Authors: Barbara Bretton
Tags: #World War II, #Women-HomeFront, #Romance
Sorry for such a hurried letter—the postman is walking toward the house and I want to get this in the mail today.
Hope you’re doing fine—
P.S. Everything around here is changing. Nancy quit the bank and will start work next week at an aircraft factory way out on the eastern end of the Island! She is feeling quite grown-up and independent. Can you imagine how upset she’d be if she knew Aunt Anna and Uncle Frank will be watching over her? Our very own Rosie the Riveter. (I’m glad you and Daddy aren’t in the air force!)—C.
May 30, 1944
You don’t have to apologize for anything. I’m really proud that you felt you could talk to me. I don’t have a lot of experience giving advice to people, but it seems to me that you’re going to be fine.
Who sets the rules about things like that, anyway? It takes as long as it takes to get over losing someone you love. It’s nobody’s damn business but yours. I lost my wife a couple of years ago. No, she didn’t die—she left me—but I’ll tell you it felt like somebody’d cut my heart out with a knife. I know I don’t look like the kind of guy who’s interested in having a family (especially since I didn’t have one of my own as a kid) but I really thought Angie and I could make it work.
Maybe we could have if the war hadn’t come along when it did. She met this other guy at the office she worked in and—well, you can guess the rest. It’s an old story. Now I know why she didn’t want to get married in the church. She got an annulment one-two-three and took off with her pal. I guess in a way I should be glad, but it’s taken me a long time to figure that out.
When you’ve been alone all your life like me, you don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about having a future with someone. It’s real hard to imagine someone being there all the time for you, someone you can rely on.
But I guess you wouldn’t understand what I’m talking about, would you, Cathy? You come from a real nice family (the best) and I bet you’ve never had to wonder if anyone really cared about you.
Enough about that. Maybe being hungry is making me shoot my mouth off!
You asked if the war is scary. The answer is yes. I’ve seen a lot of buddies come and go. Some died. Some lucky dogs got to go home with a purple heart and discharge papers. You never know from one minute to the next if all hell will break loose around you until you can’t even think straight.
We get a broadcast from President Roosevelt on Sundays. I used to really like listening to him but now I don’t bother. What can he say that matters? The war is going to take as long as it takes. Nothing he tells in a phony “fireside chat” will change anything.
About the factory. Why would your mom be interested in the everyday problems going on there, anyway? Most women wouldn’t be. With both your dad and Lou gone, you’re going to have to make the decisions. At least until the men come home and things get back to normal.
Looks to me that, like it or not, you’re the head of the family.
But don’t worry. It won’t last forever.
ALLIED ARMIES LAND IN FRANCE
IN THE HAVRE-CHERBOURG AREA,
GREAT INVASION IS UNDERWAY
New York Times
June 6, 1944
June 21, 1944
I’m so glad you’re in the Pacific and not caught up in all the fighting in Europe!
I caught a ride home this weekend in the company delivery truck, and Mom and Cathy are beside themselves with worry. The D-day invasion is all anybody can talk about, especially since no mail has come in for weeks and weeks now. The last time they heard from Daddy was the end of May. He had said not to worry, that they would be on the move for a while, but it’s hard not to when the radio broadcasts are filled with scary stories about blood on the beaches at Normandy. They’re calling it the D-day invasion and they say the D is for death.
I didn’t say anything to Mom, but I borrowed Aunt Edna’s newspaper and checked the casualty lists with a fine-tooth comb. My heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t catch my breath. “Wilson” is a long way down the list, I’ll tell you that. Once I made sure Daddy’s name wasn’t there, I checked for his friend Johnny Danza and his name wasn’t there, either. Problem was, nobody’s heard from either one of them since D-day and I guess our imaginations are going crazy.
It was so good to be home again, even if everything has changed so much since last year when Daddy went away. I know I made a terrible mistake in taking the job way out on the Island, but at the time I wanted so much to be on my own. The truth is, seeing Cathy so sad scared me. I didn’t want to be forced to think about what was really going on in the war. I wanted to go on thinking about USO shows and the Stage Door Canteen and how exciting it was to dance with a boy in uniform. What I didn’t want to think about was that people were dying.
Now I don’t know how I ever managed to forget such an important thing. I guess it took writing to you, Gerry, and what happened to Douglas to make me open my eyes.
What I want now, more than anything (well, not more than finally meeting you!) is to go back home. I hate this boarding house. I hate Old Man Winfield’s talcum powder and the smell of Mrs. O’Neil’s cabbage soup and the way the landlady’s son looks at me when I get in at night. No one talks to me and if it weren’t for Aunt Anna in Mastic Beach I’d feel so lonely I would die. I manage to get over there at least once a week. I’ve sworn Aunt Anna to secrecy—if Mom knew I was homesick she’d worry and she does enough worrying as it is.
Cathy didn’t say anything but I could tell she’s having a lot of problems at the factory. She works six days a week and sometimes she doesn’t even take all of Sunday off. She’s skinny and short-tempered and for the very first time I could understand how much she has on her shoulders. I wish she’d tell Daddy just how hard it is on her. Mom doesn’t pay much attention to what’s going on at the factory. When Cathy tried to tell her about a problem with the union organizer, Mom just said, “That’s nice, dear,” and continued rolling bandages for the hospital.
The men fight Cathy about everything. Back in the beginning, right after Daddy went overseas, they were real nice to her and said “Yes, Miss Wilson” and “No, Miss Wilson” and pretty much kept on their toes. Not anymore. The men who are there are either biding their time until they go to war or else they’re too old or too sick to join up. Whatever the reason, they’re awfully angry about something and now that Lou Alfano is gone, it seems they’re taking it out on Cathy. She used to go head-to-head with them but now I think she’s getting scared (those union organizers are very tough). She’s hired some girls to work on the assembly line but the men kicked up such a fuss that she’s been forced to assign the girls to one area and keep them all together. I guess there’s safety in numbers.
She’s started asking Eddie Martin (he’s a clerk) to do all the talking for her and that’s making her
mad, let me tell you. They’re working around the clock at the factory and what with the union trying to come in she’s worried that she’ll lose control completely. I guess it’s hard for a man to take orders from a girl.
One good thing—I think Cathy has finally accepted the fact that Douglas is gone. Sure she was short-tempered and tired, but I didn’t see that haunted look in her eyes that used to scare me so much when I lived at home. She even went over to Aunt Edna’s Saturday night for the Weavers’ anniversary party and didn’t come home all pale and quiet. It’s hard to imagine what her future will be like—for as long as I can remember, it was always Cathy-and-Douglas, like it was one name instead of two. But at least she’s smiling now.
I should be home with my mom and Cathy. I know that now. I didn’t have to leave Forest Hills to work for the war effort. I could have done that right there at home at Daddy’s factory. Maybe if I was in the office, I could help Cathy with her problem with the men. Right now I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do—or even if my mom wants me to move back.
But I promise I’ll let you know if my address changes back to the old one, okay?
In the meantime, please take care of yourself and write to me soon!
With much love,
August 1, 1944
You really have me worried. What do you mean you don’t like the way the landlady’s son looks at you? Did you tell your Mom? Did you complain to the landlady?
Pardon my language, but I think you should get the hell out of there and fast. I can’t stand being so far away and not able to take care of you. How can you think your mom wouldn’t want you back? Just pack your bags and go home. I bet they welcome you with open arms. (Even Cathy!)
It took a while for us to get the scoop on D-day. Newspapers take time to reach you on the other side of the world. I’m glad we’re beating the hell out of the Germans but it’s sure going to put the heat on us over here. They’re talking about sending us more manpower and making a push on the Japanese forces in CENSORED. I’ll bet we’re here at least another year. Maybe more. Are the leaves changing yet? It’s hot and steamy here. Your clothes feel wet all the time and you can’t breathe without feeling like your lungs are clogged with soggy cotton wool. A USO show came through last week on some little island where we were anchored for repairs. I had a day off so I yanked a wheelbarrow into the field and set myself up with a front-row seat. It rained—natch!—the day of the show but all I had to do was cover myself with an old tarp and it was almost as good as being at Radio City Music Hall. I saw Rita Hayworth and Joan Leslie. Jack Benny and Rochester did a skit about being stuck in a bank vault, and Bing Crosby sang “Blue Skies” and “White Christmas” even though Christmas is over nine months away.
Please move back home, Nance. It’s where you belong. Families should stay together. Besides, I want to know you’re safe and sound.
September 5, 1944
I feel as if we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well these past fifteen months and I believe I can trust you to help me relieve Daddy’s mind.
We’re having a bit of trouble at the factory. To make a long story short, morale is pretty bad and a union organizer is stirring everyone up. My father’s position has always been anti-union and I am holding fast to his wishes, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep the peace.
I know it isn’t right, asking you to lie for me, but it’s important that my father not have anything more to worry about. My mother isn’t very interested in what goes on at the factory, but I know that the union organizer has written my father a three-page letter filled with demands—and unfortunately a few threats.
I have sent Daddy a letter of reassurance and am begging you, Johnny, to back me up. Tell him my letters to you have been filled with success stories about the factory. The truth is, we’ve never been more productive, but if the union organizer gets his way, that productivity is going to stop any time now.
Believe me, I can handle this problem. The one thing I can’t handle is my father’s peace of mind. Would you do that for me?
It would mean the world, Johnny.
October 15, 1944
How I miss your letters! It’s been over two months now since I last heard from you and, as you can imagine, my imagination is running riot. The newspapers are filled with talk of Aachen and burning cities and I am terrified that you are in the midst of it all. I’m certain you must be—Cathy hasn’t heard a word from Johnny, either. How we worry about the two of you.
I love you, Tom, and will wait for you forever. I said a rosary last night to pray for your safety and Johnny’s—and the safety of all the men who are fighting for us so bravely. Must go now. I’m writing this from the hospital and my lunch break is over. We’re having a knitting bee this afternoon—more of those long white bandages. Much more tomorrow, darling, and every day until you are home in my arms.
All my love always,
November 8, 1944
I hardly know how to begin this letter. I am afraid I have offended you and I want to apologize if that is the case.
Looking back, I can hardly believe I sent that letter to you. Johnny, I know I had no business dragging you into a family matter—on business, no less!—and I realize I put you in a terrible position. You and Daddy are friends. Had I taken a minute to think about it, I would have understood that your loyalties are to him. (And they should be.) I was going through a difficult period then and I was desperate for support. I apologize for asking you to take sides in a family matter.
Over the last few months I’ve really come to count on you as a friend. Isn’t that strange? I mean, I barely know you—we only saw each other that once at the Stage Door Canteen. And yet I can talk to you the way I can’t talk to anybody else around here. Everyone else wants to think of me as solid, capable Catherine, when inside there are times when I wish I could just bury my head under the covers and let someone else take over. It was so much easier before the war. Now I hardly know what it is I’m supposed to do. Or who it is I’m supposed to be.
I hope you’ll forgive me and drop me a note. I miss your letters, Johnny. I miss talking to you.
November 24, 1944
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day yesterday—well, at least as wonderful a day as you can have so far away from home.
Cathy was in better spirits. She even lent me her copy of
. She is making a real effort to be more cheerful around the house right now. We haven’t heard from Daddy in a long time—a couple of months, to be exact. And it’s been just as long (or longer) since any of us have heard from Johnny Danza.
I know I’ve gone all around the mulberry bush with this. I guess that’s because I’m really afraid to say what’s on my mind, almost like if I say it, it’ll come true. Gerry, I think something terrible has happened. Cathy has always said she knew all that week that something had happened to Douglas but she was afraid to admit it to her herself. Well, that’s exactly how I feel right now, except I’m not sure who it’s happened to. (Not you! I’m certain you’re fine—I couldn’t live if you weren’t.) Sometimes I think Daddy has been shot and other times I think it’s Johnny or one of the boys we went to school with.