This one time, while I was pursuing a history degree in college, my assignment was to interview women in my family. I interviewed my mother and my Grandma Elaine. I was glad I was given this assignment, as I asked them questions that I may not have otherwise been spurred to ask.
My Grandma Elaine was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was a child during the Great Depression, and her father was an employee of the Parks Department. Her father did not make a lot of money, but unlike many others at the time, he had a steady job. Grandma Elaine’s mother was a mother/housekeeper. They lived in a small apartment building in Milwaukee, and my great-great grandfather was one of the few in the building who had a job at the time. Because they had decent access to food, my grandma’s family ate pretty well, and every day, my great-great grandmother made a big pot of soup out of whatever she had: vegetable scraps, leftovers, bones, and whatnot. Once a day at dinnertime, my grandma and her siblings would deliver bowls of her mother’s soup to everyone that lived in their building. Grandma said that she especially remembered two elderly sisters in the building; she said that she doesn’t think they ate anything during the Depression except her mother’s soup.
Grandma was a young adult during World War II, and she had many, many jobs during the war. She and her best friend would get jobs together and then—well, frankly, they would screw around. During that time, workers had to get a letter from their boss to dismiss them from a job, and bosses were hesitant to let go of workers, so the letters were hard to get. Grandma and her best friend racked up many of these letters, always being asked to leave and go somewhere else! She remembered them getting letters from a syrup factory, which made flavored syrups and put them in glass bottles. The bottles would be very hot during the manufacturing process, and she and her friend dropped and broke many. The dismissal letters materialized quickly. Eventually, Grandma found a job that stuck at a plant where she made control panels for submarines. At this job, a gentleman would often come and sell forbidden goods out of the trunk of his car to all of the female employees. She purchased all of her nylon stockings, the type with the seams up the back, from this man during the war. She said that working all of these jobs with her best friend was a lot of fun and kept their minds off of the war.
After WWII, she returned to being a homemaker, but she entered the workforce in the ’60s after her children were out of school. She was a postal carrier through the ’70s, and she was the inspiration for not only my Mr. Zip tattoo but also my career in government work. Grandma passed away in 2009, and I miss her every day.