Monday, June 22, 2015

Rolph Townsend: Storyteller/ Pickle Master

Rolph Townsend was quite the character, and gave us one of the most lively interviews yet.  Rolph has a knack for telling a good story, regardless if it is related to World War II or not.  Much of what Rolph told us was about his childhood in Chestertown during the war.  Rolph was busy having a great time despite the war overseas.  He was 11 when the war started, and remembers not being all that effected by the fighting in Europe.  Rolph spent his time after school playing games with his friends outside.  Nobody played organized sports at the time, and his group of friends made up there own games, like "Marco Polo".  We all know the version played in the pool, but Rolph's version is a bit more violent.  The game is a mix between football, capture the flag, tag, and fist fighting, where two teams fight to carry a trophy to the other side by any means necessary.  Rolph spent the rest of his time either studying, or working a paper route, as most teens and preteens had some sort of job outside of the house.

Rolph took advantage of Chestertown's riverside location and grew to be an experienced sailor and swimmer.  When he was young he spent much of his time swimming in the river, which was full of sewer run off.  He told us how when he got out of the water he would have a brown mustache of dirt and grime, and would wipe that off first before cleaning the rest of himself.  He swears that swimming in the river is why he is still so healthy today.  

Rolph's sailing expeditions were not limited to just up and down the Chester River.  He and his friends often would venture out to the bay, and observe ships coming in and out.  One day he and his friends ran into a Red Cross boat full of injured soldiers and sailors.  They waved and shouted at the sailors who returned the favor.  Rolph and his friends headed out afterward, but ran into a strange heavy box floating in the water.  They grabbed it and managed to crack it open and found that it was a box full of donated plasma.  Immediately the boys decided to turn back and try and get the box to the Red Cross vessel, but they were unfortunately too late.  The next best thing they decided was to bring it to the branch in Chestertown.  The branch happily accepted the box, and the boys were celebrated in the paper for their act of patriotism.

During the later era of the war, Rolph worked in a pickle factory of horror.  Rolph retold stories of how women would lose fingers daily while cutting pickles into small bits when they came down the conveyer.  Whenever a woman would lose a finger there was a worker on the other end who would pull it out and clean the blood up.  Naturally the woman was replaced with a new one the next day.  Rolph's job was not much better.  The first job Rolph had was scooping out herring from a tanker car that came into the plant.  The herring were hot, steaming, and in some cases rotting when they came out of the giant steel truck.  Rolph would do this with a big net, and scoop them out so that they could be canned and pickled.  His second job was even more disgusting.  Rolph also worked in a relish tank, which was infested with fruit flies.  He would use a large canoe oar, and stir the relish and smash flies into the relish for fun.  He had a game were he would stir the relish and flip his paddle over to try and see how many flies he could crush at once.  The relish was canned and packaged for sale in Chestertown, flies and all.

Rolph's final pickle story was about the preserving process for cucumbers.  They would take the cucumbers when they had a surplus and put them nearby where the swim center on campus is now.  they were in wooden barrels with slatted wooden tops covered in salt.  The rain would wash the salt into the barrels, shrinking the cucumbers and making them white and slimy.  Rolph was involved in the rehydration process which took place a long time after the shrinking.  The plant would add tumeric, alum, and hot water to re-hydrate the cucumbers, which would be dark green afterwards.  Rolph has had trust issues with pickles ever since, and just started eating them again.


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