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Monday, September 16, 2013

Second Shift

My grandparent's 25 wedding anniversary photo

My grandmother, four foot eight inches in her stocking feet, managed a home, raised four children, ran a farm, worked second shift in a munitions factory, and collected water from a well for cooking.

My grandfather, six foot four inches, (note the disparity in heights)  took care of his family, worked  his farm, did leather repair, fixed any and everything that broke for miles around, picked up the slack on the neighboring farms as their owners were away at war, and worked in the same munitions factory as my grandmother, only third shift. 

My grandparents' only son, lied about his age, at fifteen, joined up and went to France to drive ambulances. The other three children helped work the farm. 

There were German prisoner of war that would march into the farm yard each morning to work and as they filed in, my mother, eight years old, would hide under her bed, with one of her sisters, in fear. Nothing my grandparents could say would shake them of this reaction. (My grandfather sponsored several of these men, after the war, to stay in this country)

Munition factory. Second shift or third. Hot, heavy, dangerous work.  To be done, after a very long day of manual work. Very few labor saving devices to help with all of the work that still had to be accomplished each day.

Later in their lives, when they would host the various grandchildren for visits, snippets of stories would tumble out:

How my aunt in her fear of the German prisoners marching in, knocked over the oil lamps used to light the house and started a fire. My grandmother in her long skirts  hauling water, attempting to put it out, while my mother and my aunt hid under the bed in fear.  Too far for the fire department, so it was either haul or burn. She did get the fire out and then she put a fire in them, to mind her. Can you blame her? 

Women working in munition factories were not treated so well by the foreman.  In fact, it was my great grandfather that was my grandmother's boss on those shifts, and I am sorry to say, her father-in-law, did not treat her well. Being Irish, small, but mighty, she let him have it right back. She once confided to me that she often blackmailed him. 

When asked how,  she said: "he was married to a  teetotaler. No drinking, no gambling or anything fun, and he use to sneak a quick snort behind his wife's* back, so I just told him I would tell her his secret. Shaped him right up. Made him real mad, but you have to use what you got." 

Now, when I think about these vignettes,  I pause, contemplate, shake myself and am stunned at what it must have been like.  My respect for her (and my grandfather) grows as I age, and comprehend more fully, their efforts.  


*My great grandfather was married three times. He was widowed twice and the third one outlived him, it did help that she was twenty years younger. All of his wives had the same name. My grandmother said to me once:
 "never any indiscreet moments that way, when they are all the same name, don't you think?"


  1. What is it about our little grandmothers! Mine was 4'11" and her husband was 5'11" so not as much difference, but enough. I loved reading this post. What a tough determined woman she was.

    1. I still miss her today, 35 years since she has left us for another realm. Thank yo so much reading and taking the time to comment.


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