Category Archives: My Life

A Slice of My Life: Paradise and Doomsday on Mt. Weather

In 1945 I traveled with my family from Ohio to Mt. Weather, Virginia, a place so peaceful and beautiful that it hardly seemed real. I had become the heroine in my own personal adventure, living in a cabin like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little houses; living on a mountain like Heidi with her grandfather.

As an adult I discovered that the paradise of Mt. Weather now hides a secret even more serious than those mysteries unraveled by my other favorite literary characters, the Bobbsey twins.

The Summer of 1945 at Mt. Weather

Shenandoah

View of the Shenandoah Valley near where we spent the summer.

That summer the air was clear and the views from our modernized cabin stretched for miles.  I had just turned six years old and my little brother, Billy was only six months. World War II was winding down and the official peace treaty with Japan would be signed in September.

That summer, my father, Paul Kaser, worked for the U. S. Weather Bureau, the operators of Mt. Weather since the early 1800s.

Despite what the later news articles say, the Bureau of Mines did not control  Mt. Weather starting in the late 1930s. They might have coexisted with the Weather Bureau, but everyone my father had contact with that summer belonged to the Weather Bureau. They were busily sending up balloons into the atmosphere, not digging an underground city.

One of the men he had worked for in New Philadelphia six years before held a position at Mt. Weather, and invited him to come work for the summer.  A cabin was available on the property of a Dr. Tappan, who had a young daughter just about my age.  My father blissfully describes our home for the summer to his friend, Delmar (Red) Alderman, an old friend from Killbuck, Ohio.

Paul Kaser

Alderman Hardware back room. Paul on the right, and owner of the store, Delmar “Red” Alderman on the left.

Father starts the letter off with a bit of understatement–sneaking up on the spectacular view.

The view is not spectacular just pretty countryside miles and miles of it streached [stretched] out like a panorama. We can see Winchester about 25 miles. Our front yard looks out on the Shenandoah valley on the other side of the mountain is Bull Run valley and beyond are Bull Run Mountains. The air is so fresh you never get tired. The big thing is the peacefulness. No noise except of our own making. The cabin is a thing of beauty. The man who owns it has spent $3000 on it and has managed to keep it looking rustic. It is nicely furnished and has all modern convenience. Hot & cold water, electric refrigeration and modern kitchen except that cooking is done on a wood range or on an electric hot plate.

Although I was just six, the cabin and its surroundings made a lasting impression on me. Unfortuately, my parents did not take a lot of photos of that idyllic summer, but I have snapshots in my mind of the walks through the woods, visiting in the big house with Cummie Tappan and my fascination with the fact that the Tappans had a colored cook. (That’s how we would have described her then.)  I never had known anyone but Mommys to do the cooking!!

When we needed to buy something we went to the nearest “big” town, Berryville VA.

Berryville Main Street looking west

Sometimes Mother and I, pushing my baby brother in his buggy, would walk all the way to the Mt. Weather complex where we  visited Aileen Corwin, the wife of the man my father worked for. The Corwins also had a son my age to join me in exploring the woods.  I remember that Mrs. Corwin once  killed a rattlesnake with a broom when  it had invaded her porch. Fortunately, no snakes visited us, but each evening, mother checked me over carefully for ticks.

The Corwins lived in a simple wooden house near the edge of the complex. Beyond their house were a few two and three story wooden buildings that housed offices and “Government Building,”  a kind of dormitory for workers. We could walk anywhere in the simple complex and visit my Father at work. As I recall, roads were narrow and unpaved.

In his letter to  Delmar Alderman, my father describes how to get to the cabin.

Come to Winchester VA. You can come east on Route 40 or 50 or you can take the Penn. TurnPike and drop down to Winchester then take VA. State Route 7 and come to Berryville VA. (You can inquire there) follow 7 to the top of the ridge (10 miles or so) there you will find a cross road with a lot of signs reading Mt. Weather, Appalachian Trail and a lot of peoples names. Turn south on a gravel road and follow uphilll about a mile and a half till you come to a mail Box marked Dr. Tapppen. That’s the place. Come in and take off your things.

He also tempts his friend to visit by telling him that he can visit the Skyline Drive and Washington D. C., each only about two hours away from the cabin.  (We had gone to Washington D.C. to visit with my father’s nieces, Phyllis and Evelyn Kaser, who worked during the war in government jobs.)

I can remember walking along the sparsely traveled road with my mother, enjoying the wildflowers, learning the names of trees, and picking wild strawberries. Amazingly, although the Mt. Weather complex has changed drastically,  the area around Mt. Weather seems no different than it was 60 years ago. The Google Map street view of Route 601(the cross road off Rt. 7 that my father referred to in his letter) along the ridge of the mountain look so familiar to me, that I feel like Google must have an image of my mother and me walking along, looking for wild strawberries growing in front of the low stone walls.

But when my journey on Google Maps closes in on the Mt. Weather facility, I can’t “drive” right in. A sign declares FEMA Mt. Weather Emergency Operations Center, and a gate and guardhouse end the Google Maps journey.

Mt. Weather

The Mt. Weather Complex today.

What a surprise it was to see a Time Magazine article about Mt. Weather 45 years later. Digging into the mountain, government agencies had created a hideaway for important officials in case of atomic bomb attack. In 2011, Time magazine’s blog ran a condensation of that article from December 9, 1991, that you can read here. Although the road leading to the top of the mountain may look the same, the pastoral innocence of the Mt. Weather complex itself existed no more. The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) designation is a cover for the real mission of the place.

The title of the article, DOOMSDAY HIDEAWAY, describes a very different place than the one where my father worked and my family visited during the summer of 1945.

News items and Wikipedia have a gap in their timetables of the way that Mt. Weather morphed from a Weather Station into a secret underground hideout for high government officials in case of nuclear attack. The history the reporters dug up skips over the immediate post-war period when we saw Mt. Weather.

A more recent report, from NBC, (June 2015) indicates that the facility is no longer used as a hideout for government officials, but instead an “alternate” center of operations for Homeland Security. At any rate, the real work of the government there remains top secret.

The news sources say that in the late 1930s the Bureau of Mines started some excavations, and by 1959 the Bureau had completed an underground shelter in Pre Cambrian basalt.  Ironically, my father’s description of the place emphasizes “peacefulness” and a decade after he wrote that letter, the emphasis was on preparedness for war and disaster.

I am so glad that we had that short respite on the mountain at a moment in history when we were enjoying the prospect of long-awaited peace in the world and the peacefulness of the beautiful Virginia mountains.

A Slice of My Life: Birthdays are Like Escalators

In 1963 my husband and I packed up our 18-month-old and moved from Columbus, Ohio to Scottsdale, Arizona.  Both sets of our parents stayed behind in Ohio.  Grandparents missed their first grandchildren and  particularly hated to miss birthdays. By September 1966, our oldest, called Butch back then, was turning five, our middle boy, Mike, had turned three in July and the youngest, Brent, was about to turn two. (This picture was about 5 months earlier.)

Badertscher sons 1966

Brent, Kenny (Butch),  and Mike Badertscher, Easter 1966

On our budget, land line long distance cost too  much to use frequently, so we would exchange calls on Friday night, and write letters almost every day. (Today we call by cell phone across the country for no extra cost, and across the world for nominal charges. It is easy to forget how special long distance calls were before cell phones.)

I kept most of the letters I received and my mother kept all the letters I wrote her.

Lost and Found

The bad news is that a rainstorm flooded the storeroom with the letters I wrote and for decades, mother assumed the letters had been ruined. The good news is that one day my sister opened a long-stored box and discovered a cache of letters from Arizona to Ohio.  So we now have a record of all those cute things our boys said and our own activities through the very busy 60s.

The letters from our parents and other relatives likewise seemed to disappear. Then we moved, and had stacks of boxes to deal with.  I opened a box that turned out to include treasures like this letter from my father, Paul Kaser, to our oldest son, on the occasion of his fifth birthday.

*In the letter he refers to F & R Lazarus Department Store, a fixture in our lives in Ohio as long as I could remember. The main store, in downtown Columbus, carried everything from refrigerators to gloves in eight stories of delights (Six above ground and two basements).

Lazarus Department Store

F & R Lazarus, Columbus Ohio, in an earlier day.

Birthdays are Like Escalators

Paul Kaser, 325 Conklin Drive, Hilliard, Ohio 43026

Monday Sept. 12, 1966

Dear Butch,

Congratulations on your birthday. You have not had enough birthdays to know very much about them, so let me tell you. I’ve had plenty.

Birthdays are like an escalator. Remember when you were here and we went to Lazarus Department store. We went up and down in the store on those stairs that move. You step on and the stairs move up. Pretty soon your head gets high enough so that you can see out onto a new floor. Here there are different things than you saw on the floor you just left. It is like a whole new world with new things to see. And then you look around and see all these things and do all the things you are supposed to do on that floor and then back onto the stairs and up to another new floor and new things to see and do.

Now you can look back and see for yourself that this is true. A while back you became old enough to go to nursery school. Since then you have gone up on the escalator (stairs) of time and now you are on the Kindergarten floor. Another year and up another stair and you will be in regular school.

Then will come high school and college and each year when your head comes up so you can see around on the new floor you have reached you will see things and do things you never thought of before.

One thing is different about the birthday stairs than the escalator stairs. Every time you go up another birthday the stairs move faster instead of all being the same speed as they were in Lazarus. And you will find that you don’t have much time before the birthday stairs move you up another year.

Above all things when you have reached a new floor (birthday) with all the new experiences and things to do, you must get busy and do everything that is to be done in that department. Because you will never be back there again, so don’t miss anything. Your mother was very good at this and can tell you what I mean.

Well be good and say hi to mother, dad, Mike and Brent for me,

Love

Grandpa

A Slice of My Life: Music of My Youth

Today a program on Public Radio featured this year’s nominees for the Grammys.  Nothing makes me feel older and more out of it, than hearing the names of  wildly popular, hot new musicians. I realize I don’t have a clue who they are or what type of music they produce.

But I pulled myself out of my funk by realizing that for all my ignorance of contemporary music, my children and grandchildren probably are similarly clueless. What do they know about the music of my youth?  Yes, there was music before MP3, streaming, or even before CDs!

My Parents Music

As a child, the cheerful nonsense verse of the Depression and World War II hung on, and I would sing “Marzy doats and Dozy coats and Little Lambseativy” with my father, giggling all the way. (Trans.: Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy).

Growing up I learned to love my parents’ eclectic set of 78 rpm record albums.  As a teen, I added my own more modern music, but never lost my appreciation for the records of my parents and never looked down on their choices–most of their choices, at least.

Gilbert and Sullivan

Poster for Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Patience.’

For instance, Mom and Dad had several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. To this day, I love the word play and can sing along with many of the songs.

“I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral,”

They also had various classical albums that I remember listening to while I was in grade school.  My father took me to see José Iturbi, Spanish pianist in a Columbus Ohio concert when I was about ten.  I was as star-struck as my grand-daughter might be going to a Beyoncé concert.

Side Note: In the 1940s through 1960s, people still considered music education an essential part of a child’s growing up, and everyone I knew took piano lessons if their parents could afford it.  Likewise, although I went to a tiny high school, we had a school band, a boy’s chorus, a girl’s chorus and a mixed chorus.

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in movie “Sweethearts”

The operettas sung by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy (and anything  that Victor Herbert wrote) stole the hearts of Americans in the late 1920s through the 1940s, and my parents owned those records, too. I drew the line at the syrupy songs of that period.

When I was in college, I know that my parents had quite a few albums of jazz, but I was too busy with college to pay attention to exactly which ones they had. But I do know that when I got married, an album by Dave Brubeck was the one of the first to be added to my own collection, and I have been a lifelong fan of all jazz.

The exception to accepting rather than disdaining my parent’s musical choices (Besides MacDonald and Eddy) would be the old folks’ Saturday night viewing of Lawrence Welk playing polkas and oldies.  I did agree on one of the family’s favorite entertainers from that period, Victor Borge. He never failed to crack us up, while providing a fresh look at the classics. And Grandma (and everybody) loved Liberace, who sold classical music by mixing it with plenty of kitsch.

Junior High

Although future generations may have heard of some of the musicians I name in this article, I probably can stump them with my Junior High hearthrob. I fell hard for a singer named Johnnie Ray.  He was known for singing sad songs–“Cry Me a River,” “The Little White Cloud that Cried,” and the very romantic “Walking My Baby Back Home.

Ironically, since I was not a big fan of Rock ‘n Roll, many, including Tony Bennett, have said that Johnnie Ray was a precursor of Rock and Roll.  Even Ringo Starr reportedly said that the three singers the Beatles listened to early on included Johnnie Ray!

Totally star-struck, I attended a live concert by Johnnie Ray in Cleveland in 1952 and joined his International Fan Club. The crowds of squealing girls who greeted him echoed the earlier Frank Sinatra sensation and the later Elvis and Beatles mania. My attempt to start a fan club in Killbuck, Ohio didn’t catch fire, but I collected various fan memorabilia and mooned over Johnnie for a couple of years.

My Teen Years

Every generation finds a particular music that forms the soundtrack for its high school years. In their adulthood, that music generates nostalgia. My generation–the early to mid-1950s–saw a radical shift from the mellow crooning of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Eddie Fisher, Patti Paige, Rosemary Clooney and others to the electricity of Elvis Presley and the birth of Rock ‘n Roll.

I distinctly remember Rock Around the Clock (1954) by Bill Haley and the Comets and Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill (1956). I had the sensation that pieces of music like these would change the whole musical world. And they did. Besides, in northeastern Ohio, we were close to the source of the excitement. Disk Jockey Alan Freed from Cleveland gets credit for being the first to feature and promote the new form–Rock and Roll. Of course it helped that parents thought it was despicable and dangerous music.

Not so incidentally, we knew what songs we should be listening to by listening on the radio and watching on TV (1950-1959)– “Your Hit Parade.” (The Grammys did not exist until 1959) The Wikipedia article on the Hit Parade refreshed my memory about some of the musicians, but it does not mention Rosemary Clooney, who along with Giselle MacKenzie is the one I remember the most.

Elvis

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley became the heart-throb of my high school girlfriends. Elvis’ first big hit, Heartbreak Hotel dominated the airwaves in January of 1956, the year that we graduated from high school. Some of my friends no doubt dreamed of Elvis as their date for the prom. After all, at just 3 or 4 years older than us, he understood our generation.

Confession time: I never liked Elvis, and I never became a big fan of Rock. When I whined to a friend that I wanted to listen to meaningful lyrics and hear a tune, she replied that she wanted something she could dance to.

In another conversation with friends, we argued about Patti Page. He thought her music excelled. I judged her based on a nonsense song, “How Much Is That Doggy In the Window.” It must have been the country edge to her songs. Peggy Lee’s bluesy jazz appealed to me more.

The music world was moving to Rock ‘n Roll. Nevertheless, some of the earlier stars continued to have hit songs and from the fifties into the sixties, we (some of us at any rate) continued to listen to the gentler styling of Doris Day, Johnny Mathis, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, Dean Martin, ‘Frankie,’ Perry Como. The choral music of Mitch Miller was also popular in the 50s and 60s–although not so much with the youngsters. You could find a variety show with popular musicians nearly every night of the week on television.  TV introduced new musicians, and radio disk jockies helped popularize them. Ed Sullivan introduced Elvis Presley to the nation, and later introduced the Beatles. But as Rock prevailed, live concerts became more important than TV as a medium for artists.

So, even though I may not know who the Grammys are going to in 2017, I definitely could have told you in 1954 who would be on Your Hit Parade that week. I collected 45 rpm records–little disks about the size of today’s CDs.  With high school graduation money, I purchased a portable 45-record player to take to college with me. It, and the 45s I played on it–Eddie Fisher, Johnny Mathis, etc.–are long gone. But whenever I hear “Walking My Baby Back Home”, or “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”, I will remember those days.