By Gwendolyn M Plano
After a few minutes, she turned and faced me. “I tell myself that it must be real.” She seemed to want my approval. “The stone says we were married 70 years. It must have happened; I must have been married. But, but…why can’t I remember?” She searched my face for answers.
Stooped from the burden of years now elusive and sometimes vacant, mom held my arm while she walked to either side of the monument.
“I saw him in a dream. Did I tell you that?”
“No, mom, I don’t think you did.”
“He was young, like when we first met.”
“Really? Could you tell me about how you met?”
“How?” Mom’s eyes darted to and fro as she struggled to answer. Then, as though the curtains lifted, she responded.
“Yes…yes, I can tell you how we met.”
“Let’s sit here, mom.” I led her to a cement bench under a tall oak tree near dad’s grave. “Now tell me how the two of you met.”
Mom took a deep breath and began. “It was during the war. I remember it now. It was 1944. There were posters in our high school which asked us to sign up to work at the Consolidated Aircraft factory in San Diego. They needed help building B-24 bombers. We called the bombers the Liberators. My sister and I and several of our girlfriends decided we wanted to help our country. Most of the boys in our class were enlisting in the army or navy. We wanted to do our part too.”
“Like Rosie the Riveter?”
“Oh, yes! We all wanted to be Rosie. Your grandparents didn’t much like the idea, but they knew the families of the other girls, and since we’d be living together and would watch out for one another, they finally agreed. After all, it was the patriotic thing to do.”
I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of mom being Rosie and asked where she lived.
“We lived with Aunt Lena on India Street in San Diego. She put in bunk beds for us. At night, we’d wash out our clothes and tie the pieces to the bedsprings so that they could dry overnight.”
“When we arrived at Consolidated, they gave each of us a uniform – blue pants and jacket. And, we had classes for a week or two. Most of us were assigned the job of riveting. It’s hard to believe, but there were about 20,000 women working at the factory. The assembly line was a mile long, and believe it or not, we built about nine bombers a day. Isn’t that amazing?”
“That is amazing, mom.” Pride glowed from mom’s face, and I couldn’t help but feel proud of her as well.
“I was assigned to the wings. I hate heights, but I’d climb on top of those wings and pretend I was sitting on the hood of a car. I didn’t get afraid that way. One day, when I was sitting up there, holding a riveting gun, your dad came by.”
“Hey,” he said. “What’s your name?” I thought I might be in trouble, but he smiled, so I smiled back.
“Well, Lauretta, you’re doing a great job. If you need anything, let me know. My name’s Jim, and I’m the foreman for this area.”
I put my arm around mom’s shoulder. “My goodness, mom, you were on the wing of a bomber when you met dad?”
“Sounds funny, doesn’t it? But, yes, that’s the first time we talked. I didn’t pay much attention to him, but my sister would whisper to me, “There he is again. I think he likes you. He keeps looking this way.”
Mom lowered her eyes and giggled. “Of course, I didn’t believe her.”
After pausing a bit, she continued. “Your dad started walking home with us in the evening. He lived further up the hill from us, so it wasn’t out of his way. Mind you, I was wearing the company uniform and had my hair in a bandana, so I was hardly a beauty.”
“Anyway, one day he asked if I’d like to come up to his place. And, I was stupid and said okay. That’s when I learned about the facts of life. You know, sex.”
“You didn’t know before then, mom?”
“No, but he taught me that night.” Mom giggled and put her hand on her face. “He wanted to get married right then. But, I told him no, he had to talk to my parents. We needed to do it right. Besides, I hardly knew him. There were a lot of shot-gun marriages those days. We all thought the end of the world was coming, and well, young lovers didn’t hold back.”
“So, you and dad became lovers?”
“You know the answer to that, don’t you? When I didn’t have my cycle, I knew I was pregnant. Your dad was elated and didn’t hesitate to talk to your grandparents. Of course, I was ashamed. But, I want you to understand something. You might have been the reason we married, but you were not the reason we stayed together for 70 years.”
“Did you love him, mom?” The question came out before I could filter it.
“I did, I just didn’t know I did. Your dad would tell anyone who would listen, ‘When I saw Lauretta on the wing of a B-24 bomber, I knew that she was the one for me.’ He’d say it all the time, ‘She’s the one for me!’” Mom giggled as she thought about this story. “Your dad always said it was love at first sight. But it wasn’t that way for me.”
“What do you mean by that, mom?”
“Well, love is a strange word, isn’t it? Your dad seemed to know from the first time he saw me that he wanted to marry me. I didn’t feel that way. I think my focus was romance or dreams. And, your dad wasn’t the wooing type.”
“I believe I fell in love with him after you were born. He thought you were the most beautiful baby in the whole world. In fact, I think he was happiest when he was holding you. He’d sing to you and rock you to sleep every night.”
She dropped her head, and tears rolled down her cheeks. My tears fell as well.
“He was a good man, a faithful man. Did I tell you his promise?”
I shook my head, and said, “no.”
“You know that he grew up hungry, right? During the Dust Bowl, his family barely survived. In fact, two of his sisters died. Well, your dad promised me that his children would never go hungry. He would make sure of it. And, he did. He worked two jobs most of our marriage, and you kids were never hungry.” She paused and looked into my eyes.
“Your dad kept his promises.”
Mom grew silent. Her face turned from animated to expressionless, and I did not know what to think. She whispered something that I had to ask her to repeat. She sighed and looked at me again.
“It just doesn’t seem real.”
Gwen Plano RWISA Author Page