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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Oberholzer’s Rorschach
I. Why the FBI has my fingerprint cards

Dr. Morris H. Philipson, Director Emeritus 
University of Chicago Press, 1966-2000
Let me tell you why the experience I had when still a child gave me great satisfaction. Being fingerprinted by the FBI is not the kind of Christmas present that my relatives or friends my age could expect—which only made the satisfaction more valuable for being thoroughly unlikely. It happened that when I was 12 or 13, my family had the chance to celebrate between Christmas and New Year’s in Washington, D.C. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that I was feeling what people call something that sets one “on top of the world.”

During the week between holidays, school was closed, and since my father was a doctor he was self-employed, which makes it sound as if he paid his own salary, but it means he was free to make appointments to see patients at his convenience. And then there was his new car, well, family car. He had become an expert driver out of necessity, for in those days, doctors made house calls.

My father’s brother Robert was an accountant who had settled in Washington some five years previously. Accounting led to investing in the stock market in the early 1930’s, when, I learned later, people who had money after the Crash of 1929 made money hand over fist buying up properties at bargain prices. My uncle was successful as an investor at the right time, and he invited our family to visit with his family as a winter vacation. My brother and I would be out of school, our parents made their own schedule, and my father reveled in his new car.

We drove from New Haven to New York on the old Boston Post Road. In those days, highways did not yet exist, and the Boston Post Road was continually in disrepair. From New York we drove towards Delaware and Maryland until we were within shouting distance of our goal. Recalling so many details of the trip as I do makes me wonder how I could have forgotten basic conditions, like where we stayed overnight to break the trip into two days. Were there motels along the road in those days? Or did we take naps while my father stayed steadfast at the steering wheel without a break?

Each of us remained fully dressed, from our Tom McCann Buster Browns up to our soft caps. Along most of the roads we would take, there was a minimum of streetlights, and the darkness of the sky seemed to accentuate the contrasting warmth within the automobile as against the clearings in the shoveled snow alongside. It seems to me there was no radio in the car, and the source of warmth remains a mystery to me.

I feel that both of them tapped into the powers of the battery under the front hood. There was an attachment onto the front windshield, approximately the size of a shoe box, which made it possible to melt snow or ice that otherwise might keep the driver from seeing where the road was going, and although there was no radio built into the structure or decoration of the car itself, my parents let us know that they had splurged, so that in addition to all the necessities for the “road trip,” they saw to it that we had the luxury of a portable radio. It was battery-run, and my parents allowed us five minutes on the hour every hour to listen to news broadcasts from a station in Washington itself. Recognizing that we were beyond the range of the radio broadcasting we were accustomed to was like realizing we had crossed a border into foreign territory. We were becoming “men of the world.”

I believe it was on the 6 p.m. news broadcast that we heard an announcer’s voice saying that he was broadcasting from the White House, and that the President—FDR—had come into one of the large reception rooms where the Christmas tree was described as “bursting into colorful lights” as the President’s wife—Eleanor Roosevelt—threw the switch that turned the tree into a magical rainbow.

How could I not suffer the delusion that this was all being done for my benefit? 

Next: Going back to Cherry Lawn School

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