Your grandparents and your great-grandparents weren’t always old.A diary found in 2008 by a seventy-nine year old widow in Evansville, Indiana provides a distinctly non-Hollywood view into what life was like during World War II in this racially divided war-economy driven small town. Our diarist is eleven when the story begins in the fall of 1940 and that’s about all we know about the young writer; not even a name (or gender) is revealed. It’s a personal diary after all and not written to ever be read by anyone else.Virginia Lee Brewster’s the prettiest girl in fifth grade and it’s plain to see our storyteller’s head over heels for her. The next five years see the two friends growing up fast and experiencing infatuation turning into a love that’s never questioned, although it’s not quite what either of them always imagined love to be. Young boys and girls grew up quicker and lived faster during the war years. The future was far from certain and they wanted a piece of it, whatever it was.This stories that make up this diary would not have been spoken of in 1940s heartland America, not in polite company anyway, and they certainly would not have been committed to paper, even in those magazines kept behind the counter at the local drug store.
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.
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 will have and Anne was 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 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?