Ocracoke's history & its people

Islander Eleanor Garrish: from Dust Bowl to Ocracoke Part 2

June 2015
Compiled by Pat Garber

Editor’s note: This is a three-part series, look for the last in­stallment in the July Issue.

Having made her de­cision to leave rural Minnesota and see what big city life was like, Eleanor lived with several different families in the Min­neapolis-St. Paul area, doing housekeeping and child care. She then found work more to her liking at the Travelers In­surance Company.

I rode an elevator to my of­fice, where I could look out the window and see the boats and ships going down the Missis­sippi River.

After three years, she took a train to San Francisco to visit a friend and decided to stay. So she wired back to her boss that she would not be returning. In San Francisco she found room and board on California Street and a job at Johnson & Higgins, Marine Insurance Brokers, tak­ing a cable car about 20 blocks to and from work.

I was in San Francisco in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. A friend and I had driven down to Palo Alto and we noticed a lot of airplane activity around Moffet Field, a military airfield. There seemed to be a lot of excitement, but it wasn’t until we got back home that we learned what had hap­pened. I remember blackouts at night. Defense officials re­quired that all lights be turned out after dark as they were concerned about submarine at­tacks by the Japanese.

During World War II, Elea­nor decided to travel farther afield.

I flew from San Francisco to the Panama Canal Zone. Uncle Ray met me at the air­port in Panama, picked up my luggage, went out for his car and it was gone (stolen). It was found by the Panamanian po­lice several days later.

Eleanor moved into a work­ing women’s dormitory on the Pacific Ocean side of Panama which, due to pests, was some­times referred to as “Termite Terrace.”

Eleanor 1 001We could stand on the deck and watch monkeys. There were many interesting wom­en from all over the United States there and I became good friends with about six of them.

She obtained a job with the U.S. government, keeping re­cords of school supplies in a big administration building in Balboa Heights. She re­members that she could look down through the windows and see ships go­ing through the canal and planes taking off and land­ing. She also had time to take trips and explore some of the area.

I recall going with my boss to a leper colony, about 10 miles away, in the government car. I saw some sad looking charac­ters. There was no cure for leprosy then. There were at least 25 men and women, crippled and disfigured.

Eleanor 2 001On another occasion she took a boat trip down to San Blas Island where a very prim­itive group of Indians lived.

As soon as we landed we were taken to a dining hall for our noon meal. The big surprise for me was seeing a big turtle on a platter sitting in the middle of the table. I don’t remember sampling it but I reckon I did.

For recreation, Eleanor and her friends went to USO danc­es. The Army and the Navy sent their recreation directors to find young women who would enjoy coming to these affairs.

I danced with lots of military men; I remember the foxtrot and waltz.

She recalls hearing Elea­nor Roosevelt speak at a USO gathering. I had gone to the dance with an army captain. We did not know Eleanor Roo­sevelt was going to be there. So it was a big surprise. I always was an admirer of hers.

Eleanor stayed in Panama for about three years. While there, she also took time from her job to visit Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Traveling alone, she recalls often arriving at places without lodging reservations and having quite a few adven­tures, too numerous to record here.

The war in Europe ended in May 1945, but the troops could not yet go home.

We witnessed hundreds of troops at the airplane hangar on their way to more fighting. After the nuclear bombs were dropped, the war in the Pacific was soon over. My husband-to-be (Willard “Jake” Garrish) told me later that he was on a ship anchored near the battle­ship Missouri where the sur­render documents between Ja­pan and the Allies were signed.

With the war over, Eleanor decided it was time to return home. She got passage on a Navy transport, stopping overnight at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the way to New York City. After years in the tropics, she remembers how cold and windy it was in the Big Apple.

I had no room reserva­tions, and it was hard to get hotel rooms. A very kind lady I’d met on the transport in­vited me to stay with her till I could get a room. I spent about a week doing the usual sightseeing before returning to Minnesota, unsure of where