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.

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