On the brink of change
April 8, 1940. That’s when the enumerator for the sixteenth census of the United States visited the Arnold residence in Gladstone, North Dakota.
The census reports nine family members: our grandfather (Peter), his second wife (Margaret), and seven children ranging in age from 2 to 19 years old.
By 1940, four of Grandpa’s children with his first wife (Magdalena) were living elsewhere. The three oldest children had left the farm; the youngest had been adopted by family relatives.
I will never know for sure, of course, but I wonder what they were up to that day. April 8th was a Monday so the younger children most likely attended school, and probably did chores both before and after school. Grandpa kept some livestock (cows, pigs, chickens, and geese), primarily as subsistence for the family, but most of the property was devoted to grain farming. If they were lucky, the weather would have been warm enough that everyone was working the fields getting them ready for spring planting.
On that ordinary day, did anyone in the family, especially the soon-to-be men, guess at the changes that awaited? I’m sure they kept up with news about Hitler’s aggressions and the resulting European unrest, but I doubt they imagined they would end up fighting in a war. At least one of the brothers was already in the military and all but one of the others would follow in due course. My dad graduated high school in May 1944, was inducted into the Army a mere six weeks later, and, after completing basic training, was deployed to the European theater before year’s end.
The war ended, and the Arnold brothers returned to the States. Some went back to their hometown, albeit briefly, but most of them eventually settled elsewhere. The family farm was small, and there weren’t many opportunities in the rural area around it. Of the eight brothers only one lived out his adult life in North Dakota. The others married and raised their families in locations as varied as Arizona, California, Minnesota, and Montana. And, of course, their descendants are dispersed even more widely than their parents.
What was your family’s experience after World War II? Did returning service members stay near their original homes or did they move away? What were their careers and lifestyles like compared to their parents?
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