My Namesake and His Draft Card

12 11 2012

Chesley James Rivers was my Grandpa.  This week he would have turned 101 years old.  The Veterans Day celebrations that occurred this past weekend caused me to cast a light on his newly discovered (at least to me) Selective Service card. I find it so very interesting. He was 28 years old when he signed it in 1939.  I can only assume that it was signed in October of that year right after the Burke-Wadsworth Act was passed by Congress and of course, a couple of years before the U.S. entered World War II.

I have no idea if his number was ever called.  It would not have mattered anyway since he would have be classified as Section V. He was not able to hear. His deafness was caused by complications from a childhood illness.  As I recall the story told to me long ago… when as very small child, he developed pneumonia.  Near the end of his recovery, after the first snowfall of the season, his sister let him out to play in the snow.  The remaining fluid in his ears froze and forever damaged his eardrums.  How much of that story is accurate is in question of course. However that is how I remember it. I will add the disclaimer that my imagination often adds embellishments.

I never heard my Grandpa speak.  However I did hear him sing.  Funny that I write this during Veterans Day… His favorite song to sing out loud was “Onward Christian Soldiers” and although the words came forth in a manner you would expect from someone who is deaf, the notes were always in the right place. I call it his “Marching Song”. He would sing it only while standing… and always at the top of his lungs.

The card was signed while he was working at the EM Holt Plaid Mill.  He worked a loom and although I’m sure the mass manufacturing process was laborious at best, he kept a nice sized loom in his home until the day he died.  He made beautiful things.  Mostly in plaid of course!  My Grandparents lived in the Carolina’s, but also in south Louisiana, Houston and Washington, D.C. He moved from the loom to the printing press and worked for the Congressional Record for a time in the 70’s.

Today I honor him for his service.  He signed a card and was willing to serve.  Though he wouldn’t be asked to fight in a war, I’ve never known anyone more patriotic. I used to think his deafness placed him in a world where only deaf people worked.  Mills and print shop are loud, distracting and sometimes dangerous places.  Many, many deaf people worked in these places because they were ideally suited for the work.  However as I look at it now, I see that he chose work that offered him creativity through the use of technology.  He made beautiful things… from loud, complicated machines.

Happy birthday Grandpa! Thank you for providing for your wife and daughters. For singing loudly and for making me smile.  Thank you for being tall, but for never looking down on anyone. Thank you for teaching me, even after you are gone, that creativity can come from the most complicated things. I miss you.




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