Monday, August 10, 2020

June 6, 1944: Apathy

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 6, 1944, D-Day.


Public Correspondence

Young Men's Christian Association

404 East Tenth Street * Kansas City, Missouri


Margie, dear,

Well, finally. I got two letters from you this afternoon; one you wrote June 2nd, and one from June 5th. I don't know where the first one was all that time, but not at the K.C. post office. I would have called you had I not heard from you today, for I was a little worried.

What do you think about the news? I was just terrible nervous all day. I read the Times in the morning, which gave just the first communiques, and I couldn't find out a thing until in the afternoon when I got off work. At the restaurant, they were so damn disinterested, I just burned up. Even now, I am so excited, that I go down every half an hour to buy the extras. Things look all right so far, but the Germans may use the same tactics as at Anzio and answer with the counteroffensives after bridgeheads are established. Probably, right now or pretty soon landings are being made in Belgium, Holland, or even further east.

I saw Winton last night, for an hour. He was on his way to Fort Leonard Wood, where he will be stationed now. It's a shame, just now where I am in Kansas City. We had hardly any time together, since Winton had to stay in contact with the other members of his squadron. We went to a bar, and Winton and I managed to sit a little off side the rest of the boys, so that we got at least some of the most important things talked out. If we only had known what would happen a few hours from then...

Still no permit from my attorney, but somebody from the 7th Service Command was in Manhattan, inquiring about me and checking on some of the references I gave. He seemed rather surprised not to find me there. I hope it won't have any bearing on the outcome of may application.

Another possibility for a job came up through another employment agency. I am through with those agencies, though, and won't even go for an interview unless the present chances are out. My preference at the time is National Geophysical, if they offer anything like they did when I interviewed them. I hope something turns up in the near future, for I don't care a bit for the atmosphere at the Fairfax Restaurant. It's just a little wilder than the Wareham. Fairfax is an industrial district, and the kind of people that work there are not of the best. The surplus of girls is dangerous and so strong that the waitresses flirt even with the negroes, but at times get downright vulgar with the few of us white boys left. Anyhow, I'll be glad when something else turns up.

So far, I haven't found anybody to pal around with here; the boys who stay at the Y are awfully young. Also, I don't have much time, since I have to go to bed pretty early to be in good shape when I get up at five in the morning.

Be sure to come up next weekend!

Yours, forever: 


Something I have learned (to my surprise, though I shouldn't have been), is that even if a person has been the victim of racism, misjudgment, and persecution, it does not mean that they will automatically be immune to being racist, judgmental, or persecutor. 

Opa is a German, Jewish refugee and he still considers himself to be higher in the social hierarchy than Black people.  It's pretty damning. 

Opa had never seen a Black person until he came to the United States. He wrote about it in his autobiography, and how foreign the racial situation of the United States were to him. Opa was not blatantly racist, in the sense that he did not advocate for harm or disenfranchisement of the Black community. However, when plopped down into the middle of the US, he easily adopted the hierarchy that had him higher. 

In case anyone wants to say that he didn't know any better, trust me, I would love to be able to let him off the hook. But I can't. In his Quaker youth group, he studied about the racism problems in South Africa. He had been a victim (and seen the real manifestation in his country) of racism against Jews. He had the tools and information to know better. It just didn't benefit him to know better. This is how it works even today, white people like myself aren't "blatantly" racist, but there are spaces when we fail to combat racism because it doesn't benefit us to do so. We have to do better.

The irony in this letter is a bit on the nose, but I won't let it lose the point. At the same moment when Opa makes an off-hand comment about waitresses "even flirting" with the Black patrons of the restaurant, he is also complaining that no one seems to care that there is a literal fight for the future of the world happening on the shores of Western Europe. 

His frustration is valid! The oblivious Americans who are so uninformed as to be apathetic, they need a gut-check too. Perhaps if they had cared more about world events there would have been a viable diplomatic response after the First World War. Perhaps not. 

But what Opa is lamenting is this: apathy. Particularly apathy towards things that affect people in such vast and severe ways. Opa has shown his own blind eye to the plight of the Black community in America. He reveals the American blind spots of world events. We Americans are still culturally very bad at caring about things that happen far away from us. (And unfortunately, sometimes very far isn't far at all.) We have an apathy problem. I don't think we're the only ones with this problem, but we're pretty knee-deep in it.

D-Day was a turning point in the war, a time when perhaps more of America was paying attention and hoping that the end of the war would be soon. D-Day was the beginning of liberation for Western Europe. For Opa, D-Day was the first possibility in a long time of his Dad to be out from under Nazi rule. It was the first real indicator of whether the Allied forces could truly defeat the Nazis (and other Axis powers). He was paying attention.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

May 29, 1944: Immigration Journey Continued

Letter from A.W. Klieforth, American Consul in Canada (Manitoba), to Opa, May 29, 1944.


The Foreign Service 
of the
United States of America

American Consulate General
Winnipeg, Manitoba,
May 29, 1944.

Mr. Thomas W. Doeppner,
1011 Moro Street, 
Manhattan, Kansas.


The Consulate General has received your letter of May 24, 1944, stating that you have filed application for pre-examinaton with the Immigration and Naturalization Service at Philadelphia and requesting to be advised of the necessary documents in order to make formal application for an immigration visa.

There is enclosed an information sheet listing the documentary requirements for an immigration visa and a questionnaire which should be completed and returned to this office.

While no assurance can be given that a visa will be issued prior to the applicant's personal appearance at the Consulate General, documentary evidence may be sent by mail for preliminary examination and you will be informed if they are sufficient and satisfactorily. 

Very truly yours,

A.W. Klieforth
American Consul General

Information sheet,
Visa questionnaire.

Here we go, another attempt towards becoming an American citizen, a journey Opa has been on since he arrived in 1939. He was shuffled between temporary visas, with large gaps in between when he had no legal status at all.

This time is similar to times in the past when he applied for pre-examination at the American Consul in Canada. The plan would be for him to cross the border, apply and receive the visa and then enter the United States on a regular immigration visa, the first step on a long journey towards naturalization.

Will it happen this time?

Sunday, July 12, 2020

May 27, 1944: Sunflower Plant Plans

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, May 27, 1944.


Manhattan, Kansas
May 27, 1944

Dearest Margie,

I guess this will be my last letter to you, at least before you get to Lawrence; for this reason, I shall make it reasonably comprehensive.

To begin with, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the honor of having my name dedicated to those lovely creature of the pig house. You don't know how much I appreciate that. By the way, are you sure they were al of the proper sex? I don't believe that a lady would appreciate the handle "Thomas IV." (You might change it to "Thomasine.")

If I ever was so inspired it was last night. Missing the 7:10 mail in Aggieville by about a half a block, I, after the proper amount of god-bless-you's, went downtown. Ruthy had my bike, so I had to walk. And whom did I meet but our beloved friend Mrs. Paustian. We walked and she talked all the way to town, where she went in order to buy some beds at some auction (to have 100% single beds.) She was just as friendly as during the first days of last year's summer school, asked all about you and me and why and how. Downtown, I stopped to talk to a bible-school student for a while and then, when I decided it is more than time to go home, I met Bob Seaton. We went to a drug store and argued till eleven o'clock, got thrown out, and kept arguing outside till after midnight. The topics were extremely interesting and of major importance: first we argued about whether a person's IQ depends solely on his hereditary quality, or whether environment can influence it. After this problem was solved (?), we somehow or other switched to Einstein and discussed the question whether or not the Doppler Effect is in contradiction to Einstein's theory of relativity and the Lorentz transformation. Just what is your opinion on the matter?

Among other things, I made a very unpleasant discovery today: I shall have to work ten more hours in the library after Monday. Somehow, I had miscounted my time.

No word from either RCA nor Kansas City yet, but I didn't really expect any yet anyhow. I might decide to take a job at the Sunflower Plant in Topeka until I hear something definite from Kansas City. That won't be much farther from Lawrence than K.C., would it? Sunflower Plant offers good wages on an hourly basis, that means I could quit any time I got the job in K.C. or in the East.

Most of today, besides taking my yearly scrub, was spent packing. All my books are stored away in boxes, and so are the major part of my clothes. If you now some Boy Scout who hunts old paper and magazine, tell him there is a gold pit on Moro St. I never knew I had that much junk ready for the incinerator.

Jim Logan went to Leavenworth, doing his darnedest to get into the Navy; he is color-blind though and will have to go to the army. Too, too bad.

Today I'll make that 7:10 mailman, by cracky!!


P.S. I bought a special Parker-51 ink for my fountain pen; it's just marvelous; dries instantly and is almost readable.

First things first: in the pen collecting world: the Parker-51 maintains its legacy (both the pen and the ink) as one of the most popular pens/ink made. Opa wasn't the only one impressed.

Moving along to Opa's letter. I love Opa, I really do, but my goodness he's a little smug. I know he's trying to be funny and I'm sure Grandmother took it as such. However, I rolled my eyes at his monologue about all the intellectual arguments he got into with his friend Bob, and then the ending when he asks Grandmother what her opinion is on the Einstein discussion. Obviously she doesn't know (nor does she care), and he's sort of teasing her about that. 

At the same time, how much more "American College experience" can you get? This is the time and space for hours long discussions on theories and whatever else floats your boat. There is nothing wrong with that (I think it is good!). Just maybe don't flaunt your knowledge to someone who isn't in your major. We all have our spheres. 

Opa is making plans (or trying) and packing for a move that he does not yet know the destination. He's hoping to hear from one of the major corporations who have expressed interest in him despite his German-ness. In the meantime he has a lead with the Sunflower Plant. 
Here's what it looked like in 2015. In 1941, when it was built, it was the largest smokeless powder plant. Opa says the plant paid decently and hourly, so it was a great back-up plan for him until he heard from the other companies. It's a good plan. 

Opa has gotten use to making it work and flying by the seat of his pants. Only now he has Grandmother as a nice companion for the ride. 

We'll see how it goes! 

Monday, June 29, 2020

May 26, 1944: Jittery

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, May 26, 1944.


Kansas State College
Manhattan, Kansas
May 26, 1944

My dear little Monkeytail,

I am glad you are kept busy at home; it keeps you out of mischief and from thinking too much. I hope the pigs enjoyed seeing you in your pigtails; did anybody else?

All quiet on the Manhattan front; no more news from either the immigration officials or any of the companies. I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do after my library work is over if I haven't heard from either company yet; probably service radios, either here or in Kansas City. One thing I am going to do, though, is start packing today. Your bad example convinced me that this might be a good thing to do. I'll dig up some card-board boxes some place and pack my books. By the way, try to get some lumber for your file cases in Selden; when I asked for it here I had the same result as though I had asked for silk hosiery.

I read some of Dorothy Parker's short stories last night; they are asinine, but not as bad as I thought they would be. One of them pictures a couple in that precarious situation after the wedding ceremony, but before the wedding night. If you are going to act the way that girl acted, I'm going to sing you a song for every meal. Remind me that I show you that story when you are here.

Are you still afraid of catching the Measles? Our neighbor boy got them now; please do not tell Sophie about it; she will have me put in jail for contaminating the whole damn town. I saw her the other day, and she gave me that happy-go-lucky smile, as though she thought, "thank God that's over with now."

Three and a half more days, and that 4:00am train gets here. Are you sure it won't be late? It better not! Did you write Mrs. Polson when you are coming, or are you not planning on staying there? If you want me to, I'll dig up some dinner invitations for us for Tuesday and Wednesday, but we'll probably prefer to have that time for ourselves. Anything special you want to do those days?

I'm kind of jittery these days; I think invasion may be coming up this or next week end, but I'm not going to bet on it. Quit picking your face! Quit scratching them mosquito & chigger bites!


I keep being reminded of the strange ability we have as humans to hold the mundane and everyday life in one hand and the drama of the world in the other. D-day is around the corner, everyone knows it. It's just a matter of when and how successful it is. And yet, Opa is in Kansas, packing up and preparing to move on to his next thing after his library job is up. He's getting ready for a visit from Grandmother and reading short stories by Dorothy Parker.

I kind of agree with Opa, Dorothy Parker's short stories feel asinine, but I think that's her point. The wedding night story is a series of circular arguments between a newly wed couple who can't really believe they just got married and clearly have not learned how to communicate as a couple yet. They both take everything the other says in the worst way, and nit-pic and fight about it. When Opa said he would sing Grandmother a song if she acted that way, he was being funny because he wasn't a good singer. 

I don't know how Opa isn't more nervous about his job prospects, but his optimism seems to be keeping him afloat. I don't know what happened between Opa and Sophie, but Sophie clearly does not like Opa, and he does not seem to like her. I wonder if there was some animosity towards Opa fro folks who were uncomfortable with his German-ness. At Kansas State, the college doesn't have quite the same investment and intimate knowledge of Opa that McPherson had. Opa is just another foreign student. At McPherson he was their foreign student that they rescued. Especially now that the United States is in the thick of the war, anti-German sentiment must be at an all-time high.

I wonder what Opa is feeling under those jitters about the coming invasion. Is he thinking of his family? I can't imagine he isn't. He ends by fussing at Grandmother not to pick her face. I'm sure it's a joke, and it reminds me of what his step-mother Emma would say to him. She said this to "help" him keep from getting acne. I don't think he loved it.

Jittery is about right when there's a chance that the war will shift in such a way that could change everything, and potentially give him news about his family. Good or bad.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

May 25, 1944: A Pound of TNT

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, May 25, 1944.


Margie, dear, 

I thought that one of the few advantages of your absence would be an increase in the amount of sleep I get, but somehow or another, this is not so. Last night, after typing letters for a couple of hours, I got tired of watching that typewriter ribbon spin around its axis, so I took out for a show; went down to the State, threw my legs over the seat in front of me, and watched four gangsters kill four other gangsters, with a bunch of private detectives imitating Dick Tracy. 

I don't like the way you treat our good friend, Euphrosine. In the first place, Euphrosine is a female name, and you should therefore call her "she;" in the second place, I don't believe that one ant is sufficient in vitamin B for her, and, last not least, in the third place a worm spelled with an "e" has not nearly the nutritive value as a worm spelled with an "o." 

News is rather scarce these days; eight hours in the library do not furnish a fraction of the excitement that eight seconds with Marjorie do. These days, we are getting volumes ready for the bindery; a monotonous occupation with definite lunatic tendencies.

I am so glad you can get here a little early. I shall try to get my work in the library over with, so that we have all Tuesday and Wednesday together. You will probably have to leave sometime around noon on Wednesday, won't you? 

If RCA should really make me another offer, I shall go east, at least to see what it is all about. They will furnish transportation and hotel expenses on the way up, so there won't be any risk in it. If I should go though, I would plan to be prepared to stay. However, the Kansas City job is still very definitely among the possibilities. I wish somebody would throw a pound of TNT into the pants of whoever is working on my permit. It's ten after seven, time for the mailman in Aggieville. 

Lots of love, honey:


I have been looking back at older letters from 1940, and I know that he no longer has communication with most of the people he wrote then. He no longer even knows for certain who is alive. But yet, he still has many letters to write, the two hours he mentioned were probably to the INS and the places he applied for jobs. 

I wonder if he's keeping up with friends from McPherson and the few folks he knows from his family connections in the US. Either way, he still writes away. I love his impression of the Western movie he saw- it sounds about like most western movies.

He still has the energy to tease Grandmother about the mouse he has named (I'm assuming it's a mouse). 

He would much rather spend time with Grandmother than watch westerns or do tedious library work, but he has to keep at it so that he can get the job he needs!

I reminded myself that RCA and other companies that Opa was applying with for jobs, had much of their work involved in the war effort. That proved to be particularly tricky for Opa, as many companies either would not hire foreigners (as a policy), or had to go through a process of getting permission to hire one. Not only was Opa a foreigner, he was the worst type. What company would go out of their way to hire him?

This is a big bummer since Opa's skills and training (education) are in areas that are all pretty much tied up in the war effort right now. There was no avoiding it. 

Opa remains optimistic, and notes that the RCA might throw him a bone and pay his way to the East Coast to check things out (maybe an interview?). Opa is ready to make it a move if he can. Was Grandmother ready to move with him? He didn't seem to make any mention of that, but he did say that the Kansas City job was still a possibility, so maybe that was his way of showing her he was trying to stay in Kansas.

I love the expression "throw a pound of TNT into the pants..." I'm going to use that some day.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

May 25, 1944: Strategic Sheep Purposes

Article by Opa for Mercury Chronicle, May 25, 1944.


"Five Brothers" Have Agreed 
To Dismiss Power Politics

Editor's note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is a German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theater carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

London was the scene of a smaller crisis of the British Empire last week: the meeting of the five prime ministers of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Very little of decisions or even of topics under discussion were given to the army of press correspondents who patiently waited in front of locked doors. The knowledge which the public received about the outcome of the conference had its source in a few generalizations and in the speeches which the five gave in parliament.

One of the most interesting subjects of apparent controversy was the question of the Empire's postwar status. Should Britain and her Dominions be solidified into a single, unified power bloc? Should the existing "Democratic Empire" be made the nucleus of a new League of Nations? Should the dominions retain their present status of relative independence? Or should this independence be carried even farther? 

Winston Churchill, so far, a leader and advocator of big power politics, this time made no commitments either one way or the other: but it would not be Churchill if he had not a hand in the game, somewhere. 

Churchill's Boer War enemy and later good friend, Jan Christian Smuts, South Africa's Prime Minister, who last year had favored a strong Commonwealth bloc, surprised the world by being the principal sponsor of a League of Nations plan. He had opposed British power politics in 1919, but at that time, he was a strong opponent of the League as well. 

Awkward Handling. 

Today, however, he maintains that the first League of Nations did not fail in principle, but because of the "awkward impractical handling of its major functions." Smut's idea of a League would not dismiss the plan for a strong Commonwealth block entirely, but it would permit other countries to influence this block as members of the League. 

In some contrast to Smut's focus, Canada's Mackenzie King expressed his satisfaction with the status quo ante*?-intimating the fact that Canada's ties with Britain, are no longer any deeper than her ties with the United States. 

King favored neither the Big Power Bloc idea, nor the suggestions of a new League. He wants Canada to retain and possibly enlarge her present state of independence. 

King's biggest opponent was Australia's John Curtin. Curtin's position can easily be understood when one considers the scares and fears through which Australia must have gone during the days when Japanese invasion of the Australian continent seemed imminent. Curtin wants to ensure Australia's safety in the Pacific and, therefore came out came out with a suggestion to form a permanent secretariat of the Commonwealth, which would mean the formation of a strong highly centralized and permanent British power block. This, Curtin thinks, would guarantee Australia's security. 

Fraser Favors Idea

New Zealand's "I'm-from-Missouri" Peter Fraser did not seem very concerned about this particular part of the conference, but he seemed inclined to step in with Mackenzie King's idea of a status quo, much to King's surprise, who had expected that New Zealand would follow the footsteps of her big neighbor, Australia. 

In general, it appears safe to say that the "Five Brothers" have agreed to dismiss power politics from the possibilities for the Empire's future, rather than set up a system which might act as a check against a British Big Power Bloc.

Opa writes another article for the Mercury Chronicle, reporting and interpreting the news for his Kansas community. This episode in history is not one that is familiar.

I know I've asked this before, but where is he getting his news? I was actually for a hot minute thinking, maybe his Dad is somehow wiring info to him on a radio or something?! Then I remembered that his Dad was in Nazi-run territory and the odds of that are quite low. Plus it would be stupid for him to risk his life for his kid's newspaper article. 

Anyway, this story reminds us that war is more than just fighting the enemy. Even though that seems plenty hard enough, your team must be on the same page, and even within the British Commonwealth, it seems like folks have a different idea about what the future should look like. It seems weird to think that they have to work out what happens after the war while they are still fighting the war, but that's a huge part of making sure that peace is lasting. 

The "peace" after the First World War was clearly not strong enough to prevent the second. So now they have to figure out what the power structure is after this war (if they can predict it and plan it). Spoiler alert: they do a little better, but it's still not great.

The laughable part of this all is my 20-20 hindsight vision. Britain loses SO much power after the war. Here the discussion is all about the British Power Bloc, thinking out checks and balances. How can we have the protective power of Britain without losing our independence? Meanwhile, I'm remembering a bit done by one of my favorite comedians, Eddie Izzard. He talks about how after the war Britain is sort of holding a bunch of territories behind her back, hoping no one notices. The Allied powers tell her, give it back, let it go, and England retorts that it needs the Falkland Islands for "strategic sheep purposes." And just like that, England is no longer an Empire. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

May 24, 1944: Stubborn Optimism

Letter from Opa to Visa Division in D.C.

1011 Moro Street
Manhattan, Kansas
May 24, 1944

Visa Division
Department of State
Washington, D.C.


I am filing an application for preexamination at the Immigration and Naturalization Service at Philadelphia. I shall be grateful if you will supply me with sufficient copies of Form BC to enable me to apply for advisory approval for the issuance of an immigration visa.

My alien registration number is 1102568, the number of my certificate of identification, 5871.

Very truly yours,

Thomas W. Doeppner

Letter from Opa to American Consul in Canada

1011 Moro Street
Manhattan, Kansas
May 24, 1944

Consul General of the 
United States of America
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Dear Sir:

I have filed application for preexamination with the Immigration and Naturalization Service at Philadelphia. I would like to make formal application for my visa at your office and shall be grateful I you will inform me as to what documents I should submit prior to my appearance at your office.

Very truly yours,

Thomas W. Doeppner

Letter from Opa to Helen Herckt at INS

1011 Moro Street
Manhattan, Kansas
May 24, 1944

Miss Helen Herckt               99503/254 St.
Chief, Status Section              NIU
U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service
70 Columbus Ave.
New York 23, NY

Dear Miss Herckt:

Thank you for your letter of May 17, 1944. My studies are completed now, but as yet my plans for the coming months are incomplete. I have made application for work in several electric manufacturing companies as electrical engineer. Since most of these companies are to some extent engaged in work which is of some importance to the war, effort, these companies have to apply for a special permission to employ me. I am now waiting that this permission may be granted, and I shall let you know as soon as I have accepted employment upon the granting of such permission.

In the meantime, I shall probably remain in Manhattan where I can make a living by servicing radios and other odd jobs in the line of electrical engineering.

I received the application blank and questionnaire from I-55 for preexamination, executed them, and am forwarding them today to Philadelphia. Thank you for considering the change of my status from that of a student to that of a temporary visitor.

Very truly yours,

Thomas Walter Doeppner

Opa did spend all night typing! He is diligent in responding and moving forward as soon as he gets the next step on his desk. I could argue that he doesn't have much else to do, but all the same- he is no procrastinator. 

I mistakenly thought forwarding materials to Philadelphia meant he was forwarding to AFSC. He may still be doing that, but in this case he is referring to the INS in Philadelphia. 

Most of these letters are pure follow-up requesting the next pieces of information and documentation he needs to have. I will say, in a time of internet, I thought about how most of these letters have been (or at least should be at this point) replaced by an online search and downloading of a form. There is some goodness in that expedience, but I wonder if the lack of human contact means that it is harder for folks to understand the process (no one to write and ask questions, no one to respond with directions). I suppose this is the role now played by many of the non-profit organizations that provide legal and social work services for folks navigating this process. Even in Opa's time, the AFSC and other agencies were needed to help people manage. 

The last letter refers to Opa's shifting from student visa to visitor visa. This isn't so much a desire but a bridge between the protections of being a student to the protections of being an employee (or even better, citizen). Opa has graduated, so he's sort of in no-man's-land as far as his legal status in the US. 

I felt for him as he was describing his application process. He's applying for jobs, but as a German(-ish) applying for jobs in companies that are actively working on projects to benefit the war effort: he's a liability. They have to really want him to go through the efforts of getting permission/clearance to have them on their team. I can fully understand why as a company you would want to simplify and say: no foreign employees right now. Unfortunately, that guy is my Grandfather, and he is in a bind. 

This must feel oddly familiar to him. In Germany, after graduating from High School with honors, he had no prospects. No real path to a positive career or education. Eve before the war was in full-steam-ahead mode, this was clear. Now he has clawed his way to America, studied and managed working, creating a new life, becoming proficient in English, and fully engaging the American culture. He has done his best to fully assimilate. Here he is, after graduation, and the prospects are not looking great. He is working hard with optimism, but despair is really a short distance around the corner. Has he given thought to what would happen if no one employs him? How long can he work odd jobs? 

Opa was German by cultural upbringing, but he did have a stubborn optimism. I thought that was born out of his life experience of things working out, but now I wonder if he had always been a bit stubbornly optimistic. He just took the next step, confident (or faking it) that things would work out.

It's working so far.