Saturday, August 07, 2004

Where did the time go?

Life has intervened in ways that made writing impossible.

Work goes well. I'm beginning to find the rhythm of the place, and less effort has to be used in the learning process. As usual, most of what I need has already been learned at some prior time in life, and now simply hitting the "recall" button makes it accessible again -- usually under a new name.

Told someone recently that I'm beginning to feel like everyone in the world is beginning to look familiar. Maybe I've now lived long enough to know all archetypes!

Noticed yesterday that I've been coming home after work more tired than usual. Strange. My energy level has always been high with fatigue hardly ever a factor. Not so over the past week or two. Then yesterday I started to understand what was happening to me:

The period of WWII has always been difficult to call up. Never had the sense of patriotism that I saw evidenced in others. It was a time of confusion for me. Was barely 20 when the war was declared, and newly married. The world changed around me so dramatically that it felt as though the ground had given way and that an entirely new State was born under my feet. Our population increased by over 200,000 in the Bay Area almost overnight. Segregation arrived fullblown in all of its virulence. In the way that our minds tend to protect us, mine had pretty much blotted out the pain of that time, and I only remember it in fragments.

As I wrote some time ago, there was a recent invitation for me to visit the White House (with others) to be honored as "Rosies." I declined the invitation. Have always hung back from these celebrations, and had such painfully mixed feelings about being considered such, but other than honestly expressing my reluctance openly -- I continued to smile about it, and to bury the anguish. Another African American worker was chosen.

I spent some of those war years as a clerk in the office of Boilermakers A-36 on Barrett Avenue in Richmond. We were a few miles from the Kaiser Shipyards, and millions of miles away from the advent of the Civil Rights Movement. The "A" in A-36 stands for "Auxiliary," meaning that the unions were not yet integrated, and that there was a separate black union. It also meant that those cards that I spent those years filing in long trays held the information for all African American shipyard workers -- and that I knew that "trainee" was written after the name of every black worker. That, by agreement, so that at war's end -- no black worker would be in competition for jobs with white workers in the area.

It meant that -- also overnight -- the population of the city of Richmond had grown by 110,000 -- hands brought up from the southern states (Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, mostly) to build the ships. They came from the tenant farms -- black and white -- and cotton fields to the west. They'd not yet shared drinking fountains, voting rights, public accommodations, and wouldn't for another 15 years. They brought the Ku Klux Klan to the west as well.

As I sat before my computer over this past week, doing data entry from blue sheets, I see that "Rosies" worked as riveters, welders, inspectors, buckers, burners, makers of ammo, etc., and I feel the old pain of discrimination. I'd spent the war filing discriminatory cards for black workers who could not rise above trainee status. And, I'd done it in a Jim Crow union hall, at that. To have myself embraced as a "Rosie" at this stage in life seems strangely inappropriate.

There seems to be a step missing in the process. I'm not even sure what that step is, just that's its missing. Maybe it's like reparations. I need someone to apologize, maybe, or to at least recognize that a wrong was done to young people -- like I was then. I was just as bright and capable then as now, sans some life experience that has deepened what was naturally inherent in that pretty young Betty.

This week, as I entered the relevant information from each of the over 400 "blue sheets" of the proud Rosies into the data bank, I felt the long-held resentment pushing up from somewhere deep within. It expressed itself in fatigue that sent me to bed each evening feeling depressed, with no sense of just why... .

I'm far too "civilized" and reasonable to deal with those feelings openly. Nothing to do but try to squish them down from whence they've come, and continue to "do the work." I've spent a lifetime of doing just that. I recognize it as a part of the concept of "white privilege," that is so poorly understood by most who enjoy it. It's so hard to defend against, since to attack that kind of tainted innocence seems beneath the intelligence of those of us who suffer from its effects. It's all so complicated, and so terribly old and tired.

Anyway, I mentioned to my co-workers yesterday at a picnic lunch at the Rosie Memorial (wonderful piece of art!), that I'd been feeling those things. The park superintendent, the eldest of the group (but far younger than I), seemed to understand. One was a contemporary, but white and not particularly aware of what I was trying to deal with. The others were much younger with no history of the war years, and certainly post the era of the Civil Rights struggles. But I felt better for having owned and expressed it aloud.

Will just continue the work and bury the feelings until I can either move past the smoldering long-held anger, or, find some way to transform those feelings into something that I can use.

We'll see.

There's something to be said for the writing of it. The work in this project may be a blessing. I'll have to confront and maybe finally put to rest some of the rage that I've buried over a long lifetime. That I have "overcome" is probably an understatement. Maybe this blog has allowed me the space to record that journey in ways that speaks to others. Maybe, too, this final assignment -- this Rosie Memorial Project -- is uniquely suited to allow for the lifting of the burden of my times.

In a way, I'm finding that the creation of this national park may present the opportunity for the recollections of a war through the eyes of woman -- being told through her feminine stories and artifacts -- will differ significantly from the memories of men who tell their stories through body counts and the machines of wars.

I'm beginning to see this work as a way to contribute to something historic. Giving up the rage may help in that process.

Is this making any sense to anyone but me?