Jenny B. 

A World War II Diary 

This Story’s Story

 

          When I moved here from Chicago in 2008 and bought this old house just off Dreier Boulevard in Evansville, I had no idea how much work it would be restoring it to livable condition, but neither did I have any idea the treasures I would find while the work was being done. The house hadn’t been lived in for years and most of the things belonging to the previous owner and the owner before that were just left. I was told that Mrs. Leyton, the most recent resident, was in her late eighties when she moved in and that she didn’t change a thing. I guess she liked the place the way it was. This diary was found in an old tin that once held cookies from a bakery that went out of business in the early fifties. It was in a prominent place on the mantle of the living room fireplace right next to the Leyton family Bible. The diary, in four identical volumes, was wrapped in waxed paper as if it had been an important keepsake for someone. I doubt if Mrs. Leyton ever bothered opening the tin that looked as though it belonged right where I found it. 

          I haven’t met anyone who remembers Virginia Brewster, but I haven’t tried very hard to find people who knew her either. I want those who might read this diary to get to know her from what was written, the way I did, not from things said about her by people with long faded memories. The diary reveals clearly who she was and at times I feel I know her better than I knew my own sister. There are several Brewsters in Evansville and from public records I know that Jenny and her family once lived in this neighborhood; in the house five doors down the street toward Dreier from here. Yearbooks from Centennial Elementary School and F.J. Reitz Junior High and High School provided me with pictures, but from the diary, I already knew what she looked like much better than pictures could reveal. Mrs. Chandler was, according to the diary, the youngest teacher at Centennial and I’m sure she would remember Jenny if she were still living and I would have liked talking to her. She was the only teacher I attempted to track down. She died in 1984 and the other teachers are likely long gone. Jenny had classmates who are probably still living and would remember her, but none of this is really important for the story, as it’s not a piece of family history or genealogy. My task has been simple; to transcribe the diary as accurately and as literally as I could. The title is mine, because of course the diary didn’t have one, and since a great deal of what’s written is about Jenny, her name seemed fitting. The story’s a glimpse into what real life was like for two children—becoming young adults—beginning just before and continuing for the duration of World War II.

          In a quiet Evansville turned upside down by a booming war economy, hardly anyone noticed the two best friends becoming much more than friends and the story of their love would never have been written if not for the daring of the young author of this diary. That this story, written in first person in a diary, occurred during the 1940s is what makes it worth reading. In the day, many of the things casually narrated by our young writer weren’t spoken of in polite social circles and were certainly not put to paper.   

          The day I found the diary, I spent hours reading it and I’ve read it several times since. I laugh and cry as much now as I did when reading it for the first time. I have a feeling that, in her time, Jenny was an extraordinary woman and it has been a privilege getting to know her. She and most of the characters in this story don’t fit very well into the Hollywood history of that time and the only reason younger readers will believe these diary entries to be credible is because they were not intended to be read by anyone other than their author. It was a different, almost unimaginable time; not simple as some would have us think, and there was nothing magical about a war that consumed youth and threatened to destroy the world. The war was very real and touched the lives of every family across America, sometimes in horrible ways.

          The diary is reproduced substantially as it was written with only minor grammatical changes made for readability; most involved picking out quotes and attributing them to the right speaker. The author was a good writer, even at eleven, and became progressively better with time. I hesitated making any corrections at all. The diary is what it is and speaks for itself, free of pretense and self-promotion as only a young writer can be.

Kathleen Reinhard Sparks

Evansville, Indiana

Bring the Curious Midwife 

          Curious once had a different sort of meaning in the South; it meant peculiar—not in a bad way necessarily.  “That girl’s just curious,” was how folks who knew her often described Otha May St. Clair, even before she was old enough to go to school.  In the small rural Alabama community where her family lived, most everyone knew full well what made Otha May curious and most everyone also thought it to be none of their business. 

          It’s the early 1940s, the country’s at war and Otha May has come to accept that finding anyone else like her, especially in the South, might take forever, but a new family moving into the community and a real job working for the only midwife in the county turn her life around.  A respectable job and someone to love mean the world to her and she finds both, but the wedding she wants can’t be had for love or money.  That would cost her much more.

 

Quelle (the Source) 

History Did Not Begin When You were Born 

          A mother and daughter who have found a way to see the world firsthand from the early eighteenth century to the present tell their stories of love, war and survival.  The two of them are separated when the daughter is eleven and are not reunited until the end of World War II, having both survived Nazi Germany and the Allied destruction of Dresden in February 1945.  Neither is sure the other is alive, but for them, even after two centuries, the possibility exists.

          Adelina was born near Dresden the daughter of peasant farmers who promise her in marriage to a wealthy landowner in exchange for the land they live on.  At fifteen she's married and dutifully bears children until she suffocates her drunken husband in his sleep in the winter of 1728.  A final daughter, Raina is born the following spring.  Adelina’s brother-in-law, Ritter and his wife, Liese step in to help the young widow who is now responsible for managing the Dresden castle, its lands and the farmers who live on it. Raina grows into a strong young woman who will never be owned by anyone.

          After her mother is taken away from the castle by a mob of local townspeople, Raina and the other young girls escape to Liese and Ritter’s castle in Leipzig where Raina rejoins her childhood friend Karin. The two of them return to the Dresden castle nine years later and begin new lives.  They are invaded by the Prussians in the mid-eighteenth century and then Napoleon Bonaparte arrives in the early nineteenth century.  The castle is taken over after a major battle and used as a field hospital.  Captain Michel Giscard, a former teacher in Paris, educated in Leipzig, is one of the lightly wounded.  Raina and Karin are taken by this well-educated fast talking Frenchman and fall in love with him.  He is mortally wounded in a subsequent battle and instead of letting him die, Raina and Karin devise a way to save his life.  He steals a handful of gold coins and runs away with a fourteen year old gypsy girl to repay their kindness.                                                

 

Giscard gets to tell his version of the story in a sequel titled simply Giscard.

Anne, the American Girl

        The president of Flannery Industries, Charles Flannery has chosen Anne, a skinny unremarkable Chinese girl, as one of the first five workers brought back by him to San Francisco in 1930. It’s a job opportunity few girls like her would have and Anne is determined to make something of it. In 1930 she’s ten years old and Charles is thirty. He has a degree from Harvard and when Anne arrives in San Francisco, she has a small bag with everything she owns in it. It’s easy for her to fall in love with everything this new country has to offer; she’s soon in love with one extraordinary American and will come to love another.

        After Anne’s eighteenth birthday, Charles proposes, knowing she’s already in love with someone else and knowing that a potentially devastating world war is coming. There’s no easy way for Anne to break the engagement news to her lover and best friend, but just like in the movies, love finds a way to make things right. Charles knows Anne was looking into two pairs of eyes when saying her wedding vows and accepts the unusual marriage arrangement.

Anne, the American Woman

        Anne, the skinny ten-year-old Chinese girl who arrived in America in 1930 has grown up. She’s married to wealthy San Francisco businessman, Mr. Charles Flannery, but his weren’t the only eyes she looked into when saying her vows. She’s in love with two extraordinary Americans. With Anne’s return visits to China, Flannery Industries recruits eighty-six young girl workers before the attack on Pearl Harbor comes. They make uniforms for all branches of the military while being educated at the school Charles has built.

       Everything is fairy-tale perfect until an unexpected pregnancy causes problems in the marriage. To get away, Anne follows her lover to St. Louis and enters training to be a nurse. She’s not living alone, but every day is a challenge and the war news is often depressing. With Charles’s housekeeper, Gloria, acting as an intermediary, Anne agrees to occasional conversations with her estranged husband and is surprised when he shows up at her graduation. She still cares for him, but how will things be now that she has proven to everyone she can make it on her own?

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