Memories of Betts, Mother’s Day, May 10, 2020

As I was walking with my Willowy Bride this morning (after attending “virtual” church), I had an epiphany of sorts.  It struck me that, now that my mother, Elsie Elizabeth “Betts” Lamplugh (1923-2013) is gone, Mother’s Day for me is only a time to summon up memories.

And,  of course, as regular readers know, I did that, at length a couple of years ago, producing a multi-part series of posts on my mother’s life for this blog.  Today, I’d like to take a moment to honor my Mom’s memory, allowing her to speak in her own voice (with a tad of editorial help) about her family, the pursuit of history, and family history.

The text features excerpts from Betts’ letters to me over a period of two decades or so, as she gathered information on her family and, eventually steeled her nerves to produce a memoir covering her life between 1923 and 1964.  The text includes links at appropriate points if you’d like to read earlier episodes of the series that throw light on the remarks in her letters.

Please enjoy:

https://georgelamplugh.com/2017/08/15/betts-a-mothers-memoir-1923-1964-part-vii-after-words-betts-on-family-history-and-family-history/

Rus, Rick, Betts, and Judy

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

 

Posted in American History, Delaware, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ben, An American Dad, 1921-1986, Part VII: Legacies

[Note:  Although I’m sure he never understood it, Ben Lamplugh was a member of the so-called  “Greatest Generation.”  These were the American men and women who answered their country’s call in the wake of Pearl Harbor and did their parts–overseas and on the homefront–during what later observers labeled this nation’s last “Good War.”]

* * * * *      

Ben and Trixie (Knighton family dog), 1943

Ben never saw combat, despite his strong desire to serve as a paratrooper, because he was injured in a practice jump and was transferred to the artillery.  Still, he was among the thousands of young Americans who were poised to invade the Japanese home islands in the summer of 1945, until President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki suddenly brought war in the Pacific theater to a close without risking further American lives.

It remained to be seen how the nation as a whole–and Ben and Betts Lamplugh in particular– would reshape their lives in the wake of that destructive victory.  Congress passed, among other measures, the highly popular “G.I. Bill,” providing benefits to veterans of the war to help ease them back into peacetime society.  Ben drew on some of this largess, using the measure’s educational benefits to learn cabinetry in a boat-building firm outside Baltimore, Maryland.  A few years later, he also took advantage of government financial assistance to returning veterans who were seeking to purchase a family home.

The stereotypical American veteran of World War II simply wanted to make it back to the “girl he’d left behind,” and Ben did that.  He never really achieved the next rung on the metaphorical postwar ladder, though, possession of a nice suburban home, complete with picket fence and a yard for the kids, although not for lack of trying. Yes, he and Betts used the G.I. Bill to buy a new home, a “row house,” in Ballard Gardens, a development near Baltimore, in 1955.  In 1959, though, they sold that house and moved to Newark, Delaware, where they rented yet another home, one street over from Betts’s parents.  Financial difficulties proved more significant to the Lamplugh family than did the “thanks of a grateful nation.”

In this series, we’ve looked at my father through several lenses: the “big picture” (Part I); a wedding photograph (Part II) and what it suggested about Ben’s and Betts’s early lives; his biography (Parts III , IV, and VI); and how well he did his duty as “Dad” (Part V).  This  concluding post is a modest attempt to assess Ben Lamplugh’s “legacies.”

* * * * *

Ben Lamplugh (c. 1960)

This is my favorite picture of Ben.  He still looks young (he’d have been in his late thirties); he has a sly, confident look in his eyes; clearly, his worldview was still unchallenged.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this photo was the product of Ben’s fondness for beer (a trait I’ve inherited).  The Hamm’s Brewing Company was moving into the East Coast from the Midwest, and Ben had met in his local bar a Hamm’s representative who offered him the chance to appear in a Hamm’s Beer advertisement for the local paper.  The picture accompanied his testimonial on behalf of that brew; Ben received a free case of the product for his participation in the ad campaign.

* * * * *

Well before the advent of the “Greatest Generation” trope, the postwar future of the American family had been etched in film, thanks to a variety of movies and television sitcoms portraying white, middle-class American males returning to their families and morphing into more or less perfect fathers (Ozzie Nelson of “Ozzie and Harriet” and Jim Anderson of “Father Knows Best,” for example).  These dads didn’t always get things right, of course, but, on the whole, life in post-World War II America for them was pictured as Edenic.

Ben Lamplugh didn’t fit into that particular stereotype very well.  He did the best he could with what he had, but what he didn’t have was much money–his educational background kept him back–or any real grounding in a strong family, especially a father figure who could teach him how to head a family of his own.  Consequently, Ben was not comfortable with fatherhood, nor was his wife Betts cut out to be the meek, pliable helpmate of postwar mythology.  Moreover, Ben’s children sometimes presented challenges that he evidently had neither the time nor the inclination to tackle, unless prodded to do so by Betts, and then his responses could be half-hearted.

* * * * *

And yet. . . , Ben did teach me some things, whether he intended to or not:

He told me about the “birds and the bees,” though only after I had asked him, while he was shaving, what a certain four-letter word for the sex act meant—and he’d almost cut his throat in shock at hearing that particular word pass my lips (I’d heard it from a friend, who had tried to explain it to me, but I did not believe it).  And even Ben’s best effort didn’t help all that much to clarify matters.

Ben let me smoke my first cigarette and drink my first beer in our living room when I was a teenager, then told me that this would be the last time I’d indulge in either of those “vices” while under his roof, unless I earned the money to purchase them myself.  (These words of wisdom I passed on to my own children.)

Ben seemed disappointed at my lack of physical skills and at my apathy towards playing sports.

He took me to work with him now and again, usually at Betts’s urging, and either never noticed or didn’t mind how quickly I became bored.

Ben also must have given me at least a few driving lessons, because I remember him telling me that, if I ever had a choice between running into a car, a person, or an animal, I should hit the animal.  (My brother Rick remembers the same advice.)

He also took time from work to accompany me to the driver’s license road test in Wilmington, Delaware, and, after I passed, informed me that that would be the last time I’d drive a car unless I could pay for car insurance myself.  (Sensing a pattern?  I did not require that of my boys.)

* * * * *

Ben, Christmas 1971

And then there were what my brother Rick calls “Ben-isms,” fatherly advice on various occasions that Rick and I remembered:

To Ben, “Stud Hoss” was a term of endearment. (Rus and Rick)

“You can want in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets full first.” (Rus)

“A big wheel is something dogs piss on.” (Rus)

Ben used to say, especially after a few beers, “Don’t end up like me, Boy. Make somethin’ of yourself.” (Rick)

In early 1967, when I told him that I’d proposed to my girlfriend and that she’d accepted, Ben, drawing no doubt upon his experience with Betts, somberly warned  that I must be sure Faith was the right woman for me, that she really loved me. He was as forceful and emotional at that moment as any time I can remember, no matter the subject.

Every now and then I’d feel guilty about how infrequently I kept in touch with Ben, and I’d telephone.   He would invariably be surprised, and tell me how glad he was I’d called.  A few times, he even said he loved me, which seemed difficult for him, and my response might not have come across as heartfelt.

* * * * *

Ben worked hard, two jobs much of the time. I don’t think it was because he enjoyed working, though maybe he did. He felt responsible for the well-being of his family, believing that the father was supposed to be the “breadwinner.”  Still, because he was gone so much at work, my strongest impression of him was of someone who usually wasn’t there. He’d come home late, eat supper, lie down in the living room recliner with a beer and a cigarette, and shortly be asleep. The next morning, by the time we got up, he’d already left for work.

On the few times I saw him in a suit and tie, I thought that Ben was a good-looking man. Mostly, though, I picture him in work clothes, with scabs on his hands, looking worn out and dusty.  (Rick agrees)

I remember how Ben always got cleaned up–shaved, put on Old Spice aftershave, plastered his hair with Vaseline Hair Tonic, before he went to bed at night. I never could understand that.  (Rick adds: “And when he finished combing his hair, he would always tap the comb on the sink two times and then put it away.”)

And my personal favorite:  “Make sure you get a job usin’ your head, Boy. You’ll starve to death if you have to do somethin’ with your hands.” (Rus and Rick)

* * * * *

Rick, in his book, The Wilds of Aging, reveals that, “With just months to go before retiring, I still haven’t learned to silence my father’s criticisms, the cutting remarks I named after him, the ‘Ben-isms.’  Though Ben is long gone, I dread he will hound me for as long as I live.”  (Rus shares that feeling)

“You ain’t never gonna get this right. Why don’t you just quit?” (Rick)

I was surprised to hear Rick say that he had stopped drinking because of his life with Ben during Dad’s bleary-eyed, drunken years.  Rick made that decision on December 26, 1986, after Betts called to tell him Ben had died.  Rick, who was closer to our father than I, was distraught at the news, and his four-year old daughter tried to comfort him.  Then and there, Rick decided that he would not put his child through the sorts of experiences he’d had when he’d been living with Ben after the divorce.  He emptied his refrigerator of beer and has not returned to alcohol.  (My reaction to the news of Ben’s demise was rather different.)

* * * * *

I’m not complaining about Ben’s parenting skills (or lack thereof), because obviously he  had poor role models.  Still, for better or worse, I attempted to raise my sons as the “un-Ben,” on almost every issue. Whenever discipline was needed or an important decision had to be made, I’d ask myself, “What would Dad do,” then I’d try to do the opposite.

For example, Ben spent very little time at home with us when we kids were growing up.  I decided that I would always be present for my sons.  We ate dinner most nights as a family and spent time talking about what had gone on for each of us during the day.  We’d laugh and joke at the table, and once in a while I’d spin elaborate stories that ended in groan-inducing puns, something the boys seemed to enjoy.  (My Willowy Bride, perhaps not so much. . . .)

On one occasion, after I’d complained about one son’s struggles with sports, Ben surprised me by asking whether I might not unwittingly be damaging his self-confidence!  And I thought:  where was this version of Ben when I needed him?

* * * * *

Ben and I seldom seemed to hit it off.  When we first met, at the end of World War II, he looked at me in my crib and I, having up until then been raised in an apartment full of women, promptly hit him in the head with a plastic toy.  But that wasn’t the worst of it.  As I grew up, Ben had a definite idea of what a son should be like–and, more often than not, I didn’t seem to fit that mold.

I was both overweight and introspective, neither athletic nor particularly social, and Ben had trouble understanding why that should have been so.  What I wanted to do, or was good at doing, seldom seemed to be what he had in mind, at least in my memory.  Yet, according to my brother, Ben actually told him more than once that he was proud of me, though I don’t recall him saying that in my hearing when I was growing up.

In my mind, perhaps Ben gave up on me, or maybe I turned my back on him, or both.  Whatever the cause(s) of our estrangement, I regret it still, especially because, in Rick’s words, Ben Lamplugh “might not have always been the father we wanted, but he was the only father we had.”  And he tried, God knows he tried, to be a good father to us.

End of Part VII

Copyright 2020 George Lamplugh

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)


Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in American History, Delaware, Education, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The King Assassination, Fifty-Two Years On

[NOTE:  For those of us of a certain age, the year 1968 was a terrible year; pick your horror, and you could find it there.  The Tet Offensive; the decline of public support in the United States for what was being called “Lyndon Johnson’s War”; the bizarre Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which selected President Johnson’s Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey, as the party’s presidential standard bearer; the election of Richard Nixon; and, of course, the assassinations.  One reason Humphrey was nominated in Chicago was that a late-entering but hard-charging competitor, Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York  (brother of John F. Kennedy, himself the victim of an assassin’s bullet on November 22, 1963) was shot to death in Los Angeles, California, in June 1968.
But the 1968 assassination that affected me the most had occurred two months earlier, on April 4, fifty-two years ago today.  Many of us in that “certain age” group probably have indelible memories of that tragedy and its sequel.  These are mine.]
* * * * *

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Bio. and A&E)

As my former American History students will tell you, I am a great admirer of the modern civil rights movement in the United States, and, especially, of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest Americans of the twentieth century.  I first learned about the Civil Rights Movement, and King’s role in it, as a youngster; these “lessons” were taught to me by the “school” of television.

The epochal Brown decision was handed down by the Supreme Court in May, 1954, three days before my tenth birthday; the legislative highlights of the “heroic phase” of the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, were passed by Congress while I was in college.  Until I entered college in the fall of 1962, my biggest window on the world was our black and white TV set, and its fuzzy images I saw each night on the newscasts we watched with dinner.

I was a very young “news junkie” in 1954–for instance, I still remember watching some of the Army-McCarthy hearings in the afternoon, postponing my homework so I could catch what I would later learn to call “great political theater.”  And, when those hearings eventually ran their course and I had to find a new excuse to put off my assignments, the drama–and, thanks to television, the pictures–accompanying the Civil Rights Movement seemed never-ending.

I also must confess that I was quite naive about what I was watching.  To me, it all seemed very clear-cut, a matter of black-and-white, just like the TV I watched and the daily newspaper I read–but with the traditional symbolism of black-and-white reversed:  it was the (Southern) white folks who were the villains (in my mind, anyway) and black people who were the heroes.  I also was certain that, as a resident of Maryland (and, later, of Delaware), did not live where there were any race problems, no sirree!  Although my view of the world has changed over the past five decades, with the clarity of black-and-white evolving into shades of gray, one aspect has not been altered by time–my conviction of the centrality of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the successes–and the failures–of the modern civil rights movement.

I still recall vividly a Saturday afternoon, probably during the Little Rock crisis, standing outside my church, waiting for a ride, when suddenly my fascination with the on-going epic of the Movement collided with a burgeoning interest in the American Civil War, and I began to ponder, as only a white 13 year-old could, whether we were on the verge of a new Civil War, this one over the demands of an oppressed minority for the same basic civil rights and economic and social opportunities the rest of us took for granted.

* * * * *

Funeral (history.com)

King’s funeral in Atlanta (history.com)

On the afternoon of April 4, 1968, my wife and I emerged from a movie theater on a military post in Maryland to learn that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been fatally shot in Memphis, Tennessee.  At the time, I was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army finishing an undistinguished two-year tour of active duty.

We had gone to the matinee because that night I was scheduled to be the post’s Staff Duty Officer, which meant that a sergeant and I were to stay in the headquarters building overnight in case important messages arrived for the post commander.  When Faith and I took our seats in the theater a couple of hours earlier, I had been looking forward to the assignment; by the time we drove home, I was no longer anticipating the night ahead.

At the headquarters building, I was told that, if things got out of hand in nearby Baltimore, as appeared likely, our headquarters company would be sent to the metropolis to assist in “riot control.”  The sergeant and I were then left alone in a small room equipped with a portable black-and-white television set and an increasingly ominous telephone.  My mood was not improved when I called home, and my wife told me that her boss, our landlord (we lived above his shop), planned to stay up all night, garden hose at the ready, in case “they” came marching down the main street of our little town and stopped to burn his business on the way.

With little to do unless the phone rang, I turned my attention to television news coverage of the roiling civil unrest in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination.  Two incidents from that coverage remain with me:  an African-American celebrity (exactly which one is beyond my recollection), against the backdrop of the smoke-filled Washington, D.C., skyline, pleading with viewers not to dishonor Dr. King’s memory by engaging in violence or looting; and the increasingly frantic voice of a frightened reporter phoning in details to his employers while an angry crowd rocked, and eventually overturned, the telephone booth in which he had taken refuge.

Evidently, the combined efforts of local law enforcement and the National Guard kept a lid on things in Baltimore, because the sergeant and I never got that telephone call.  I drove off the post the next morning relieved that the alert had not come but also feeling that somehow, with the death of Dr. King, the Civil Rights Movement and the nation had been irrevocably changed, though in ways none of us could yet fathom.

* * * * *

(history.com)

(history.com)

Today, Dr. King has a national holiday and a memorial statue on the Mall in Washington.  He and his legacy are now “monumental” in every sense of the word.  Meanwhile, his children try to “protect” his image and his words, but they sometimes seem to be doing so in a mercenary way.

And, as if that isn’t enough, Americans still opposed to government support for Civil Rights use Dr. King’s “content of their character” mantra to criticize efforts to advance the cause, claiming that those efforts are somehow “racist.” I watch their antics with a mixture of bemusement, cynicism, and an occasional flash of anger. In quieter moments, though, I think of that thirteen year-old waiting outside his church, pondering the possibility of a new Civil War over the issue of Civil Rights.  There was never any question, then, whose side he was on. . . .  And there still isn’t.

[NOTE: This essay is adapted from an earlier post on Dr. King’s significance in the American story:

https://georgelamplugh.com/2015/01/01/civil-rights-and-wrongs-reflections-on-the-rev-dr-martin-luther-king-jr-and-his-legacy/]

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in American History, Dr. Martin Luther King, Historical Reflection, History, History Teaching, Martin Luther King, memoir, Retirement, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized, Vietnam War | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“But You Get What You Need”: One Historian’s “Contingent” Career, Part 2

[Note: When I began teaching at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta in the autumn of 1973, I didn’t anticipate staying for the long term. Surely something better (i.e., a college teaching post) would come along? But no:  instead, I found myself making the transition from “professor” to “teacher.” I came to like the school, its students, and my faculty colleagues very much, and I spent the next thirty-seven years there, retiring in the spring of 2010. Looking back on my career, I’ve been struck by the powerful role played by contingency in how it developed. This is the second of two posts on the topic.  For Part 1, go here.

The images used to illustrate this post show activities involving family, students, and colleagues at Westminster, most of them outside the classroom.]

* * * * *

The Westminster Schools (AKA, “AFPS”),
1973-2010

In my first two decades at Westminster, I continued to “keep up in my field,” as my Emory professors had taught me, placing book reviews and articles in professional journals; giving an occasional paper or public lecture; and, in 1986, finally publishing my 1973 dissertation so that search committees everywhere would be able to separate me from my rivals and, of course, offer me that endowed History chair at Ivy U.

Perhaps ironically, I also was required to take two “education” courses each year during my first five years at Westminster in order to be certified to teach high school history in Georgia.  In retrospect, those classes were not a total loss–I was able to use material developed in a couple of them later in my teaching career.

The 1970s featured the American Revolution bicentennial celebration. My dissertation began with the Revolution in Georgia, so I found opportunities to speak on the Revolutionary era, even, on one occasion, as a panelist on a cable television program in Augusta, Georgia. These engagements offered scholarly exposure, though they did not bring that coveted college or university teaching position any nearer.

Through the end of the 1990s, I usually met my goal of publishing at least one article or book review annually. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, however, I abandoned book reviewing and contented myself with publishing an occasional article.  By then I had decided to remain at Westminster, a teacher rather than a professor, so polishing up the “publications” section of the old resume seemed less pressing than it once had.

* * * * *

APUSH class, 1991

I drew on my liberal arts background to develop several courses at Westminster that were “outside my field” (American, and AP United States, History [APUSH]):  Ancient and Medieval History, the department’s introductory offering (evolving over the years into Origins of Western Society, and, eventually, History of the Ancient World); Introduction to History; Modern European/AP Modern European History; the South and the Sectional Image; and the History of the Modern American Civil Rights Movement.

In 1989, I became chairman of the History Department, the only administrative position at the school I ever coveted.  As chairman, I hoped to move our departmental curriculum away from the “western civilization” model I had grown up with, and in the direction of “world history,” which I believed better reflected the broader world in which our students would live as adults.

National Humanities Center, NC, 1989

I, like my History Department colleagues, had come up through high school, college, and grad school learning about the glories of “western civilization”—and my “field of specialization” was, after all, American history. Fortunately, I was able to take advantage of summer programs designed to help broaden the secondary school History curriculum by incorporating world history—one at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina (1989), the other through the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation at Princeton University (1993). Although these programs enabled me to nudge the school in the direction of world history, I was unable to push quite as far as I’d intended to before I stepped down as chairman.  But, I had fun trying!

* * * * *

“Wienie Roast” before home football game

The courses at Westminster were solid—for secondary school history offerings—and I really enjoyed my students, even our younger ones in “Introduction to History,” a course I created for freshmen and sophomores and taught regularly (which made me an oddity in my department, most of whose members preferred to teach older students).

Once I decided to remain at Westminster, I began to consider what my next scholarly project would be (yes, I still remembered the advice of my professors, despite my decision not to seek a college teaching job).  At Emory University (AKA, “My Old Graduate School,”) I had proposed to study the evolution of political factions and parties in Georgia between the American Revolution and the War of 1812, but I had ended my dissertation in 1806, a logical, but not (to me) satisfactory, conclusion.

In the mid-1990s, I submitted a proposal to Westminster’s sabbatical committee seeking funds to continue research on Georgia’s political party development. The request was approved, and I launched the new project in 1996, the year of the Atlanta Olympics. I hoped to track the story of the evolution of personal and issue-oriented political factions in Georgia from 1807 until state parties resembled those on the national level, a process that, as it turned out, lasted until the mid-1840s. Fulfilling the promise I’d made in my dissertation prospectus a quarter of a century earlier carried me through the rest of my Westminster career and into retirement.

* * * * *

Contemplating JV Soccer strategy

My transition from “professor” to “teacher” was sometimes bumpy, but my students were bright, their parents generally supported Westminster and its mission, and the school’s “powers that be” usually kept out of the faculty’s way and let us do our jobs.

If I had not harbored hopes of becoming a college professor, the adjustment to being “just a teacher” in a prep school probably would have been smoother. It wasn’t simply a matter of learning how to be a “teacher,” as opposed to a “professor”; there also was the nagging feeling, drummed into me by my grad school professors, that I must continue to “keep up in my field” and take whatever opportunities arose to publish, and otherwise keep my name before an academic “public.”

First “Fool’s Day,” 1993 (don’t ask!)

* * * * *

While I was head of the History Department, I tried to keep meetings to a minimum and to supervise my charges in a low-key manner. I enjoyed sitting in on other teachers’ classes; going to bat for my colleagues during annual meetings with the administration; taking part in the hiring process; and dealing with the occasional crises that arose, usually with no warning. One thing I quickly learned was that, when a “crisis” flared up, the day flew by, because I had to teach my classes and try to put out the fire(s).  It was an exhilarating, rewarding experience, much of the time anyway.

On the other hand, I never enjoyed the school’s regular department heads’ meetings. Usually, we sat around congratulating each other on how hard we worked, but we seldom made any substantive decisions. Instead, we tended to raise a “big question,” then talk it to death—what I termed the “black hole approach” to administration.

* * * * *

Westminster historians with alumnus–and MLK biographer–Taylor Branch (third from right), Oct. 2009

By the time I retired at the end of May 2010 and turned to the completion of my sabbatical project, many Georgia newspapers were readily available online at the Digital Library of Georgia, through the University of Georgia’s GALILEO website, and significant documentary collections could be found elsewhere on the internet. Thus, for my first five years in retirement, I spent more time viewing primary sources on the computer than I did traveling to “brick and mortar” repositories. Eventually, I produced that sequel to my 1986 book. In addition, I assembled a collection of the essays on Georgia history I had written over the years, some previously published, others that had not yet seen the light of day. Both volumes were published in 2015 (yes, that’s correct, nearly two decades after I began research on the sequel in 1996–thank God we didn’t do “publish or perish” at my school!).

* * * * *

My career commenced as a historian of Georgia and the South who somehow wound up teaching at a prep school in Atlanta, armed with a PhD.  If my career path had taken a different direction, I might have embarked upon life as an academic gypsy, traveling from one short-time appointment after another, my family in tow; or, like a few of my grad school friends, actually won an academic post and ended up teaching at one or more colleges, plying my trade as a history professor. Instead, I made the best of what contingency, coincidence, and luck handed me, spending nearly four decades at a fine prep school, and I’m glad I did.

[Note: This essay appeared, in slightly different form, as the introduction to In Pursuit of Dead Georgians: One Historian’s Excursions into the History of his Adopted State, a collection of historical essays published in 2015 (see below).]

Copyright 2020 George Lamplugh

 

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986

Posted in "Education Courses", American History, Books, Education, Elective History Course for 9th and 10th Graders, family history, Historical Reflection, History, History Curriculum, History graduate school, History Teaching, memoir, Popular Culture, Prep School, prep school teaching with a PhD, Research, Retirement, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Sun Belt, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Ben, An American Dad, 1921-1986, Part VI: A Dad Alone, 1964-1986

[Note: The events of the summer of 1964 [see here] put an end to Betts and Ben Lamplugh’s marriage and shattered their family: Betts’ bus trip to Newark; Ben’s angry phone call later that day; and Betts’ refusal either to talk to him or to return home forced their children to choose sides. For previous episodes, go here, here, here, here, and here.]

* * * * *

Judy had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to finding a job and beginning life on her own, but she agreed to remain with Ben and Rick, so that “Rick could have a life,” as she later said. She soon tired of her duties as a sort of live-in maid, tending to the needs of her father and her brother.  She felt trapped.  Even though Ben had bought Judy a used car, she had not gotten a driver’s license before she decided to head to Newark to join Betts. When Judy told Ben she was leaving, he warned her that, if she went, he “wouldn’t have a daughter anymore.” She moved north anyway, and Rick inherited that used car.

When his parents’ marriage imploded, Rick was about to begin his junior year in high school, and he didn’t want to leave Baltimore for a different school. Instead, he opted to remain with Ben; and, once Judy departed for Newark, Rick assumed the task of “looking after” his dad. As he has recorded in his book, The Wilds of Aging, “Life with Father” was no walk in the park.

Betts had formerly taken care of paying the family’s bills; Ben’s responsibility was to bring money home to cover them. Without Betts, Ben didn’t seem to know—or care—what to do. His drinking became more of a problem; bills went unpaid; and bill collectors came calling. Rick occasionally found himself on the road at night trying to locate Ben—and bring him home from a bar. A few months after graduating from high school in 1966, Rick enlisted in the U.S. Army. Once on active duty, he cut himself off from his parents and his siblings.

Betts and Ben had borrowed money to cover Rus’s college expenses, which worked until just before his senior year. One of the bills Ben had neglected to pay, following the marital break-up and subsequent divorce, was that college loan; Ben eventually declared bankruptcy. Faced with the prospect of not graduating from college, Rus cobbled together funds for his senior year from a summer job, ROTC stipend, salary as a resident assistant in a dormitory, and a loan from his girlfriend Faith’s parents.

* * * * *

Ben remained in Baltimore until 1967, when he moved back to Delaware and once again began working for his older brother, at Bill’s Wilmington gas station. By that time, Ben essentially had “lost” his wife and children, declared bankruptcy, and seen his dependence on alcohol increase, so he probably welcomed another chance to work for Bill, while trying to figure out what to do next.

Wedding, Faith and Rus, Post Chapel, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD, June 10, 1967

One thing Ben didn’t do was maintain much contact with his children.  He missed big events.  Judy married–eloped–in January 1967, and neither Betts nor Ben attended the ceremony.  Six months later, Rus married Faith Ferguson in the chapel at the Army post where he was stationed. Once again, Ben was absent, perhaps because he knew that both Betts and her mother would attend the ceremony.  Yet, when Rick got married in August 1973, Ben, Betts, and Judy were in attendance.

Army boys, 1967–Rus and Rick

With Rus and Rick in the Army, there was little they could do, even if they’d wanted to, to maintain much of a connection with Ben.  Judy lived a few miles from him, and she  kept in touch for a while after his return to Delaware, but that did not last. Relations between Ben and his daughter became so strained that they stopped speaking to each other.

Once Rick and Rus completed their military service, they settled into lives far from Ben (and Betts), Rick in Oregon and Rus in Georgia.  Neither made much effort to maintain contact with his father, with distance an obvious factor.  As each son started a family, a trip to see Ben (or, for that matter, Betts) became a major undertaking.

Rick, Kay, and Ben, Christmas, 1971

* * * * *

In 1969, Judy learned that Ben had a red-headed daughter, thanks to a woman he’d met when he moved back to Delaware.  Unfortunately, the little girl died before the age of two.

Ben had always been proud of his red hair. He hoped to have at least one red-headed child, which was why he and Betts gave their first son the middle name Russell, so that they could call him “Rusty” when his red hair blossomed. But that dream didn’t work out: Rus had black hair, and Judy and Rick had brown.  However, Ben did wind up with a red-headed grandson, Rus’s older son, Jim.

* * * * *

Ben and June, December 1982

About 1970, Ben’s new life in Delaware changed when he met June, who owned a liquor store in Wilmington.  June hoped to enlist Ben to help her manage the store, but there was a problem, Ben fondness for alcohol.  June and Ben decided that, if he were to join her in running the bottle shop, he must stop drinking. And, apparently, he did. Although they never married, Ben and June were together until Ben’s death.

The picture above, though not a wedding photograph, presents an interesting contrast to Ben and Betts’ wedding picture from 1943.  [go here]  Each portrait captures Ben with a strong woman.  In the earlier one, the young Ben seems uncertain of the future, but eager for it to unfold with Betts.  In the photo nearly four decades later, on the other hand, Ben, well-dressed but world-weary, stands behind June, content to follow her into the future.

Ben and granddaughter Allison (1983)

Ben and June raised Chihuahuas.  My sons remember that one of their dogs was blind and, wrapped in a blanket, would lie shivering on Ben’s lap. The boys also recall the roof garden atop Ben and June’s Wilmington apartment, the large German shepherd on duty at the liquor store, and Christmas novelty booze packages stored in the basement, which, Ben said, he used to remind himself of the alcohol addiction he was trying to escape.

* * * * *

Ben had always been a heavy smoker, and, by the late 1970s, he had been diagnosed with emphysema.  By 1984, he was on oxygen almost 24 hours a day, had constant trouble getting his breath, and seemed very depressed.  Yet, according to both Judy and Rick, Ben still wanted to smoke; his willingness to sneak out of his room for a cigarette cost him his place at one medical facility.

In August 1984, I visited Ben in a convalescent home. His once carrot-red hair had been cut short and turned dark; his face was craggy, his breathing labored, despite the oxygen tank; his ankles were swollen. Because he’d had a close call several months earlier at home, Ben was afraid of further problems with his breathing and wanted to do as little physical activity as possible. His attitude distressed June, who hoped he could continue to live at home with her, or, if he needed to be elsewhere, reside in a facility where he could be more active.

* * * * *

In July 1985, I saw Ben in a Wilmington nursing home. The contrast between Ben and June was stark. They were about the same age, but June was healthy and vigorous, while Ben was gray, tethered to an oxygen tank, and afraid to do much of anything.  He seemed tired, dispirited, uninterested in what went on around him.

The following summer, I visited Ben for what proved to be the last time. He looked dreadful: unkempt, gray, shaky; his feet were swollen and black, his ability to talk hampered by heavy dependence on his oxygen tank. Ben believed that the authorities at the nursing home were forcing him to remain immobile, because they refused to allow him to carry his oxygen tank with him into the halls. The unspoken corollary was that, if he were moved elsewhere, he might be permitted to walk about more, yet his prolonged immobility had irreparably weakened his lungs and his legs; even minimal physical effort seemed beyond him. 

* * * * *

Judy, Rick, and I were mystified at how Ben and June were able to afford the cost of the  care he was receiving. Whatever the source of the money (surely some of it was from the government), it eventually ran out, and Ben’s last hope was to move from a private nursing home to the state hospital. To raise the necessary funds, Delaware authorities turned to his children. We began planning to assume financial responsibility for the cost of his care at the start of 1987, but, in the end, we did not have to do so.

June visited Ben on Christmas Day, 1986, to take him his presents. He seemed glad to see her and was generally cheerful. The following morning, however, he experienced problems at the nursing home. He was taken to the hospital and put into the ICU, where he died at about 11:30 A.M. He was sixty-five.

* * * * *

Ben had asked to be cremated.  His brother Bill, faithful to the end, inurned Ben’s ashes at a local cemetery, in one of the family plots he and his wife Maxine had bought several years earlier.

Betts had mixed feelings about Ben’s death:  she had loved him, once; married him; borne him three children; lived with him for over twenty years before leaving in 1964.  She explained that, like her own father, Ben had been raised in a “mixed up” home and, thus, never was able to show much emotion.  In other words, Betts was, in her own way, defending Ben.

Betts called me on the morning of December 26 to inform me of Ben’s death.  I was on my way out the door for my daily run.  I took the phone, heard what Betts had to say, thanked her for calling, and then set out to jog with my older son.  I didn’t say much about what I’d just learned, nor did I cry upon hearing the news.  I have not cried yet.  Ben was my father, and I honor that; but to this day I still struggle with his legacy.

* * * * *

Judy, Rick, and I purchased this plaque for Ben’s grave:

Benjamin L. Lamplugh

Sgt. U.S. Army

World War II

Jan. 20, 1921   Dec. 26, 1986

* * * * * 

End of Part VI

Copyright 2019 George Lamplugh

[Next:  Part VII:  Ben’s Legacy]

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in American History, Delaware, Education, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Newark (Del.) High School Class of 1962, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Rick Lamplugh, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”: One Historian’s “Contingent” Career, Part 1

[Note: Since I was first introduced to it, I’ve loved the term contingent to describe event(s) in history that suggest there is no single unstoppable, ideological wave moving humanity in some preordained direction (e.g., democracy, Christianity, Marxism, progress, the Enlightenment). Rather, there are crucial times when events are determined by human action (or inaction); coincidence; or luck (which can of course be either good or bad). Now that I’ve retired, when I’m in a retrospective mood—which is much of the time—I find myself focusing on the contingent events, coincidences, and (mostly good) luck that have brought me to this point. This is the first of two posts.]

* * * * *

I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and Newark, Delaware, the oldest of three children in a struggling working-class family. Only two members of my extended family had attended college, an uncle who studied engineering after World War II at the University of Delaware, thanks to the G.I. Bill; and an aunt who graduated from Delaware a decade or so later.

Whether my siblings or I would be able to go to college was an open question. I loved school and began to dream of attending the University of Delaware to study engineering, naturally, as my uncle had. Yet, my family didn’t appear to have the financial wherewithal to make that possible. Even before I graduated from Newark High School, I decided that engineering was not for me, despite my uncle’s sterling example. I sometimes struggled with math and science, and I did not enjoy either one very much; instead, I nurtured a love of history.

* * * * *

University of Delaware, 1962-1966

In the fall of 1962, after my parents secured a bank loan, I entered the University of Delaware as a “History Education” major, hoping to teach history in high school. Then, luck—or contingency—intervened. The dean of the Education school summoned entering freshmen to a meeting, where he outlined the curriculum for the next four years. I learned that I would only be able to study history at the survey level, because of the department’s requirement that I take various “education” courses, which did not set well with me.

A few days later, I transferred to the School of Arts and Sciences (or, as we liked to call it, “Air and Sunshine”), and became a history major.  As a result, not only did I  deepen my knowledge of history over the next four years, but I also was able to take courses in areas like English and American literature, Political Science, Philosophy, Economics, Psychology, and Music that helped broaden my horizons and proved quite beneficial once I began teaching.

There was a larger world in which my college career unfolded, the era of the Vietnam War. It soon became clear that, if I were to have any hope of graduating, I must join the Army ROTC program for four years. Basic ROTC was required of all able-bodied male students for their first two years. The final two years, Advanced ROTC, led to an officer’s commission and were elective, but any male who wished to graduate was, um, “strongly advised” to sign up for the advanced course.

There were still a few paths available to receive a draft deferment in mid-1964, but they were rapidly disappearing, and none applied to me. So, I enrolled in Advanced ROTC, and, thanks to the program’s stipend, along with money I earned as a dormitory adviser during my last two years and funds borrowed from my girlfriend Faith’s parents after my father declared bankruptcy, I was able to pay for my junior and senior years at Delaware.

* * * * *

U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, 1966-1968

My military obligation was for two years of active duty in the U.S. Army during the height of American involvement in Southeast Asia (1966-1968). I entered the service as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps (QMC), a combat support (as opposed to a combat) branch. I approached the QMC’s basic officer training course at Fort Lee, Virginia, just as I would have an academic college course and did well in it. Likewise, I jumped into my advanced course at Fort Lee (believe it or not, on how to run an officers’ club! The Army’s choice, not mine!) enthusiastically and was one of only two members of my class (of twenty-eight or so) who didn’t go to Vietnam after completing the course. Instead, I was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, barely a half hour from the University of Delaware, where my girlfriend (and future wife) was finishing college. Can you say “contingency” and/or “luck”?  Sure you can!

June 10, 1967, our wedding day, at the Aberdeen Proving Ground post chapel

As my tour of duty wound down, I began to consider what to do next. I had married Faith in June 1967, and I also had eliminated three possible future careers (professional Army officer, restaurant manager, and government bureaucrat) while on active duty. I still wanted to teach history, so, throwing caution to the winds, I decided I would go to  graduate school, earn a doctorate in history and, of course, secure a college or university teaching post upon completion.

Once again, contingency entered the picture. My first choice was the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but that fell through. I knew that I needed backup schools, so I also applied to my alma mater; Delaware accepted me but offered little in the way of financial aid.

While at Delaware, I had taken a course in eighteenth-century English history from Professor Robert Smith. Dr. Smith told the class at the end of the year that he was leaving Delaware for Emory University in Atlanta, a school I’d never heard of. But, as I plotted my  future on the eve of leaving the Army, I applied to Emory and used Dr. Smith as a reference. Perhaps because of the combination of my undergraduate academic record, the Smith connection, and the fact that I had already completed my military obligation, Emory was eager to have me, offering a fellowship that amounted to a “free ride.”

* * * * *

Emory University Graduate School, 1968-1973

Graduate school was a wonderful experience. Emory supported me financially for five years; the G.I. Bill of the Vietnam era supplemented the university’s contribution during my first two years; and Faith (AKA, the “Willowy Bride”) also worked. So, I was being paid—handsomely, measured against our spartan lifestyle—to study a subject I loved, while trying to shut out events in the wider world (e.g., the decline and fall of our efforts in Vietnam).

Since I was attending graduate school in Atlanta, a dissertation topic in Georgia history made sense, because I assumed that most of the primary sources I needed would be readily available. However, destruction wrought either by the Civil War or by natural causes had played havoc with important manuscript and newspaper collections; dissertation research on the history of Georgia required trips to libraries and other repositories throughout the eastern United States.

In grad school, I practiced being a professor (teaching several classes of American History survey at Emory and a night course at Georgia Tech); researched, wrote, and typed my dissertation (all 620 pages of it!); and became a father. It was, all in all, an occasionally weird but altogether satisfying existence.

Yet, as I neared the end of the dissertation and began searching for employment, I discovered that there were few college history-teaching jobs out there. During my final year at Emory, Faith and I sent out more than one hundred queries to universities, colleges, and junior colleges but got few nibbles. Because I still was determined to teach history, in a mood of calculated desperation I decided to investigate the chances of plying that trade at the secondary level, in private (or independent) schools.

Operating under Plan B, I received two firm offers, one from a school for girls in Virginia, the other from a coed day school across town from Emory, The Westminster Schools. The headmistress of the girls school was so eager to hire me, not least because I was a male, that she dipped into her contingency fund to offer what she obviously felt was a munificent salary of $7500 (remember, this was in 1973!).  As luck would have it, though, Westminster was willing to offer the relatively princely sum of $9500. Because we now had a child and realized that $7500 would not go far in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, Faith and I decided to join Westminster, but only “until something better came along.”

[Note:  This post and the next appear, in slightly different form, as the Introduction to In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, a collection of essays on Georgia history–see below.]

* * * * * *

Copyright 2020 George Lamplugh

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in "Education Courses", American History, Delaware, Education, family history, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, History graduate school, History Teaching, memoir, Newark (Del.) High School Class of 1962, Popular Culture, Prep School, prep school teaching with a PhD, Research, Retirement, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized, Vietnam War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Reflections on The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and His Legacy, 2020: Darkness/Light, Hate/Love

[NOTE: Since 2012, I have observed the annual holiday in honor of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with a post on this blog. This year, I’d like to offer once again a few reflections on Dr. King and his significance.]

* * * * *

Martin Luther King (wikipedia)

I have been an admirer of Dr. King and his role in the modern American civil rights movement since my childhood, but the first time I tried to explain my feelings publicly was in January 1987, in a high school assembly at my school.  There, I introduced a panel discussion about the life and legacy of Dr. King. In the conclusion of that brief talk, I offered an assessment of Dr. King’s impact on American culture:

“Even if Dr. King symbolized the civil rights movement to a child of television like me, there was much more to him than that.  His concern for equal rights was not abstract or intellectual.  His commitment was deeply spiritual:  his grounding in the Christian faith, combined with his natural gifts, created a leader who was charismatic, compassionate, and self-sacrificing. . . . There were black leaders more militant than King, shrewder, better organizers.  But none could rouse listeners—whether black or white—as he did:  to indignation against injustice; to marches and demonstrations at the risk of facing policemen’s clubs, tear gas, dogs, and cattle prods; to faith in the inevitable triumph of love over hate, brotherhood over persecution.  Martin Luther King, Jr., is, to me, one of the truly heroic figures of the twentieth century.”

Toward the end of my thirty-seven years at the school I refer to by its nom de blog, Atlanta’s Finest Prep School (AFPS), I edited the History Department’s newsletter; during that time, I offered several editorials about the importance of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King.  Following my retirement from AFPS in 2010 and the launching of this blog, I combined those editorials into a post that quickly became–and has remained–very popular.  The original post was put up in January 2012, and offered in a slightly revised form in January 2015.

* * * * *

Congressman John Lewis (en.wikipedia.org)

Next, let’s turn to a column by the New York Times’ Margaret Renkl, about her interview  in 2016 with one of Dr. King’s former lieutenants, John Lewis, now a long-serving congressman from Georgia. In the course of the interview, Congressman Lewis spoke about his view of the nation’s future in the wake of the 2016 election:

“In these days that seem to be so dark, I think the spirit of history is still leading us and guiding us — I believe in that. Call it what you may, but I believe that somehow, in some way, good is going to prevail. And out of some of the darkest hours, there will be daybreak. There will be light. And we will get there. You have to believe it. You have to believe in your guts that it’s going to be O.K.”

* * * * *

Lewis’s emphasis on darkness and light struck me at the time.  A few days later, I read an op-ed column by conservative Republican Michael Gerson in the Washington Post.  Mr. Gerson, who believes that members of his party have gone off the rails in their loyalty to the current president, argues that the “spirit” of the King holiday does not fit with today’s toxic political environment.   That “spirit,” according to Gerson,  quoting from Dr. King, is–or should be:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate; only love can do that.”

And thus we’re back to John Lewis’ assessment in 2016.  Dr. King’s image is frequently that of an idealist, a “dreamer.”  It’s difficult for me to imagine what Martin Luther King, Jr., of the “I Have a Dream” speech would make of the “state of our union” in 2020.  Still, I’m not a “dreamer,” and I tend to view the present as more of a nightmare than a dream.

* * * * *

Looking at King and his teachings through these lenses finally took me back to 2013, when I was part of a group at my church working with an African American congregation nearby to present to the community a symposium, “Building Bridges from the Past to the Future:  Strengthening Racial Unity.”  As we prepared for this event, I heard several comments along the lines of, “Why can’t we just forget about ‘race’ and ‘racism’ and ‘move on’?  What good can come from continuing to ‘stir these issues up’?”

Although I probably shouldn’t have, I took these questions personally.  A couple of months after the symposium (which, by the way, was well-received by our community), I posted an answer to those negative queries:

https://georgelamplugh.com/2013/04/01/race-and-history-matter/

And nothing I’ve seen or heard since 2013 has altered my stance on this issue.

* * * * *

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:

Margaret Renkl, “An Open Letter to John Lewis,” New York Times, Jan. 6. 2020.

Michael Gerson, “Can hate drive out hate?  MLK Jr would disagree,” Washington Post, Jan. 13, 2020.

“BackStory” Podcast–“The Real Martin Luther King: Reflecting on MLK 50 Years After His Death.”

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Education, Historical Reflection, History, History Teaching, memoir, Popular Culture, Prep School, Research, Retirement, Southern History, Teaching, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ben, An American Dad, 1921-1986: Part V: Memories of Ben, as “Dad” (2019)

 

[NOTE: It’s not normal for me to wax retrospective on Father’s Day, but every so often I do. 2019 was one of those years. I had begun work on this blog series about my father, Ben Lamplugh, and I asked my siblings for help, emailing my thoughts on Ben as “Dad” for them to read and comment on.  This post is the result of that interchange.  (For previous installments, see Part I; Part II; Part III; and Part IV.)]

* * * * *

When they married, on January 12, 1943, Ben Lamplugh was 22, Betts Knighton, 20. When they’d first met, Ben was in the Maryland National Guard, stationed at Fort Meade, in Baltimore, Maryland. By the time they wed, he was about to leave for Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for paratrooper training.

Ben and Trixie (Knighton family dog), c. 1943

Ben didn’t have much experience with a stable family. [Go here.]  He was the third child born to Leroy and Mary Lamplugh, who divorced shortly after Ben’s birth. Because she could not afford to raise her children by herself, Mary placed her two oldest, Bill and Ethel, with relatives, and kept baby “Bennie” with her. Eventually, Mary remarried, to a Harrington, Delaware, farmer, Noble Cahall, a widower with several children of his own. My sister Judy remembers Ben saying he loved his stepfather, yet Ben seems to have moved as a teenager north from Harrington to Newark, Delaware, where he lived with his brother Bill and his sister-in-law Maxine on a farm on the outskirts of town.

* * * * *

Ben was not afraid of hard work. His post-World War II employment history featured a long series of manual labor jobs, with the fulltime ones coupled with one or more part-time positions. Ben believed, according to Betts, that a husband should be the family breadwinner, so he was not pleased when, in the early 1950s, with their three kids in school, Betts decided to re-enter the workforce. Betts’ income must have been welcomed, but even combined with what Ben brought home, the family’s financial position remained shaky.

Rus, Rick, S. Claus, Judy (Christmas, 1951)

Ben took pride in his work and was something of a perfectionist, which didn’t always endear him to co-workers. He built some furniture for our house, not fancy, but sturdy. One of the few times I remember seeing him angry came after we kids were horsing around on a bed he’d built, and it collapsed. When he came home and saw the broken bed, Ben asked us how it had happened, and we tried to convince him that the bed “just broke.” Wrong answer, and our behinds felt Ben’s anger.

On another occasion, a neighboring family lived with us for a while, and Ben built two sets of bunk beds for their bedroom. When the neighbors moved back into their own house, Ben had to cut each set of bunks into two single beds to get them out of the room.

* * * * *

Ben was not much of a disciplinarian. He expected Betts to handle that aspect of parenting, as well as other “wifely duties,” despite her fulltime job. Betts did her best, but sometimes we children misbehaved more than she found acceptable. On those occasions, she warned direly, “Just wait until your father gets home!” And, when Ben arrived, at the end of a long day of manual labor, the last thing he wanted to do was hand out punishment.

Still, Betts insisted that he do something, and Ben did, sort of. He’d take the offender(s) into the bedroom, shut the door, and launch into a series of stern, quite audible admonishments, to which the miscreant(s) would of course promise never to do “it” again. Ben realized that merely yelling would not be enough, so he’d then enact a pantomime of physical punishment (with the bedroom door closed and Betts not in the room), usually “spanking” the bed, the bathtub, or his own body, while the guilty one(s) did their best to cry on cue.

Then there were Ben’s efforts to shape me into a “big brother” of whom Judy and Rick (not to mention Ben himself) could be proud.  Judy remembers that, on one occasion, she came home from the playground and complained that some boys had pushed her around, so Ben dispatched Judy and me to the playground to settle things with those bullies.  It turned out, though, that Judy had started the trouble herself, because the boys wouldn’t let her play ball with them.  Upset that Ben expected me to fight Judy’s battles, especially when the trouble had begun with her, I dragged Judy home and told her that she had better tell Ben I had taken care of business!

* * * * *

Our family didn’t have much money, but we weren’t exactly “poor.” We always enjoyed Christmas, for instance. Betts made clothing for us, usually shirts for Rick and me and blouses for Judy. Ben chipped in, building furniture we needed but couldn’t really afford to buy.  Annually, we also risked making ourselves sick if we ate too much of the candy in our Easter baskets, and Betts waited with doses of “cod liver oil” if we got carried away.

Ben and Betts did not stint on reading matter. We had a full set of Childcraft books and a collection of Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, which Betts read from in the evenings when we were too little to do so ourselves. Our parents also purchased a set of encyclopedias, one volume at a time, from a local grocery chain. The family even subscribed to The Saturday Evening Post, as well as a daily newspaper. Ben sometimes brought comic books home for us, usually when he returned from a work-related out-of-town trip.

Medical care for the Lamplughs was handled on a priority basis. In emergencies, we’d be taken to a doctor or to a hospital. Required school checkups were handled as well.  Betts’ first postwar fulltime job was with our family doctor, Marvin Rombro, so we got a break on those bills. Later, Betts worked for eye doctors, which meant that we received regular eye care.  (Dental care, not so much!)

* * * * *

“Family vacations” also were victims of the Lamplugh financial straits. We seldom had them. The best we could do was for Betts to convince Ben that we needed to take a day trip somewhere. Most such jaunts usually were on Sunday, to Newark, Delaware, an hour or so north of Baltimore. Ben seldom enjoyed these excursions, because he didn’t get along with his mother-in-law, Isabelle Knighton, and the feeling was mutual; but Betts insisted that we keep in touch with her family.  Often on those same Sundays, though, Ben also tried to ensure that his family visited his adored older brother Bill, in nearby Wilmington, obviously trying to match the time we spent with our maternal grandparents in Newark.

Occasionally we’d go on a Sunday “road trip” to a more “exotic” locale, and, desperate as we were to “get the heck out of Dodge,” it didn’t matter where Ben elected to take us. The trips I remember were into western Maryland, where we’d stop at a picnic area and share our lunch with the ants.

1954 Ford Courier Sedan Delivery (tenwheel.com)

And then there were the work trips, when one or all of us would accompany Ben on a service call, usually somewhere in the upper Midwest, for Ottie Gow’s Atlantic Trailer company.  Once, Ben took me along with him to Cleveland or some other midwestern garden spot, traveling in the “Courier,” a small, almost windowless Ford commercial truck that we slept in at least one night. Another time, Ben took the entire family on a long-distance service call in the Courier, Ben and Betts in the front seat, we kids in the back, amid the toilets Ben was transporting. We spent that night in a motel room, with Betts and Ben in one bed and the three of us trying to coexist in the other one.

1956 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon (barrett-jackson.com)

My favorite memory of these “vacations” came one hot summer night. We had no air conditioning at home and the weather was sweltering. A sudden thunderstorm blew through Baltimore, and the night suddenly became cooler. Before the rain ceased completely, Ben and Betts packed us into the rear of our Ford Country Squire station wagon, windows open and a gloriously refreshing (if slightly damp) breeze caressing us as he drove us, in our pajamas, through downtown Baltimore.

Ben also occasionally took us to one of the “beaches” in the Middle River area, usually  heavily shaded by trees, because his fair skin burned quickly in full sun. Yet, the shade must have made it difficult for parents to watch their youngsters, because Judy and I both remember near-drowning experiences in those locations, and Rick believes that he’s still uncomfortable in the water because of them.

Hydroplane power boat racing (1959)

A variation of this sort of day trip occurred when Ben worked for Jim Fyle at Gibraltar Trailers. Fyle loved to race hydroplane power boats, and one of Ben’s part-time jobs was to tow Fyle’s boat to the race venue. If the site was local, Ben might take us along. (Betts didn’t think power boat racing was safe, but a day trip was a day trip.)  The races were incredibly noisy, yet at least two of us kids remembered them fondly.

* * * * *

There’s a sense in which Ben was “in,” but not “of,” our family circle.  He seldom arrived home on weeknights until after the rest of us had eaten.  He’d eat dinner with Betts in the kitchen while we watched television in the living room.  Ben eventually joined us, beer in hand, sat in his favorite chair, lit a cigarette, and was shortly out like a light.  He seldom finished that cigarette, which, if we were lucky, burned out in the ashtray; or that beer, which became flat and warm.

Ben also could be convinced to take his family to a local tavern on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, a time-honored family activity in Baltimore.  Our parents joined neighbors to sip beer, talk, perhaps watch television.  The kids played shuffleboard, drank cokes, ate chips or popcorn, and tried their luck with the “claw machine,” which contained cheap “prizes” and was lots was fun to play!

And then there were “crab feasts” we attended, again with neighbors, and the venue was a bit of a drive.  Picture it: an open-sided, covered spot; tables with attached benches; newspaper on the tabletops; and, finally, crabs.  The adults loved this (maybe it was the beer that accompanied the crabs), and I’ll bet many of the kids did, too. Extracting crab meat from the shell seemed more trouble than it was worth to me, though I liked the taste of crab well enough once it had been extracted.

* * * * *

On a few occasions, Ben showed up at an evening event featuring one of his children.  Once, he and Betts came to a winter-themed school show featuring Rus as an “ice skater,” in a rousing production of the “Skater’s Waltz.” Ben also managed to get home in time to observe one of my hapless attempts to play organized baseball.

As a youngster, I was overweight and klutzy, with an aversion to physical exercise. One thing I struggled with was doing push-ups in Physical Education class, and I asked Ben for help. Several times he gave me push-up “lessons,” but to little avail. What made this worse was that Rick, four years younger, saw Ben trying to help me, walked through the room, and stopped, dropped, and did ten push-ups without breaking a sweat!

Then there were the “donkey baseball games” we attended while living on Philadelphia Road in Baltimore.  On another occasion, we watched an amazing softball pitcher, Eddie Feigner, and his “King and His Court” team, trounce a local squad.  I also recall attending at least one Baltimore Orioles game with Ben.  (The Orioles had arrived in Baltimore, from St. Louis, in 1954.  They were a terrible team in those early years, but they were our terrible team!)

During this same period, Judy remembers that Ben used to stop at a bar after work on Friday; go again to a bar with a neighbor on Saturday night; and, on Sunday mornings, visit the same neighbor’s house to eat raw oysters as a hangover cure.

* * * * *

Betts also thought her children should attend church, but that presented a problem:  We had only one car, Ben frequently worked part-time on Sundays, and Betts never learned to drive, which meant that we could only attend a church within walking distance.  There were some, usually Methodist, churches in the area, but those presented a problem, too, because Betts preferred the Episcopal church.   We did occasionally attend an Episcopal church, long enough for me to be trained as an acolyte, though I seldom got to church on Sundays when assigned to serve.  I do remember, though, at least one Easter service when our entire family showed up, dressed in our “Easter finery.”  (This is the only memory I have of Ben at church.)

Ben’s Family (Fall 1962)

End of Part V

Copyright 2019 George Lamplugh

[Next:  Part VI:  A Dad Alone, 1964-1986]

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in American History, Cold War, Delaware, Education, Episcopal Church, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Rick Lamplugh, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ben, an American Dad, 1921-1986, Part IV: Postwar America, 1946-1964

[NOTE:   When Ben Lamplugh returned home early in 1946, he found himself in a house full of women:  Betts and her son Rus were living with her sister Gertie, Gertie’s daughter Lynn, and two boarders, the England sisters, in an apartment in Middle River, Maryland, near Baltimore.  Upon Ben’s arrival, the women moved elsewhere, and Betts and Ben kept the apartment. Later that year, Ben, Betts, and son Rus move to Helicopter Drive in Victory Villa, a wartime development that was jerrybuilt, not intended for long-term residence, where their second child, Judy, was born in October 1946.  (For earlier chapters in Ben’s life see here, here, and here.)]

* * * * *

Rus and Ben (1946)

Ben, Judy, Rus (c. 1947)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben was interested in learning carpentry: in 1946, under the GI Bill, he began an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker with the Owens Yacht Company in Baltimore. In addition to his job there, Ben secured a part-time position doing maintenance work for Richter Trailer Sales on Pulaski Highway, not far from Victory Villa.  According to Betts, during these years Ben was a good worker who kept busy trying to support his family. He wasn’t home much, but, after the war, everyone was expected to work hard to make ends meet; for a while, things went along smoothly for the Lamplugh family.

27 Helicopter Drive, Aero Acres, Middle River, Maryland (recent photo), 1946-55

Rick, ca. 1949

Shortly after his second son, Rick, was born, on November 11, 1948, Ben, left Owens Yacht Company and joined the maintenance department of Cities Service Oil Company, while keeping his part-time job at Richter Trailer Sales.

Around 1950, Ben went to work for Gibraltar Trailer Company, building house trailers in the plant and making service calls for the company.  Jim Fyle, who owned Gibraltar, enjoyed hydroplane boat racing.  (Hydroplanes are racing boats that move very fast while just skimming across the water. )  Whenever he traveled to a hydroplane race, Mr. Fyle asked Ben to go along with him to pull his boat trailer.  On those rare occasions when a race was held locally, our family might accompany him.

Hydroplane power boat racing (1959)

In 1952, still living in Victory Villa, our family watched Hurricane Hazel wreak havoc outside our windows, although, in the end, damage in our neighborhood was minimal.

Two years later, Ben changed jobs again, joining Ottie Gowl at Atlantic Trailer Company, which manufactured office trailers.  Ben was a supervisor and a maintenance man at Atlantic; this meant that he traveled for the company to take care of maintenance problems once its trailers had been sold.  According to Betts, Mr. Gowl had a lot of faith in Ben’s ability and considered him a good, reliable worker.

* * * * *

In 1954, Betts rejoined the workforce as a receptionist for the family’s physician, Dr. Marvin Rombro, whose office was in Victory Villa, only a few blocks from her home on Helicopter Drive in Aero Acres. Ben didn’t like Betts working outside the home, because this lessened her dependence on him and made him less able to support his family as the “bread winner,” at least in his mind. To Betts, though, the job enabled her to gain skills and earn money to supplement her family’s income.

Rick, Rus, Judy (Aug. 1954)

My sister Judy recalls that our family had great friends in the Victory Villa community. However, there were some aspects of being a kid there that were problematic, to put it mildly. For instance, a neighboring family had a couple of very athletic boys, and, with their father’s encouragement, every boychild in the neighborhood was urged to play football and other sports in the common backyard area between our houses.  I, for one, was having none of it, something Ben never really understood, nor could I have explained my attitude if asked.

* * * * *

In January 1949, Ben and Betts purchased their first television set, a black and white one that, like every other set in the U.S. at the time, received only three channels.  Still, the Lamplughs were among the first in Aero Acres to have a TV; consequently, they often had company in the evenings, when neighbors came over to watch popular programs like the “Ed Sullivan Show” and “Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater.”

Financially, our family occasionally teetered on the brink of disaster. We lived in a rental house and Ben drove a used car, at least until 1953, when he purchased a new Pontiac, only to lose it within a year because he could not keep up the payments.

Ben and the 1953 Pontiac, the only new car we ever owned

In 1955, we move to Endsleigh Avenue, in a new development of what would today be called “town homes,” but in the 1950s were labeled, less glamorously, “row houses.” Whatever the new place was called, it was the first—and, as it turned out, only—home our parents ever bought (for $9500, with only $100 down–the GI Bill again), but we didn’t keep it for very long.

312 Endsleigh Ave., Ballard Gardens, Middle River, Md. (recent photo), 1955-59

In late 1959, Ben and Betts sold the Endsleigh Avenue house, and we moved to 37 North Chapel Street in Newark, Delaware. Was this because they couldn’t make house payments and so lost it, the same way that Ben gave up the Pontiac? Or, was this another example of Ben finding himself in financial trouble and turning to his older brother Bill, who lived in Wilmington, near Newark?  Your guess is as good as mine.

37 North Chapel St., Newark, Del. (left-hand side of duplex; recent photo), 1959-1962

Another issue, but one that we kids didn’t understand until later, was that this move, while putting Ben closer to his brother Bill, also put Betts nearer to her mother, Isabelle Knighton, who did not like Ben very much, and to Betts’ former fiancé, J.B., who had survived the war, returned to Maryland, and married a Catholic girl, a match his father encouraged after J.B.’s engagement to Betts went south.  But as it turned out,  J.B. and Betts had not forgotten that earlier relationship.

* * * * *

Ben had never been comfortable with his mother-in-law. When we lived near Baltimore, he drove the family to Newark only when he couldn’t get out of it.  After we moved to Delaware, Ben preferred to spend time with his father-in-law in Ike’s dank basement workshop rather than sit in the living room and chat with Isabelle. Perhaps Ben suspected that his mother-in-law was attempting to poison the well of his marriage by reminding Betts of how she’d abandoned J.B., the “better man,” during the war.

When we lived on North Chapel Street, Ben worked part-time at his brother Bill’s gas station in Wilmington, while holding a full-time maintenance job at Deemer Steel in New Castle, Delaware.  Meanwhile, Betts worked briefly at the University of Delaware in Newark, then moved to the office of ophthalmologist Perry L. Munday in September 1960.

Rick was in middle school during these years, and Judy and I were at Newark High School.  While it seemed at first that our family had entered a period of stability, Ben soon became discontented with his job at Deemer Steel and decided that he wanted to return to Baltimore.  Betts was unhappy with this decision, because Rus was to graduate from Newark High in June 1962 and had already been accepted at the University of Delaware in Newark.

Nevertheless, Ben, Betts, Judy, and Rick moved back to Baltimore in January 1962, while Rus remained in Newark, living with his grandparents so that he could graduate from Newark High and enter the University of Delaware in the fall of 1962.  Thus, at age seventeen, Rus was more or less “on his own.”  In view of what was to happen two years after his high school graduation, this opportunity to develop a measure of self-reliance could not have come at a better time.

9100 Philadelphia Rd., Rossville, Md. (recent photo), 1962-65

Ben returned to work for Jim Fyle at Gibraltar Manufacturing Company, and the family lived at 9100 Philadelphia Road, in Rossville, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore.  Why did Ben want to go back to Baltimore?  His brother Bill lived in Delaware, yet much of Ben’s work history since the end of the war had been centered in the Maryland city. Then too, from Ben’s point of view, the family’s return to Baltimore got Betts farther away from her mother, Isabelle Knighton, and from her former fiancé, J.B., as well.

* * * * *

Rus and Ben, Fall 1962 (Ben wearing Rus’s University of Delaware “freshman beanie”)

The decision to send Rus to college could only have been reached after considerable soul-searching, given the family’s shaky financial position.  Somehow, Ben and Betts arranged to borrow tuition money from a bank in Philadelphia, and Betts’s parents agreed that Rus could live with them to help keep other college expenses to a minimum.  His “spending money” came primarily from summer jobs at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, arranged by Betts, who worked there.

* * * * *

The Lamplugh children’s adolescence ended suddenly in the summer of 1964, following my sophomore year in college, when our parents’ twenty-year marriage disintegrated before our eyes. None of us could have predicted either the incident that triggered the separation or the emotionally debilitating series of events that followed.

Betts and Ben had argued the night before Betts left, according to Judy. The next morning, Betts told Rus that she was going to Newark by bus and asked if he would like to come. Though puzzled, he agreed, and a few hours later the family’s metaphorical roof caved in.

Ben came home that night, after work and a stop at his favorite tavern, to find his wife and oldest child absent. Learning from Judy and Rick where Betts and Rus had gone, Ben called the Knighton residence and asked to speak to his wife. Things went downhill from there.  Ben demanded that Betts return, but she refused.

The Lamplugh children “audited” this course in marital collapse, Rick and Judy in Rossville, and Rus in Newark. As best we could determine, our parents had reached a breaking point, but none of us understood why.

On the weekend following Betts’s departure, Ben drove to Newark and again demanded to speak to his wife.  Rus attempted mediation, but Betts was unwilling even to speak to her husband. For all intents and purposes, their marriage seemed at an end.  [Betts later admitted that she had hoped to delay leaving Ben until all of her kids had finished school, but the bus ride to Newark had escalated things to a crisis point.]

* * * * *

Ben’s habit of holding two jobs and Betts’s responsibilities at work and in the home had for a long time led the kids to see their parents as separate entities who seldom spent much time together. Yet, if they were not demonstrative in their affection for each other, Ben and Betts had lavished as much love and attention on their children as they could.

Once it became clear that their parents would not get back together, Judy, Rick, and Rus were forced to choose sides, a choice none wanted to make and one that proved painful for each of them. But it had to be done.

End of Part IV

Copyright 2019 George Lamplugh

Next: Part V:  Memories of Ben as “Dad” (2019)

 

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

 

Posted in American History, Cold War, Delaware, family history, Historical Reflection, History, Interdisciplinary Work, memoir, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Rick Lamplugh, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ben: An American Dad, 1921-1986, Part III, World War II

[NOTE:  This installment in a series about my father’s life and his role as an “American Dad” takes him, his wife, and, eventually, their first child, through the end of the Second World War (For earlier posts, go here and here.)

Ben Lamplugh’s National Guard service dated from early 1941, according to fragmentary military records acquired by his wife Betts.  (As happened to thousands of other Americans who served in World War II, Ben’s official records were destroyed in a fire in St. Louis.)  Yet, Betts said that she first met Ben in the summer of 1940, when he was already a member of the Maryland National Guard, stationed at Fort Meade, in Baltimore.]

* * * * *

In the Spring of 1940, Betts graduated from Newark High School and wanted to work as a medical secretary, but there was no affordable school nearby. Instead, she went to work at the Continental Diamond Fiber plant in Newark, Delaware. Ben Lamplugh’s brother Bill’s wife, Maxine, worked there, and that’s how Betts and Ben were introduced (i.e., Bill and Maxine “set” Betts and Ben up on a date at their home outside of Newark). Around that same time, though, Betts met J.B., a native of Iowa who, after graduating from high school there, headed east to join his father in Maryland.

Betts said that Ben and his buddy Joe Lofthouse (who lived in Elkton, Maryland, a short drive from Newark) were in the Maryland National Guard “around 1939-1940.”  She also claimed that their Guard unit was “taken into the regular army” [i.e., federalized] shortly after the declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941.  Yet, fragmentary records indicate that Ben’s “National Guard of the United States” military service actually began on February 3, 1941, which probably means that he was in the Maryland National Guard, stationed at Fort Meade, before it was federalized, and tried to visit his brother and sister-in-law in Newark (about an hour or so north of Fort Meade), whenever he could.

If this is true, then Ben certainly could have met Betts after she graduated from Newark High School in June 1940, around the time she also met J.B.  If Ben had been in the Maryland National Guard since sometime in 1940, as seems likely, then he probably was able to use leave time to travel from Ft. Meade in Baltimore, to nearby Newark, Delaware, to visit his brother Bill and Bill’s wife Maxine, and, if he was lucky, to snag a date with the vivacious Betts Knighton.

Still, by late 1941, Ben also must have known that Betts was engaged to J.B.  Then came the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, and the American declaration of war on Japan, Germany, and Italy, on December 8.  Like lots of young American men, J.B. decided to enlist in the service, joining the U.S. Marines several days after Pearl Harbor, at eighteen years of age.

Shortly thereafter, the twenty year-old Ben learned that his Maryland National Guard unit had been “federalized,” which meant that he would soon find himself in the U.S. Army.

* * * * *

In early February 1942, J.B. was sent to Parris Island, South Carolina, for Marine basic training.  By May, he had completed that training and shipped out for service overseas. He and Betts were engaged by late 1941, and had hoped to marry in 1942, but they decided to put their wedding plans on hold once J.B. joined the Marines.  J.B. soon found himself in Guadalcanal, and by mid-November he had been transferred to Australia.  And then came the long-distance argument that led Betts to break off her engagement.

Ben and Trixie (Knighton Family dog, c. 1943)

According to my sister Judy, Betts claimed that she never loved Ben as much as he had loved her. In fact, it’s likely that she had loved J.B. from the summer of 1940, when she was 17.  After her breakup with J.B., though, Betts turned to Ben, perhaps to spite J.B. Betts and Ben only dated for a matter of months before they wed.

Marriage License, January 12, 1943

They were married at 7:00 pm, January 12, 1943, by the Rev. C.N. Jones, in Wilmington, Delaware. Ben was twenty-one years old and would be twenty-two in eight days; Betts had turned twenty years of age four days earlier.  (Betts later told Judy that, on the day they were married, Ben was absent without leave from Fort Meade.)

* * * * *

Ben and Betts (c. 1943)

Somewhere around that time, Ben and his buddy Joe Lofthouse volunteered to undergo Airborne training.  They were sent to Ft. Benning, near Columbus, Georgia, for basic Infantry training, then on to Fort Bragg, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where the newly created 82nd Airborne Division had been relocated from Camp Claiborne, Louisiana.

Ben was injured on his fifth training jump.  During his recovery from those injuries, Betts visited Ben at Fort Bragg and met Joe Lofthouse and his wife Aggie, probably in late summer/early fall of 1943.  During this visit, Betts heard lots of stories about Joe and Ben’s time in the National Guard and in the regular Army.  (About nine months later, on May 20, 1944, Ben and Betts’ first child, a son, George, nicknamed “Rusty” because his parents anticipated he would have his father’s red hair, was born.  He had black hair.)

Following his time with Betts, Ben learned that his injury disqualified him from completing Airborne training. Instead, he was transferred to a Field Artillery unit at Camp Rucker, Alabama.  After several months there, Ben’s unit was sent to Hawaii, where they transported ammunition throughout the islands.  According to Betts, during his time in Hawaii Ben even had a few opportunities to play golf, something I have never credited, because he did not mention—or, to my knowledge, participate in—golf again.

More significantly, Ben’s Artillery unit eventually was ticketed for the invasion of Japan as the war wound down.  Because of President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 1945), however, the war ended before a seaborn invasion of Japan was necessary. Consequently, Ben avoided combat on Japanese beaches and served in Japan only briefly, as part of the American occupying force. He received an honorable discharge from the Army on December 2, 1945.

[Note:  This is why, in almost forty years of teaching about Truman’s “decision to drop the bombs,” I used to tell my students that I was of two minds about it—yes, the damage done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki was terrible, but, because of it, my father survived the war. The pre-bomb estimates of American deaths during an invasion of the Japanese home islands had been horrific.  Ben Lamplugh returned home at war’s end and was able to plunge into his role as a husband and father.]

End of Part III

Copyright 2019 George Lamplugh

Next:  Ben:  An American Dad, 1921-1986, Part IV, Postwar America, 1946-1964.

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

Posted in American History, Delaware, Education, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, Interdisciplinary Work, memoir, Research, Retirement, Teaching, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments