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Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, November 6, 2015


In a time when hatred, ignorance, and bigotry are all regularly promoted by major candidates as "patriotic," this letter to the Editor is worth reposting.


              A local paper in my little beach town recently printed a letter from a reader who extolled the virtues of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his extraordinary Americanism, devoted to ridding the free world (or all of it, for that matter) from the Red Peril of Communism.  And since The Donald has also devoted his campaign to ridding the United States of immigrants, legal or not, here’s a story that bears telling.    

               In the early 1950s I was a young child, concerned more with learning to ride my first bicycle than with the state of the Nation, or Senator McCarthy’s campaign to eradicate anyone he believed to be “subversive” and more specifically, allied with the Communist Party in America.  My grandfather, Spero Evanoff, was an immigrant from the old Yugoslavia, and his wife Anna, was from the Ukraine.  He came here at a young age, along with his elder brother, and carried all his worldly belongings in a rye market basket.  (I still have that basket to this day.)  He went to barber school in Western Pennsylvania where he met and married Anna, and became a barber for the rest of his life.  He left the Homestead, PA area soon after his graduation and, green card in hand, with his young family (daughter Eleanor, daughter Margaret, son Harry) moved back to Eastern Pennsylvania to the Harrisburg area.  He had, I believe, cousins and fellow immigrants in Steelton, PA, which had a large population of folks from the Balkans in Central Europe.  After the death of Eleanor from a burst appendix at age 10, and the subsequent total mental breakdown of his wife Anna, and her institutionalization in the State Hospital in Harrisburg, he moved with his two remaining children to Palmyra, a small town East of Harrisburg.  He had friends there, a married couple who ran a tailoring business, as they had in Europe.  Life, as it does, moved on.


              When Senator McCarthy began seeing pink things under his bed and began sweeping with his vicious broom, the good people of Palmyra, fundamentalist Christians of Brethren and Mennonite ancestry, decided that they didn’t want a man with a strange accent from an even stranger country cutting their hair.  His business evaporated, and he was virtually driven out of town.  His son, Harry, could not deal with being ostracized and left home.  His daughter Margaret (my mother) married a local boy and began a lifetime of denial regarding her father. To me, he was my grandpa, and I loved him, and he loved me.


              My grandfather relocated further West and closer to Steelton to another small town, Hummelstown, where there was a greater mix of immigrants and where, frankly, people did not care so much about Senator McCarthy.  They just wanted good haircuts and my grandfather, being one of two barbers, was the only other game in town. 


              So, my grandfather had lost his business, his wife, and all three of his children because he was “a foreigner” from a suspected Communist-affiliated country and highly suspect.  But it didn’t stop there.  He saw friends deported for no clear reason other than the Government saw fit to do it.  He saw other friends lose businesses.  He saw other children alienated from their families.  And through it all, he paid his taxes, and pledged allegiance to this country, the same country who would never grant him citizenship because of his “suspicious” colleagues.  The tailor from Austria.  The Italian businessman.  My grandfather died when I was fourteen, on the Fourth of July, freedom for all, fairness to none. 

              When I was 19, I applied for a position at the former Olmsted Air Force Base in nearby Middletown, PA.  The position required a “Secret” clearance, which usually took 4 to 6 weeks to complete.  Eighteen weeks into the clearance process, I was called by an officer of the OSI (Office of Special Investigation) of the Air Force, who told me that a car would be sent for me at 8:00 the following morning and that I would be “interviewed” regarding my job application.  The “interview” was, in fact, an interrogation, and the only people present in that hot, unvented room on that summer day were a stenographer, three men in dark suits, and me.  The “interview” took over 7 hours, and I was given a bathroom break and a drink of water.  The questions were all regarding my grandfather and his suspected affiliation with an organization called the IWO, or International Workers Order, a Communist Party-affiliated insurance, mutual benefit and fraternal organization.  I had no knowledge of whether or not he was a member, but he had apparently taken out an insurance policy to protect me, his only grandchild, from accident and/or illness.  Not only did they not believe my testimony, they caused my clearance to be “suspended” which is, in actuality, worse than a denial.  So I lost the job before I got it.  Some 20 years later, in Dayton, OH, I was a temporary worker in a very large chemical plant with massive government contracts.  When I was offered permanent employment, I was told I would have to have an AEC (Atomic Energy Clearance) check run.  I told the head of security that I would never get the clearance, and told him why.  They proceeded anyway, and for the second time I had a clearance suspended.  I didn’t get that job, either.  I’ve done a lot of waitressing and barmaid jobs, because no one in those industries cared who my grandfather was.  Now I am a very old lady, on borrowed time, and I cannot let Mr. Foertsch’s letter stand without a rebuttal. 

               I would like to address one other matter, that being so-called security risks in higher government. 

Even after McCarthy’s “cleansing,” we were subjected to Richard Nixon, Robert McNamara, George H. W. and George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and perhaps the worst of all, Richard Cheney, who invented a war which bankrupted our nation and killed and maimed our soldiers in order to profit from it.  So much for security risks. 
The defense rests.

~~~ Orb Weaver

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