Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Emily Dickinson and Hiroshima: What could they possibly have in common???

*Look for a new posting most Tuesdays and Fridays*

A good part of the fun that I have in rummaging through Catherine LeDuke's stuff is getting to share with family and friends some of the treasure hunting stories related to the more "interesting" discoveries I make.

Two facts are important to keep in mind as you read on to discover the meaning of the title of this posting: Emily Dickinson was one of mother's favorite poets and James Neville personally built the A-bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.  Only the first is actual fact; the latter is just LeDuke family lore.

Catherine LeDuke and James Neville had a great love for English Literature; especially poets and essayists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  The book shelves at 114 LeDuke Street are filled with classics; Emerson, Hawthorne, Irving, Hemingway, Whitman, Thoreau, and Catherine's ever-favorite Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson.  None of the books in our possession are "First Editions" unfortunately, and all are so well-read that they are falling apart.

In the past several years while Amanda and I have been reading the daily letters written between James Neville and Catherine both before their 1936 marriage and during their WWII experience, we have come to appreciate even more how much these two fine teachers had in common.  Rarely a whole week ever went by without one of them mentioning a list of books being read.  And we came to look forward to mother's regular inclusions of a few lines of poetry and often whole sonnets as the mood often struck her.

In November of 1945 James Neville purchased a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson which was intended to be an anniversary present for Catherine.  James Neville had requested a two-week furlough for the middle of December and he would present this gift in person on December 23rd.  The book was entitled Bolts of Melody: previously unpublished poems by Emily Dickinson.  

James Neville was ever the "sad sack" and as luck would have it his lone suitcase was misplaced by an employee of the Greyhound Bus Line during his trip from Los Alamos to Memphis.  His anniversary present, and more importantly to me, his Christmas gifts to his children, Cathie and Jimmy, were enjoying a bus tour of parts unknown while James spent his entire furlough in a greater-than-normal state of frustration.  It would be mid-January before James Neville would be reunited with his underwear and my western cowboy outfit.  The underwear stayed in New Mexico; my boots and chaps, Cathie's doll, and Mother's book of poems arrived in Tiptonville January 27, 1946.

This we know from her letter of that date where she starts out by devoting the first few pages to some of the new poems she has just been reading.  She also tells Daddy about how cute I look in my new outfit and mentions that I seemed to be having a lot more fun playing with Cathie's new doll.  

Everything that I have written so far is leading up to the fact that on my last trip to Tiptonville, while looking through the bookshelves in search of some poetry to read to mother, I found this very book of Dickinson poems, Bolts of Melody.  At the time I didn't realize the importance of the find.  It was not until I completed the theft and had it at home in Cumming, GA that upon closer examination I found the inscription on the inside cover: "Dec 23rd, 1945, Love 'Duke."

Inside was this picture of James Neville in class A uniform.  The picture was actually taken the previous year when he was at O'Reilly General Hospital for x-ray tech training.  Mother must have put this in the book at some later date as a keepsake to help her remember the general period of time when she received the book. 

I thought I had remembered reading about a book of poetry that he had given mother and thus I looked through my book-writing notes and dug into the "letter stash" and was able to pull out Mother's January 27, 1946 letter.  I reviewed other letters written during this period to put together the details surrounding the lost suitcase, the book purchase in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was even able to find this picture of me in my 1945 western gear.  All good cowboys carried a football as well as a six-shooter.


After re-reading all this I realize that one could easily find this to be "much-a-do-about-nothing."  However, I am just trying to share a bit of the fun one can have in an innocent bit of voyeurism.

Today, August 6th, is the 68th anniversary of the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945. 

And thus begins the "Rest of the Story"; for tucked into the pages of Emily Dickinson's book of poems I found the dust cover for a book written by John Hersey entitled: Hiroshima, written in 1946.  

In a posting later today, I'll tell more about the "not-yet-found" book belonging to Catherine and James Neville.  I will describe the fun I had investigating Hiroshima and maybe I will get Amanda to tell about the scavenger hunt I sent her on.  

And if I know CLC43, she will have already looked up information on John Hersey.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

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