• June 27, 1940
Harold did not come home last night…. left after dinner [tonight] and did not come home for supper. Gee, I am almost crazy.
• July 13, 1940
Harold was mad and did not eat any supper and left. Said he was never coming home.
- Diary entries, Beula Keller Lehman
With these two diary entries, Beula opens the curtain ever so slightly on what may have been a family secret. As Europe was being enveloped in a second “Great War” my father was about to add turmoil far more personal and painful to his family. In reality, I have no idea whether he was adding turmoil or just continuing it. For some reason, perhaps simply intuition, overheard but forgotten stories, or my reflection on the older Harold Lehman I knew as a child, I get the feeling that what was about to happen in mid-1940 was not anything particularly new. I do not have any of my grandmother’s diaries prior to 1940 so I cannot dig for clues. In the ones I do have she almost never gives hints of what was going on beneath the surface of her life.
I can deduce several things.
* She is often lonely, deeply lonely. Many times she speaks of missing her daughter, Ruth. She talks about being home alone when my grandfather was off working on the railroad, or perhaps also helping run the pharmacy he co-owned with my Dad. There is throughout an almost overwhelming sadness and loneliness.
* She is not in good health. She often says she is tired, not feeling well, suffering from a headache.
* She did have a number of friends who were regular visitors and with whom she periodically did things.
* She often mentions a person that I was told about in later years as my Dad’s girlfriend at the time. She is never called that, but she is in and out of the stories of the year, including when Beula goes into the hospital. I did not find any entry that puts her with my Dad. But from what I understood, everyone expected them to get married someday.As mid-year approaches, things begin to fall apart. Ruth and Carl are never seen as a source of worry. It is her youngest child, Harold, who is. In mid-1940 he is 34 years old. He will be 35 by Thanksgiving. He is an apparently successful pharmacist, owning his own drug store. There was some type of legal issue I found in an old newspaper that had something to do with my grandfather selling some medication to someone when my dad, the pharmacist, was not there. It did not appear as anything major and the law had changed by the time it was settled.
He is almost never mentioned in the diary entries until that one on June 27. There is no indication of any issue that might be involved. Three weeks later, by July 13, it is has gone beyond resolution. A simple matter-of-fact statement of dad’s anger, leaving, and promise never to come home.
I can see him doing that. Anger, a short-fused temper, was one of his personality traits. Others have told me the same thing about him. Basically, in so many words, don’t get Harold mad. Who got him angry? Who else was at dinner on July 13? We are never told. For several days she mentions that she hasn’t heard from him. Four days after he left she comments that she “heard that Harold was in New York.” Then nothing.
On September 7 she writes that it is eight weeks since he left. She calls him “Buddy” in that entry, the first and only time she uses that nickname in 1940. On the 8th he sends for his clothes. She never mentions where he is. Only putting later things together do I know that he was somewhere in Maryland, most likely around Bethesda and Montgomery County.
Throughout this whole period of time, Beula has been getting sicker and spent many a day in bed. She finally has blood tests done around September 8. The doctor calls and says she has to go into the hospital, which she does on September 14. She will remain there over one month, not getting out if bed for almost four weeks. Three days after admission, the handwriting in the diary changes to what to me is instantly recognizable as her daughter’s. The same day it is noted that they sent a telegram to Harold who arrives the next day. He remains home for ten days during which time he is at the hospital part of every day, as were Ruth and my grandfather.
Whatever was wrong it appears to have been serious. They hired private duty nurses for part of the time to be with her twenty-four hours a day. Lots of people visited. The presumed girlfriend was one of the most regular. She came on her own and with others, but I didn’t see any time when she came with Harold. A week after dad leaves the handwriting returns to Beula’s and three days later she sits up out of bed for the first time. She goes home on October 15. From this period on there are regular letters to and from Harold. As usual there are very few personal comments that give a hint to what was going on.
One, however, is the start of what will be the most significant change in his life.
• October, 17, 1940This is one day after the first peacetime draft registration began in the United States.
Letter from Harold. He registered. I think he feels better now.
- Diary entry, Beula Keller Lehman
The 1940 law instituted conscription in peacetime, requiring the registration of all men between 21 and 35, with selection for one year's service by a national lottery. President Roosevelt's signing of the Selective Training and Service Act on September 16, 1940, began the first peacetime draft in the United States. … This act came when other preparations, such as increased training and equipment production, had not yet been approved…. The act set a cap of 900,000 men to be in training at any given time, and limited military service to 12 months unless Congress deemed it necessary to extend such service in the interest of national defense…The draft began in October 1940, with the first men entering military service on November 18. (Wikipedia)I have no idea what Beula meant when she said that she thought he felt better after registering. Any reflecting on it would be completely out of nothingness. The only way I ever heard this described was that Harold “ran away from home” when he was 35, was working in Maryland, and was drafted. Had he remained at home, the owner of an essential business, he would probably never have been drafted. Somehow I get the idea from Beula that in some way or another dad wanted to go. He had no choice but to register, obviously. But there is at least the hint that there was more going on.
Whatever the full story, in October of 1940 the world turmoil and the Lehman family chaos was merging, as it would for many families in the United States. The world as it has been known is about to end. While Pearl Harbor is still a year away, the changes. What Herman Wouk would call the Winds of War were being stirred. No part of the world would be spared.
A month later on November 19 Beula writes that it is the first time Harold is not at home for his birthday in 12 years. (Last time was when he was in college.) She concludes, “It makes me homesick.”
It was a tough year for Beula. My grandfather spent some days in the hospital after a work accident. He is now 64 years old. Beula at 65 had spent a month in the hospital in obviously critical condition. Her son, at 34, had run away to join the Army. There wasn’t much left to say.
• December 31, 1940
Well the old year will soon be gone. Hope next year will be better. I had three awful things happen this year.
- Diary entry, Beula Keller Lehman