NAVY LIFE BEGINS
Jacque had briefed me well as to what Navy life would be like especially since he planned to make the Navy his career. But neither of us was prepared for sea duty just four months later. We were at war and duty called.
However, he did get Christmas leave and that was when I found out that I was pregnant. I was working at the Naval Supple Depot in Newport and the winter traveling with all the snow was difficult, so I had to resign. I located a job in Fall River and began working in the office of the Precision Mfg. Company. In April, Jacque wanted me to come to Norfolk, VA, since the ship was in port. It was a short stay for such a long trip by train and ferry. But we did have a few days together. He said he had no idea how long the ship would be there, but we always had breakfast at this one restaurant. He had the duty one night and we agreed to meet for breakfast, but if he didn’t show up, it was time for me to go home. So that is what happened. I went back to the rooming house and packed my suitcase and started home.
I never did much traveling any distance by myself, but I was learning. I stopped in New York and visited his mother and I caught the worse cold ever. His mother told me that I‘d better go home, so she went to the depot with me. I took the train to Providence and a bus to Fall River, and it stopped right at the front door of 312 Durfee. We were on the main route to Cape Cod. I stayed in bed a couple of days and decided I’d go to work on Monday. I woke up that morning in such terrible pain that would go away and come back worse. Mom called Dr. Soares and he came to the house (They made house calls in those days). He checked me out and suggested that I go to his office that afternoon for some blood tests. My mother and I took the bus to the office and we got the bad news. When he evaluated the tests, he discovered that my appendix was ready to rupture and that surgery was necessary immediately. He insisted that I go to the hospital right away and that surgery would be at four o’clock. It could not be delayed any longer or it would be too late for the baby and me. I was five months pregnant and I was scared.
I lived through the surgery, but I was a pretty sick girl for 10 days or so. I couldn’t even keep tea down and I was in such pain all the time. No modern medicines to ease the pain. I had wonderful care and the talk of the hospital. It was such a rare operation and I did live through it and so did the baby. The doctor cancelled his vacation saying plans were changed. After they finally got the pain under control I could go home. He said my hand reached out to St Peter, but he wouldn’t take it. One of my immediate bosses at work was a Red Cross volunteer and she was able to get Jacque home on emergency leave. He could only stay a few days but it was worth it to me.
It was May now and the weather was nice but since I had more complications and had to stay in bed. I would come down stairs every morning and stay on the front porch swing. It was easier for Mom to take care of me there than to climb the stairs if I needed something. That was my life until June 29, 1943 when I went to the hospital and had 7˝-month “preemie” Edward Thomas Van Cleef.
He had to stay in the incubator as he was less than five lbs. and very jaundiced. He cried all the time and it was heart breaking to see him.
While I was in the hospital for the delivery of the baby and the usual 10–day stay, my Mom’s blood pressure rose to 250 degrees and the doctor insisted that she get complete rest. An aunt of my father’s invited her to stay with her until she was better. She was still there when I got out of the hospital; so I went to stay at Auntie’s in Somerset. One day, sitting on her front porch, I heard a rooster crow and that reminded me that when I was coming out of anesthesia I saw a black and white tunnel and heard a rooster crowing. It was strangest feeling.
About 3 weeks after my release, the hospital phoned to ask what name was I going to christen the baby. They wanted to baptize him because they felt like he was dying. I told them that his name was Edward Thomas Van Cleef. I phoned my father and he came to Somerset to get me and drove me to the hospital. I did see Skipper (a name we called him while I was pregnant) and he looked so tiny and frail. I never thought to ask if I could hold him and they didn’t suggest it either. I have lots of questions now, but I was young and naďve as to what to do and say. He wouldn’t have died any sooner if I had held him just once. He was buried with my brother Thomas at St. Patrick’s Cemetery on July 17, 1943.
As you can imagine, I was very upset, troubled and felt like I would like my husband home. The Red Cross sent for him again and he did get a few days leave from his ship in Florida. By August, my mother was well enough to come home and we went on with our lives.
The war was still on and my brother Leo was now in the Navy. We never knew where they were except that Leo was in Europe and Jacque was in the Pacific. I went back to work at Newberrys and the family spent time waiting and writing letters to our men at war.
Gasoline was rationed and so was butter and cigarettes. It wasn’t so bad for us because no one smoked at our house. I would buy oleo, which came with an orange ball to mix together and made to look like butter. My father would stand in line for butter and he never knew the difference when my mother would use the oleo. It became a joke for us. I don’t think he ever found out. No one would tell him.