WHERE IN THE WORLD IS PAT DRESSER? by Michael Gleason
Well, though she hasn’t actually been at St.Patrick’s for a while, she’s still “very much alive and kicking” at her modest home on Bangor’s West Side. …and she’s “keepin’ on keepin’ on”.
I’ve known for years that Patricia is a “Kiwi” – A World War II War Bride, who’s from New Zealand. If you listen to her talk, you can still pick up a bit of the accent! I’ve had an opportunity to have several discussions with her, lately, and have been “picking her brain” about her Coming to America.
|On a “Sidebar”…
Patricia’s maiden name was Downing. One of her ancestors was George Downing, who worked in England for the British government. Particularly pleased with his work, he was given a grant of land by the Crown, and that land evolved into Downing Street. 10 Downing Street, the historic home of the British Prime Minister, was the home that George Downing built!
He eventually migrated to Australia, and “the rest is history”!
It all began when she was born at home in Wallaceville, Upper Hutt (not to be confused with “Lower Hutt”), New Zealand. Regulations there required children to have reached the age of five before they could attend school. A self-avowed precocious child, on the day she turned five, she marched into the school and announced to the teacher that she was there to learn!
While still a child, her parents divorced and she went with her mother to live in Wairarapa, NZ. She attended college in Masterton, and graduated in 1942. She met her late husband, Bob, when she and some friends decided to go to a movie, after work. Standing outside the theater were a group of U.S. Marines (it was WWII, after all), and the girls and the Marines decided to pair off and attend the movie together (the girls not suspecting that the Marines had already seen the movie). Pat wasn’t real pleased with the Marine with whom she was paired, and asked to “swap Marines” with another girl, and “got Bob in the bargain”. Bob told her that he was from Newport, Maine – which meant nothing to the young New Zealander who had little knowledge of U.S. geography – and that was alright with her! He also told her she’d “see Maine” in the movie they were going to see.
The next day, Bob was waiting for her outside of her workplace, and said to her, “I was thinking of taking you home with me!”, to which she replied, “Well, I’ll have to ask my mother!”. (This was shortly before his 11 January birthday.) They dated for a short while, and after receiving permission to marry from his commander, they set several dates for marriage, each date hampered by the ability to attend the wedding of an aunt who was determined to be there. They finally settled on 12 June, 1943, and were married in St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Masterton.
Patricia, at age 17, sailed from Wellington, NZ, in October 1943, one a group of eight Kiwi War Brides, along with a variety of other passengers including Australian Air Cadets heading to England for flight training, some officers’ wives, a Chinese professor, and some Prisoners of War (POWs). The ship was the Dutch transport Nieuw Amsterdam, which had “very polite and capable Dutch stewards”. (The officers wives, on the other hand, were quite “snooty”.) The crossing took about 14 days, during which they could not go out on deck unescorted, and smokers couldn’t smoke on deck because the Japanese submarines – a threat during the whole voyage – might be able to “track” their vessel by a trail of tossed cigarette butts and other potential litter. The Nieuw Amsterdam, as it was, had to “zig-zag” its way across the Pacific as a submarine evasion tactic. Their “stateroom” during the crossing was a large one, shared by the War Brides.
Arriving in San Francisco, they made an “interesting entrance” into the harbor. There’s a large sandbar in the harbor, over which the ship had to cross, and only at high tide. Even then, the bottom of the ship dragged across the sandbar, causing the ship to list severely to one side. The Kiwi War Brides were seated with the Chinese professor at a table in the dining room, as the ship approached the sandbar. The professor told them that they all had to hold hands, forming a ring around the table; and surely enough, when the ship listed to one side, everything on all of the tables in the dining room slid – from most of the tables everything went crashing to the floor, making a horrible mess – but thanks to the professor, who had made the crossing before and knew about the sandbar and the listing, the food on their table was restrained by their arms, and they got to finish their dinner!
They were somewhat “quarantined” in San Francisco, getting Smallpox and other vaccinations, security checks, and clearance to enter the country. Once that was completed, they had a few days to “sight see” in San Francisco, and Patricia and a friend took a cable car to a restaurant. After the meal, they couldn’t remember how to get back to where they were staying!! It was a frightful few minutes, but they finally figured it out.
Her friend boarded a train for Colorado, her husband’s home. Pat’s situation was a bit different, because very few of the processing personnel had any idea where “Newport, Maine” was. It took quite a while just for them to issue a string of connecting-train tickets to get her there. She had a wonderful train-crossing of the continent, seeing the sights, eating in the dining car, and having a sleeper compartment as far as Chicago – a trip lasting about five days. Changing trains in Chicago, she continued East without a sleeper compartment, on a trip lasting about three days. Someone on the train, hearing that she was heading for Maine, told her that, above Augusta, Maine was pretty-much “wild, uncharted, unsettled territory, where bears and other wild creatures roamed the roads”.
While enroute, she telephoned her new mother-in-law – neither of whom had met the other. Her mother-in-law was “less than pleased that Bob had married someone other than the local preacher’s daughter”. Finally arriving in Newport Junction and stepping off the train, Patricia thought she had “stepped back a hundred years in time”! Her mother-in-law, in high button shoes, a strict Methodist, wouldn’t cook on Sunday and had other stringent beliefs and practices. She’d never heard of an “Anglican”, and wasn’t eager to learn about them.
Bob was discharged from the Marines in 1945, and the still-newlywed couple settled in Newport. Pat worked in a five-and-dime, and later for Bangor Savings Bank. They moved to Bangor in time for the birth of their first son, Keith, on 17 November 1947. Their younger son, Gary, was born in Bangor on St. Valentine’s Day, 1952. Gary had graduated from college in Florida, and remained there after graduation. On 5 December 1999, at the age of 27, he suffered a heart attack, under water while SCUBA diving, and died. Bob retired from his job as a Branch Manager for Merchant’s National Bank in 1983, He died in on 24 June 1999. Keith, on the other hand, is alive and well and living in Bangor; he and his wife, their three daughters, and their son are Patricia’s remaining family.
She leads a rather quiet life, now, but had quite the adventurous journey getting here!