On the first day of 1942, my great-grandfather, Ralph Boyer, was living in Nahant, MA with his two young sons and pregnant wife, Babe. Three weeks before, Pearl Harbor had been bombed and the United States had declared war. By the spring of 1942, Ralph had accepted a new job at a paper mill in Wausau, Wisconsin, and the Boyer family prepared to move again. In comparison, Ralph and Babe's previous 100-mile move from western to eastern Massachusetts was small change: from Massachusetts to Wisconsin, the Boyer family had a 1,200 mile move to make, this time with two kids (maybe three, depending on baby Glenda's birthday) under the age of eleven.
|A map of the Boyer family's 1,200 mile move|
To make matters worse, their ten-year-old son, my grandfather Dinon, came down with the mumps just before the big move. The timing was terrible: Ralph was soon due at his new job, their Nahant home was probably already leased or sold, and Dinon had a painful sickness that required him to be quarantined for several days.
“As a result, my mother had to find a neighbor to take this sick little kid – because I was really sick – and nurse me and be quarantined," my grandfather said. "Now, at that time, quarantine was a very big thing. You had this great big sign that was stapled to your front door to warn people that you were quarantined in there for something … it might've been mumps, it might've been measles, or scarlet fever, y’know, there were a number of different things you had to be quarantined for."
My grandfather posing with his toys. He was
careful to never play with his favorites when
sick because then, to protect against contag-
ion, they would have to be burned.
I'm not sure who, but my great-grandparents found a generous soul to care for Dinon, and they made the move to Wisconsin, leaving their sick son 1,200 miles back in Massachusetts. The next problem, after he got well, was how to get an unchaperoned ten-year-old boy from Nahant to Wausau.
Cute kid, isn't he? In this photo, his appearance
favors my father and my younger brother
"I had this big heavy overcoat on and my suitcase, I mean, I was loaded down. And the conductor is checking everybody’s ticket, and I thought that was dumb, why’s he checking? So I slipped by him, I didn't have him check my ticket ... well, that was a bad decision," Dinon said. "I met the traveler’s aide man at the station right there at the train, and then we went into the station, and then he looked at my tickets, and he said, ‘Well, where’s your pass to the next train station?’ because I didn't get my pass at the train station in Chicago, so of course I didn't have one! So he had to make all kinds of telephone calls to get it ok'ed to let me transfer from one train station to the other. And then he arranged it, and they put me on the 'Hiawatha', which was, at that time was a part of a number of trains that were named. If you were going to San Francisco, why, there’s ‘The City of San Francisco’, but the 'Hiawatha' went from Chicago to Minneapolis-St. Paul and went through Wausau."