Our Stories

Weather Wife at Wake
Weather Bureau office at Wake Island, 1954

Weather Wife at Wake

By NWS Heritage Projects Staff

Editor's note: The following is reprinted from the September 1954 issue of Weather Bureau Topics.

 

Wake Island in relation to Hawaii. Image from Google Earth

WHEN the Pan American Clipper “RAINBOW” drifted to a landing on Wake Island, early Thanksgiving morning our twelve year old son said, as we looked eagerly out of the window waiting to disembark,  "It doesn’t look so small.” And this was the first of many things we found "to be thankful for” on that first day of our new adventure -- our life on Wake Island. For indeed the island group does not “feel small”. Although we can see and hear the rhythmic breaking of the waves against the reef out of our front windows; while out of our back windows, across the distance of perhaps two or three blocks, we can see the “sleepy lagoon outlined by the other narrow leg of Wake on the opposite side, we do not have the feeling we expected -- that of being bound in on a tiny speck in the immense ocean. Rather there is an air of spaciousness that my husband compares to the western plains of his native state, Kansas. While this is probably due to the flatness of the terrain, we found the islands neither drab nor colorless.

Our second happy surprise was our lovely house. Although we had had a description of the houses before coming, we were not prepared for  their extreme livableness. They are strongly built, well-designed, tastefully decorated and furnished. If you can imagine a kitchen with ample
cupboard space, with electric outlets everywhere they are needed; with Formica-topped work surfaces; with fluorescent lighting fixtures running the length of the sink-drainboard-stove area, as well as over the bar which conveniently opens into the dining-living room -- then you have a picture of our kitchen! And the remainder of the house lives up to the standard set by the kitchen, with lots of closets, all equipped as “hot lockers” to counteract the effects of the humidity. Clothes, appliances, luggage, all “weather the weather” very well in them. Rust is a constant problem in this climate. For instance, bicycles must be washed and oiled regularly or they seem to turn to rust before one’s eyes. But
with proper care and use of storage space, this has not been as vexing as we anticipated. I have found housekeeping a pleasure even though there is considerable "sand-chasing” to be done, Rut this is not as irritating as the “dust-chasing” demanded in some of the places we have lived.

Kitchen of family quarters
Kitchen of family quarters

Closely related to the problems of housekeeping is the procurement of food. Here again, we have found the situation much better than  expected -- although our commissary is not quite equivalent to a mainland supermarket! It is well managed with staples in good supply. And there is enough variety to keep the appetite stimulated. In the time we have been here, there have been only a few days between each flight of "our stagecoach”, the CAA plane, N-65, that we have been completely without any kind of “green stuff” for dinner. Top quality bread baked in the Pan American kitchen may be obtained through the commissary. Also ice cream is nearly always available. Of course, realizing the problems of importing the quantity of food necessary to supply the population, I think all of us plan more carefully against waste than we did on the mainland. Also groceries are comparatively expensive -- how expensive depends upon “where you were buying your groceries before." However, as someone said, since everything else is either free, cheap or unobtainable (did I hear someone comment, "mostly unobtainable!’"), we find we can enjoy a sirloin steak occasionally without a great deal of tension.

Thus far, we have found services to be excellent. This includes such items as garbage collection, household maintenance, etc. As an example, gas is used in cooking and water heating and operates on an automatic reserve system. On a morning that I had planned to do the laundry, I discovered at 7 o’clock that I had failed to notice previously that we had been using the “reserve” supply and so as a result all the gas had been used. I completed the proper form immediately, put it in the maintenance box and resigned myself to not having hot water by noon, certainly not until well after 8 o’clock. But by eight I was beginning my laundry.

The strictly informal approach to living makes clothing a minimum problem. In fact, this approach to living makes living a minimum problem. However, there are enough “dress up” occasions to please one’s femininity. And as to the men, we notice they don’t pass up a good opportunity to break out in long pants. Housekeeping duties, rather than being the whole of a housewife’s day, are merely the background against which one can enjoy the opportunity to read, write, study, paint -- or whatever one’s interests are -- which the privacy of a routine freed from shopping,
persistent radio and TV programs and telephones provides; and/or the pleasant social life which the friendliness of the community provides.

Living room in family quarters
Living room in family quarters

For example, these are a few of the many memories we are building here. One moonlit night, we left our children home alone (they are young enough that in the States, we would still need a sitter if we left them at night), and my husband and I bicycled a mile and a half to Heel Point. As we cycled through the housing area, we remarked that the crushed coral gravel on the rooftops and surfaced streets gave the effect, sparkling in the moonlight, of a peaceful snow-covered scene. Since we were wearing only shorts and tee-shirts, the night air was cool enough to enhance the illusion. Down the winding surfaced road, lined by scaviola trees, we could have been riding through a park at home, except that there we never had the time or opportunity. At Heel Point, we climbed among the coral rocks, listened to the hermit crabs exchanging shells, startled various forms of “marine life’’ with our flashlights, and sat for a while to absorb some of the beauty of the sea and the sky and the rocks. For many years previously, amid the complexities of living, such a quiet experience had been only a dream hoped for.

Another kind of experience, and equally enjoyable, was the occasion just before Christmas when the island residents gathered at the Terminal Building to await Santa Claus who was coming in with gifts for all the children. The happy excitement, against the background of Christmas music coming through the loudspeakers, as Santa landed in the little Cessna owned by a Flying Club on the island, was something we’ll never forget.

There are two forms of recreation peculiar to such a location -- beachcombing and “boondocking” -- with boondocking, as far as we know, unique to Wake. These two activities are similar, the difference being that in beachcombing, one goes searching for that which the sea has washed in; while in boondocking, one goes searching for that which the sea has not washed out. For the beachcomber, there are rugged stretches of shore and sandy beaches where one may search for the endless variety of seashells and coral, as well as driftwood, glass balls which the fishermen off Japan use to float their nets, and handblown Japanese bottles, to name a few. “Wakeites” love their “pretty rocks” -- pieces of coral in its variety of shapes, formations, and color, and many are the “boxes of rocks” that are mailed home to family and friends. I sent my mother such a box of coral and seashells for Christmas, and she wrote that they have been on display in a hospital, a department at the steel mills and in the New York Life Insurance Company office where they have been proudly shown by members of my family.

Bedroom in bachelor quarters
Bedroom in bachelor quarters

Boondocking is “Wakese” for finding something you can use that doesn’t apparently belong to anybody else. Due to the building program since the typhoon which has provided for the abandonment of many temporary and typhoon-damaged structures, there are “ruins” aplenty where
one may go searching for something. But one doesn’t have to fret about locking one’s house on Wake. If it has that “lived-in look”, it is safe from boondockers. For instance, most of us wanted bookshelves, and of course there is no lumber store here. So we went boondocking. Now most of
us have bookshelves constructed of wood that hadn’t “drifted” yet. Another example was when the Weather Bureau bachelor quarters’ cat, Horatio, had kittens, we boondocked one of them for the children. Incidentally, “finding” a kitten was another happy surprise, since we had anticipated a “petless” life on Wake.

Wake is a children’s paradise, or, perhaps better stated, it is a parent’s paradise. We had lived here for fully a month before either of our children got around to that perennial “What can I do, Mom?” Freed from serious traffic hazards, provided with wide open spaces” and plenty of playmates, their days are full of healthful play. One day my son hitchhiked with some other boys the three miles to the “swimming hole” in the lagoon in front of the Transocean PX. Telling of it, he said, “A man picked us up. We didn’t know him but he wasn’t a stranger, was he, so it was all right, wasn't it?” For children who have unfortunately but necessarily been warned against accepting rides or favors from strangers, it is a happy circumstance to live in a community where no one is a “stranger”.

So we find -- our final surprise -- that the days and weeks fly by and that the boredom we “realistically” expected, we just have not encountered. For a naturally lazy person like myself, I miss, even while I enjoy the lack, the stimulation which comes from the normal hustle and bustle of
city life, Here one has a remarkable degree of freedom to choose how to fill the hours. But, while I may miss the hustle and bustle occasionally, my stomach ulcer has succumbed to the relaxation and simplicity of our life here, so that should be a satisfactory recompense.

As we anticipated our adventure on this island a third of the way around the world, having weighed the pros and cons based on available information, we were confident we could do a good job of “making the best of the cons” for the sake of the “pros”. Sometimes, after having cast the die, however, this confidence did waver. As for instance, when on the flight from Honolulu a traveled fellow passenger en route to Hong Kong just sadly shook his head when I timidly (somehow fifth sensing his reaction) “admitted” we were getting off on Wake. However, we have found that “making the best of it” on Wake Island is, indeed, a pushover.