Thursday, May 7, 2015

October 2, 1939: Climate Change

October 2, 1939.

Phil Myers
1722 E. Gordon Street.
McPherson, Kansas.

Re. Thomas Doeppner

Dear Phil Myers:

      I don't know just when the "Volendam" will arrive in New York, but I know that Thomas Doeppner will want to come out to McPherson immediately.
      I have sent a letter to him at Ellis Island and I will ask him further to let you know the time of his arrival in McPherson.
     I have not any worth while suggestions about the courses for him to take. I think that will have to be worked out after he comes. I suggest that he ought not to try to carry too heavy a load. I think he should take an American History course if it can be worked in at all, and of course, English. My only other suggestion would be to remember always how strange everything here will be to him at first. It is hard to realize just how strange our customs and ways of doing things are to an European. It will probably take a little while for him to get adjusted to our climate and food, to say nothing of our strange customs. I am afraid I won't meet him before he goes West but I will be eager to hear how he gets along. 


Charlotte S. Salmon
Placement Worker

I love Charlotte. She writes Phil Myers back an honest response to his last letter asking about how they can best welcome and ease Opa’s transition to College, Kansas, the USA.

Charlotte responds to his request for further details on Opa’s arrival time- to put it simply: Who Knows? Charlotte knows better than most just how chaotic that arrival can be, and how plans can change with the smallest obstacle. She tries to give Phil a taste of this and encourages him with her insistence that Opa will try to get to McPherson as soon as possible.

Then, with compassion, she encourages Phil to wait until Opa arrives to make final plans for his class schedule, except that it would be best to keep it light and include English and American History. These classes are of course to help Opa adjust to the language and culture of America. I love how Charlotte reminds Phil how this boy will be adjusting to his new home. It will be a total immersion into all things unfamiliar: food, customs, language, climate, etc. She seems genuinely disappointed that she won’t be able to meet Opa before he travels to Kansas. She will definitely be checking in.

I’m thinking about my trip to Germany and my trip to Kansas. I know that my brief visits to both places are not the same as growing up in either place and then being transplanted in the other. However, I will say that of all places for Opa to go, Kansas was probably one of the better fits. The folks in the south would have been overwhelmingly emotive and touchy-feely and loud. The folks up North perhaps also too loud, but in a different way. Kansas folks have a reserved sense about them that may have felt familiar to Opa, from stoic Germany. Kansas folks work hard and are determined. These were pioneers who staked a claim on wasteland and made it a farm, then stuck it out when that farm turned to dust. Opa was entering into the tail end of the Dust Bowl. He was about to meet some of the toughest Americans there were. These were no wealthy aristocrats. I think Opa’s hardship was very different, but there was some common survival instinct here. At this juncture, I think that Opa and the Kansas farmers will actually get along just fine.

The biggest adjustment I imagine, funnily enough: the weather and landscape. Oh, I know that all the other stuff is a big deal, but I’m just imagining that first glance at the western frontier with Amsterdam and Berlin in his mind. I can just imagine Opa’s thoughts: “Where are all the buildings? I can see for miles! Where are the hills?!” The violent storms, the parched ground, the endless horizon of dirt and wheat. I can’t imagine the shock of change. 
a panoramic picture I snapped outside our trailer in Kansas August 2014- endless sky

So Charlotte has it right- everything will be strange to him at first, and if nothing else, it will do well to remember that what Phil and his friends at McPherson know to be everyday life, will be as foreign to this young student as he will be to them.

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