Naomi’s Independence Day

Naomi on the cusp of independence

Naomi on the cusp of independence

Naomi and her brothers had always been close, but when their mother’s death left them rattling around their ramshackle house, underemployed and always scrabbling for money, they realized that destiny called them elsewhere. Her brothers went their separate ways—Jimmy to join the Navy, Paul to join the Army, and John to work as welder.

That left Naomi, barely twenty, to consider the decidedly limited options for a single young woman facing the Great Depression. Unable to find work either in her hometown of Sewarren, New Jersey, or its neighboring municipalities, she had no choice but to move in with her much-older married sister Marian in Philadelphia.

Naomi and her brothers sold virtually all of their possessions, divided the money, and walked out to meet their destinies. Unfortunately, Naomi’s was looking bleak. Her brother-in-law, Bob Farley, made no pretense of welcoming her into their home. He informed her repeatedly that “You can’t stay here forever” and reinforced his distaste for her in countless petty ways. Marian, submissive to the husband she was sworn to honor and obey, witnessed her sister’s humiliation silently.

The situation was clearly unsustainable, but the breaking point came—appropriately enough—on Independence Day. The family—Bob, Marian, their daughters, and Naomi—had piled into their car to attend an outdoor celebration at a distant park. The grounds were teeming with people, and the massive crowd was obliged to share a few reeking privies if nature called too loudly to be ignored.

When it called Naomi, she reluctantly made her way toward the wretched facilities. But when she opened the door and was bombarded by a mass of flies, she knew nature was just going to have to wait.

Bladder bursting, she endured until the family was back on the road, then politely asked to make a pit stop at a gas station en route. Bob was overwhelmed with rage at her impudence. “Why didn’t you go at the park?” he demanded. “You had your chance already. You’ll just have to wait until we get home.”

Naomi made it—barely. Even though she was finally relieved physically, her mind was stinging with indignation. Her humiliation was furthered when Marian crept into her room and whispered that Naomi had better not go with the family to the fireworks show that night—an event she’d been looking forward to—because Bob was still too angry to tolerate her presence.

The family piled back into their car and drove off to see the fireworks, leaving Naomi to fume alone. After a sleepless night, she left the house early in the morning, determined to find work. Even though she’d been trying to get a job since her arrival, her high school diploma wasn’t even enough to get her a place as a department store salesgirl. Each failure earned her more criticism from Bob, more confirmation in his bitter soul that she had come to mooch off his family.

This particular morning began no differently than the others—inquiry after inquiry, refusal after refusal. But Naomi knew she couldn’t go back to Bob’s house. She’d had the foresight to grab her diploma, but all her other worldly possessions were still back there.

No matter. She used part of the $100 she’d gotten as her share of the family’s legacy to buy a new dress, a suitcase, and a bus ticket to New York. She left without returning to get her clothes or say goodbye. It was Naomi’s Independence Day.

She arrived in New York with almost nothing, not even a toothbrush. Even so, she was determined to never go back to the scene of her humiliation. She checked into the Edison Hotel (at the going rate of $2/night) and emerged the next morning intent on finding a job.

She did, although her first several jobs were less than satisfying. She scooped ice cream for “skyscraper” cones—a backbreaking task in the days before soft-serve; she lived and worked in a bakery for a time; she become a file clerk; she worked in a drugstore with a lunch counter.

It was at this last place that she began the romance-that-almost-was; it was later, working as a secretary for a doctor, that she made her choice and became the doctor’s wife.

But that’s another story.

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