Thursday, January 6, 2011

We Can Do It

Last week Geraldine Doyle the slender, muscled inspiration for the WW2 recruitment poster We Can Do It died. I remember the poster of course but being an eighth grader it didn’t seem to apply to me. In Seattle where I lived there was a cry for kids to volunteer in the summer to pick vegetables. No doubt the Japanese farmers were all in internment camps. At my friend Sue’s urging I accompanied her reluctantly on a big bus to the fields near Renton to pick beans. I remember being kind of scared and totally inept. After one day of weighing in my yield they directed that I not return. How embarrassing, but what a relief! I tried to help the war effort in other ways like collecting cans and old nylons, planting a vegetable garden and trying to sell war bonds. At things athletic and manual dexterity I was a motor moron. Still am. Meanwhile, down in California, Lee’s life was taking a very different turn.

What was unique about being a senior at Albany High, class of 43, was that if you were a boy approaching 18 almost any branch of the service would scramble for you. Not only blackout curtains and ration stamps appeared, but boys and girls alike steered in new directions. At the end of their junior year many boys quit to join the ranks and sadly never returned to graduate. If you were a girl you were recruited to work at the booming Richmond Ship Yards in jobs never before considered fit for women. Of course Lee was one of those girls who volunteered, her brother already serving overseas in the Navy. It seems a school bus would take them after half a day of classes to the shipyards to learn riveting and other skills, and they would work an 8 hour shift before returning to Albany High.

Since Lee was 31 when I met her, I never witnessed such activity. She rarely spoke of her jobs in the war effort (and she had many) thinking it was such a little thing. Like Geraldine Doyle she was slender and strong and such a natural athlete so I’m sure she loved it. Except for being addicted to baseball, she had shadowed her Dad in his workshop all her life and she could do almost anything manually with her hands. That is, except cook and sew, which her mother had given up trying to teach her. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it was for Lee her first experience of being valued as a woman of worth. Recently I passed on to a friend Lee’s tee shirt which sported the logo Women In The Trades. Like her work at the shipyards, it was a source of quiet pride.

Almost every morning as I pass Skyline High on my way to shopping or the gym I reflect on the kids unloading from the cars and buses. Much of the time they look bored, distracted and insecure. Not all, but many. Small groups form on the corners and if I have the car windows open I can usually smell pot even though a police car is parked at the gate. It saddens me. How will they ever find a sense of self worth?

Several years ago when the memorial to Rosie the Riveter opened in Richmond our friend Marianne arranged to have us visit. Lee was already quite frail but politely expressed interest. I was fascinated but Lee somehow thought it was still no big deal. The exhibit is wonderful. It is said that the women there turned out one battleship a week. Now in my book that’s a very big deal!

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