In the Navy
In 1942 the US Navy began to enlist women in the WAVES, or “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.” Aunt Betty, my Dad’s youngest sister was 23 at the time. With the nation at war and both of her brothers joining the Navy, Aunt Bet felt drawn to do her part as well and enlisted.
I don’t know much about Aunt Betty’s time in the service. What I do know is that she was stationed at the Quartermaster Depot in Jeffersonville, IN. Over the years, many of the anecdotes she shared in conversation began, “When I worked at the Quartermaster Depot….”
I don’t remember much about what followed. Back then, I didn’t have any real understanding of the setting or context. I had little enough idea what a depot was, let alone a Quartermaster. Instead of the details, what I took from her stories was the sense that serving as a WAVE had been a pivotal experience in her life and had shaped the curious, competent and interesting woman I had the privilege to call my aunt. I was delighted by her adventurous spirit and always impressed by her willingness to serve.
Aunt Betty never married. After WW2 Aunt Betty took a job as a medical secretary at the Veterans Hospital. She had excellent secretarial skills and found her work at the hospital interesting. She worked there until her retirement in the 1970s.
Though Aunt Betty was not the most avid cook in the family, she possessed the gift of hospitality. Rather than cooking an elaborate meal Aunt Betty made her guests feel at home by sitting with them over a cup of coffee and drawing them into conversation.
When she did cook Aunt Betty preferred recipes that could be made ahead and left to stay warm as her guests arrived. One of her signature dishes was Navy Bean Soup. I always thought of that particular dish as having some personal significance, though I may have just imagined it. I don’t have her exact recipe. Instead, this simple recipe is from an old edition of “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook,” a family favorite.
Adapted from “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook”
Serves 7 (about 1 cup each)
1 pound dried navy or pea beans (about 2 cups)
2 cups diced cooked ham pieces
1 ham bone ( if you have it, don’t worry if you don’t)
1 small onion, finely chopped (about ¼ cup)
1 bay leaf
Dash of pepper
Rinse the beans in a colander. Sort through them carefully to remove any dark beans, small stones or other debris.
Place the rinsed beans in a 4-quart cooking pot. Add water to cover by about 1-inch. Heat to boiling. Boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Allow to stand for 1 hour.
Drain the beans and return them to the same pot. Add 7 cups of clean water. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that forms on the top of the water.
Reduce heat. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender (1-2 hours). Add water during cooking if necessary.
Remove bay leaf. Remove hambone, if used. Adjust seasoning to taste, adding a little salt and/or pepper as you like.