Looking Back From Ninety

DANIEL FORD'S BOOKS > LOOKING BACK

Looking Back From Ninety: The Depression, the War, and the Good Life That Followed

Looking Back From Ninety cover
A remarkable memoir of growing up poor during the Great Depression and the Second World War, before life took a turn for the better. Dan Ford was the first member of his family to go to college, working his way and winning the occasional scholarship. There followed four years in Europe as a student, vagabond, soldier, and newspaperman, then a hard patch while he struggled to establish himself as a free-lance writer. Luckily for him, these were America's golden years, from triumph in one war to humiliation in another, 1945-1975. Now, in his 90th year, Dan chronicles a life that could have happened only in America.

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The photo album

The book has a photo or two in almost every chapter, but there are many more that didn't make the cut. Here are some of the out-takes.

Dad in 1928
Left: I've no idea what the uniform and whip were all about, but Dad's belt looks like the one from his IRA dress uniform, and the hat is like what he wore when Joe and I were boys. The photo was taken at Smithfield Branch, Long Island, probably in the spring of 1928 before he went west with his cousin John Forde to work the wheat harvest in the US and Canada.

Below: Alton Central School, winter of 1938-39. Miss Pittman stands with six of us first-graders in the front row, with eight second-graders behind us. I'm the little guy, second from left. Most teachers at that time were trained at a two-year "Normal School," and this was Miss Pittman's third year at Alton, so she may be just twenty-three.

Alton Central School

The Gatehouse in the 1930s

Above: The Gatehouse at the Damon Place about 1940. The front door leads into our living room, with the kitchen to the left and Joe's and my bedroom to the right. As with many country houses, the door opens to what we called the mud room, which served also to keep the cold from blowing into the house. But we always came in through the kitchen.

Below: The track team at Brewster Free Academy, spring 1947. Check out the middle row: that's Mr. Genowich at left, coaching the field events, and Mr. Masters at right, the track coach. I'm fourth from left and Harry Nash is second from right, before he became a six-footer. About half these guys are ex-GIs, including big Ed Roy (our sterling shot putter, javelin thrower, and discus flinger) at center in the front row.

Brewster track team 1947

East Hall, UNH 1953

Above: I have so few photos from the University of New Hampshire that I had to borrow this one from the book. It's a rump meeting of the Young Republican Club in the spring of 1953. My brother Joe holds a glass at left, while I have a quart of Pickwick Ale at right. Joe was two years older but worked four years before deciding to follow me to UNH. By this time he was also the youngest member of the N.H. state legislature.

Morning coffee in Caf Laetitia and Basia on the castle wall

Above: I'm afraid I didn't learn much about political science as a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Manchester, but I did have a lot of fun. Here on the left is the newspaper gang drinking morning coffee at Caf: Antony, Malcolm, Ian, and Sheila. (Yes, we lads wore jacket and tie to class and at play.) And hitchhiking with Basia in the spring and summer, I did learn something about war, exile, and love. She's the blonde seated on the castle wall with a dark-haired French vagabond named Laetitia, who'd been on the road for two years when we met her.

Below left: The lads in front of the PsyWar barrack at Fort Bragg. We are about to go out on an "exercise" for a few days with full field pack and our fairly useless M-2 carbines. On the right: the front page of the Overseas Weekly. I wasn't responsible for any of those headlines, but they give a flavor of the OW's preoccupations. And I did write the back-page feature that week: "Americans By-Pass German Law To Adopt Babies, Officials Claim."

PsyWar heading for the field

Front page, March 2018

Partying at 5 Quirinstrasse

Above: What a great time it was, to be an expatriate in Europe! No doubt the Germans hated us, but they did a remarkable job of hiding it. Here we celebrate our good fortune at Jim Dye's apartment on Quirinstrasse in Sachsenhausen, outside Frankfurt. Jim on the left, Harry McGowan on the right. I have no recollection of the young woman.

Below: It took a few years, but by 1964 I was writing for a few national publications and, best of all, Doubleday gave me a fat advance on my first novel. When Now Comes Theodora and I appeared on television, I really thought I had it made. The advance had paid for a ticket to Saigon, where I was sure my next book was waiting for me.

Now Comes Theodora

The author on TV

Walking through the U Minh Forest, 1964

Above: I loved Vietnam, its people, and the Americans who were building up the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam). This is the U Minh Forest. There's only a few inches of water underfoot, but it was exhausting to walk through, and in places it was chest-deep. The U.S. wound up replicating its own military, including the unhappy PsyWarrior following me with his bundle of propaganda magazines.

Below: My Vietnam novel did well, but the next one tanked, so Doubleday cut me loose. I eventually turned to a history of the Flying Tigers, the mercenary pilots who went to Asia in 1941 to fly for the Chinese air force. That work gave me a yen to fly, which I finally did at the age of 69. Here I am with an L-4 military version of the fabulous Piper Cub, which I flew all over northern New England until I grounded myself at the age of eighty. Gosh, how I miss it!

L-4 Piper Cub

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