Small Town Girl

Imagine you’re young, in a country town — muddy fields, hard crops, ditches and empty roads. You hear trains pass, traveling somewhere else, and you dream, hear songs on the radio and dream of a future for yourself.

not big dreams, of course, nose not small, smile crooked, and it’s the depression anyway, daddy’s lost his job, so not grand dreams but still, you’re young, yearn for something glamorous, romantic a handsome man, a family for yourself, your future waiting for you out there somewhere.

Imagine that .

But it’s the depression, you’re practical, and secretarial school gets you a job at a desk in a bigger town living with your married sis, walk to work to save bus fare until baby sister Wanda comes along, high school grad now herself, carrying good shoes in a bag across potato fields, and says, Let’s get an apartment right downtown, let’s move into the city ourselves!

And so the sisters share three-bedroom flat on Jefferson Street, take streetcars to office jobs in buildings of brick, under neon, red naugahyde booths in Chinese restaurants, watching cargo ships, gypsies on stoops, bright scarves and skirts, streetlamps and pavement in Portland before the war began.

Just imagine that .

Their brother Bruce was first to enlist, left em his ’39 Ford, they’d make payments, learn to drive on weekend trips to mom and dad’s, their future now dancing at Odd Fellows Hall and McElroy’s Ballroom, Portland a good town for a soldier then, welcomed em with dances, free food and girls, too, so many, imagine, you aren’t as pretty as Alice or outgoing like Wanda is, but you love to dance, there’re songs in your head, you’re silly but responsible, a girl had to be then, even in wartime with everything changing, people moving and girls from farm towns carrying suitcases and hand-tinted graduation photographs

Just imagine you’re young like that

on a night in February when the war hadn’t sunk in yet, men in uniform out for fun, you and your sis go dancing at the Serviceman’s Center where a sergeant named Bill’s brought 20 corpsmen. Wanda smiles at him, they dance, and the sergeant asks, Can I take you out for dinner after? Not without my sis, she says, big smile and a cigarette. So the sergeant grabs young enlistee Glen for sister Phyllis, and off you went.

And whenever they dated, Bill brought Glen, and soon both sisters married in big corsages and new hats, living downtown after honeymoon on the coast . like she’d dreamed, perhaps, but so fast, the war moving them, Bill to Texas and to the Pacific Glen, the sisters alone again, pregnant, and sharing a flat with wedding pictures and worry, not dance at night but knitting baby caps instead, everything uncertain and the future happening in ways they couldn’t expect .

Try to imagine Wanda’s girl healthy but yours born dead, Wanda following the sergeant to Texas while you wait, childless, for your soldier with shrapnel wounds and malaria, and by the time he’s well the big bombs have dropped and a new future opened before them.

Lucky for me the songs stayed in her head so I could dream with them a future for myself neon, bricks, and my mother’s music in my head making mysterious images of me someday leaving a small town myself to find, in the city, a future I couldn’t imagine yet.

Just imagine that you’re a small town girl like that, dreaming of a future for yourself.

Just imagine that.