wasn’t entirely pleased with the way she finished this morning’s work.  Following a series of discussions between Todd and our managing partner, Aron Wellman, the best plan for our filly came down to taking her out of the Oaks and entering her in the Blackeyed Susan at Belmont before the Preakness.  They — and we — want her to have the best possible chance, and pitting her against a very strong field when she isn’t at the top of her game would have been unfair to her.  She is very lightly raced, never having run until she was three years old, and will have a better shot at success this spring in a less highly-contested race than the Oaks.

We’re a little disappointed, of course, because the Kentucky Oaks is the premier race for fillies in the country, and having a horse in that race is equivalent to having a Derby horse.  But Gerry and I are in this game for love of the horses and not for the money or prestige it can bring if you’re lucky (and we’ve been incredibly lucky over the past three years).  So whatever is best for our filly is fine with us.

Winning the Bourbonette Stakes

Meanwhile, here she is winning the Bourbonette Stakes last month, looking like the champion she is.  We’ll keep you up to date on her career as she matures and develops.

Laurie

Our theatre weekend

One of the main attractions of Sarasota for us has always been its rich and varied array of cultural activities.  The first time we came to the city twenty years ago for a week-long stay, we bought tickets to the current production at Sarasota Opera, wandered through one of the arts and crafts fairs that occur nearly every weekend, and marveled at the number of professional theatre companies supported by a relatively small community.

Since then, the number of local cultural organizations has expanded impressively, and the quality of the performances has improved by the year.  The Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra, and Sarasota Ballet are highly professional and well regarded.  The Florida Studio Theatre, the Asolo Repertory Theatre, and the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre present a full schedule of plays, and not just during the traditional winter tourist season.  Three very successful community theatres, The Players, the Venice Community Theatre, and the Manatee Players, regularly compete for — and win — national awards.  The Sarasota Music Festival in June attracts aspiring young artists from around the world, as does the Itzak Perlman program for young musicians in January.  Mikhail Baryshnikov partners with a local organization to present an international dance, art, theatre, and music festival each October.

So it’s not difficult for us to look at our calendar and discover that we have tickets to two or three events in a single week, which is what happened this past week: a matinee at the Asolo on Thursday, an orchestra concert on Friday evening, another Asolo matinee on Saturday, and a Florida Studio Theatre Cabaret show on Sunday afternoon.  All four performances were exceptional, but in this post I wanted to focus on the two plays we saw at the Asolo Rep: God of Carnage and Yentl.

God of Carnage was written in French and originally set in a Paris apartment, but it works beautifully in translation and relocated to New York City.  The play won a Tony award during its New York run (no surprises there) and is described as a dark comedy.  Two well-to-do couples arrange to meet at the apartment of one of them to discuss how to deal with the consequences of a playground fight between their eleven-year-old sons.  The play is short, just over an hour long, and is performed without intermission.  During the course of the play, the characters’ civilized veneer begins to fracture and flake away as they reveal more and more about their real agendas, fueled in part by the consumption of a bottle of very good rum.  The antagonisms build, both between the two couples and within each married pair, even while one of the women struggles desperately to hold onto what she views as proper behavior.  But, as one of the characters says, we are all still primitive, amoral creatures at the core, and the “God of Carnage” of the title is Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”

Despite the very serious themes at the heart of the play, though, it is very, very funny.  The dialogue is clever and witty, and the physical comedy is laugh-out-loud hilarious.  If you’ve never seen the play and have the chance, give yourself a treat and buy a ticket.

One of the ways Gerry and I decide the merit of a play or a movie is how much we talk about it after we’ve seen it.  Sometimes we’ll leave the theatre saying we didn’t like it much, but we’ll find ourselves returning to it in conversation over the next few days and eventually decide that it was really worth seeing after all because it made us think.  That’s the way we felt about Yentl, which we saw at the Asolo Rep two days after God of Carnage.  Based on the short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, the play is not taken from the screenplay of the Barbra Streisand movie, but is a new script with the same roots.  It is centered on a young Jewish woman, Yentl, living in a Polish village in the late-nineteenth century, when Orthodox Judaism viewed the education of women to be contrary to the teachings of the Torah and the Talmud.  Yentl, however, refuses to settle for the life imposed on women in her culture.  She persuades her father to teach her after his (male, of course) students have left for the day, and she proves to be a brilliant scholar.  When her father dies and she has no options for survival other than marriage, she dresses in boys’ clothing, leaves her village, and goes to a yeshiva — a school for young men pursuing religious studies.  Her masquerade is successful, although it has some unintended consequences, and Yentl learns the hard way that being true to herself can be more painful than following the herd.

The production values of the play were excellent, as were the performances.  So we were both a bit perplexed by our not finding the story particularly compelling or most of the characters sympathetic.  This was not, for example, Fiddler on the Roof.  No soft and fuzzy philosophy, no uplifting hit songs (although there was some very interesting, if anachronistic, music).  But after we got home, and after dinner, Gerry said he was having second thoughts about the play.  At the heart of the story were the traditional views about women propounded by all orthodox religions over time, the imposition of rules intended to keep women in their place and to prevent them from exercising power outside the home.  Was it just that men were afraid if women were not tightly constrained, they might usurp men’s authority?  Or did they fear that women might actually question the rules created by men but propounded as God’s laws?  The vehemence with which the men in the play — young as well as old — rail against the educated woman is horrifying.  They call her an abomination, a monstrosity, all this as Yentl, in her men’s clothing, listens in silence.  She is afraid to speak out in defense of women when she is posing as a man, although she was quick to do so before her masquerade.  I see in this an analogy to the outrage expressed openly by millions of Catholic women when the bishops opposed the law requiring employers to offer — and insurers to provide — contraception to those employees who wanted it.  A Catholic woman posing as a man in order to serve as a priest would probably keep as silent as Yentl in her man’s garb.

In the interest of fairness, I must admit that I have a longstanding antipathy to all forms of organized religion.  But my antagonism toward religious orthodoxy and fundamentalism, at least, has a strong basis in fact.  I see Yentl as a woman starving for knowledge, and the food she craves is kept locked up for the use of men who may or may not even want it.  That, and not her love of learning, is the abomination.

Laurie

Welcome

Welcome to Laurie’s Blog, our way of entering into the twenty-first century — after our digital cameras, iPhone and iPad.  (But no texting, “friending,” or tweeting.  This is as far as we go.)  Instead of sending out individual emails to people we think might be interested in something we’ve seen or done or learned about, we thought it would be easier for us and less intrusive for you if we posted our words and pictures on this site and let you know how to access it.  We hope you will comment on anything you find interesting, and add something about your own experiences, too.  Ideally, this will be a dialogue rather than a monologue, a way for us to stay in touch with people we see seldom — if ever — and to exchange news and ideas.  We’re excited about this new chapter in our life, and we look forward to sharing it with you.

Laurie