ORAL HISTORY

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Jackie Cochran(center) with WASP trainees.” The women in the publicity shots were always young and pretty. Is there any doubt this was meticulously orchestrated? [note: these black & white images are in the public domain.]
I was reading an article in Time magazine about oral histories, how we should all be keeping coronavirus journals because such personal stories add texture to historical accounts. Katherine Sharp Landdeck is the author of The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, and found in her research that the journals of those WASP pilots was essential to making meaning.
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“Harlingen Army Air Field, Texas–Elizabeth L. Remba Gardner of Rockford, Illinois, WASP (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots), Class: 43-W-6, takes a look around before sending her plane streaking down the runway at the Harlingen Army Airfield, Texas, ca. 1930–1975. Note: Almost certainly this dates from 1942–1944, part of project of having women pilots move aircraft on the home front to free up more male pilots for combat duty.”

 

The personal journals that Landdeck researched revealed why women chose to serve and how that service altered their perspectives and life goals. How trivial events became essential and how early concerns faded away. These women risked their lives and 38 of them died, piloting planes to where they were needed.

Publicity shots like the one at left always show pretty faces.

My grandfather’s second wife, Genevieve, was not pretty. Not even close. She was tall at a time when women were preferred to be small and she had a bulbous nose with a prominent mole. She was older than most women married and she was a trained nurse who would run a hospital and later train more nurses. She was smart and good to me and she had a hard life. She had breast cancer, which she survived, and died too young.

I do not know why Genevieve joined the service. I am ashamed that I never asked her. But she loved to travel and she loved flying. In the early years of her marriage to my grandfather she piloted them around the Pacific Northwest. It was a condition of their marriage, that she would pilot a plane and they would travel.

Unfortunately, as is too often the way, even when the war is over, the emergency past, life butts into our dreams, blows us somewhere else. My grandfather had a series of debilitating strokes soon after they married and Genevieve spent seventeen years getting him back up and moving on his own feet. In the early 50s, when Genevieve was still a bride, there wasn’t much hope given to people who survived such disabilities. Genevieve proved that informed nursing and physical therapy could make all the difference. She wrote the book. She wrote a book about how to bring a person back to life: Care of the Patient with a Stroke, which was published while I was in grade school. The drawings in the book are of my grandfather, who was, by all reports a difficult man. My grandfather was never wholly able during my lifetime, but he walked and talked. One hand hung at his side and he used a cane, but he built things. His mind was still there.

Genevieve took what life dealt and dealt with it. <

According to Landdeck, We are at least thirty years from the time historians will be seriously writing about what this pandemic is now doing to people. We should leave a record. And the record should not be just about the pretty people, the ones who pleased and said Yes Sir! We need to record our fears our unattractive and embarrassing fears about outbursts.

I know a brilliant man with a degree in Mathematics who is having to write out problems longhand because the numbers are giving him trouble. So is my husband and so am I. I had to do our taxes over and over and after I sealed the forms in envelopes I was certain I’d made a mistake and had to go over my file copies to avoid tearing into them again. On a FaceTime call, another friend said she’d taken a shower the day before. Her most recent accomplishment. I hear about some writers who are getting projects completed. I am correcting spelling mistakes and inconsistencies in a manuscript Gary insists is at least five years old. (No, Gina did not have a sister.) I cannot recall its original title so I can only find the newest drafts from two years ago. Even so, I do not know how it ends. I’ve written several endings and imagined more, but found only two of them, but what I am posting is a mystery to me until the moment I read what I’ve written.

I try not to think about the news too much. That’s the problem. Not thinking. Stressing and worrying and eating too much. Going back to bed because it’s raining so hard first thing in the morning, I don’t want to go out for a walk. I have rain gear, but the rain sends me back to reading a novel. We are all struggling, not all together or the same way, and I know I have much to be grateful for. My husband and I are healthy and retired and even though our mail has to be picked up at the post office seven miles away and there is no grocery store closer than five miles distant, we wouldn’t be walking to the store to pick up a dozen eggs just now anyway. We go out once a week to collect our mail and groceries and sort our recycling at the local center. We keep busy. We have sufficient interests and resources that do not require chatting with a store clerk.

Gary hoped the headline I read was Borowitz satire: “Trump instructs the Navy to ‘shoot down and destroy’ Iranian gunboats that ‘harass’ U.S. ships”

Everyone is hoping for a return to normal. The new normal? What counts as normal? I’m not sure we are anywhere close to driving to the Farmers’ Market or visiting our families in person. Maybe next year. And I do not think “normal” will be the same when we do get back to it, whatever it is. I have no desire to ever go to a movie theater again—sit in the dark with a person coughing on the back of my neck like that last time? My sofa is more comfortable. Maybe live theater will fare better since there is actually an advantage to seeing performers on stage, but I suspect ballet and opera are going to take a terrible hit. Will offices take note after weeks of working online that they really do not need much office space, perhaps periodic shared use of a conference room while most work goes on at home? Are we learning to feed ourselves? Cut our own beards and hair? Must we go to a gym or are we setting up weights at home and taking the stairs? Do I want a second tattoo? What will I find I can live without? I hope there is something to be gained from all this.

I am grateful for a walk, weaving, and talking to my family online. And I am very fortunate, so very very fortunate, that even though my loved ones are physically distanced I can do those things safely even now.

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The fritillaria were fading before I took my camera out to record their odd checkered blooms.
 

 

10 thoughts on “ORAL HISTORY

  1. Is how we are experiencing the pandemic (you and Gary, Jeff and I) really a struggle? I think of it as a inconvenience. Especially compared to what other people are going through. Essential workers, parents with children 24 hours day. On Thu, Apr 23, 2020 at 7:03 AM IMPERFECT PATIENCE wrote:

    janpriddyoregon posted: “I was reading an article in Time magazine about > oral histories, how we should all be keeping coronavirus journals because > such personal stories ad texture to historical accounts. Katherine Sharp > Landdeck is the author of The Women with Silver Wings: The I” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are absolutely right. Gary and I are not struggling. Certainly not compared to people providing health care or child care in our country. I think I made that clear.

      “We are all struggling, not all together or the same way, and I know I have much to be grateful for.”

      Is it a “struggle” not seeing my sons and their families? Is it a “struggle” to plan meals and birthday gifts around a once-a-week drive to the nearest store and post office to pick up mail? Is it a “struggle” to watch the statistics or confirmed cases and deaths on the Johns Hopkins website? I know I should not look, but I do, and I worry. I also assume none of this will end before next year. So I am . . . worried? I am concerned. I think most sensible people are.

      I know plenty of people working from home who are stressed in one sense or another. My granddaughter needs heart surgery which has been delayed twice so far. I struggle, genuinely struggle, with that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Enforced solitude or distancing means that the struggles we usually manage to hide with normality and everyday routines are all there, waiting for us to experience them…all utterly personal and all hidden unless we chose to share them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jan, thank you for writing this. Found it deeply satisfying and am saving it to enjoy again later. My remaining grey matter wishes to elaborate and is currently unable. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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