Sunday, July 29, 2012
The Picture Box
On her way to her new home in Florida, my sister delivered a shoe box full of photographs, most of them recording my childhood beyond orphanage. Hours and hours of looking at them, I managed to sort and organize them into a sequence that made chronological sense. Along with black and whites of my brother and me, of kids on our street, of neighbors and friends, were numerous photos of my motherland her friends at Triumph Explosives where she made ammo for the Navy in WW 2. While she had put us in an orphanage, this new widow took on the challenge of the nation while earning a living for herself and her family. In every one of the many photos of her, she is smiling or laughing into the camera. She is clearly happy in her work. A woman with many stresses, still, she is not only making the best of her lot, she's happy doing it. My father died at the age of 32, leaving her with two kids and one coming. The war was on it's way and she had no income beyond a small life insurance policy. Serendipity? She and millions of other American women put down their lives to take up the pressing need of the nation. With whole towns emptied of able bodied men, women took up the war work. They proved their mettle, working long shifts and producing all the nation needed for the effort. For so many of them, this was heady freedom. Across the nation, young women sent their earnings home. My mother supported her siblings, paying their utility bills, their rents, their grocery bills. Not everybody was Rosie the Riveter. Making explosives was dangerous work. More than once my mother was blown across a building. some people died working with unstable gun powder. Daily life was a risk upon which she apparently thrived. I look at the smiling woman in the frame and experience a revelation. Caught up in her story of difficult challenges, she is smiling through, doing her best, making it work.I see where my own strengths have been shaped. I recognize her and myself in her. She has a spine of steel. While life is a challenge, it's also a blast. Mama never muddled through. She took life by the horns, leapt aboard and rode the experience to the ground. The downside, for her, was equivalent to the upside. Her very strengths made her tough and often hard. She forfeited any soft side she might have had. Soft was unaffordable. She kept the posture even when it was no longer needed. Each of us make our choices. Mama made hers. It is important now to understand the woman in the picture so to know her. Because all her choices helped shape me.