Sunday, January 29, 2012

Taking our Lumps

Sometimes it's easier to grapple with the little things in life when the big ones are beyond you. The world is destroying itself all around me and what am I complaining about? Sugar.

After Pearl Harbor Hawaii is in no position to harvest anything like the usual amount of sugarcane, and we've lost all of the Philippines except the tiny specks of the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island in Manila Bay. MacArthur's forces are putting up a valiant fight, but there's no real likelihood we'll regain the islands any time soon. Thankfully the federal government was able to buy all of Cuba's sugar crop, but there's still not nearly enough to go around.

So we're learning to make do with less. Betty found some sugarless recipes in a magazine. We're both experienced bakers and pretty skeptical, but game to try. It's not as though we have a choice, anyway.

I made "Danish Apple Dessert":

1and1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 cups Post's Corn Toasties
2 cups of applesauce

Brown the Toasties in the butter. Pour alternating layers of applesauce and browned Toasties into dessert cups. Serve warm.

All I can say is that Bob's lucky he's in the Army, as he has to be eating far better than that gooey mess. I tried feeding it to Stormy but she just looked at me reproachfully as only a cat can.

I've decided that I can do more for the war effort by giving up baking entirely rather than making phony recipes. I'll save my famous blueberry pie for happier times. When Bob comes home I promise the house will be the sweetest place on earth.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I blame my mother.

Any lingering doubts I'd had about going to work in the Boeing factory were squashed last week like a cigarette butt under the heel of one of her peep-toed shoes.

I'd been feeling at loose ends for weeks, rattling around the bungalow waiting for a letter from Bob and wringing my hands over the bad news that seems to fall endlessly on our heads like January rain. I tried to fill up my time reading (I'm halfway through Raymond Chandler's "The High Window," which is wonderful), civil-defense classes and housework. But I don't have much of a head for enemy-aircraft identification - it's a good thing I'm not running the Army or we'd be accidentally shooting down our own planes faster than the Japanese ever could. And there are only so many times you can wax the floor.

I've never had a job in my life. I know nothing about airplanes (see above) and haven't the faintest idea how riveting is done. Our flyboys might be a whole lot safer going up in ships built by people other than me. But I just can't take sitting around waiting for events to happen. The Japanese took away my husband and all my plans for our future, so it's time I made new ones.

When I told my mother about my intention to sign up at the new vocational school here, she completely blew up. She carried on and on about how I'd disappointed her no end by dropping out of college to marry a lowly architect. How she raised me to be a "lady." How dirtying my hands in some noisy, smelly factory alongside noisy, smelly factory workers would destroy my (or is it "her?") reputation forever.

Well, that's it. The Japanese may be dictating what I do, but not Mother. I'm going to do my bit for the war effort no matter what anyone says. If Bob can put his life on the line for freedom, I can put myself on the factory line for him and the rest of our brave men.

It helps tremendously that my friends from the neighborhood are with me. We're enrolling in the trade school together for company and moral support. I never would have guessed two months ago that four girls as different from one another as we are would become friends, but I'm sure glad of it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Uncivil Defense

With Seattle now fully on a war footing, everyone here is expected to contribute to the effort. Easier said than done. Of course we're united in our commitment to victory. But it isn't obvious how best to help out.

Certainly sacrifice is going to be part of it. Most of us will have to quit driving whether we want to or not due tire rationing. I see exhortations in the paper every day reminding Seattleites not to waste food or electricity, and I've heard of plans for scrap metal drives to collect raw material for armaments.

But then things get murkier. Should we housewives go to work or just tend the home fires? Should we buy war bonds? Should we be keeping an eye on the Japanese on their suburban farms and little shops downtown, or the Italians in Rainier Avenue's "Garlic Gulch?" (No one here seems very concerned about German Americans. We have a large Scandinavian community over in the Ballard neighborhood, known to all as "Snoose Hollow." As one of my neighbors said, "How do you tell all those Krauts and Scandahoovians apart?")

Some people seem to see their duties much more clearly than others do. Our neighborhood, like most in Seattle and around the country, has volunteer civil-defense wardens whose job is to assist the Army. They've been trained to teach us first aid, evacuation routes, and how to spot enemy aircraft and saboteurs. But as with any activity in which some people have authority over others, the temptation to boss the neighbors about and settle old scores can be hard to resist. We've got one little fellow from a few streets away who's turned into an absolute martinet. He seems to take particular delight in loudly barking criticism over poorly-fitting gas masks or incorrectly wrapped bandages.

At one training session Susan and I attended, I thought she was going to slap the warden in front of everyone! It seems Susan's son, eight-year-old Jimmy, wants to learn to be a plane-spotter. He's got all his diagrams of Zeroes and Nakajimas and is keen to help. But the warden had the gall to say in front of everyone that a crippled child couldn't possibly be given such responsibilities. I saw Jimmy's lip tremble a bit but like the good little man he is he held back his tears. Susan, on the other hand, felt no need to exercise such restraint. "How dare you!" she shouted at the warden. "He's a second-grader in leg braces, but he's already twice the man you'll ever be!" The warden turned bright red and sputtered, but didn't dare answer back due to the glares he got from the rest of us through our gas masks.

So a plane-spotter Jimmy will be, though I fear we haven't heard the last from the warden.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Men's Work?

Seattle is fast becoming a city of children, old and infirm men, and women.  Our able-bodied fellows in their twenties and thirties are disappearing by train and troopship to distant battlefields, leaving the rest of us to carry on at home.  It seems especially strange given our city's whole history was built on rough-and-tumble masculine occupations like fishing, logging and manufacturing, but war changes everything.

I see my neighbor Susan Johnson heading off to her new job at the Boeing factory every day and am anxious to hear how it's going, though she seems to have little time free to talk.  A teenaged girl from down the street is looking after her son Jimmy and even doing some of their cooking and cleaning, since Susan can afford it now and doesn't have time herself.  In an odd reversal, our socialite acquaintance Jane Sullivan has taken to doing housework herself in their big old place since their Japanese gardener/handyman left. 

Betty and I have talked about taking Boeing jobs ourselves, but she's dead set against doing such a thing.  For my part I still can't imagine myself in a factory.

I was over the moon to get a letter from Bob last week.  It was short but I treasure every word in his architect's angular handwriting.  I hope I'll hear from him at least once more before he ships out.

Monday, January 2, 2012


January 2, 1942

No matter how often the newspaper and radio remind me otherwise, I feel like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." Events seem to have snatched up my little bungalow, whirled it through space and dropped it in a strange country where nothing makes any sense.  Even the newsreels show fleets of airplanes surging menacingly through the sky like the Wicked Witch's flying monkeys. At least Stormy the kitten makes a worthy Toto.

But Tojo, Hitler and Mussolini are horrifyingly real, committing atrocities everywhere in the world beyond the most fevered dream of any cartoon villian. 

On a frigid, clear New Year's Day I went for a walk along the Alki Beach promenade near my home. I was bundled into so many layers of wool sweaters, stockings, overcoat and scarves that I fear I must have looked like the Michelin Tire and Rubber logo I used to see at filling stations.  But it was good to get outside for some air, however cold and salty.

On my walk I noticed a series of freshly-applied posters on the telephone poles.  They appear to be a sort of "Field Guide to Our Allies," like a birdwatcher's book.  I'm most impressed with the "Wide-Hatted Smiling Australian," though I expect sightings of that creature will be rare in Seattle.

Nearer at hand are my friends.  We're looking to each other now that the men are gone. Socialite Jane Sullivan's warming up to us "commoners." I suspect her old-guard club pals are giving her the cold shoulder due to whatever mysterious Hollywood event sent her slinking back here after her attempt at film stardom.  It's a pity; she needs all help she can get now that her baby brother's dead, her mother's withdrawn, and even their Japanese gardener/handyman has disappeared back to his family in Japantown.

Susan Johnson mentioned something at my New Year's party about going to work for Boeing in the B-17 factory, but I haven't had time to ask her more about it. Jane's mother Ina knew Bill Boeing himself a decade or so ago when he was still closely involved with the company. She says he was a millionaire timber baron who founded the company more or less on a lark twenty-five years ago because he took a fancy to airplanes. Jane told me her mother remembers women working in the Boeing factory from the earliest days; Bill needed seamstresses to sew fabric onto biplane wings.  But of course a modern factory is a completely different place.  I have heard that the company is desperate for workers because the men, including Betty Wilkins' husband, are joining up. But I can't for the life of me picture quiet little Susan out on that giant factory floor with all those clanging machines!

Speaking of Betty, I'm worried about her.  I was jealous at first when she got a letter from Joe, as I haven't heard from Bob yet.  But Joe's news was alarming.  He hears that when he's done with basic training at Fort Lewis he'll be sent to the Alaska Territory of all places!  He's upset to be so far from the action, and Betty hates to think of him in such a godforsaken place.  Rumor is that the military is going to build a highway between northern British Columbia and Alaska because of concerns about a possible Japanese invasion of the West Coast.  There have been reports of sightings of Japanese ships in the Aleutian Islands, so that is one rumor that seems disturbingly possible.  I told Betty that if Joe building that road stops the Japanese from invading our country, he'll have done as great a service with a bulldozer as any man with a rifle.  I'm not sure Betty sees it that way, though.