In 1939, Violet Golden was one of 23 graduates of the all-girls Notre Dame Academy. At the time, Alameda was just a small town. The naval base was a few years shy of breaking ground. Most of her teachers were nuns who lived in the convent at the school. World War II loomed on the horizon.
“It was a lovely time, even though there were war clouds in the air,” Violet recalled.
Violet Golden in her cap and gown for Notre Dame Academy's class of 1939 graduation.
Because she lived far from the school, Violet would take the train that used to run on the island. As her father worked for the railroad, she rode for free, which she notes, was particularly helpful during the Great Depression.
The start of World War II brought change, as the men were drafted and a cloud of uncertainty brewed. Though, Violet said, life went on as usual, there were still some things that starkly reminded everyone of the times.
“Everybody was supposed to have a blackout room,” she recalled. “While the war never came to the west coast, we were in danger at the time, and prepared in case it did. My dad was one of the block wardens to go around to check to be sure you had one room that could be blacked out, so that if these enemy planes came over, we wouldn't be showing any light. That probably sounds crazy to you, but at the time it was very real. Believe me, we didn't know what was going to happen.”
After finishing her schooling at Notre Dame Academy, Violet worked, for a time, as an office worker (and the only woman) at the Alameda Bureau of Electricity (now Alameda Municipal Power), whose space is today occupied by the South Shore Shopping Center. She remembers being able to look out onto the bay just across the street. Being on the water and possibly vulnerable to attack, defense mechanisms were employed.
Violet celebrating her 100th birthday.
“They had machine guns up on the roof of our building pointed out to sea,” Violet said. “Never had to use them, fortunately, but that was it. Sometimes the guys would go through my desk. That was strange for us. We had rationing and things [were] just different, a different time. You don't want to have war time, period.”
World War II was undoubtedly a defining moment for Violet’s generation, and today’s generation has the COVID-19 pandemic. Violet quipped that the virus hasn’t made many changes to her lifestyle. The mother of four lives on the island of Oahu and has been there since the ‘70s when her husband accepted a teaching position at the University of Hawaii.
Due to her age, she doesn’t go out out much anyways, and got the vaccine as soon as it was available. The strangest thing for her, and perhaps other Hawaii inhabitants, was the closure of the beaches. While walking along them was permitted, no one could go out and sunbathe, which, Violet noted, was a drastic measure for a state that is surrounded by water, and whose people spend a great deal of time outdoors.
Violet on a walk during the pandemic.
Reflecting on the turbulent times, Violet took the no-nonsense approach that saw her through a multitude of uncertainty in the world — she has witnessed not only the second world war, but the Cold War, Vietnam War, and the many other entanglements, social and political, in the country.
“Every time is unprecedented in some way,” Violet said. “We had the war, but now you people have COVID and other things. Everybody has something to take care of. You just have to, as I say, keep the faith and move on. If you are given lemons, make lemonade.”