Bakersfield (1943)

March 26th, 2011

us for blogA plane flies over and I think of Bakersfield where I began a new life. We were married there in Saint Joseph’s Church. Lester was stationed at Minter field and one Sunday sought out the priest who had come to say Mass.

“Will you marry me?” was Lester’s question.

“Well, young man that’s impossible. Priests don’t marry.”

“I mean my girl friend and me.”

“Are you a Catholic?’

“No, but my girl is.”

They set a date, Friday night, September 17, 1943. He married us inside the railing which was reserved for Catholic couples. He seemed to know Lester was special and granted him the privilege. We celebrated in the small meeting room of the Hotel Padre; cake and drinks brought from the bar. My mother and my sister, Mary were there. His sister, Rosemary and his brother and sister-in-law, Richard and Bonnie, drove from San Jose with his mother, Nina. Dorothy, my friend and Bob, his friend completed the guest list.

We married on a weekly 24 hour pass and parted the next afternoon for a week of loneliness. For three months we enjoyed each weekend and yearned to be together each week. I found a job in a china shop to fill the hours. Employers contributed to the war effort by hiring for short terms the wives who came and went.

With two other women, I followed the cadets to Arizona where the training to be pilots continued. Four months later, as a new Lieutenant, he was sent back to Bakersfield to train other pilots. There, my new life really began.

My first job was to find an apartment. I stood with a crowd of other women to get the newspaper as soon as it came off the press; and then we competed with each other to be first to claim any place for rent.  This mad dash was on a streetcar. In an older section of town I found a furnished apartment over a garage. It had the advantage of windows opening in all four directions; in the heat of Bakersfield, this meant we could catch any breeze.

After settling in I had very little to do.  I slept late and then did house-wifey chores and read magazines. After a short walk each day to the Green Frog Market for groceries, I prepared a candlelit dinner with my mother’s recipes. Each morning my new husband left my bed very early and drove to the air base where he taught young men, really just boys, how to fly the planes that would deliver destruction to the cities of Germany or later to the islands of the Pacific.

This is a true story of memories, the edges blurred by time or enhanced by desire and  yearning.

If I were to decribe this time with music it would be with jazz, with dance bands, and in the background a squadron of  Air Force Cadets marching toward the airfield, singing, “We are poor little lambs…”  Other things they sang as they marched but these young men eager for wings were in fact lambs.  In the apartment, the sound was that of a beginning piano player counting and singing, “Jeanie with the light brown hair.” That is because Lester rented a piano and decided to take lessons.

If I tried to catch the mood with a fashion show, the skirts would be above the knees, there was a pink linen suit with a froth of white organza and lace at the neck, soft cotton print dresses clinging in the hot climate, and pastel swirling skirts of formals with scant bosoms.  Décolletage. That’s when I learned that word.  The men?  Uniforms, summer or winter, either dress or fatigue.  Once the oath was taken, civilian clothes were out for the duration.  Of course there were civilians in the stores and on the streets, but we Air Force wives only had eyes for — well you get the idea.

If I tried to catch the feelings of the time, only the most extreme emotions apply.  Life was precious, and love had to be grabbed while there was time.  The future was questionable.  How could such possibilities of impending doom be faced?  It wasn’t with hopeless acceptance: apprehension was replaced with eagerness and joy.

The days were uncertain, both the length of days and the events of each day.  I waited  for Lester’s return home each day with anxious anticipation.  The radio sometimes reported events at the field, even as they were happening.  One day a member of the squadron took a plane up, planning to spin it in.  The radio commentator described how the pilot circled hour by hour. At the base they tried to talk him down with no success as, eventually, he completed his plan.

On another day, one of Lester’s buddies, went into a spin and couldn’t come out, finally he activated the ejection device which sent him into the air with just time to open his chute.  We all met at Tiny’s that night to celebrate.  Over and over he told us how he felt the chute open just before he touched the ground.  Each day was full of uncertainty.

We were offered the opportunity to move into a house, a real house on a real lot with a yard where our little dog could play and dig and there were air conditioning units in the windows.  It was there that a child was conceived and lost.  His name would have been Michael.

After a few months the owners returned and we moved to a two room apartment in a grand old house that had a bed concealed in a drawer.  Yes, it was a double bed.  It was there that a young man cried, partly because he had to leave for war to bomb other young couples in their apartments; partly because it was a dark unknown future with uncontrollable circumstances; and partly because we would be separated for a long time.

He received his orders and I moved to San Jose to live with his mother, Nina.  Another time I will write about that anxious year of daily letters.

© March 19, 2005