Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.
During World War II, I think every kid in town knew someone who was in the Armed Forces – maybe a brother, cousin, or next-door neighbor. I knew several Marysville boys who were serving, but I was closest to one, my sister’s boyfriend, Jack Griffith. I really liked Jack. In fact, he was like a brother to me.
When the war started, Jack was a pre-med student at OSU. But he soon enlisted in the Army Air Corps. I didn’t want to see him leave, as we did so many fun things together, but he said he would write letters to me, and I looked forward to that.
Jack went to an air base in Texas where he learned to fly. I got a letter from him every week or two, and he told me all about his training, and how much fun it was to fly an airplane. Every now and then he sent me a surprise in his letter. The first was an Army Air Corps patch, like the one he wore on his uniform. My mother sewed it on the sleeve of my jacket the very next day.
A month or so later, he sent me another patch. It was the insignia that all the Air Cadets wore. And it was sewed on the other sleeve of my jacket. I wore that jacket for the next couple of years until I outgrew it. Then I took those two patches off, and I still have them today.
Jack also sent me other surprises. They were the kind of things a 10- or 12-year-old boy would enjoy, interesting and unusual things I could show and talk about with my friends.
I think the most unusual gift he sent me was on my birthday when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. It came in a small box, about the size of a deck of cards. When I opened it, I found three things inside. One was a small, but very powerful magnifying lens. Then there was a tiny box, maybe an inch square. The third was a hand-written note from Jack.
I read the note first, for I thought it would probably explain the whole thing. It said that I should use the magnifying glass to view the contents of the tiny box. You wouldn’t believe what was inside. It was two fleas. That’s right, fleas … you know, those tiny little things that can make your dog’s life miserable.
But these weren’t ordinary fleas. They weren’t alive, but they were dressed to look like a bride and groom, like the little figures they sometimes put on top of a wedding cake. Oh boy, I thought that was the neatest thing I had ever seen. How in the world could anyone dress-up anything as tiny as a flea? I wanted to find out more about the whole thing.
Little by little, I found out more about that tiny wedding couple. I learned, for example, that the art of dressing fleas got its start in the late 1800s. It was done in a number of countries, and one place where it was most popular was an area in Mexico. I think that’s probably where my fleas came from.
But the most surprising thing I learned was that the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh has a whole section devoted to fleas that have been dressed in different costumes. There are several dressed as a bride and groom, just like my fleas. They also have one pair dressed like a farmer and his wife. But their most unusual display is an entire flea-mariachi band, complete with their musical instruments. Boy, wouldn’t it be great to see that.
I wish I could tell you that like the patches from my jacket, I still have those fleas. But I can’t find them anywhere. Once you lose a flea, it can be pretty hard to find it again.
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