I have an old wicker chest in my room where I store odds and ends, a little bit of everything me; from stamps I collect and have not placed in my album yet, to books with which I cannot bear to part. And an old candy box I had not opened since 2003. This evening, while looking for a place to store rolls of crepe paper I will use later for making dye, I spied that little candy box, and opened it.
I had forgotten all the treasures placed in there for safe keeping, and as I lifted and examined things not thought about for a very long time, one item so surprised me, I audibly gasped. It was thought to have been lost over the years in one of our many moves, but there it was. My application to Modesto Junior College for September, 1965, signed and dated May 23, 1947. It also was accompanied with a brief note from the Dean of Women, welcoming me into the world, and the academic community of our local junior college.
It was post World War II, and over 11 million GI’s had returned home to a critical housing shortage. Housing construction had slowed to a crawl during the Great Depression, and pretty much stopped during the war. Innovative ideas to meet the housing crisis were popping up all over the country, and one of the solutions was temporary, but effective.
As the GI’s were either beginning or returning to college, many institutions were meeting the housing need of their incoming students by utilizing an innovation developed by the British during World War I, and used by the US during World War II. The Quonset hut. A prefabricated, semicircular building made from corrugated galvanized steel. Windows on the sides, doors and windows on the ends. Pressed wood lining inside, and a wood floor. Home sweet home; could be built by a team of ten in one day.
Modesto Junior College set up a community of these structures for their students in need of housing, and my parents were one of the fortunate couples who were able to secure a Quonset hut to live in while studying at the college. I have a photograph of them that ran on the front page of the college newspaper in the fall of 1946. They were sitting side by side in their new home, my two year old brother perched between them, all looking pleased as punch to be exactly where they were on the day they moved in.
The following May, I was born. As the story has been told to me, it was a celebratory time, because I was the first female baby born into this community of students living in their Quonset huts, both GI and hut just recently having been in the throes of war. Evidently, I was not just a little Baby Boomer, I was evidence of faith and hope, and most of all promise. Promise that if they made it back, life would once more be normal, filled with family, school, employment, purpose, and a renewed sense of home.
I read the little note included with my future application to MJC, and it touched my heart. It succinctly reflected all I had been told I represented almost sixty-seven years ago:
Dear Gail Anne,
I wish to officially welcome you to the MJC Campus. We hope you have enjoyed your first two weeks here. You are our first Pirette!
Please have your fond parents fill in the enclosed application so that we’ll be ready for you in 1965!!
Doris Skelton, Dean of Women
On the application, she filled in a few of the blanks way ahead of time. For the question that asked, Student preparing for what occupation, she answered…Wife and mother of another MJC’er. Half of it was a correct prediction. I married a fellow student in 1968.
When I enrolled at MJC in 1965, I did not use my 1947 application. I considered it, but at that time was embarrassed to draw attention to my birth history with the college, so I kept it tucked away as a memento. Now I am so glad I did. I can look at it, at the photo of my parents and brother in their Quonset hut home, and reflect on a time when the worst days imaginable were behind them, and the world was filled with hope and promise. Yes, hope and promise; it’s how we keep our dreams alive.