Everyone had to help …
During WW II, everyone pitched in to do their share. My oldest sister, Evelyn, the nurse, joined the Army Nurse Corps. She didn’t want to join the Navy Nurse Corps because she was afraid of water. Ironically, she ended up on the hospital ship Dogwood.
Her entire two years of duty in the army was spent on the ocean traveling back and forth from Boston to England transporting the wounded back to the States.
I also did my part. Two afternoons a week I would take the trolley from Mt. Pleasant High School to Kennedy Plaza, Exchange Place. I walked to the Loews State Theatre, (now Providence Performing Arts), and go in a side door on the right of the building. A small elevator took me to the second floor. In a large room were long tables with chairs.
Women volunteers had me wash my hands thoroughly and then wrap cloths around my head so that no hair would fall and contaminate my work. There were large piles of gauze squares on the table that had to be folded in exactly the right size for bandages. It was time- consuming, tedious work because each bandage had to be precise. I would stay for one to two hours and would probably make two to three dozen bandages. This was called “rolling bandages”.
Everything was rationed … gasoline, sugar, coffee, butter, meat and even silk stockings. If you were lucky enough to own a pair of silk stockings, they were precious. If they ever got a run, there was a place in the city where you could bring them to be repaired. The run was fixed with no sign it ever existed. It was fascinating to me that someone knew how to do this. Silk stockings became less precious with the introduction of nylon.
Of course, there was the black market. If you knew someone that could get you something without rationing, you were lucky. A lot of money was passed “under the table.” The black market became a lucrative business for some.
My two older sisters married servicemen; one, in the Army, the other in the Navy. When the one in the Navy got shipped out and the one in the Army was stationed too far away, both sisters returned home to have their babies. It was chaos. I don’t know how my poor mother coped with the situation. My niece was colicky and cried day and night for months. My oldest sister, who had just finished her tour of duty in the Army, was taking a course out of state and had to be called home to help.
I got lost in the shuffle, and it was then I realized I had to take care of myself, be independent and concentrate on my final year in high school so I could get to Boston College. I learned to compartmentalize.
All this was going on while my father was slowly losing his battle with cancer in the upstairs bedroom.