Saturday, June 25, 2005

"Betty and the Big War" -- one more time ...

Two days ago I found myself wallowing around in the past -- here at my computer -- actually reluctant to leave it (it was all so over-the-top emotionally) when the phone rang; not once, but several times. Much of the time these days -- it's relatively silent except for the frequent exchanges with Dorian. Each of the calls beckoned strongly to pull me away from the awful nostalgia but I was resistant. It seemed important that I stay with the writing until all of the pain had been used up -- with little held over for another time. That reservoir is over-flowing now that I'm allowing everything to rise to the surface that wants release. I finally answered the phone and as briefly as I could -- each time I dispatched the caller without much thought.

One was a reminder from Lighthouse Charter School about my promise to attend their workshop on Tuesday. I'll trot out the artifacts and photos of WWII vintage and read over notes from previous informal lectures from before. But, as is usually the case, I'll probably just wing it and count on the Q&A to put the meat on the bones of the talk. That's always the most interesting for me; learning about just how much information of the period has been held in the minds of those several generations removed. It's so easy to forget that these young teachers have no way of knowing the world before Jimmy Carter held the presidency, and for many Kennedy is only a mythical tragic figure of history. The first president I remember is Herbert Hoover (dimly) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I might as well be speaking of John Adams or Thomas Jefferson to this group!

The other call was the more important. It was from a man who identified himself as Miles Saunders of PBS-Channel KTEH of San Jose, California. He is head of a production company that is in the planning stages of a 4-part documentary series on San Francisco Bay. A major part of the Bay's story is the tremendous role it played in the staging and supplying of the arms and ships for World War II. And in that, the five Henry J. Kaiser shipyards were the big story.
"I just talked with the people at the Rosie the Riveter National Park and they referred me to you as someone who needs to be interviewed on camera for that segment," says he. My immediate response (as always) was to refer him to a real Rosie, telling him that I'd not actually worked in the shipyards at all, but was employed by the Jim Crow Boilermaker's auxiliary way over on Barrett Avenue in the center of town, and never actually saw a ship. "You'll want to talk with one of the actual Rosies. "I was actually more of a Rosie May." With that I laughed realizing that the sting of the indignation is actually beginning to quiet and it's now pretty funny. If ever there was a stereotype buster, I'm it; and I'm surely aware of it.

Instead of backing away, the caller suddenly perked up with the words, "...oh yeah. I heard about that. They didn't have racial integration then, did they?" Here was that time gap again -- where the caller's life experience was a total mismatch to my own. "I so want to talk with you, Ms. Soskin!"

I tried again, "...the Bancroft Library has done a 2-day, 4-hour videotaped oral history that may hold everything you'll need. You may want to check that out before we commit to repeating much that's already accessible in the park's archives."

Wouldn't do. "Could we arrange for me to bring my cameras and team to meet with you in late July to do a segment?"

The series will be aired nationally sometime this fall, I believe, and whatever the hell it is that they're seeking will be a part of it.

Maybe I've found a new career as the dissonant voice of WWII. The park is well aware of my stories and the untold stories of so many others -- and are obviously not loathe to sharing them. If they were, I'm certain that they'd not want any part of opening up what is another of the shameful chapters in the life of the nation's ongoing struggles with the evils of racism. I can only assume that they are complicit in the telling of the story and that -- as I'm hoping -- we all may have matured enough to have those much needed conversations, at last.

A half hour later the phone rang again, "...Hello, I'm writing a story for the Globe and was told that you might be willing to be interviewed for the Richmond Centennial series we're running in July." She sounded African American and very young -- an intern from one of the high schools? I really didn't want to refuse but also didn't feel particularly interested. "You might want to talk with Mary Head, an African American woman who actually did work on the ships here in the yards." Then a new thought, "...would you like to come on Tuesday to an informal Q&A that I'm doing for the Lighthouse School workshop? Bring your notebook and you may get your story in a much better way."

How's that for being inventive?

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