Sunday, May 19, 2013

Transitions take a long time

In an already challenged life, it is transition time again. It is, for many cancer survivors, difficult to grant ourselves permission to be well. It just takes such a long time. "A long time" should be old hat by now. Should be comfortable and familiar.

I waited a long time for Mother to get through her widowhood and the War and the recovery of her children to get us to a normal life with a new husband and a new baby. For four years I waited. From the time I was three and a half years old until I was a month and a week shy of my eighth birthday, i waited for my family to be whole again. I waited in an orphanage with care and a "family" of 97 other kids, all waiting. In that time I grew to understand that there was no better,  no other, choice. A widow with three kids in a time of war did what she had to do.

She made ammunition for the Navy, supervising hundreds of very young women dealing daily with nitro and sulphur. Sometimes the place exploded and the on-site hospital was full of injured girls. Sometimes they died. Many of them, including my mother, suffered powder poisoning from inhaling gunpowder blown around the whole plant by huge fans to keep the air circulating, since there was no air conditioning then. While she was doing the best she could...and these women were well brothers and I, all young, were trying to understand why we were put away, albeit in a safe place. Small children only want their mother. We could have been ensconced in a palace with a world of toys and ice cream, but without mother, it is meaningless, comfortless and full of heart ache.

I spoke some time ago to a woman who worked in a munitions plant. She said it took her ten minutes to walk the distance from her work station to the bathroom. While she was gone there was an explosion. When she left the bathroom, half the barracks was blown up. While rebuilding her unit, they all went back to work around the reconstruction. In truth, these women were in the middle of hell. They would be a long time waiting for things to improve. And then, at the end of the war, the plants were locked up, the women sent home to farms and small towns and the money stopped. The freedom stopped. The life stopped. They were once again relegated to the non-role of women. They learned you can't go back.

Many of them were heavily involved with soldiers and sailors gone to war. My mother fell in love with a young blond from a town close to her own. He declined to marry her until, indeed if, he returned from the front. He allowed as how he didn't want to make her a widow for the second time. He swam from the English Channel to the French beach and immediately fell to strafing shrapnel across the water and the sand. He lay there among the dead, trying not to die. He waited three days, a long time bleeding, until the dead truck came and discovered he was alive. They took him off to a French hospital where he spent nine months recovering from his wounds. He waited a long time.

The women at Triumph Explosives were known nationally as the Boom Boom Girls. They often won the production contests for their output. She survived the huge explosion in May of 1942, when five buildings blew up, killing fifteen people outright and injuring many others. Perhaps she was up home to visit her siblings on that weekend. If so, we were with her, for she swung by the orphanage often, so we could visit Gramma Daisy.

Finally home, and hardly healed, he married his sweetheart, got her pregnant and came to the orphanage to claim her children. A life change occurred for all of us. We'd wait a long time for the fallout.

Transitioning from happy toddler to unhappy orphan to freedom and no clue how to be a little girl, took a long time. But to do it we gained a whole town surrounded by open fields that were ours to roam, and in that atmosphere we recovered as best we could from our abandonment. My constant companion was my little brother. From breakfast to dinner time we were on our own in a rural community surrounded by Amish farms, idyllic and serene except for the disappointments and disillusion and danger living in our new home with us. It would affect us, especially me, for a very long time.

Remnants of that time still remain. Childhood never lets go.

1 comment:

  1. I am so moved by this entry. Thank you for the courage to share.