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Interview with Norton Baskin
Aug 8, 1988 (MKR's bday at CC)
NB: Well, it all starts with Marjorie; we were living at the Castle Gordon Hotel, we lived four
stories and away from the rest of the Hotel. And Marjorie was going out to the little
college (Florida Memorial College) at the invitation of a gal that was teaching out there
and she was teaching English and several other things and Marjorie agreed to go out and
speak. And she went out there and met with her and made her little speech and then they
visited. And when she came back to my hotel she was on a thousand island this was her
in the And she told me she'd met the most wonderful woman and goes like
this: but my God, I've done an awful thing, and I said, what? Remember this was 1941
and she said, I've invited her for tea, and I said, what do you mean? She said, here at the
hotel. And I said, well, that's all right. Of course she meant up in her apartment. She
said, no, that's when all your little old ladies from the Alhambra come up here for their
cocktail, and she would get her at the same time and it's gonna be awful. And I said, no,
that's all right, we can put up with that. And she kept on saying, no, I have to just call her
up and tell her we'll move up the date to sometime when I can meet her someplace. And
I insisted no, I didn't want her to. I'd take care of it and we'd bring her up here. So she
finally said okay and she said, she's coming at five o'clock. So I went down and told my
Major Dumbbell, which was a very smart black man that I depended on so much. I said,
tomorrow afternoon at five o'clock (Billy's Bass Kennedy's?) having a lady come for tea.
I want you to meet her at the door and take her upstairs. And he said, okay sir, what
time? I said, five o'clock. He said, well, how am I going to know her? And I said, well,
she's black. And he said, oh no, oh no, that ain't fittin'. And I said, well, she's coming,
and I must admit I told him, meet her at the door and get her through this lobby the fastest
you ever seen and get on the elevator, and get her up there. So the next day, Marjorie was
upstairs waiting, and WD and I were down there, he was at the front door waiting, and he
finally went out to the gate. He said, I think I'll go out to the gate and catch her and take
her around to the back door. And I said, no, you're not going to do that either, you're
gonna go meet her here, and take her up there. And we waited until 5:15 or 5:25 and she
didn't show up. And I called Marjorie up and I said, I believe you've been stood up. And
she said, what do you mean, stood up? And I said And she said, are you
crazy? And she got off the phone and said, Zora Neale, how did you get up here? And
she said, well I didn't want to cause any trouble so I came through the kitchen and walked
up here until I found you. And Marjorie said, and we're havin' tea and having more fun
than you've ever heard of, if you've got any sense, you'll come on up here (laughter).
Which I did and we had a wonderful time.
Q: Did they see each other after that?
NB: I suppose we saw her many, many times. And then when I was in India and Marjorie was
over at Cross Creek, it was in all the papers and everything, and Marjorie hadn't seen
Zora Neale for a couple of years. And it was in the paper about my unit being cut off and
we were having to walk out and everything and every day Marjorie was getting reports
from up there, you know, and all like this. And she went to Gainesville one day to get the
call that she got from the feedin' service every day and they told her that there was
nothing new, that they felt sure that we were going to be all right, that they hadn't had any
word, and that they should have word within the next 8-10 days but that they would
report every day. And when Marjorie came back there was a strange calfin the driveway
and she went in and there was Zora Neale. And she spoke to her and said, what in the
world? How did you get here? This was gas rationing and everything else. And Zora
Neal said, I saw in the paper about Norton, and I know what you're going through, and I
know you need somebody to take care of you; so I came over to take care of you and to
help where I can until we hear from him. I know he's going to be all right but we got to
hear from him, and I'm gonna be here. And Marjorie said, oh, I couldn't ask you to do
that. And she said, whether you like it or not, I'm gonna be here. And Marjorie said,
fine, let's get your baggage in. And she said, but it's already in, Martha has it down at her
house, she said, I could stay with her. And Marjorie told me at that minute she thought,
okay, and I'm also mad about this thing, here this woman has done all this wonderful
thing. So she called Martha and told her to bring the baggage up and put it in the guest
room. And Martha said, no, that's not fittin', she's gonna be perfectly happy down there,
and everything's gonna be all right. And Marjorie said, are you gonna bring the baggage
up or do I have to go and get them? And then Martha said that she was gonna bring them
on up. They came up, they put her in the guest room, and they stayed there but Martha
never forgave her. I mean she thought that Zora Neale was a nice person but this just
wasn't done. And she never did let her eat in the dining room. All the meals were served
on card tables. This went on for almost two weeks. In the meantime, I'm in India, and
Marjorie didn't hear from me. The reason she didn't hear from me was, I had gotten
leave, and had gone to the Veil of Cashmere. I was ill, but I didn't get sick leave, I just
went up there. And then we went up to a place called "Goolmar" which was a hill station
away from everything, right up at Darj. And we stayed up there, I got in a hospital up
there. We stayed quite a while, but finally got back, hitchhiked a ride with an Australia
plane, back and I finally got to Calcutta and got in touch with Marjorie. When I got back
to Calcutta, I found out that everybody had been cut off, and they were walking out and
everything else. And so Zora Neale stayed there and every day they'd do this. And then I
think on the 15h day, word came that everybody had arrived back safe in (Camilla), and
that the big fighting that had been going on was under control and everything else. And
then Zora Neale left, but before she left, the mail came for Marjorie, and it was my first
letter telling her I wasn't even in the damn thing! She never forgave me.
Q: But I saw you when you came back you were very ill. Was it dysentery?
NB: It had been ameobic dysentery, but the British couldn't find it, as much play as they'd had
with that, and finally,.... Marjorie got in touch with General Sullivan he's a man that
helped build the Pentagon, and he was the one that was in Ocala when they were diggin'
the canal through, was in the Engineers. And he and I became good friends and he also
married a friend of mine down there, which she was a Wharton?? Of Whartman groves??
And so when Marjorie found out what bad shape I was in, she called Louise Whartman
and said, my love, and your friend Norton is in bad shape, and he's with the British, and
in India, she told her where I was. And, I just wondered if there's any way we can get
relief for him to get home he's not in shape to fly home, there are no commercial planes,
he's not in shape to come by boat, because he wouldn't last 3 days. And Ms. Whartman
said, wait just a minute, Sullivan is here, let me talk to him. And he got on the phone and
said, Norton, I'll look into this and you'll here from us very soon. And then I got a cable
from Marjorie saying, help is coming, stick in there. And I was really critically ill, it was
so bad. And I didn't know what help was coming, and about 4 days, this captain and an
American Air Force doctor came out to where I was and the old Japanese embassy that
had been converted into a hospital, and they had no equipment and one little old doctor.
And they happened to find out what was happening to me. And he was a wonderful and
religious guy. And two o'clock the morning before this happened, he was at my bed and
talking and said, Norton, this is the time I generally say my prayers; I usually go back to
my quarters, but if you don't mind I'll say them here. And I thought, well that's awful
nice and everything. He got down on his knees and prayed and he told the Lord what a
wonderful guy I was and that I was on a mission of mercy, I didn't want to kill anybody,
and to please help him out, and please send him word to find out what was bothering me.
And then he left, and all I could think of was, well, I'm glad to have them on my side, but
couldn't he call mails? And then the doctor came and he made and examination. When
he first came in the first thing he did was pick up my chart, and on there was, Norton
Baskin, American Field Service, NYD. And he said what is this, a new Yanks disease?
And it was "not yet diagnosed." And all kinds of things. And this British doctor came in
one day and said, Norton, I'm gonna find out what's the matter with you if it kills me.
And then he came in again one day and said, you know, I think I know what it is that
you've got. And I say, what is it? And he says, it's sprue. And I said, What is sprue?
And he said, one of those tropical diseases we don't know a damn thing about.
NB: And the American man was wonderful and he came back and told me then okay, wanted
to know how I was doing and I said, look, tell me this, you want to find out if I'm sick
enough to take me out of here or if I'm well enough to go; I'll be either one of them. And
he said, no, I just want you to be yourself, and so he finally told me that they were gonna
give me a, I can't remember the name of this thing, but it's made specific for the amoeba.
And he gave me I was there five days, and I had 14 shots like this. 1..2..3...4...5...6....
And then they came and picked me up and then they flew me home. But I never knew
how I got in there. I mean, my name just told me that suddenly got on the list. And so we
flew first to Accra and got down on the ground, and I was so in pain, great pain. But it
was 126 in the airplane, so they took everyone off and put them under the wing under the
plane where it was 118 degrees. But the nice attendant said, I think it's best if we stay
here and I rub you down with alcohol and keep you cool because this moving is no good.
What's funny is my nephew, who was an American, American native, was stationed, this
was after Accra, this was at the Azores. And he knew that this plane was gonna stop
there, and when they took everybody off, he was goin' around asking everybody or
looking for me. I'm on the plane he never did see me. Anyway, we were on there, first
Casablanca, and then we ended in Miami.
Q: You went to Dakar probably and then Miami. Or Brazil.
NB: They bumped any number of people off the plane, but then they told me, you're not goin'
to be bumped, you're going to be okay. I didn't know how it was okay, then landed in
Miami. This doctor and captain came aboard and said, everyone be quiet, is Norton
Baskin here? I said, yes. He came and asked how I was doin' and I said, I'm doin' much
better; I had a hard time coming over, and then something happened and I've got some
relief now but I don't feel very well. And he said, well, we can stay in Miami, and I said,
my wife is waiting for me in New York. And he said all the changes had been made and
it's all right. And they took me in their vehicle waiting and got me in there. And I
noticed some pretty high-ups were there, asking me if I needed anything, and gave me all
kinds of things to make the pain go away. Also, they realized that I'd passed the crisis
where I had this high fever. And they put me up there in a room, and that afternoon a
young gentleman came back and came over to see me and asked me how I was doing.
And said, we've got a telephone call for you. And I said, who in the world...? And he
said, it's your wife. And so they rolled me out there where I could talk to Marjorie and
she said everything was gonna be all right, she's sorry that she was not there, that they
just changed things. But she thought they were going to arrange for me to be flown up
there the next day. So they took me back to my room and I was in there with a couple of
majors and another officer, and everybody had to do everything for themselves. And of
course I was in no condition. They came around and asked me this and I said, I'm not up
to it. And they said, it doesn't apply to you, and something else. And then the man came
in and asked me would I like to fly up to New York the next day. He was going in his
private plane and they were taking two seats out and they could put me in there and I'd
get up there. And I said, okay, I certainly do. By the next morning, they came around,
and everyone was making their beds, but I was just lying there. And a woman came and
asked me if I'd had breakfast and I said, no, I haven't. And she said, well, I think maybe
you'd better have some breakfast. And I said And one of the officers spoke
up and said, you'd better give that man some breakfast his wife will come up!