Giulia Goes to War
Legacy of Honor Series, Book 1
by Joan Leotta
Desert Breeze Publishing
eBook ISBN: 9781612521961
Giulia faces opposition from her traditional small-town Italian-American family when she wants to leave home to work for the war effort in the shipyards of Wilimington, NC. That opposition escalates when she falls in love with a young serviceman who is not Italian-American! While navigating the rough waters of a forbidden romance, Giulia discovers a Nazi plot to blow up the shipyard! Life on the homefront during World War II was far from peaceful!
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Anna Maria DeBartolo shook her graying head as she marched up and down in the small space in front of the kitchen sink. “I am a loyal American. We have a Victory Garden. I send my cans to the surplus drive.” With the wooden spoon she held in her hand, she gestured toward the front of the house and the dining room window facing Main Street and continued, “I have two blue stars in the window — both of your brothers are serving or did you forget, Giulia? We are with the war effort so you working here, in your Papa’s store, is helping the war effort.”
With each word, Mama’s voice got louder and louder, almost drowning out the music signaling the ending moments of the Stella Dallas radio program. Giulia, her daughter, ran a hand over her own dark hair. She hoped no one was walking past the house. Whenever Mama shouted, Giulia worried the neighbors would hear her through the open windows. A light breeze ruffled the kitchen curtains, but did nothing to cool down her mother. Giulia tried to keep her own voice calm, even, and respectful as she answered. She wanted to be rational and build a good case for leaving Avocatown to work for the war effort in Pittsburgh or Washington, DC.
“Mama, I don’t do anything that really matters at the store. Nothing I do is anything you and Papa couldn’t do without me. They need people in the offices and factories in Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. Most of my high school friends, almost the entire class of 1942 left right after graduation and I could live with some of them in either city.”
“No! E una disgrazia!”
As soon as her mother switched completely to Italian, Giulia knew that her logical argument had not worked. When Mama got really upset, her voice became more and more heavily accented, as well as louder. At the peak of stubborn insistence, Mama switched entirely from English to her native Italian. Papa was the same way, although his fuse was shorter, so his timeline from hot and heavily accented English to full Italian was much quicker.”Mama, it is not a disgrace to live with other girls in Washington or Pittsburgh if I am living there to help the war effort. Besides, I would only live with girls whose parents you know.”
Mama shook her head violently from side to side. “Non, Non, Non! E una disgrazia per forza.“
Giulia’s heart sank. A disgrace in and of itself. Mama simply did not believe it was possible for a young girl to live alone and still be a “good girl”. “Good girls” lived with their mother and father until they were married, war or no war. Giulia fought back tears. She picked four plates out of the drying rack on the side of the sink and carried them into the dining room. She laid them down to set the table for dinner. She knew it was not possible to continue a conversation with Mama about this until Mama had calmed down.
On subjects like this, new American ways of doing things, Papa was usually the difficult one. Mama liked the increased freedoms of life in America and was much more on the “American” side of most issues than Giulia’s father. So, the “Mama-first” method of discussion usually worked quite well as a way for Giulia to convince her parents to allow her to do something not old-world endorsed. Mama would agree and then Mama would convince Papa to do whatever it was the American way instead of, “the way we always did it in Italy”. Mama was usually able to make him see how doing things the American way would not make him less Italian.
Giulia smiled, recalling how this Mama-first strategy got Papa to agree to allow Giulia to attend her first high school dance. At first, both of her parents had refused permission. Ralph, the boy who had invited her, was an “Americano“. Neither parent liked the idea of her going with anyone as a date.
Mama said, “We really think it is better for you to go with a group of girls to the dance or even with some boys and girls in a group of friends.” While they washed and dried the dinner dishes one night, Giulia had put the “Mama-first” strategy into action. She had explained the situation carefully: “It’s the kind of dance where we get together as friends when we are there. Each girl and boy goes separately. Besides, there are not a lot of boys left at school. A lot of them dropped out of high school to go into the service right after Pearl Harbor.”
Mama agreed to the spring dance. Papa also agreed, but a family friend had to escort her. So, Giulia went to the dance with Sal, short for Salvatore, the son of a family friend and a close friend of her brothers. Sal was a year older than she and had graduated from the school the year before. He was tall and dark and good looking, and knew a lot of the same people Giulia knew. In fact, he had been on the football team with Ralph, the tall blonde boy who had asked her out in the first place.
Sal had not gone off to war yet. He had tested as 4-F due to flat feet. As they walked from her house to the school gym for the dance, Sal told her how he had been doing exercises to make his feet less flat. “I roll them every night on a metal bar — my sister’s old baton. My Dad, he knows someone on the draft board and this time I think I will make it. I’m hoping to get into the Marines.”
When they arrived at the dance, several girls in the “in” group were surprised to see Giulia at all and especially with someone who used to be on the school’s football team. Sal was careful to act the part of a concerned date, someone who knew her well, not someone forced to go to this one dance with the little sister of a friend. Sal listened thoughtfully when she told him about how, after graduation, she wanted to go with her friends to Pittsburgh or Washington and work for the war effort. Later, when the “Americano” boy, Ralph, came up and asked if he could swing her around the floor once or twice, Sal winked at her and said, “You can give her a twirl or two around the floor, but she goes home with me.”
Giulia shook herself back to the present problem. Obviously, dances were one thing and living away from home was something else. Giulia had a great affection for Avocatown, the place where she grew up. Who wouldn’t? Tree-lined streets, clapboard houses with wide front porches, small stores and you could walk just about every place. There were two sides to the town, the Italian side and the non-Italian side. On the Italian side, most of the men worked in the Avoca Coal Mines or delivered coal. They worshiped at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church where two of the three Sunday masses were given in Italian. Her Papa’s store served the miners and their families. On the other side of town, the “Americani” lived. The men of these families worked as supervisors in the mines or were doctors or teachers or owned big stores.
Giulia already knew her Papa was very much against any young girl leaving home to work. Several weeks earlier, Papa had been very vocal about the idea of girls leaving home to work for the war when he learned about several of Giulia’s friends doing it. “They must not be good girls,” she had heard him telling her mother one afternoon in the store. “These American girls and their families have no sense of honor. Why do they allow such things to happen? Why don’t they want to keep their daughters close to them?”
Giulia didn’t recall what her mother replied at the time. She had hoped to persuade her mother to take her side as she had when getting permission to go to the dance. “Giulia, Giulia.” Her brooding about not being able to leave was interrupted by her mother’s much calmer voice. The next few words made Giulia breathe a sigh of relief. “Where is your sister?” Giulia was relieved her mother was once again speaking in English and in a normal tone of voice.
“I think Gina is playing at her friend Elizabeth’s house this afternoon.”
Mama walked into the dining room. “I told Gina to be home by five and it is now after five. She is always late when she goes to the American girl’s house.”
Giulia glanced down at her watch. Gina was only ten minutes late. The white gold Gruen watch had been her graduation present. Its high price showed the pride her father and mother had in her being named class valedictorian. Papa loved that she was the smartest student, boy or girl, at Avocatown High School. Giulia smiled. Maybe there was still hope. Maybe something would give her another argument to help convince them to let her join the war effort by working and living away from home. She decided not to mention any of those things now. Instead, she answered her Mama’s concern about her little sister Gina.”I can go and get her, Mama,” offered Giulia. Just then Gina came rocketing through the back door, exploding through the kitchen and into the dining room, almost skidding to a stop in front of her mother and Giulia. Gina’s long red hair was confined to two braids. Her gray-green eyes shone with excitement. “Guess what!”
“You are late.”
“Oh, Ma.” Gina gave her mother a big hug. “I beat Elizabeth and her twin brother in our jumping contest this afternoon.”
“So, you are late because you were jumping. Maybe you could jump to do some chores now?”
Gina frowned. She sighed and went into the kitchen. “I’ll get the silverware,” she told her mother and started to count out four of each utensil.
Mama sniffed and returned to the kitchen to stir the spaghetti sauce. Gina came back into the dining room with the knives, forks, and spoons and asked Giulia, “What’s up with Ma? I’m not so late.”
“It’s my fault. I asked her if I could go to Pittsburgh or Washington, DC to work for the war effort. I have friends in both places and all of them have written to tell me I could share their apartment but–“
Gina interrupted. “Ma and Pop think any girl who lives away from her parent’s house is a bad girl. I heard them talking about it the other day.”
“They want to be seen as such supporters of the war effort, but they keep me working in the store instead of letting me help in some direct way.”
“They do their best. They really want people to know them as patriotic Americans,” Gina noted as she set the utensils at each place. “I remember the morning after Pearl Harbor, Mama and Papa went downstairs to the store and put away all of the little Italian flags they used for decoration near the Italian food products.”
“Yes, then Papa went to the paint store and bought red, white, and blue paint, changing the colors of the trim on the front of the store to United States flag colors,” Giulia added. “They let our brothers join the Army and Navy, and that shows a lot.”
“All they let me do is lead the scrap drive and work in the store.”
“Hey,” said Gina, “I’m the one who leads the scrap drive on Main Street.” Giulia just sighed and thought about how different it was for her brothers. Their Mama proudly displayed two blue stars in the dining room window, telling all who pass by that Giulia’s two older brothers were serving the United States in the Armed Forces.
Jack, the oldest, was really Giovanni or John. Almost immediately after Pearl Harbor, he dropped out of the University of Pittsburgh where he was studying pre-law to join the Army. He became a second lieutenant.
Joe, or Giuseppe, had decided not to go to college even before the war. Just a year younger than Jack, he was working with a riverboat crew in Pittsburgh when war was declared. Joe joined the Navy, sticking to his lifetime love of all things having to do with the water. Mama and Papa were proud of Joe. Just a month after his enlistment, the Navy sent Joe to Officer Candidate School.
When Joe and Jack first went into service, Papa joked, “Going into service saved Jack from his final exams and kept Joe from getting lost along the river.” When it looked like the war was going to continue long enough for Jack and Joe to actually go into combat, the jokes stopped. Now he and Mama lit candles every night in front of Jack and Joe’s pictures. Before going to bed each night, the entire family knelt down to pray for their safety. The letters they sent home were full of big black marks, blotting out any words that might reveal location or troop morale. From what the family could guess, Joe was on his way to somewhere in the Pacific and Jack was serving somewhere in Europe. Giulia was in her senior year of high school when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States went to war. Many of her friends began to talk about leaving home to help in the war. “Maybe by June when you graduate, the war will be over,” Mama told her.
Mama’s prediction of a short war was wrong. The fighting was still going strong in 1943. The United States was in what looked to be a long war against the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Although the rest of her friends had left Avocatown, Giulia stayed. Every day that she could, she went over to the high school where her old teacher allowed her to practice typing on one of the school machines so she could keep up her skills. Giulia brought her thoughts back to the present day. She finished her chores and got ready for dinner. Over the meal that night, Giulia hardly said a word while Gina prattled on about her jumping skills.
“I’m going to Pittsburgh on Saturday,” Mama announced. “Mrs. Valenti and I are sharing gasoline ration cards so we can go to the city for shopping. Your Papa said he will handle the store by himself so you both can come with me for clothing at Kaufmann’s Department store.”
Gina immediately began nodding her head in assent. Jumping was forgotten. “Oh, yes. Mama, can I get a plaid skirt for school in the fall? I want one Giulia has never worn, one of my very own and some bobby socks and maybe a new book? “
“Bobby socks? Why are the socks you want called after a boy named Robert?” Mama demanded.
While Gina tried to explain to her mother about bobby socks, Giulia’s thoughts again drifted to her desire to move to Pittsburgh or Washington, DC. Most of Giulia’s friends were living in apartments in Pittsburgh working as secretaries and one or two of them were even working in the steel mills taking the place of young men who had gone into the service. Pittsburgh was the hub of the nation’s steelmaking, a vital cog in the machine of war. Since Pittsburgh was only an hour or so away, Giulia thought if she promised to come home every weekend, her parents might let her go there to work as a secretary in one of the steel mills. Everything needed by the military to win the war was strictly rationed to civilians now.
However, the travel restrictions and rationing were not what were behind her parent’s reluctance to send her away. They simply did not believe in letting a girl live away from home before she got married. Period.
Giulia sighed loudly. Her mother turned to her.
“Giulia? What is that noise you just made? Are you all right? “
Giulia realized she had not answered her mother. “Of course, Mama. Do you think we have enough shoe coupons for me to look in Kaufmann’s for a new pair for me?”
“I will check,” Mama promised. Shopping in nearby Pittsburgh was a prized family outing. Giulia suspected that Mama was glad to have her talking about shopping instead of arguing about moving to Pittsburgh.
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