The Decade 1945-1955: My Life, Part 3
Having outlined important features of my life through early childhood, into World War II and out by age 11, what follows here is a rather well-edited version of the highlights of my life during the decade of 1945-1955.
History According to Me: 1945-1955
PART 3 of Who Am I?
On the last day of World War II, when the armistice was signed with the Japanese, the official word report for that the war was indeed over, came from 11-year-old-Me…at least for my elderly neighbor, Mr. Myers. I proudly delivered the news report, standing in the front yard. He was the only person that I actually discussed the war’s end with, as my parents were not into talking of important world issues with kids.
Next followed several years of childhood. This half dozen years or so was a very difficult time in my life, in which my school life was marked by depression and questionable educational progress. The less said about that era the better.
One of my favorite good memories was of the library BookMobile. There was not a branch of the library in our town, but the BookMobile did come around once a week. It parked in an area at the center of town, behind or adjacent to a new car dealership. During the war car sales had slowed to a stop, and it was a couple of years before new vehicles began to appear–once the resources and manpower needed to produce new cars became available as the soldiers returned from the war front and went to work in the factories again.
Anyway, the BookMobile was a highlight of my young life. The vehicle was an old bus that had been made over into a make-shift library, with shelves built into the sides and some portable shelves that were moved out into the parking lot when the weather permitted. Even today I can recall choosing books from the shelves, with guidance from the librarian, who was kind and liked to read. She knew about books and the types of books children liked to read, and supervised the avoidance of inappropriate materials.
I seem to recall sitting on the steps at the entrance to the BookMobile, but that memory may be an embellishment of my active imagination. At any rate I sat there and read for hours, and always went home carrying an armload of books that the library lady had approved and recommended. My library card was one of my favorite possessions, and my goal was to read every book in the BookMobile. I modified that goal shortly to provide for reading all of the books on certain shelves stocked with age-appropriate materials.
When the BookMobile was not there, I had another hang-out where I could go and spend afternoons–high in a cherry tree in the field at the back of our half-acre lot. That tree was a refuge and a joy for me, as I was the only person in the world who knew about that particular tree.
But I want to get on with it, and so I’ll skip to junior and early high school.
Although the War was over, the Cold War had begun. This time the enemy was the Russians, or more specifically the dreaded Communists of the Soviet Union, and Red China. We kids and teenagers were still very well aware that we were within the easy sights of instant annihilation, and soon there was another war demanding our allegiance–this one in Korea. My primary remembrance was the Korean War (er…conflict, it was never a declared war) was that a lot of our schoolmate boys joined the service as soon as they could, and one of my best friends…a mild-mannered red-haired guy who went off and never came back–died when the army tank he was riding in over in Korea hit a land-mine and exploded. The military draft was in effect, and many of the boys in our school joined up with one of the branches of the service. It was permitted for them to quit school at age 16 as long as they went into the military. My brother joined the U.S.Navy at age 17. My boyfriend, who would be my husband later, quit school and joined the army, but was sent to Germany instead of Korea.
The first half of the 1950s saw us growing up, and the girls all got jobs in offices or shops, although a few did manage to go off to college to become teachers, or nurses. There really were not any other viable choices for girls: nurse, teacher, secretary. Oh, there was also the opportunity to join one of the Womens’ Services: the WACs, WAVEs, SPARS…with the Army, Navy, Coast Guard.
I wonder now why I never thought of joining up myself. It would have been a great job and something that I would jump at the chance–NOW–to do. Well, I could have gone to nursing school I guess, but my nonexistent math skills and absolute disinterest in school in general would have made that option unlikely.
A word about Girls of the era: it was common to be planning one’s wedding at the same time as graduation. A few girls got –OMG, pregnant– which completely destroyed any educational aspirations. Even high school was out of the question. Most of us who did not get into “trouble” and graduated high school were sent off to work in offices. At least I did have secretarial skills which landed me a job and provided a respectable occupation. Typing and Shorthand were the skills to have. I did not qualify as a stenographer (who was proficient in secretarial skills–especially Gregg Shorthand, which was a mark of distinction.) I was classified as a “clerk-typist,” which was higher rank than “file clerk.”
In 1954 I got engaged, got married in August, and on Christmas Day 1955 landed in Bremerhaven, Germany to meet a train which transported me to Frankfurt, and Giessen, and a U.S.Army base in a small town called Butzbach. I was 21 years old when I went to Germany on a troop ship which had been converted partially to transport officers and dependents.
That was an experience…at 21 I had no clue. Spoke only a little bit of German, and had never been farther away from home than about ten miles. The trip across the Atlantic Ocean was wonderful…I spent every waking moment on deck soaking in the atmosphere of the sea air and the turquoise water churning at the bow of the ship. I absolutely loved that journey, and while my fellow dependent wives languished in their small cabins or crowded “theaters” aboard ship, I stayed on deck as much as possible. My tiny cabin was shared with two other women, and two two-year-olds in cribs. Yikes!
My German never did get beyond some rudimentary grammar and basic Berlitz self-study. We lived in a German apartment for one week, maybe two, then moved into U.S.Army quarters into a brand new apartment building. Most of the people I came in contact with were Americans, except in the commissary (grocery store) and shop-keepers, most of whom spoke English. My two closest friends were American wives from US southern states, one of whom was still quite incensed at General Sherman’s March to the Sea after the U.S. Civil War… not the best company for a Yankee gal like me.
We played a lot of Scrabble, Canasta, and Pinochle…especially when the troops/husbands were out on maneuvers and we wives were left to entertain ourselves.
I often remember with some regret that my year and a half in Germany was pretty much squandered, in that my interaction with the Germans pretty much involved buying things… haben sie haferflocken? (Do you have oatmeal?) And ordering and paying for things like bread, rolls (hung in plastic bags on our doorknobs,) and beer. (Yummy beer, in green bottles with the bale stoppers…delivered by the case to our apartment door.)
That was also my introduction to hostility…as the locals were not crazy about Americans in general, and snotty young-girl-wife Americans who showed up to re-claim their soldier-husbands in general. When we got to the area there were still burned out buildings and huge piles of rubble everywhere in the cities, children that did not want anything to do with us, old lady widows dressed in black…riding bicycles…who hated our guts. The town near us was especially bombed-out, as according to local lore, some American fliers were killed by farmers armed with pitch-forks as they parachuted from their shot-down planes. The story was that the allied planes on return flights from Frankfurt back to London routinely “saved a bomb for [the town].” Very logical, and the town was really in shambles.
In March of 1957 my husband and I returned to the States, via the MATS, Military Air Transportation Service, because I was pregnant. I was disappointed because I was really looking forward to returning to the States by ship. The plane ride (I think my second flight ever) was long and boring–and we didn’t even have a window to look at the Atlantic Ocean. We retrieved our car from the port in New Jersey, then drove home to Ohio, enroute to new military orders shipping us to Fort Hood, Texas.
Thus began the next phase of My Life…
coming up soon…