Wednesday, May 19, 2010

History and how it is reported

I have received a number of responses to my writing about Bainbridge Island and the impact of WWII. Several have suggested that what I write must be a sort of healing process for the hurts of my childhood. I suppose that could be true although that has not felt to be my impetus. It started with the death of a very close person in my life. He also happened to be one of my grade school through high school classmates. My becoming re-acquainted with him inspired my interest in the history of the Island. When I graduated from Bainbridge High School, I could not wait to move away from "the Rock" and never gave it much thought after I left. But my connection remained through family and friends and of course, as the location of my youth.

My keen interest in fashion and life-long sewing experience lead me to doll making and costuming. Several of my original patterns and articles were published in doll magazines. As the fifty year anniversary of the end of World War II approached, I came across the story of "Theatre De La Mode." That venue was the showing of Paris couture in 1945. All the new fashions; clothing, hats, gloves, shoes, jewelry; were displayed on doll-size wire mannequins. The small size was chosen because of war-caused shortages of all materials. Paris' economic recovery was on the shoulders of the French designers as the fashion industry was crucial to the economic recovery of all of France. I was intrigued. I did extensive research and eventually published an article not only about "Theatre De La Mode," but about the way clothing has evolved along with our life styles. So - this is how my interest in the vast, profound changes wrought by WWII began. Technology changed our lives and civil rights made us aware as we never were, en masse, previously. And when my friend died, during my grieving and healing, I plunged into research about the overall impact of WWII. The primary change in my family, was that we moved from St. Paul, Minnesota to Bainbridge Island, Washington. We were among the hordes of war-time transients who moved in search of work. My mother was one of the "Rosie the Riveters." To me, the Island represents a microcosm of the changes that pervaded the lives of every American.

And that is why I chose to write about the Island's history - in a personal kind of way. I hope that others as they read this, will be inspired to add their own stories. The compilation of the many voices will help round out history and paint a picture of life as it was for us - we who were born and raised between the Depression Generation and the Baby Boomers.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Making Do - In Many Ways

War-heated patriotism meant many high school boys raced to join the Armed Services and left some girls without dates for the proms and other dances. One of my young aunts daringly invited an unusual date for one of the dances. My Aunt Marilyn was shy even though she was pretty, popular, and a favorite student. Her shyness was exacerbated by her unwillingness to smile. Grandpa had only allowed her blackened front tooth to be gold-covered because that was the cheapest kind of dental work to repair an injured tooth. It was an excruciating embarrassment for her. On the other hand, I was fascinated and wanted to touch her tooth. To me, it was dazzling.

With great enthusiasm, she and my mother concocted a "man" out of a broom with a paper bag head. The best kind of dance partner - no tripping, no sweaty hands, no bad breath, no unwanted clutching.

In the kitchen, my mother (Corrina) hauled the wooden-legged ironing board out of the pantry. She set it next to the wood stove. For a quick ironing job, the iron could be heated on the stove's top instead of filling it with glowing coals from the firebox. There was always a fire smoldering. This time however, it was a long project so the iron had to be filled; a scary job - some burning of hands was always involved - it was just a matter of fact. At the time, nothing better was available. Besides, the Island was an isolated, rural place with little of any city-like amenities. A soda pop bottle fitted with a sprinkler head of pierced metal and cork was used to sprinkle whatever was being ironed. The moistening process was necessary to steam wrinkles out. Steam irons, like so many other time-saving appliances, were futuristic items.

That evening, Corrina ironed a paper bag with a crayoned face. She laid waxed paper over the face and ironed it to set the drawing. With the bag's bottom cut off and some of the broom's straw sticking out for hair like a crew-cut, an additional stick tied across the broom for shoulders, the guy was ready for dressing. One of Grandpa's ties and jacket completed Marilyn's date. She danced around the kitchen with her partner as she and Corrina giggled and laughed. Then my mother ironed Marilyn's skirt - while it was on her. Marilyn was hyper-fastidious and ironed her clothes the night before, the day of the event, right before she put them on, and then Corrina would iron what she could, again, as Marilyn stood there dressed and ready to go out the door! When permanent press clothing was introduced many years later, I'm sure Marilyn whooped in excitement.

This was a time of unprecedented medical advances like vaccinations for most communicable childhood diseases. Smallpox, TB, scarlet fever, whooping cough, and diptheria were still pretty common. It was after the war ended, early 1946, there was warning of a possible epidemic on the Island of smallpox. Vaccinations were ordered for all school children and urged for any adults who had not been vaccinated. I remember standing outside the Winslow clinic with my mother and sister along with a bunch of other kids and their mothers. It was dark as only being close to Puget Sound can be in the dense, cold, wet, grey fog. My clothes clung to me like leeches. My socks were soggy and made my shoes squish. I was afraid. The line of kids smelled like a pile of wet, warm kittens. The fear grew as the length of waiting time wore on. I don't remember the actual needle poking me; I just remember being glad it was over. Gramma had hot cereal waiting for us. That old cook stove with its never-out fire, kept constant coffee hot and cereal or soup always available.

Mothers worried about lots of communicable diseases and weird stuff like ringworm, scabies, lice, and impetigo. I worried about my sister's long, curly hair. All she had to endure was someone, Mommy, Gramma, or Aunt Evelyn, making her sit still while they brushed her hair around their fingers making her beautiful ringlets which stayed that way, all day. My stick-straight hair resisted even the painful tugging each morning for the French braids I had to wear. One time, after my continual asking, Aunt Evelyn attempted to burn my hair into ringlets. It was worse torture than the braiding process. She used a medieval device called a curling iron which she heated for each ringlet, in the glaring coals of the kitchen stove. But first, each clump of hair had to be wrapped in a strip of rag. Then she clamped the iron to the rag-tied strands while admonishing, "Sit still - or you'll be burnt up." It was terrifying. I ran to the bathroom afterward to gaze at my Shirley Temple curls. And that's as long as they lasted - ten minutes at most. I STILL had to sit still for my hair to be braided!