This post begins Part 3 of a series of interviews with my dad. If you have not yet read the first two interviews that cover Questions 1-3, you may want to start first with them.
Question 4 . Would you consider yourself more curious, more explorer, or more adventurer?
“I always wanted to know what made things work. That’s why I worked on cars, radios, and televisions. I took radio and TV repair correspondence courses. I took classes for the fun of learning more–not necessarily to make more money. When I was a young man there wasn’t much I couldn’t repair, and my family today, still turns to me today for guidance on some of their repairs projects.”
5. What do you believe about yourself that helped you become a successful Man and weather hard times?
“I grew up having to rely on and believe in myself. Therefore, I openly accepted “challenges,” always tried to do my best, kept a positive attitude, and proved to myself that I could succeed at most everything I tried. If anything went over my head or became too difficult for me to accomplish alone, I asked others for advice and/or help.”
6. What do you remember most about your dad?
“Dad (Jesse Burton Boling) quit school in second grade to help work the farm where his family lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia. For many years dad was a drunk, but he kept me and my sisters together as a family. Dad worked half days on Saturdays. I remember that I would meet him at his bus stop on those days. He would give me his streetcar pass and I would stay at the bus stop until I resold it. I then walked to Herman’s grocery store and bought a giant Kosher Dill pickle. (Each pickle cost five cents.)
I believe dad was in his mid-50s when he finally quit drinking. He wore what used to be called “coke-bottle” eyeglasses because his lenses were very thick. They looked like the bottoms of the then current day green glass coke bottles. I remember a policeman called Whitey (I think because he had white hair) would walk dad home from the beer joint near the theatres in southeast DC rather than lock him up for being drunk in public. In contrast, his brother, my Uncle Dick, frequently got sent to the Occoquan jail for his public drunkenness. I think when dad went to the doctor about his declining eyesight, the doctor told him he was going to go completely blind if he didn’t take better care of himself. He developed glaucoma and diabetes and the sugars in beer and liquor exacerbated those diseases.”
7. What events most shaped your life?
“I was five, my sister Delores was three, and my other sister Barbara was 13 months old, when our young mother abandoned our family and never returned. She died when she was 33. So, there was never a woman in our household to raise us. Dad was either at work or not home most of the time, which left me to raise myself and my sisters. Rather than play like other young children did, I had to try to be more responsible and be more like an adult and parent.
We also were children on the great depression (1929-1942). During the worst years of the Depression (1933-1934) the overall jobless rate was 25% with another 25% taking wage cuts or working part time. It wasn’t until 1941, when WWII was underway, that unemployment fell back below 10%. The Depression-era motto: “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without. This could be why I am still hesitant to throw anything away, and why I buy multiples of an item when there’s a great sale.
With no money to spend for going out to eat or to see a movie, people spent most of their time at home. Neighbors and friends got together to play cards, and board games like Scrabble and Monopoly (both games were introduced in the 1930’s). There was no television when I was a boy. The radio was our free form of entertainment with shows like Amos and Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, Death Valley Days, The Shadow, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bob Crosby, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey–and so many of the great “big-bands.”
In 1942, the government set up a rationing program to limit purchases of sugar, coffee, meat, fish, butter, eggs, cheese, shoes, rubber and gasoline. Silk and newly invented nylon was used to produce parachutes, so women found it hard to get stockings. And, I remember many valentines day gifts to your mom being a big beautiful card with poems of love and flowery decorations, a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates. (Whitman’s is still one of the largest and oldest brands of boxed chocolates in the United States. They’ve been around since 1842!), and always a pair of boxed nylon stockings with dark seams that would line the backs of her legs. You know, your mother had some beautiful legs and I was happy that she could show them off in nylons that I had bought for her.