Friday, July 27, 2018

Returning From the Front: A Joyful Christmas Reunion--1945

With World War II over in 1945, many veterans began to stream back to their families. In Irvington, the Booth family at 280 South Downey Avenue had a special reason to celebrate Christmas in 1945 as two of their sons and two of their son-in-laws made it back safely. Dr. John Booth, the Executive Secretary for the Board of Church Extension (Disciples of Christ) and his wife Corinne Schultz Booth busily prepared for the big day. Mrs. Booth kept a diary so we know that all six of the Booth children and their spouses made it home for the big day.

On Sunday, December 23, 1945, Mabel Booth Bergesen, the oldest daughter, and her family arrived  to 280 South Downey Avenue around 11:00PM. The Chicago crew would have been there earlier, but their car broke down in Dyer, Indiana and they had trouble finding a mechanic. The Bergesens were wise to have left on Sunday as a fierce storm slammed most of the Midwest on Christmas Eve. Ice and heavy rain battered the city of Indianapolis. Inside the Booth home, however, preparations were underway for the Christmas Eve dinner. Mrs. Booth likely had help from her daughters and in-laws in the kitchen. We know from her diary that she baked a turkey and several pies. As heavy rain mixed in with some ice lashed at the windows, the family sat down for a series of portraits.

The four veterans in the house that night must have breathed a sigh of relief at being home. John Booth, Jr. served as a Second Lieutenant Navigator in the Army Air Corps. George Booth served in Patton's Seventh-Armored Army Division. He saw house-to-house combat in mop-up operations in Germany. Eugene Fife, Jr, the husband to Jean Booth, was deployed as a Lieutenant JG in the Navy in both fronts of the war. Bill Watkins, the husband of Marjorie Booth, fought in the Red Bull Division (34th Infantry) in North African and Italy. All four men made it home safely and now found themselves on that stormy night surrounded by their family.

Mrs. Booth recorded in her diary that the family arose quite early on Christmas Day. They shared breakfast and then Grandpa Booth passed out presents. The weather outside continued to deteriorate with roads becoming icy. Mrs. Booth noted that the day was rather "quiet" with lunch and dinner served from the "remnants" of the feast on Christmas Eve. Oscar Bergesen, a talented illustrator and husband to Mabel Booth, began to paint a portrait of Dr. John H. Booth. It took him several days to complete it.

It wouldn't be the last gathering at 280 South Downey Avenue. In fact, it became a tradition for the family to gather at the home on Thanksgiving as well. Mac Fife, the grandson to Dr. John and Corinne Booth, remembers that his Grandmother would sit at one end of the table and his Grandfather would sit at the other end. Dr. Booth always carved the turkey. Idelle Booth Barnett, a daughter to the couple, always brought her delicious rice salad. Mac Fife noted that some of his happiest childhood memories were spent at that dining room table at 280 South Downey Avenue.

The Booth family gathered on Christmas Eve, 1945 at the home of Dr. John and Corinne Booth at 280 South Downey Avenue. Standing (left or right) John Booth, Jr., Jean Booth Fife, Idelle Booth Barnett, Mabel Booth Bergesen, Marjorie Booth Watkins, and George Booth; Seated Dr. John H. Booth and Mrs. Corinne Booth (image courtesy of Mac Fife)

Christmas Eve, 1945 at the Booth family home at 280 South Downey Avenue; Standing (left to right) Eugene Fife, Jr, Jean Booth Fife, William "Bill" Watkins holding Marjorie Grace Watkins; Oscar Bergesen, George Booth, John H. Booth, Jr; Seated on the sofa arm-Marjorie Booth Watkins: Children standing behind the couch--John Eric Bergesen, John Charles Booth, Julie Booth; Standing next to Idelle Barnett: Ann Barnett, Gwendolyn Barnett, David Barnett, and Carolyn "Dee Dee" Barnett; Seated on couch--Karen Bergesen, Mabel Booth Bergesen, Corinne Schultz Booth, Dr. John H. Booth, Dorothy "Dot" Booth (married to John, Jr.); Seated on chair--Gwynne Barnett (husband to Idelle Booth) and the kids on his lap are Cynthia Barnett, and Doug Barnett  (image courtesy of Mac Fife)

Home from World War II on Christmas Eve, 1945 at 280 South Downey Avenue (left to right) John Booth, Jr., George Booth, Jr., Bill Watkins (husband to Marjorie Booth Watkins), and Eugene "Gene" Fife, Jr. (husband to Jean Booth Fife) (image courtesy of Mac Fife)

Oscar Bergesen, the son-in-law to Dr. John and Corinne Booth began painting this portrait of Dr. John Booth on Christmas Day, 1945 at 280 South Downey Avenue. Mr. Bergesen was married to Mabel Booth, the oldest daughter of the couple. He was an illustrator.  The Bergesens dwelled in Chicago.  (image courtesy of Mac Fife)
Sources:  Diary entries from Corinne Schultz Booth; Interview with Mac Fife, the grandson of John and Corrine Booth; "Storm Ties Up Traffic," Indianapolis Star, December 25, 1945, 1.

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