By Marilyn P. Oppenborn Steber
There’s a saying that, as long as people remember you, you still live. I hope that is true because last month I took a step to ensure my mother is never forgotten.
Most major cities have benefited from the generosity of their wealthier citizens. We know names like Spreckels because of the one-of-a-kind outdoor organ pavilion in Balboa Park, Timken wheel bearing family because of their donation funding a museum, Joan and Ray Kroc for major donations to healthcare.
My mother is not a wealthy woman, and never was. I will not inherit any money upon her death and there won’t be a local monument for her. She raised two daughters pounding a typewriter after our father left us in Miami “to look for a job” and she never owned property, a car, or much of anything of interest to anyone. But she did have a passion for keeping scrapbooks.
A few years ago Mother arranged to give two scrapbooks to the Alabama archives in Birmingham. They are about a young martyr for Civil Rights, a man named Jonathan Myrick Daniels. Besides a monument in “Bloody Lowndes County, Alabama” where Jonathan died, there’s a plaque in Canterbury Cathedral in England that proclaims him a modern day saint. My mother’s scrapbooks may help a student write a paper about Jonathan one day. She would like that.
My father found a job with PanAmerican Airways the Summer of 1941, and was at the PanAm station on Guam the morning the Japanese bombed and straffed the island. He had written to us in Miami to say he hoped to transfer to Manilla soon. That letter arrived on December 8 just as we raced to the bus stop for travel to her job and our kindergarten. Mother had to plead with the mailman to give her the letter she saw in his bag addressed to her. This is the only letter not saved in her scrapbook. She passed it to her father-in-law later in the day so his wife could read it.
Last month I gathered up a scrapbook of collected letters and other “artifacts” associated with the internment of my father in Japan during WW2 and sent them off to the Henry Richter Library at University of Miami, Florida. That’s where the Pan American Airways collection is kept and I saw on their website that they didn’t have anything like the information my mother had collected. In addition to letters with envelopes from Daddy to Mother, there were letters from Pan Am and the Red Cross, newspaper clippings, a QSL postcard from a HAM radio operator in Oakland who had heard my father broadcasting from Japan and a 50 sen note signed by all the other prisoners when they formed a club called the Caught Shorters.
I was thrilled when the Archivist of Special Collections e-mailed that the box I’d sent was delivered and the librarians were all fascinated by the materials. They suggested the collection be by itself in their catalog and asked my opinion about what to name it. It will have the description of Pan Am materials, and it is named for my mother and the Caught Shorters. To me, that’s worth more than money.