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New Me, New War

by Jacqueline Sewall Golden

That particular day, Mom announced that we were going to San Francisco.  She didnt say it happily which surprised me, as in the past that trip had meant fun, the Fairmont Hotel, cable cars and chewy strips of dried coconut.  This announcement had to do with our putting Father on a ship that would take him to the Philippines.
     Daddy was a pilot with the Air National Guard and had just recently joined the brand new Army Air Corps.  His first orders were to report to Manila where he would be in place to receive a shipment of airplanes and aid in setting up an air base. 
     In 1941 the drive north on Highway 101 was anything but fast.  From our home in Glendale, we had to endure traffic light after stop sign as we drove through the little towns of the San Fernando Valley.  A town, then fields, then another town and so on, until the hills rose about the road at the north end.  At the top, you had to pause before descending the scary grade known as Conejo Pass, which corkscrewed down into Ventura, straightened out into Santa Barbara and then you were really in the country for miles and miles, always north.  Even leaving at 4:00 a.m. it still took all day and into the evening before we reached The City, San Francisco.  Tired, dusty and hungry, we checked into the Fairmont.
     For fifty-nine years,  a picture taken in our room at the Hotel has hung in all the homes Ive lived in, featuring the four of us: Mom seated in a high-backed chair with the most sorrowful look on her face, flanked by my sister and me, and with Daddy standing behind us. 
     Early the next morning, we put him on his ship and away he went.  It was to be the last time we saw him.
     We were later notified that he had left Hawaii just three days prior to December 7, on his way to Manila to meet his fellow pilots and begin his tasks.  As the war raged throughout the Pacific and the Japanese pushed through country after country, Daddy found himself and a thousand or so men defending the island of Corregidor.  It was there he was captured by the Japanese and was imprisoned.
     So much of what took place during those many months and years have never been determined.  We knew he was a prisoner of war in the Philippines and received infrequent preprinted post cards through the Red Cross about his health (check one), his treatment by the enemy (check one), and so forth, then a two-line personal message was allowed at the bottom, into which he crammed as much love to us as he could find the space for.
     Our lives went on pretty much the same.  Mom worked at Lockheed as an employment counselor during the day and as a social director for the PTA in schools around the Los Angeles area during the evening.  My maternal grandmother,  Putty,  raised me and my sister,  teaching me how to cook English food  as she was from Liverpool, how to sew a nice seam, how to iron difficult linens, how to break the little red pod of food coloring into the bag of white margarine, mixing it well, turning it a rich yellow to look like butter.  I attended Glendale schools, joined the Blue Birds then the Girl Scouts, learned to excel in tetherball and tree-climbing and foursquare and enjoy being by myself.  My sister was out doing what older sisters do and I paid her no attention.
     Everything was rationed but we were able to take trips, even though tires were at a premium.  One trip to Canada we had nine blowouts, once two tires at the same time.  All that grease my Grandmother collected and faithfully turned in to the butcher each week went towards I know not what to this day, but it was required, as was saving newspapers for the paper, anything rubber, pots and pans.  All were picked up periodically by large trucks with lots of happy men slinging these odds and ends into the back.  I never quite got the hang of those rationing coupons, so many for gasoline, so many for sugar, or meat. 
     A grand day came when Mom entrusted me with a whole one-dollar bill to take to the store and buy the dinner for our family of four.  I chose one pound of ground lamb patties, canned corn (frozen products were not yet invented), a head of lettuce (we made our own dressing by mixing in equal parts mayonnaise and catsup; it was called Russian dressing), and four potatoes.  Putty cooked it up beautifully and I was quite proud.

                 Part Two >>

 

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