SCARBOROUGH — When history teacher George Jones told his class to talk to their grandparents about their memories of World War II, he hoped his students would learn a little about how the war affected people they knew.
But when one of his students, Amita Gelinas, talked to her grandmother, she realized that her family had many stories to tell.
Gelinas’ 92-year-old grandmother, Victoria Aberle, told her granddaughter about what it was like to be a woman in the 1940s and how the war changed women’s roles in society. So, Gelinas suggested to her history teacher that Aberle come in and tell the class about an issue often overlooked when discussing the era.
Jones’ history classroom is filled with books, photos and WWII memorabilia. Flags from the Allied and Axis powers hang from the walls and a big, hand-painted sign asking “What does it mean to be American?” sits above the whiteboard.
Aberle sat with her granddaughter at the front of the class and talked about what she remembered from the 1940s.
“The second world war started the business of women being in the workforce,” Aberle told the class. “Before that, if you worked at the telephone company, you had to quit when you got married.”
Aberle was a housewife before the war began, but started working part-time jobs, like so many women, as more and more of the young men shipped off to war. She told the class that the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, she and her husband argued.
“He wanted to sign up,” she said. “I said no, that’s ridiculous. We were starting a family.”
In the end, Aberle won the argument and her husband stayed home to work in a General Electric factory in Connecticut. But her brother, Paul Dolan, joined the Air Force and flew bombers.
Dolan, who later wrote a book about his experience, flew planes out of Foggia, Italy, and dropped bombs on Germany and Belgium.
“Especially for the women, but also for the men, the war gave us something to live for,” Aberle said. “At your age you’re thinking about the future, but what I’ve gotten out of life is, you have to go with the flow.”
She looked out at the class and smiled.
“Just love your family, your friends, and most of all, your country,” she said.
Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Scarborough High School senior Collin Pierce hands a bouquet of flowers to Victoria Aberle, 92, who visited her granddaughter’s U.S. history class to talk about the role of women during World War II. Memorabilia and flags from the period are displayed in the classroom, too.