My name is Margaret Lawless. I used to be a reporter for the Daily Mirror in London, writing for the Women’s Features section. As a female reporter in 1939, I was only allowed to write about fashion and human interest stories, despite being as educated as my male peers. It was frustrating but I stuck to it, hoping that I would eventually get the respect that I felt I deserved.
I thought that my opportunity arrived that September, when England went to war. Many of the men left to fight and I took on the role of reporting about life on the home front. Between the stories of the nighttime blackouts and food rations, I thought that I could become a respected reporter. I was wrong. To keep morale up, we were expected to carry on as usual. My articles became little more than sanitized facts about the war and “feel good” stories. For me, nothing changed.
Then came the bombs. History would refer to it as the Blitz. While our soldiers were huddled in foxholes, we were in tunnels.
That’s where I met Sam.
He was just a kid. Eighteen, uneducated, and he had a limp caused by polio. He had found himself some work doing odd jobs. “Before, I was never good for much,” he would say, “but now I am good for something.” We became friends and at night in the candle lit tunnels, he would tell me about his day. He would clean up rubble one day, another day he would help to make sandwiches for the citizens who queued up at the soup kitchens. He always whistled and never seem to let anything get him down.
I finally had to ask how he could have such a positive attitude. He laughed. “Do you know what I did before the war?” he asked. I shook my head. “I was a street beggar,” he said. “A cripple, with no education. Nobody would hire me. Now I clean the streets, do repair work, and help out wherever I can. I get treated with respect and I’m happy.” That night I didn’t sleep a wink as Sam’s words continued to play in my head. It would be months later before I took what he said and had to courage to change my own life.
I traded in my pen for a wrench and like many women at the time took a job at a munitions factory. For a while, I was treated as an equal. Like Sam, I took this opportunity to carve out a life that was different from society’s expectations.
Things would change after the war, as women were expected to go back to their traditional roles, but not for me. I continued to work in a factory. It wasn’t easy. I was often asked why I didn’t leave and go find myself a husband and have a family. I had to laugh. The war, despite it’s hardships, had given me a sense of freedom that I never had before. And freedom was what we fought for wasn’t it?
I never knew what became of Sam. Friendships like ours seem to fade as life returned to the city. One morning we said our goodbyes and I never saw him again. I could only hope that like me, he found his place in the world. During those times, I came to learn more about myself than I ever did in school or on the field. Sam showed me that if I wanted to prove my worth, that I shouldn’t wait for someone else to notice it. Wise words from an uneducated street beggar.
One of those candles now sits in my window at night. A reminder of those days, and a tribute to the young man who became my own light and helped me find my way.
This is a revised piece of an assignment that I did for a writing course a while back. I’m still learning to fine tune my skills, but it was fun to work on this. Hope you like it. Critiques are welcome.
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