Part of the time in the early years of the 1940s, my Mom, sister and I lived with my maternal grandparents, Harry and Nana.
Nana and Harry with me holding an apple and my Kubby Bear, Myrtle beach, SC, 1949
Harry was an electrical engineeer and the superintendent of Joe Wheeler, a TVA Dam in Alabama. When we were young and dad was off doing whatever he did at the time, my mother sister and I stayed with Grandpa Harry and Nana in government housing next to the dam.
Grandpa Harry took me to work with him on one occasion and I saw the inside of the power station. I knew it was important because when we arrived from Texas, the whole dam was lined with soldiers (one of them my Uncle Paul), guarding it from the NAZIs, my dad said. While I was at the power station, Grandpa Harry showed me huge turbines and said they were full of electricity. I found it fascinating because they were HUGE, although I had no idea what electricity was. Grandpa stopped at a big red box and asked me if I wanted a Coke. I wasn’t sure what a coke was, but I said yes. He put a coin in a slot on the box, pushed a button and a bottle filled with a brown liquid popped out.
When I got home, Mom asked me about my trip to the dam, I told her, ‘I know what they do with all that water, they make Cokes.’ Little did I know at the time, that the power station served Muscle Shoals* source of the U.S. nitrate supply
Hemingway, Ernest. *Cheaper Nitrates will mean Cheaper Bread,” The Toronto Sun. Nov. 12, 1921.
I started thinking about Harry and Nana because I have been working on my mother’s ancestry tree. This morning I found Jacobmina’s (Harry’s mother) immigration documents. Although she was born in Leiden in the Netherlands, Jacobmina immigrated from Antwerp to New York with her family in 1858. Mina, as she was known, was one of the youngest children in her family being a babe in arms when she arrived. Mina’s mother and father had been born while Napoleon’s forces occupied the Netherlands after wrecking the Dutch Republic. Sailing in steerage, they escaped the terrible plight of their poor country which, even by the middle of the nineteenth century, had never recovered from these times.
I’ve seen some photographs of the family and it was dirt poor even after it arrived. They were farmers who migrated to Michigan where they settled in what is today, Grand Rapids.
Grandpa Harry was remarkable because with only an eighth grade education, he married at age 15 and although he worked as a construction laborer for a while, he eventually managed to land a job as an electrical apprentice.
At one time Grandpa Harry worked for Steinmetz the wizard who described the theory of alternating currents, which means little to me, but which David who was an electrical engineer with Bell Labs in the 1960s, says is very important.
Harry continued to work his way up and at the time of his death, he was the Superintendent of what was at the time, the largest TVA dam.