[Upon the sweet tongue of toddler, Roma Evelyn Gaffin, who nineteen years in the future would give birth to me, the word, "brother" sounded as "Bob." Thereafter, her older brother, Marlin Landon, then approaching his fifth birthday, was known by that nickname. At the unfolding of the anthology of the Gaffin letters, as presented in my first book of the series, Guardians and Other Angels, it is twelve years later, it is a sweltering summer, it is 1936, and Bob, sixteen years of age, has made a life-altering decision. Forced through economic necessity, like most teenage, working-class boys at the time, he has chosen to quit school and to look for work. Unfortunately, there aren't any jobs to be had in those dark, middle years of the Great Depression, particularly for young workers, and especially in the distressed, agricultural town of Peebles in Adams County, Ohio, USA, where he lives with his parents and six siblings.
The absence of any kind of work somewhere, anywhere in the vicinity, is a reality to which he reluctantly bends. He casts about for alternatives, and soon settles on the only job remotely available to him: he joins the Civilian conservation Corps (CCC). An agency of the federal government set up in 1933, it affords employment to young, unmarried men, whereby in military-style barracks and lifestyle, they are given food, clothing, shelter, and $30.00 per month pay. During its lifetime, it provides succor to an excess of three million young men.
Given that he is under age for joining the CCC, in his usual plucky and determined manner, Bob lies about his age, which somehow slips by the bureaucrats in charge of the program in Adams County, and he gets in. As the first letter of the anthology indicates, Bob has journeyed to the west coast of the United States for the first of his three stints in the CCC. In an excerpt of the letter dated July 22, 1936, the mother of Bob writes: "...Dear Son:- Will now answer your card received yesterday... Well you sure have seen a lot of country for a boy so young and I suppose you had a nice trip. I dreamed all kinds of dreams and imagined everything when, I heard you was starting west..."
In Washington, DC this year of 1936, the man of the hour in his much larger context, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) is riding high on his popularity as President of the United States of America, a popularity due, in part, to the success of the CCC. It is but one among several successful recovery programs he and his friendly Congress have instituted in an effort to combat the worst economic crisis ever to face the nation. His first term of office nearing its end, the cheery FDR is even cheerier than usual this summer for he has again secured the nomination for President on the Democratic ticket.
Mere days prior to the date of the first letter in the collection, at the depot in his hometown, Bob boards the train whose eventual destination is Rogerson, Idaho almost simultaneously with FDRs hitting the campaign trail. Bob and his bunkmates at CCC camp, boys from small towns and large cities all across the nation, plant hundreds of thousands of trees, and build firebreaks in forests, as well as bridges over waterways. Concerned about his work on the bridges, in her second letter to him, a letter dated July 23, 1936, the mother of Bob counsels him: "...Write and tell us all about that country. We looked it up on the map and found Twin Falls. It is on the Snake River. If you are close to any water, be careful..."
While Bob and his CCC fellows are busy with their tasks, their president travels to key cities across the country campaigning for his second term as president. The response the chief executive receives from the American public during his travels affirms his nearly effortless transition into the second of his four terms in the biggest of all jobs in the world.
Across the Atlantic Ocean in this year of 1936, the pot of the many tribes of the German people continues to brew a volatile potion, a noxious and erratic recipe comprising a blend of toxins dismissed by many, and to their folly, as just another benign phase in the warrior nature of that race of Huns. But then again, over the course of the last twelve decades, at least, they have gone all of the way and have actually aggressed against their neighbors -- France among them. One must not forget, as well, that it was the German nation that master-minded and primarily enforced World War I, to that date the most catastrophic conflict ever to befall humankind.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the world, Japan is bulking its muscles in China for its eventual attack on Pearl Harbor...]