Monday, April 19, 2010

While so-called vices were tolerated for our "boys" in the Armed Services, at home such freedoms were not so free. The State of Washington's "blue laws"; leftover regulations from the bawdy, brawling pioneer days; dictated the sale of alcoholic beverages only from state-run liquor stores plus no sales on Sundays nor after store hours. War shortages and zealous citizens succeeded in making Saturdays "dry", too. Island church ministers went on a temperance campaign as the shipyard workers rode the ferries after work, drinking and dancing in spite of it being against the law. And gambling too was targeted. Someone tattled on a bunch of guys playing poker on their ferry ride home. The sheriff was dispatched to catch them in the act. They were given arrest slips and had to appear in court. The County Prosecutor lectured the criminals - "(you) are setting a bad example for our youth - better to use (your) money to buy war bonds than to gamble it away." Thankfully it was reported there were "no known professionals (gamblers/hustlers)" found among those unfortunate card sharks.

Until the war, it was against the rules for married women to teach in the public schools. Because a lot of the male teachers marched off to war, that rule was relaxed and eventually was abandoned altogether. I don't know what harm being taught by a Mrs. was feared. Or what their married mothers had that married female teachers didn't. Or vice versa. Marriages typically being the blame for there being children in the first place. A bit hypocritical, I'd say.

The influx of new inhabitants meant the schools had to find more space as well as more teachers. The old Lincoln Elementary School in Winslow was re-opened and stayed in use for a decade. That raised an old rivalry between the kids of McDonald Elementary on the other side of the Island and Lincoln. McDonald kids called Lincoln, "stinkin." Lincoln students said McDonald was "stupid." When they were all united in fifth and sixth grades in the brand-new Commodore Bainbridge Elementary School, it took each set some time to assimilate as one. Such a "gathering of the wagons into a circle" is common to the human race. We are always suspicious of the outsider coming in. That attitude had a profound effect on my mother and subsequently her children. She was "obstreperous" in the words of the shipyard's newspaper, "The Minesweeper," when she was featured in one of its personal page interviews. She took deep offense to an editorial in the Bainbridge Review and forever held a grudge against its owner/editor. In March 1944, there was a special edition about the Island's history, its whys and wherefors. The editor was never one to mince words and his paper was a strong personal forum for which he was both celebrated and reviled. Here is a summary of his message in that issue.

"On Living On An Island"
"Dear Newcomer:
The following is a word from your only Island newspaper. . . . .

You are here because there is a war on. . . . . .

Some of you can't wait for the day when you can quit this 'God-forsaken, rain-drenched hole.' . . . . . .

Think of us - the Islanders you found when you arrived - for a minute. We had a quiet, peaceful, semi-rural scattering of communities here before the war dumped all of you in our unprepared lap. Our stores, our busses, our ferries, our schools are crowded - uncomfortably so - because of you.

Some of you aren't the kind of people we like at all. . . . . .

Bainbridge Island is "our" home. We'll be living here after many of the newcomers are gone. We can be excused, perhaps, for expecting a 60 per cent advance on the newcomers' part, but we think newcomers will find the other 40 per cent is waiting for them if they'll make the effort.

If they do, life will be a lot happier for old and newcomers alike."

That missive unleashed a following of letters to the editor also berating the newcomers and the editor's championship of the interned Japanese. Some of the published comments were from notable Islanders who might be embarrassed by their comments from the past. Time has a way of glossing over some things and elevating others. History has a responsibility to illuminate as much information as possible allowing future generations a chance to come to their own conclusions.

And too, it must be remembered, it was a period of skewed resentments, hatreds, and misconceptions along with the fear and excitement of the overwhelming war and its needs. Personally, I wonder if any of the other "newcomers" were as affected as I was. My mother's lingering anger helped fuel my deep feeling I was an unacceptable person. It is interesting to relive the maze of youth, discovering along the way, what helped to shape us.

When the war ended the Island's population dwindled to nearly its same level as before the war. Some of the Japanese never returned. Some of the old-timers left. Some of the newcomers left and some stayed. There is no historical record of who went and who stayed but the Island's "way of life" soon was as if the war had almost never happened. My mother, sister, and I went to Pittsburgh with our to-be step-father. There, our brother was born, I started school as a first-grader only to be "skipped" to second grade. That meant for the next eleven years I was the youngest kid in my class. Perhaps not significant to anyone else, it was the bane of my existence for all those years. I always felt hopelessly less than adequate compared to my classmates. That I was skinny and underdeveloped certainly did not help either.

From Pittsburgh, we tried living in Seattle and then Fresno only to wind up back on "the island." My mother had hated her stint as a "Rosie the Riveter" (She was an electrician and the term only came to describe the whole lot of working women during WWII, fifty years later.) But she hated worse, being a housewife. So she went back to work (also of course because of needed income). First as a saleswoman in one of Seattle's best department stores, Frederick and Nelson. Then she became one of the Island's business women when she and another woman partnered in a store selling fabrics and sewing notions. The name of it was "The Fabric Shop." Original!

Sewing one's own clothes then was not a phenomenon. Having a seamstress available to engage to sew clothes for you was common. Cheap ready-to-wear was through catalog sales or big stores such as Sears and Penney's. The Shop was not only good for the Island's economy but served as a resource for my mother's sewing clients. My sister and I worked as clerks on Saturday mornings. Plus we could sew in the back room when times were slow. We had to log in the fabric we used. As a result, I never did get a paycheck. The most fun was draping fabric around the window mannequin, Miss Trilby. She was made of woven cane and her boobs were huge! She was one of Winslow Way's fashion icons.

And my mother's infamous volatility caused some sensations among the other business proprietors. One morning a salesman bounced into the Shop. I was the only person there. The guy scared me half to death as he set a gumball machine on the counter and told me he'd be back to collect money. Well - I called my mother who jumped into Grandpa's Model T and roared down Winslow Way, screeched into the parking spot in front, leaped out of the still rumbling little flivver, screaming, "Where is that son-of-a-bitch?" Andy from the hardware store next door lost no time running to see what the ruckus was about. The hapless salesman just happened to be at his side. Mother grabbed his coat collar and shoved him into the Shop, yelling invectives all the while. The guy grabbed the gumball thing and was crab-running back out the door. That was not enough for Mom - she stayed at his heel, spitting and cursing. Wouldn't you know he managed to drop the gumball device; it smashed into the street sending brightly-colored gumballs and shattered glass flying in every direction. Her yelling did not stop until that man was in his car racing towards the ferry dock. Without another word to me or to Andy, she hopped into the Model T and roared back down the street.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Homefront Battles War and Its Offal

Right as the war began, Islanders wasted no time as they arranged their local defense plans. One group was organized and trained as enemy plane spotters. (Note that in early 1943, three aircraft spotting and warning towers were completed but the one at Battle Point was threatened to be closed a couple of months later because there were not enough spotters - the early enthusiasm had apparently worn off a bit.) Island boaters figured they could haul off every man, woman, and child if the need arose as they formed a brigade of evacuation vessels. They didn't trust mean old Captain Peabody.

The Island was divided into air raid districts. Each district had a Warden and platoon of eager civilian soldiers. Church ladies aid groups baked cookies, rolled bandages, and knit socks to send off to "the boys overseas." And the cigarette companies did their part as they offered coupons for "free smokes" to be sent to those boys. Ouch!

Mrs. Roosevelt was on the bandwagon as champion for black workers and soldiers and for caring for the children of the newly employed "Rosie the Riveters. It was also through her efforts that the U.S. built housing for war workers. Not all Americans shared her concern for others' well-being. The proposed housing project to be built near the shipyard aroused Islanders' anger. The plan was attacked as a probable slum, the cause of plummeting real estate values. There was insistence that anything built would have to be torn or burned down as soon as the war was over. It was rumored that untreated sewage would be dumped into the bay. But it was built and my mother, my sister, and I were one of the lucky few to be assigned one of the little units. The kitchenettes had two burner stoves, an icebox, room for a two-chair table; if two people were sitting, there was no room for one standing up. There was an on-site nursery and pre-school; free child care for the shipyard's working mothers. Progressive!


My sister was born on a stormy night in February 1943. My mother had once again shocked her silent family because no one knew she was pregnant. She gained little weight and wore clothing that masked her pregnancy. Aunt Evelyn served as midwife helping deliver the tiny, premature baby. It was not many months later we three moved to our apartment.

The complex was commonly known as "The Project." What I remember is skipping down a path bordered by a tall fence, to the nursery. It was in a big room with small windows all around the top of the walls. At nap time, each of us snuggled up in our very own Army-issue blanket. Then at recess, we used our blankets to stretch a roof in the fenced corners of the playground. Playing house and climbng the monkey bars were my favorite activities. I remember sitting in the sand beneath my olive drab roof and hanging by my knees from the cold, steel bars. Every week the iceman brought a giant ice cube clutched in the bite of tongs and clunked it into the icebox. The icebox was made of wood; inside it was metal enameled white, the racks were square and always wet. Such are the memories of a child - closer to earth, children being the short species.

Rationing of food stuffs, gasoline, cars, rubber, fabrics, etc. is one of history's facts. Living without all that stuff was the impetus for lots of home-grown solutions. I love the story about rubber for girdles allowed to still be made because some senator's wife insisted girdles were inviolable products - fashion dictated the wearing of girdles! Also, girdles held up stockings. Stockings themselves were a torture because silk from Japan was (naturally) unavailable. Rayon was new. It and cotton were used to make hosiery and underwear. The stockings sagged and stretched, were ugly, and were universally hated by women. Going without stockings was simply not acceptable. Some women used pancake make-up to camouflage their legs; going so far as to draw seamlines down the back with an eyebrow pencil. Back seaming was the way stockings were made then. Nylon seamless "panty hose" were fifteen to twenty years in the future.

Two related family stories come to mind. Pictures of my sister as a toddler show her clutching her panties. To hold them up - war-issue drawers with synthetic rubber elastic tended to drift down to one's ankles.

My mother was attractive and vivacious so she had lots of admirers among the many Navy sailors that wandered around the Shipyard and were stationed at the Island's bases. One guy presented my mother with a pilfered parachute. That precious gift was many, many yards of silk-like fabric made of the newly-developed nylon. Blouses, slips, bras, panties - you name it, my mother was able to sew that parachute into lots of things. I don't know what happened to the Sailor.

So-called "Victory Gardens" were common. Not as common but as highly touted by the government as a way for the homefront to further help the "war effort," was to raise chickens and pigs. Grandpa had both.

Easter 1944, I was dressed in a white dress, coat, and hat - all of course made by my mother - probably out of the parachute. All of us kids were waiting outside for the grown-ups. My rascally uncle (did I mention he was only two years older than me?) led us to see the new piggies. There is good reason why pig pens are called "pig pens." We climbed over the sty. Mucky muck, muddy mud - ruined Easter finery; filthy and smelly. Uncle was never forgiven. The story was never related with laughter.

Techno geek - NOT!

Well I must have hit the delete button and sent one of my posts off into cyber-neverland. The "bear saga" seems to have disappeared so here it is again.

The Island's weekly newspaper, the "Bainbridge Island Review", was pretty folksy and prided itself on keeping abreast of every event - from birthing kittens to local politics. High school sports, being of serious importance in such a tiny locale, had a page of their own. The Japanese families after they were sent off to camp, were often reported about. Some of the headlines read, "Island Japanese Cheerful (in Manzanar)", "Island Japanese Voted 'Best Sportsmen' in Manzanar", "Los Angeles Japanese regard Island Japanese as "stuck up" and too Americanized", "High school sends text books to Manzanar students so they can graduate from high school", "Two year old boy has chicken pox in Manzanar." (This boy in his teen years was my school mate and was class president several times.)

While the proposed building of a housing project was loudly denegrated in the newspaper forum, another long-running event held its own as front page news. In February 1943, the first of "Marauding Bear" articles appeared. The stories grew, a posse was formed - although its members were not available til the end of deer-hunting season, a big game hunter was hired, traps were set, mothers' fears rose to a fever pitch. One week the bear was pronounced dead even though no carcass was found; only to be resurrected the next week when some poor dog had to have stitches after supposedly being bear-clawed. The headline read, "How Dead Is the Bear?" Major Hopkins, described as a "noted nimrod extolled by the State", accompanied the State Game Warden as they stalked the wily beast. They too were thwarted in their efforts. Then, to add to the ridicule of the mighty hunters, a headline suggested the services of an 86 year old farmer be sought because he had treed a bear and shot it dead - the guy was simply protecting his farm animals. The droll reports went on for months.

"No New Killings - Experts Wonder If Bear Hibernating."
"Killer Bear Has Been Here Four Years Declares Hunter, Major Hopkins."
"Posse Fails to Kill Bear - Traps Coming."
"Islanders Worry Traps Will Trap Dogs."
"Honey Bait May Lure Bear-Trap Setting Report Said."
"Very Dead, Sleeping, or Gone Home; Bear Is Quiet as Major Makes Trap."
Illustrations of various animal footprints were published to assure every Islander would be able to decipher a bear track from other tracks. The drawings included a bear's track walking, running, and compared track sizes. The paper diligently carried on with the bear stories.

"Bear Cub Sighted At Crystal Springs by Mrs. Williamson."
"Mrs. Williamson excitedly reported she saw the cub 'between the Prentiss and Berg places.' She and Mr. Williamson thought they saw tracks and attempted to follow them."

"Wardens, Hounds Fail To Stay Island's Wary Bears; Hunter Baits Two Traps." (Note how the bear numbers increased.)
"Bear Sighted As Big Game Hunter Quits Chase."
"Bear's Growl Frightens Five Youths." As the boys were building a fort or some other boy thing, they swore they heard the bear and ran away as fast as they could.
"Dog Clawed - How Dead Is Bear?"
"86 Year Old Kingston Man Shows How To Kill A Bear Dead!"

After a few weeks of bear silence;
"Island Bear Walks Again," when a boy sighted the beast in a field as he cycled by. He sped to the nearest house to report the danger.

April 1944, the last headline, "Killer Bear Dead, Hopins." marked the end of the saga that had begun more than a year earlier. The actual bear carcass was never reported as found. But some Seattle wise acres must have been loud in their laughter and scorn at the bimbo Islanders. An Island poet, Mrs. Lottie Jane Logg, set up defense poetically.

"If you've spent the week a listenin'
To the noise of trains a whistlin'
And to cars and buses rumblin'
To the many folks a grumblin'
'Bout a million things or more
Til just listenin' is a bore,
Then you'll long for peace and quiet
And a bit of nature's diet
So take a Black Ball ferry at the foot of Madison Street
And go to Bainbridge Island where the silence is complete.
If you've learned to ride the buses in the latest sardine style,
Had your feet all trampled til you cannot walk a mile
Then I know you must be wishin'
For a place to go a fishin'
Where there's room to stretch and eat
And a place to put your feet
And if you need a place for nappin'
Where you can hear the tide a lappin'
In the shadow of the Mountain capped with snow,
Then, my friend, to Bainbridge Island you must go.
If you've spent the week a breathin'
Air that's full of cough and sneezin'
And you've spent the week a breathin'
Many things you can't be tellin'
Then you'll need to spend a day
Where the birds all love to play
Where the air is sweet and clean
And the mountains can be seen
So take a trip and spend a while
On our lovely Bainbridge Isle."

So there too, you mainlanders you!

A few more wild animal headline came along in future months - like - "Cougar Tracks Found On Beach." followed the next week with, "Peripatetic Cougars On Prowl Again." Look out for the beasty beasts! Nothing could escape news-worthiness.