Sue* was 98. Short, petite, hunched over, and wrinkled. Full of arthritis. But she would walk circles around the facility with her walker, and she would hum and sing. She was quiet and unassuming. The type pf person who's always around and just fades unnoticed into the background. Nobody knew a lot about her or talked with her a lot. Nobody thought much about it.
I would play music from the WWII era on the sound system in the background. It played quietly all day. This helped everybody feel comfortable. It was the music all the residents had loved and lived by in an era where there was no television, men were off fighting a dangerous war, and food was rationed for everyone. Music was the glue that held our nation together and these people had in engrained in their souls. I loved it, too. I found it to be very therapeutic.
One day, Sue began singing a familiar song at the top of her lungs. Perfectly. I laughed and asked her if it was her favorite....
"Oh yes. They played this one in the factory every day. We all loved it!"
"The factory? Did you work outside the home?"
"Of course I did! We all did. It was just the way during the war."
"What did you, do, Sue?"
"Oh, you know. Just the usual. Worked a rivet gun in the airplanes."
"Wait. You were a riveter? Like......a Rosie The Riveter?! That is the coolest thing I have ever heard. I have always been in love with that concept. How amazing! How glamorous! You women did so much to pave the way for women in society. For what women do today and how they are viewed! This is unbelievable! A real riveter right in front of me! I want to hear all about it! Tell me everything. How fun!"
"Honey, come to my room a shake. I have something to show you."
I went to Sue's room. She pulled a framed picture out of a drawer and handed it to me. It was a much younger and most beautiful Sue. I almost wouldn't have recognized her except for the fact that her blue eyes were exactly the same. She was in overalls. Standing in front of a plane holding a rivet gun. Covered in grease. With bright red lipstick on. Everything you would imagine from the posters we've all seen. Except her eyes held a sadness to them. They didn't sparkle with excitement and glamour.
"Sue. This is amazing. You are an icon. You stand for so much that happened and is today. Why don't you talk about this? Why doesn't everybody know about this?"
Sue just chuckled. "You young ones always about the glamor and recognition. To you, Rosie the Riveter is some amazing beautiful deal. But to us, it was just a normal thing on a normal day. We never thought it was fun, wonderful, glamorous, or that it was changing history. We were simply seeing a need and wanting to help with the war effort. Wanting to do our part. It was exhausting, dirty, painful, dangerous, and lonely. It smelled bad. And it was utterly common. There is nothing special about it."
"Well, Sue, it turns out it was a pretty amazing thing later. How do you feel, knowing how people feel about it all now?"
"Darling, it just goes to show you. The most normal and mundane things can end up having the biggest impact later. The question is whether you go looking for that or whether you're just trying to do your part in a world that is desperate for someone to do the exhausting and dirty work unnoticed. Don't you forget that."
Sue, I haven't.
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons