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SUDDEN LIFE CHANGES Kate’s Journal


Episode 10

Torrance, 1940-1941

It’s strange to look back and realize that such a short amount of time–a mere three months actually, can bring such change in a life. Torrance High School brought me a mild amount of recognition, a great deal of embarrassment, a group of friends which I had never enjoyed before, and a sense of belonging.

The tennis player roomer brought about changes for my aunt and mother as well. Suddenly one evening I came upon them, along with my grandmother, dressed in full length fur coats. As I rippled my hands through the late squirrel’s fur, I was made aware that they had discovered a second hand store–today more commonly known as Thrift Stores. Though it was a humiliation to them to admit they could not afford to buy the same coats at the local department store, they wore them proudly. We seemed to be moving up in the world my grandmother had left behind.

My Grandpa Jim, active in the Masonic Lodge, encouraged me to join Job’s Daughter’s, which under threat of having to ride a goat, I did. I found that the circle of girl friends I already had were also members.

I remember those girls fondly, and can easily bring their faces to mind. Barbara Locke, Pat Rojo, another Barbara with long red curly hair we dubbed “Fuzzy” and Nadine Paour, who was tall, dark and beautiful. We were all at the training bra stage of our lives, which makes me laugh now to think we had to be in training to wear such a simple piece of clothing. None of us had much if anything to put into them, so I purchased a pair of rubber falsies.

After bringing them to an overnight slumber party, we all tried them on to see the effect, when our hostess’s little brother burst into the room. Trying to cover our embarrassment, we told him they were soup bowls. Now even a six year old knows you can’t keep soup in a rubber bowl. We took turns wearing our new chests to school till we tired of fishing them up from having slipped down to our waists.

It was a beautiful sunny morning in Southern California, and I was wearing the new red wool plaid suit which was supposed to be my Christmas present bought from money my Dad had sent, but even though it was only December 7, I had wanted to wear it before the holidays. I loved it so much I wore it all the way through high school.

My Dad had been gone for most of that year, the longest cruise yet, though we had no idea where he was. He could not tell us where his ship was and according to his censored V-mail letters he was “somewhere in the Pacific’, but we didn’t know where. It was apparent that there might be trouble sometime soon.

I remember the house smelling all warm and delicious from the cake my grandmother had just taken from the oven for Sunday dinner. We had two girls who boarded with us and they were hurrying to get away to the beach for the day; I had just fed our dog Wimpy and put him outside, when I heard the crackle of the big Philco radio change from music to the voice of President Roosevelt saying that “this day will go down in infamy.” I had no idea what the word infamy meant.

Everyone gathered around the radio in the bright sun room to hear the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I stupidly asked “where the heck is Pearl Harbor?” but no one else knew either, so we got out the large atlas and saw that it was “somewhere in the Pacific”, in the Hawaiian Islands.

We did not get the news until much later, that my Dad’s ship had been in Pearl Harbor, and was moored across the channel from the disastrous bombing of the USS Arizona. The majority of America’s major fleet, including the main battlewagons, were destroyed or badly damaged during the sneak attack.

450px-BagleyDD386 USS Bagley at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

It killed America’s isolationism, and made the American population determined to go to war and soon after, we joined Britain in fighting in Europe.

Having been out at sea for such a long time, they had come into the harbor to take on much needed food and water, but the attack happened before that could occur, and the ship was immediately sent back out to sea.

He would be at sea for another four years. Yes, I remember Pearl Harbor, and now I know where it is.

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8 comments on “SUDDEN LIFE CHANGES Kate’s Journal

  1. Four years at sea! That must have been hard for your mum and family, even if he came home occasionally. Good story Kayti. I loved the soup bowls experiment.

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    • Yes, it was very hard on my mom and I’m sure on him, like all the other guys away from their homes. You hear stories about men who didn’t see babies for several year which were born after they left. I never did know my dad in the same way after the war. We had to become acquainted again and we didn’t live close.

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  2. That scene reminded me of our slumber party. Especially when hers slipped down. What did you think of the book? I had mixed feelings. I of course loved Mockingbird. I just read “Whistling in the Dark” which bears a resemblance to Mockingbird. Slap me if I begin to borrow from writers I admire! (grin)

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  3. Trust you to buy the falsies! I love that you’ve been into physical transformation all your life, Kayti. It’s very interesting how readily you’ve seen the possibilities of wigs and falsies and hats and things, and been empowered to use them. Love this story, esp the way you put the fun alongside the war, just as it is in life. xx

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  4. I have a few letters that my dad’s brother sent to him “from somewhere in the Pacific.” And, somehow, I have a birthday card that dad sent to him. Maybe it was sent home with his possessions after his death.

    I laughed at the falsies. Our preferred method was Kleenex. For one thing, you could pull them out before you got home, and no one would be the wiser. You could plead allergies or a severe cold as the reason for all those tissues!

    I thought your comment about not knowing your dad in the same way once he was home was especially poignant. I’m sure neither of you was the same person — it would have been hard.

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    • Those old letters are so revealing. I remember my Great-Auntie had a message from the War Dept. about the death of a Great-Uncle in the first WW. She had it stuck in the dresser mirror beside his picture as a very young man. It was the only way I ever heard of him.

      In my dad’s V-mails I read the expectation of the war to come, and from whom. All of the cruising for so long, in and out of port, were a lead up to Pearl Harbor. My mother asked me to destroy them after her death, but I could not. There was too much history there if you looked for it.

      My Dad was pretty grouchy toward me until after my Mother died. When I realized I had lost all relationship with him I began teasing him as I had done as a child. He had probably been missing that connection too. We didn’t have a long time left, but it was a good time.

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