I began this blog years and years ago, in large part because of a smile. Or rather the loss of my dad’s smile. Sifting through his letters, photographs, and public documents was a constructive way to move through grief, and the resulting stories led to many discussions among family members, known and newly discovered.
Norman was the youngest boy in the Strickland family, living on the Mecklenburg County (VA) farm with his parents, George and Florette, and his brothers, Sidney, Clifford, and Paul. In addition to working fields of tobacco, food crops, and cattle, George Strickland, ever the entrepreneur, invested in school buses to ensure his sons’ education beyond the one room school houses of the day. According to family lore, each boy in turn learned to drive and maintain the buses, and was responsible for a route before attending school in the nearby town of Chase City.
We don’t have many photographs from the Norman’s childhood; most of them went up in flames when the home-place burned in the late 1940s. I was thrilled when I came across this World War II-era photo of Norman, with two of his brothers and his parents using those school buses as props for a family reunion photo.
My dad–the lanky, wavy-haired kid to the right–looks like he can barely contain his joy at Clifford’s visit home. Brother Paul sits between his kid brother and his dad, George. My grandmother looks at peace, relieved to see one of her enlisted boys safely back at the farm, even if only temporarily, perhaps mindful of Sidney’s absence, serving as he was in Europe.
I’ve got plenty of supporting documents to put this photo at the farm, Oakview, between 1943 and 1946 when both of Norman’s brothers were discharged. There was a time when I would have called the caption complete, and moved on to the next curious image.
But I’m intrigued by the white, truck-shaped decal on the bus parked just beyond the family. What does that signage add to my story?
“Keep ’em fit to keep ’em rolling”
The Roosevelt administration declared war on wear and waste in May 1942, charging the Office of Defense Transportation with the development of a program that would conserve materiel vital to the war effort and the nation’s economy. Thus was developed the U.S. Truck Conservation Corps which called on the cooperation of all patriotic truck owners and drivers. In taking a pledge to routinely conduct maintenance inspections, make repairs, and conserve parts, these citizens promised to keep America’s trucks in top shape for the duration of World War II. Each truck–or bus–so pledged had a white, truck-shaped decal affixed to its door, making public an individual’s commitment to the war effort.
“Roll longer for victory…for America!”
At the time of this photograph, my dad was 15 or 16 years, and, according to family lore, had been driving tractors and vehicles for years. While Norman’s two oldest brothers were serving in the military and a third brother was studying at Richmond Professional Institute, my dad was still at home, busy with farm chores, school work, and a bus route.
And contributing to the war effort by keeping those buses in tip top shape “to outlast the Axis.”
Clifford’s dog tags and the bus decal add to the weight of this joyous moment. Norman had a break from the worry about his brother’s deployment and the incessant demands of the nation’s conservation efforts. On this summer’s day, he got to be a kid, sitting on the hood of a bus, relishing the company of his family.
Strickland Family Portrait, photographer unknown. ca. 1944. Privately held by D. Kay Strickland, [address for private use,] Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. 2022.
Detroit evening times. (Detroit, Mich), 18 Aug. 1942. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88063294/1942-08-18/ed-1/seq-4/>