Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ruth Demarest Godfrey: War Bride

Ruth and Harrison, 1943.
Harrison was from New Jersey. After a hot and heavy courtship, much of it long-distance, we decided to marry. Our marriage happened in a great rush, as Harrison knew he would be called up soon. After all, it was wartime, 1943. My mom was in Chicago, visiting my sister Marion. Harrison and I went out after informing my dad of our plans. When we got home, I found a note on the table that bore our telephone. It was the telegram that Dad had sent Mom. “Come home. Ruth getting married next Sunday.” It was the Saturday before. Although I understand that Mom had to stand for hours at the railway station to get a ticket home, she nevertheless arrived in a couple of days and arranged a small home wedding for us. How thoughtless the young can be! I put a terrible burden on her and didn’t even realize it at the time. Always equal to any situation that involved her children, Mom got the show on the road. On the day of our wedding, June 27, 1943, my mom entered my room early in the morning and put up the window shade on a beautiful, sunny day. “Time to get up, Ruthie,” she said. “Happy is the bride the sun shines on!” I can still hear her saying those words and I can see her smiling face as she said them.

Our wedding was held in the living room of our farm home. My sister, Idora, managed to get there from New Jersey, where she was living while her husband was stationed at Camp Kilmer. Her husband could not make it. My other sister, Marion, was in Chicago, and she did not manage to get there. It was very short notice and travel was difficult. On our wedding day, a B17 bomber, en route from Nevada to Maine for embarkation, crashed over Randolph. All but two of the crew were killed. The whole episode was observed by wedding guests who were sitting on our lawn waiting for the wedding to take place. In fact, the wedding supper was held at the Montague Country Club in Randolph, and we shared the dining room with the two surviving crew members.

Three weeks later my husband was called into the army. I moved to New Jersey, with many a backward glance, in order to be close enough to see him when he got weekend passes. Hello to young love, but farewell to my paradise in Vermont.

Now, many new faces. Different ways of speaking, of doing things, and of being. I went to work at Wright Aeronautical. I had to become accustomed to people who were not Vermonters! Vermont was much farther away from New Jersey than it is today. I was asked many questions about our life-style. Did we live in yurts? Did we eat raw meat? Did we go to school? How did we get around without roads and cars? Who chose our husbands for us? Did we get to vote? Was sex the same in Vermont? Were we safe after dark? Did everybody carry a gun? How did it happen that I looked and talked the same as other people? Were flatlanders safe in Vermont? These were not well-traveled people. I tried to be very tolerant of their ignorant, foolish questions and gradually caught on to their ways and made friends. My job was sort of spasmodic. Sometimes I had a great deal to do, and at other times I had nothing. The city of Paterson was in a wartime frenzy. When people behaved in a way that I found unconscionable, I attributed it to the times: “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” The absence of the husbands left a clear field for some of the more enterprising and less principled guys, and they did not hesitate to take full advantage of the situation. I would not go to their periodic parties, having been warned ahead of time about their libertine ways, and being from the more staid state of Vermont, but enough stuff went on in the office so that I could see how things were. Such behavior would have caused many raised eyebrows in my native state. Vermonters were often guilty of immoral behavior, but they were better at concealing it. At least, they used to be. Bear in mind that was all many moons ago and much water has gone over the dam since then.

I think many New Jersey women had accepted a subservient role when working with men. I had not been raised that way. Girls were as important as boys in our family and all the rights and privileges of boys were their due. At Wright’s, it was the policy to review our job performance every three months, and if it was found to be satisfactory your salary would be raised. There were three steps in our department. After I had finished the third month of the second level, I did not seem to be advancing to the third. When I asked for an explanation, I was told that my performance was perfectly satisfactory, but it was a company policy not to promote women to the third step, that of senior planner. “Whoa, there,” said I. “You are not talking to a second-class citizen here. You are talking to a girl from Vermont! You give me a job that senior planner would be required to do, and if I cannot do it satisfactorily, then you can deny me the promotion. Company policy be damned!” Well, they didn’t want to listen to me, but Wright’s had a very strong union. I sought out the union steward and laid my case before him. He said, a little weakly, I thought, “But it’s company policy.” I told him that the union was there to protect and fight for the rights of the workers and I wanted him to fight for me. He took on the battle and after a couple of weeks he came back to me and told me they had overturned the policy and that I would be promoted to the third level. I felt a certain sense of triumph. I had no way of knowing if they did the same for the other women planners or if they did it to silence my Yankee voice.

When Harrison returned unscathed in 1946, he decided that he would like to live in Vermont and we bought a little house in Randolph Center and started our family.

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