It Was War

The day is gorgeous, with clear blue sky and warm  dry temperatures. Lunch with a friend who encourages me is always worthwhile. While I don’t see much opportunity to speak about my personal story, she clearly does.

She suggests contacting the history departments of local colleges, offering myself as speaker to young students who are devoid of knowledge about WW2 and life in America during and after. I’d be talking about their ancient grandparents, living or dead. Thankfully, young people today are unacquainted with war, but with that hard won freedom they also don’t know the personal sacrifices lurking in trunks and boxes in some dusty attic still held but unvisited by their parents. That was so then, out of the realm of memory. Dead history.

Would that information, first hand, help to flesh out history courses today? Is someone wishing, hoping, praying for the resurrection of first-hand knowledge still lucid, waiting for an audience? Where are the doors to bang on?

So I’ll get my act together and contact the history departments of local colleges and see for myself if there is interest. The people of WW2 had a nation to rebuild. War had occupied every possible space at home. The men were MIA, the women took off their aprons and got to work. My mother made munitions, working a minimum of two shifts daily, 24/7. Oh sure, there was a government mandated limitation to hours. Seventy was the number actually worked in a  week. The women simply didn’t go home, but stayed on the job. Sleepy eyed women were a risk in a very unstable environment. Mama made missiles. Nitro was unforgiving. Plants blew up with regularity. At Elkton people died in the explosions.

The work was tedious. Nitro would not tolerate being rushed. Rushing caused accidents. Staying alert was a challenge. So was keeping your fingers. Women worked at long tables, their hands shielded by glass, like at the bank where there is a glass barrier between you and the bank teller.

There was playtime. The government built canteens where workers could hang out. Dances were held. Local women had teas for them, giving them a reason to dress up a little and put on the Ritz, which meant comb your hair and wear lipstick and Evening In Paris. Hotsy totsy and all that jazz. While they ridiculed it, they loved it as a stepping away from the tools of war. The soldiers from Aberdeen Proving Ground were a spit away and handy to those parties.  My mother met her future second husband at the canteen and dragged him to tea, wearing slacks and a camp shirt. Slacks were deemed just for hussies then. Before long, the whole complex was hussies. Slacks made perfect sense. They worked best with the steel toed Army issue oxfords she wore to work.

Mama had packed us kids off to an orphanage while she made the 40 mm rounds for the Navy. It was only recently that, while watching WW2 reels on television,  my husband said those sea missiles shot from warships were what my mother made. I had no idea, and hadn’t made the connection. Studying the machinations of war brought my mother alive again to me.

As a four year old, I had no idea where my mother was. My Daddy had died, but that wasn’t real either.  Four doesn’t know very much. I missed my mother. I missed my house, my bed, my brother. I had almost no sense that I had a new brother, and when he was old enough to enter the orphanage, I denied who he was. Once I understood, we were inseparable. He didn’t know who I was either. He was three. What could we know? It would be years before we could piece it together. Years before we could understand. Then we’d never forget, not in a whole lifetime.

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