My Life in Review
My Life in Review: Have I been Lucky or What?
by Jack Crandall, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, SUNY Brockport
When I began to contemplate writing a Life Review my first inclination was to start with an introduction or preface justifying or rationalizing the palpably egocentric venture. I did recognize that one of my writing foibles is a propensity for protracted preambles and prolonged prolegomena—as well as my addiction to alliteration. Thus, before setting pen to paper I grappled with the problem of defending the undertaking but failed to resolve them to my satisfaction. The result? protracted procrastination. The product? a blank page.
Then, at the end of the first week in May, 1991, I delivered a pinch-hit lecture for Candy on the Late Adulthood topic in her Life Span course. In reviewing her lecture notes I once again confronted the recommendation of gerontologists that persons in that ultimate stage should engage in the healthy and productive exercise of composing a Life Review. The day after that class I sat down at my desk, punched out the word "Ancestry" in capital letters and started to write, not a preface but a simple statement expressing my views on genealogy and presenting some scraps of information I had about my remote progenitors. That didn't take long but it tapped my memory bank and generated a momentum which has carried me through five months of nearly daily sessions at the desk devoted to developing a chronological narrative of my remembered experiences.
I have been amazed at the chain reaction of memories triggered by concentrating my thoughts on a particular period. The old memory bank spewed out a spate of specific mental pictures which had not surfaced for years. My task became a matter of composing verbal descriptions of those images and events. I have access to a few documentary references: Clotilde Blowers' Wilson-Willson and Allied Lines; A Rand McNally Atlas; The World Almanac; Admiral Dan Barby's MacArthur's Amphibious Navy; The Capstan, Yearbook of Notre Dame's Midshipman's School; The Boulder, Houghton College's Yearbooks 1935-1939; My Administrative Files; Collections of my Speeches and Essays; Jill's Journals of Our London sojourn; My Journal of our European Trip and scattered memorabilia—but the overwhelming bulk of material came straight out of my memory bank.
The central question: how reliable are those memories? Certainly they are inevitably selective and are not flawless. I discovered in consultation with Jill some inaccurate dates and mixed-up sequences of events which I have corrected but there must be other inaccuracies. All I can claim is that I have tried to be faithful to the images that have bubbled up into my consciousness. I have not "made up" events or invented situations. In some cases where I have used direct quotations I can't swear that they are exactly verbatim but they do carry the original sentiments expressed as I remember them.
This then is not a documentary history or a strictly scholarly autobiography but a verbal trip down Jack Crandall's memory lane. It is a chronological narrative of my experiences as I perceive them now. It inevitably contains embellishments which stem from the fact that it is an egocentric enterprise and, at times, an urge to be "literary" if not always literal. I have not written fiction. The characterization of persons living or dead applies to real persons and is not coincidental.
If it seems to accentuate the positive it's because there are so many positive things to accentuate. As my writing progressed I began to think that an appropriately accurate subtitle should be "A Series of Fortuitous Developments." Last summer, while conversing with Jill's nephew, Chris Carlson, I told him that this exercise was making me realize how blessed I have been. He startled me by saying, "Would you say that you've lived a charmed life?" (his tone indicated that he thought so). I cannot avoid an affirmative answer to that question.
However, as I have pointed out in the concluding paragraphs of the narrative, to attribute the many good breaks I have had to "luck," "fortuitousness" or "accident" would be to ignore the purposeful impact of my family and friends. I may have been—I was—lucky that Jill came to Houghton College and that I was able to convince her to tie her life to mine but that is not to discount all of the things she has done to make my life happy, yes, and successful. Similarly I was lucky to be the beneficiary of caring and competent parents, ideal in-laws, wonderful daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren but their contributions to my well-being and pleasure have not been accidental. The same is true of my friends Wayne Dedman, Harold Rakov, Gordon Allen, Mike Auleta, Harry Porter, Lowell Fox, Al Brown, Roger Carlson, Jim Ditzler, Dick Johnson, Jim Murray, Dick Ingraham, Wayne Herrick, Bill Vogan, Frank Dunlap, Ed Neveu, Don Wilsher et. al. I am not so much a product of a concatenation of coincidences as a beneficiary of the caring efforts of family and friends. Writing these memoirs has raised that realization to a new level of consciousness.
The conventional point to make in one's memoirs' preface is that they are written to share one's experiences with his descendants to let them know about events in his life that they would otherwise not be aware of and, at some future date they might be interested in having a more complete picture of one of their progenitors than would ordinarily be passed down in the family's oral tradition. That certainly constitutes one of the purposes in grinding out this narrative. In fact, at the outset, it stood out as the principal reason for committing my memories to the typewritten page.
However, as the writing progressed I began to realize that this exercise held intrinsic benefits and values for the writer whether or not anyone else—children, grandchildren, et. al. ever perused these typewritten pages. Such a realization squares with the claims of certain gerontologists who contend that a Life Review has a therapeutic value. I tend to shrink from the notion of equating this activity with therapy since I feel compelled to deny a felt need for therapeutic treatment. Nevertheless I must admit from traveling down memory lane a positive effect on my self-perception, an effect that can best be described as a paradoxical combination of a greater sense of humility and pride, augmented by a sharpened sense of gratitude for the many blessings I have received from family and friends.
As the narrative unfolded and the recounting of events moved along I found much that was satisfying and pleasant to recall, little to regret. I realize that that statement smacks of smugness, but I hasten to add that I do not regard myself as the author of the fulfillments, the happiness and successes that have marked my life. With a different set of families and friends it could have been quite otherwise.
I close this protracted preface by registering the hope that some of my descendants will get some fraction of the pleasure in reading about my life that I have enjoyed in living it—and writing about it.
An Excerpt: Golden Anniversaries Relished in Wake of World War II Generation
In May 1995, shortly before Dr. Crandall went into the hospital, he sent this article to the Jamestown Post Journal where it was published after his death on July 3. This story appears is a somewhat different form in Dr. Crandall's memoirs and is included here because it emphasizes the pride he felt in his role as a U.S. Naval Officer in World War II and the strength of his marriage to Jill Crandall with whom he would have celebrated fifty-five years of marriage in November, 1995.
This summer—from May through August—has become a season of golden anniversaries for the World War II generation. They have triggered vivid reminiscences of those climactic events—V.E. Day, V. J. Day, the signing of the treaty—which marked the successful conclusion of the war 50 years ago and have evoked a nostalgia, even celebratory mood.
Just as those events which have been shared by millions provide us with collective memories so were individuals the beneficiaries of personal experiences which form the basis of each person's own golden anniversary. In my case, I was the beneficiary of an amazing concentration of circumstances which, 50 years later, constitute a special golden anniversary and has become one of those true Stories People (like to) Tell.
In February 1945, after serving 18 months in the Southwest Pacific, I became eligible for stateside leave if I were properly relieved of my command of the LCI(L) 430 and if I could obtain transportation back to the United States. As you can imagine, I was inclined to take advantage of that opportunity of getting to the "Golden Gate" before '48 and seeing my wife, Jill, at the earliest possible moment.
In fact, I was so eager that I impulsively wrote Jill, who was teaching at Jamestown High School, urging her to resign her position and prepare to meet me in San Francisco. Because of the multiple uncertainties vis-a-vis the availability of a replacement, the impact of operation plans, the censorship restrictions on personnel movements and transportation arrangements there was no way a date for the rendezvous could be determined.
Moreover, the transmission of such information was strictly forbidden even if it had been available. Yet, in a fit of intuition, or impetuosity, I did designate a specific time for her to come to the Golden Gate. The designated date? "My father's birthday." No further disclosure was necessary and my communique was not subject to censorship.
The projected date, my father's natal day, was May 13. I had no rational basis for selecting that day other than it was known to Jill and non-censorable and that it was three months away, providing time for hoped-for developments. Actually it was simply an arbitrary item on my wish-list.
Jill responded to my arbitrary request with the traditional Navy "wilco" (will comply). Thus, the die had been cast marking the beginning of a painful period for watchful waiting while days turned into weeks. The first break came a month later when my replacement was approved by the flotilla commander.
Now I was transferred to a floating dormitory filled with other officers awaiting transportation. The days dragged on: March evolved into April. Finally as "the cruelest month," neared its demise, a returning convoy was assembled. A colleague, Dick Hughes and I were assigned berths on the USS Octans, a pre-war "banana boat." At long last the ships weighed anchors and struck out in an easterly direction through Pacific waters. As April metamorphosed into May the convoy slowly but inexorably traversed the broad Pacific, bypassed Pearl Harbor and headed for the mainland. For another feverish fortnight we continued to plow the waves.
At first light on May 15, we spied the headlands of the California coast. Minutes later, the sunrise illuminated the girders and cables of the Golden Gate Bridge, a sparkling jewel on the eastern horizon. Two hours later, the USS Octans glided under the magnificent structure, moved up the bay and docked at 10 a.m.
We boarded a Navy bus full of exuberant returnees and proceeded into Union Square, site of the St. Francis Hotel, our designated message center. Rushing up to the information desk, we breathlessly blurted , "Any messages for Lt. Hughes or Lt. Crandall?" The receptionist's answer was almost indifferent, "Yes, they were here about half an hour ago. Said they'd be back about noon." That news so casually delivered struck us like a thunderbolt. It was 10:30 a.m., an hour and a half to wait. Twenty-one months and 90 minutes. Now that 90 minutes stretched before us like 21 months.
How could we fill that yawning gap? We entered the main dining room, ordered but couldn't eat the extravagant breakfast and paid the bloated bill. We wandered around the main floor corridors of that luxury hotel painfully aware of how shabby we looked in our hand-pressed khakis alongside a group of senior army and navy officers in their resplendent dress uniforms acting as aides to the delegates to the conference organizing the United Nations. We continued to pace the lobby floor like the restless expectant fathers.
Then at 11:45 a.m., our wives came through the revolving doors of the lobby entrance. We rushed up to meet them, embraced, but spoke not a word.
Jill and I walked out of the St. Francis, started up the street to Nob Hill, climbed the sidewalk leading to the Mark Hopkins Hotel, rode the elevator to The Top of the Mark and went into the elegant restaurant with its grand view of the city by the bay. Not until we were seated did we speak. Even then I have no idea of what was said. I was in a trance, enveloped in euphoria.
Finally we commenced a coherent conversation. I learned that she had just arrived that morning, that she had crossed the Oakland Bridge on the Union Pacific's City of San Francisco at the same time the USS Octans had moved under the Golden Gate Bridge.
It appears that the remarkable developments which reached their culmination that morning were rooted in my impulsive and cryptic identification of a designated date. Despite an intervening time span of three months, and over 10,000 mile space dimension and countless uncontrolled variables of wartime conditions, we had achieved simultaneous arrival at the point of rendezvous.
Uncanny intuition? Romantic coincidence? Deus ex machine? Whatever it was, its culmination consisted of golden moments not far from the Golden Gate, leaving golden memories behind. This summer has provided us with a special golden anniversary as it has for many others.