Women at Home

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Women at Home

{World War II}

Submitted: February 04, 2014

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Submitted: February 04, 2014

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Chapter 1:The Great Depression left fourteen year old Judy Lokhart’s family with nothing. Her younger siblings were sent out into the streets every day to beg for scraps of food, wood, cloth, and pretty much anything to keep their family of six alive. They moved, or ran, rather from their 2-story apartment after being chased out at gunpoint by the landlord when they admitted they could no longer pay the rent. The family lived out in the streets for a month, looking for a place to stay. On one terrifying occasion, late in the night, they had almost been mugged by a gang hiding out near the train station they had stopped to rest at for the evening. Judy had been lying awake by her sleeping siblings, listening to the crickets start up a chorus of scratchy clicking and chirping, when at once, a sharp edge of a knife had been at her throat.

She stifled a scream and stood as still as possible, her heart beating in her chest like a pair of hands on a drum. A voice whispered in her ear, the hot breath making her skin crawl, “I’m going to stand you up slowly, and you’re going to give me everything you have.” She froze, too terrified to get up, and noticed another group of shadowy figures, maybe three or so, standing over her sleeping parents. The knife pressed deeper into her throat and she stood up slowly, her legs trembling. Suddenly, she screamed as loud as she could and pushed away the man at her throat, who was caught by surprise. Her father sat bolt upright, and in one swift movement, tripped the figure next to him and grabbed a gun out of his hands. Her mother kicked the man on her right in the stomach, the man doubling over and groaning in pain.

Apparently, none of them had been asleep. Judy grabbed each of her siblings’ wrists and ran with a speed she never knew she had. They hid behind a low wall of the station as her father threatened the four men with a rifle. The men sprinted away in the dark, and each of the children cried in shock. Her father’s hand crept to his breast pocket, and he pulled out a small, shiny metal object--the family keepsake, a heart shaped key that Judy’s father never went anywhere without. She watched him lift the key to his lips and slip it back into his shirt pocket, right above his heart. About an hour later, they ended up riding the rails (hitchhiking on an open train) to New York, hearing about tenements available in the city a week before. Judy smiled at her siblings on the  journey there, hopes high, her heart lighter than it had been in days, thinking life couldn’t get any worse; how wrong she was.

Chapter 2: Judy’s father couldn’t find work for another two weeks after arriving at their new home, and during that time, in the two days they couldn’t get a scrap of food, the smallest of the children, Joseph, no older than four, sent out to beg for the day, never returned home. They found his body in an alley, two miles away from the tenements, his hand still grasping a moldy piece of bread he had fished out of the trash. Judy’s mother wept for weeks, her sobs echoing around the cracked, peeling hallways of the building, becoming no more than a background noise over the next month. Judy and her siblings went months without showering, and the stench soon became a part of their lives; but it was nothing compared to their constant hunger and thirst. Most days, they lie on the floor all day, too fatigued to get up. They nibbled on their fingernails until their fingers were bleeding and sore. But there was no relief from their suffering.

At one point, Judy could take it no longer. When she turned fifteen, she got a job at a local bar as a waitress, making 20 cents an hour, and her mother sewing clothes at a local shelter for 23 cents an hour. The family was able to afford the bare minimum of dry, scratchy flatbread and dirty water. “Better than fingernails and dirt.” said her father as they sat down to dinner each evening. In the year of 1941, the U.S. entered World War II, drafting millions of Americans to fight in the war overseas. Judy’s father was one of those demanded to join the war effort. He left on January 26th, 1942. Before he stepped onto the ship, he reached into his left breast pocket and pulled out the heart-shaped key. He held it to his lips and then looked down at Judy. She stared determinedly at the ground and squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to cry. He lifted her chin and pretended to take the key and lock it over his heart and did the same to each of his family. “A forever family.” he whispered, pressing the key into Judy’s hand, and strode onto the boat. He waved as the ship glided over the waves, the glittering water was no great beauty next to his sparkling eyes, the brilliant blue sky a dull grey next to his smiling face.

Judy’s mother stared after his boat for hours after the departure, and nothing Judy and her siblings could say or do could console her silent tears and her dead, blank stares out of the tiny window of their apartment for the next four months. On May 23rd of the same year, his body was shipped back home to his family to be buried. They had a small memorial service with 12 family members. At the funeral, Judy felt nothing. The emptiness overwhelmed her, drowned her. She was literally sinking into a pit of despair, when she vaguely remembered the words, “A forever family.” The words wrapped her in a warm reassurance that did not last for long, but the memory stayed with her.

In the years to come, as much of the male population was involved in the war, the women of America were called upon to keep the economy in check and join the workforce, a position that had previously been denied to the female population. To provide for the rest of their family, Judy and her mother took jobs making war supplies.

Chapter 3:They found work as aircraft engineers, building the heavy frames of fighter jet planes. Judy often found herself sweating and grunting during the laboring job, sparks flying past her masked face from the flame of a blowtorch. It was hard work, but it gave Judy such a feeling of usefulness and independence, even if she didn’t receive the same amount of pay as the male workers. Men at work often teased them and called Judy ‘Rosie’ after a propaganda poster inviting women to join the workforce. ‘Rosie the Riveter’ (a worker who inserts and hammers rivets, or nails) was an icon for female pride across the U.S. and was portrayed as a muscled young brunette with a red bandana.  “Hey, Rosie”, the other workers would often say “Are you just about ready to go cry because your arms hurt?” to which she would laugh and retort, “Not quite yet, I’ll have to wait until break time!”

The year her father died became another obstacle in their lives, for even though both Judy and her mother had paying jobs, it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Their family was given a ration card in September and at the beginning of every month, which gave just the minimum amount of necessities needed for a family of four, shortened to just Judy, Thomas, the second oldest, Mary, now the youngest, and their mother. Mary contracted tuberculosis in November and was bedridden for nearly six months. She came so close to death on one occasion that Judy sat by her bed all night, listening to her ragged, short gasps, weeping uncontrollably. Mary barely made it through the night, and healed fully a few months later. She was one of the lucky few. At least thirty other people in the tenements became sick with the infectious disease. The constant chorus of wet coughs kept Judy up late into the night, and she shuddered at every groan and sob.

The building manager hired a team of young men to ship all of the bodies out to the city dump--no one could afford a proper service. On February 2nd, 1944, the Lokhart family moved from their smelly, shed-sized apartment to the country, away from the smoky ruins of New York, NY a place that Judy had come to loathe. The economy was back to booming, as it had previously been before the stock market crash, and the family was back to an almost normal life. Judy was now almost eighteen years old, and debating a future--that is, if the war would allow one.

Chapter 4: In the fall of 1944, Judy decided to join a professional baseball league for women. With the demand for healthy men to fight in the war, professional sports players received no special benefits to being drafted. Judy played for the Glen Cove Grizzlies, a female-only baseball team in New York. She participated for two seasons, receiving pay for her game play along with her regular job, and started to pay for college, until many citizens of her community began criticizing the sports leagues, complaining that “while women were being paid to swat balls, men were dying overseas.”

The Glen Cove Grizzlies was only one of many sports leagues across the U.S., many of which received their fair share of disapproval from the public. They were able to start the leagues again later, in the spring of 1945. Judy continued her college education, even though many of the men ridiculed her and said that she’d never have any use for it, she pursued her schooling. The war, in all its violence, in all the sorrow and pain it brought, in all the lives it freed, and all the lives it took-- in its 4 years duration in the U.S., it finally ended in the fall of 1945. Never had Judy felt such relief that no one would have to sacrifice their brothers, and fathers, and sons, and even daughters, and mothers, and sisters to feed the monster of war.

Epilogue: Many a night as she sat at home, the death of her father haunted her, and yet brought her great peace. She knew now the meaning of not knowing how much one meant to you until you lost them. She remembered little Joseph and his sweet laugh, tinkling like a bell. Her heart ached for all those who lost a beloved soul to the war. Later in life, she met a kind young man, Anthony Sollender, a true gentleman and a hard worker; he loved her and they married and raised 4 children. And still every night, before going to bed, she would clutch the  keepsake of the Lokhart family, the heart-shaped key that kept not only her family, but herself bound together. The key kept the mangled chains of her emotions from coming undone through the trials and tragedies of her life. And with that key, she would keep her memories, and never forget the struggles of the U.S. homefront.


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