Emily Warren Roebling refuses to live conventionally? She’s determined to make change; knows who she is and what she wants. But then her husband Wash asks the unthinkable: give up her dreams to make his possible. Emily’s fight for women’s suffrage is put on hold, and her life transformed when Wash, the Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, is injured on the job. Untrained for the task, but under his guidance, she assumes his role, despite stern resistance and overwhelming obstacles. Lines blur as Wash’s vision becomes her own, and when he is unable to return to the job, Emily is consumed by it. But as the project takes shape under Emily’s direction, she wonders whose legacy she is building?hers, or her husband’s. As the monument rises, Emily’s marriage, principles, and identity threaten to collapse. When the bridge finally stands finished, will she recognize the woman who built it? Based on the true story of the Brooklyn Bridge, The Engineer’s Wife delivers an emotional portrait.
Tracey Enerson Wood has always had a writing bug. While working as a Registered Nurse, starting her own Interior Design company, raising two children, and bouncing around the world as a military wife, she indulged in her passion as a playwright, screenwriter and novelist. She has authored magazine columns and other non-fiction, written and directed plays of all lengths, including Grits, Fleas and Carrots, Rocks and Other Hard Places, Alone, and Fog. Her screenplays include Strike Three and Roebling’s Bridge. Other passions include food and cooking, and honoring military heroes. Her co-authored anthology/cookbook Homefront Cooking, American Veterans share Recipes, Wit, and Wisdom, was released by Skyhorse Publishing in May 2018, and all authors’ profits will be donated to organizations that support veterans. A New Jersey native, she now lives with her family in Florida and Germany. Drop In with us to find out how Tracey Enerson Wood connects with unsung heroes, both then and now.Leave a comment for radio show guests
What’s the story behind the story? We’ll find out on Dropping In. Our guests are today’s original thinkers. Conversations that spark new ways of seeing what’s going on. We bring it all to the table. Diverse perspectives, controversy, loving and singular voices. Magically stories reveal the common threads that link us. Experience the joys, the fist pumps, the detours and the hard-won truths of those who blaze the trail so that we might do the same and now here’s your host Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to Dropping In everyone. It’s the middle of January and it already feels like a long year. We’ve had to make sacrifices for the pandemic but we’re still carrying on making the best of it largely supported by unsung heroes. That is what Tracey Enerson Wood writes about in her book The Engineer’s Wife. Tracey joins us today to talk about the story of Emily Warren Roebling. She was married to Washington Roebling, second generation bridge engineer and designer of the Brooklyn Bridge which opened in 1883. Emily de facto took over the engineering of the bridge when her husband became incapacitated by Caisson’s Disease otherwise known as decompression sickness. It’s gained from lowering the caissons or the closed vessels into the water down to the sea bed to build the pilings and structural elements for the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a book of courage and faith, the power behind the throne, losing one’s identity and reclaiming it in the end. Welcome Tracey. Glad to have you here with us.
Tracey: Thank you Diane so nice to be with you today.
Diane: There is so much to unpack in The Engineer’s Wife. It is the story of the Brooklyn Bridge and for many of us that’s one of the most romantic bridges in the country along with the Golden Gate. It holds a storied past and it has always personal anecdotes as well as a broader history. In your book there’s so much twinning of old and new, fiction and non-fiction. The story hues closely to history but then there’s a whole disclosure at the end about what was from your fantasy and what was from the history books. Then there’s the intimate story, the love story and the large scale, the long term versus short term, the individual Emily and Wash versus their partnership, feminism and old school fealty. All of this good love stories involve waiting and this one was no exception. I just was fascinated by all these dualities in the book and spent my time wondering how you were drawn to this kind of perspective of a very subtle, nuanced perspective versus being just on the nose with one idea and rather pedantic. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Tracey: Sure. Well the story really captured me for many reasons, many of which you’ve sort of outlined but because it’s a story of Emily Roedling who did just amazing things, they’d be amazing now never mind back in the 1800s when she wasn’t even, women weren’t even allowed to work. I was just fascinated with this story that has been basically buried in history. Very few people know this story and that was one of the reasons that I wanted to explore it but it was a complex story. You have to understand a bit about the engineering of the bridge to understand the story. There was that part of it. There was the love story and the historical fact that the chief engineer Washington Roedling left for three years during critical time of the construction and left his wife there to basically deal with it and was managing by mail, snail mail as we’d call it now for where there was that aspect to it.
There was also the multi-generational part of it that is what originally attracted me to the story in that John Roebling was the dreamer, was the one who designed the bridge in the first time. It was his brainchild and then it was passed down to his son Washington and then further along to Washington’s wife. That is the part that really sort of attracted me the first place because what I had set out to do was to write a multi-generational story. I wanted to write about a family that shared a passion, a very deep passion but a passion that was also quite dangerous because therein lie the part I wanted to really explore. What happens if you have a family passion, something your occupation, your business that you hand down from generation to generation yet to that very thing may injure you, may kill you and how do you go about those family dynamics. I can talk a little bit about why I was fascinated with that but hopefully that answers your question.
Diane: Well we will get back to why you were fascinated by that but it is fascinating for sure. Something like 20 people, men lost their lives in the building of the bridge. I think it’s a bridge that we look at now crossing the East River and maybe are curious about but don’t know this story behind it. I think you’ve done a great service by bringing this story out. At the time it was the first bridge that crossed from Manhattan over the East River. The president of the United States attended the opening. PT Barnum was another character, a peripheral character in this. Not always sometimes he was central. He had a parade of elephants that walked across the bridge on the inauguration of it but yes, this dynamic of an intergenerational family, a family passion where through thick and thin you have to stick together to get your goals accomplished, to build these bridges and there’s something very symbolic about a bridge but it came at great sacrifice right Tracey? I mean talk to us a little bit about that aspect.
Tracey: Oh for sure. I’m just amazed at the family and what they gave up, what they risked. Basically they risked their own family. They risked their selves to build this dream. I don’t think they ever really looked back. It was something they took on as their mission and it was going to happen heck or high water. That was just the goal. From my research I know that passion, that drive isn’t unusual in this family. John Roebling has several inventions. He actually invited steel wire, a wire rope that is still today used in many, many applications besides bridges and elevators and lots of things. He was a brilliant man and just very, very compassionate and apparently kind of hard to live with if you can imagine. I just was fascinated by not only the bridge, the iconic bridge but this amazing family that stood behind it and sacrificed everything even each other. I think obviously Washington and Emily’s marriage took a great toll there. I took some liberties and trying to imagine what they were going through because of course that’s not all documented but you have to believe, you have to know how difficult that would have would have been for them. I don’t know that we have anything quite the same in in modern day to compare it to.
Diane: I agree and I think strength of character-wise we have not got this, they endured sacrifices such as yes, three years of separation but also the effects of the Caissons Disease. It’s a neurological. It’s the equivalent of what we think of as divers having the bends and decompressing from being in high pressure situations where below sea level. It affects as you say we don’t know the gory details but it affects many areas of the brain, motor coordination and we don’t know what other vital organs that would have affected the marriage as well. I do think it’s fascinating what you say about this level of commitment, this determination, this passion. I was thinking somehow also about how easily things come to us now and how quick we are to bail out when the marriage gets rough and or temptation strikes where you know PT Barnum, easily one of the most charismatic figures of the day. He’s circling the wagons because here’s Emily Roebling and she’s on her own and she’s in effect building the bridge on her husband’s instructions but she’s isolated. She’s lonely. She is experiencing great loneliness. She has a child that also at one point went with Washington Roebling out to Trenton, that was the family home where he went to recuperate.
There were so many times when she came like this close to kind of making it with PT Barnum who of course calls her Peanut because he was the person who first made widespread the eating of peanuts. Why? Because he had elephants in the circus. We can take from that what we will but I just think you’re really on to something here in terms of the depth of this commitment and what it must have been like for you to be knee-deep in research. I wondered if you remember even the moment when it sparked. You just said no, I have to write this story. Was there a particular moment?
Tracey: There actually was. I was actually researching the concept I had talked about before. I was looking for a family that had an occupation that was dangerous and was passed down through the generations. My plan was to write a play on this. As I grew up in northern New Jersey and New York City was sort of was our Oz I guess. I was always fascinated with the skyscrapers and the building especially the building that happened around the 1930s or so when they got the Empire State Building and several other skyscrapers. What I was thinking is what a terrible dark age that was and I had seen photographs of the men sitting up on the I-beams a hundred stories in the air just sort of swinging their legs and eating a ham sandwich. My imagination was I’m gonna write a story about this, the architect or the family of builders and they’re up there on these girders and the son’s got to go out there. Maybe he’s a little afraid and the father says nah, go out there. Chip off the old block kind of thing. Anyway that’s the family I was looking for.
I was just researching different families and occupations and I could not find an intergenerational family that had worked on the skyscrapers in New York City during Depression but then I found out about the Roeblings. First read about John Roebling which I heard the name but really didn’t know the story at all. Then read further and like what he did. He died before the construction really even began and then his son took over and then once I found out Emily’s role in building the bridge, this woman who had no training in engineering yet I have no doubt if it weren’t for her it would not have been done at least not in any kind of a timely manner if at all. Once I found out about Emily Warren Roebling that was it. That was the moment I knew I absolutely had to write her story.
Diane: Well you did it in compelling fashion and we’re going to take a look at what those actually innate feminine traits are that lead women actually to be not bad engineers once applied. It’s not been an accepted profession but it can take you in a lot of different directions. The Brooklyn Bridge, I just I just have to think that there’s also, when you say about Oz and I can so relate to that coming up on the Manhattan Skyline or any gigantic skyline Chicago, LA. It is like Oz. Here you have Paul Goldberger, the New York Times architecture critic on the Brooklyn Bridge saying it is everything we could want in a monument, the scale, the gothic arches but it also has a human scale with public walkways. Part of the romance of this bridge is that human beings cross it every day on their bicycles, on foot. Romances have occurred. I dare say romances have been culminated. A lot of personal memory goes into this bridge. Why? Because it’s not like the Verrazano Bridge where only cars and trucks can race through. It’s a place where people can walk. It’s been done many times during blackouts when the trains weren’t running. There are all kinds of times that people remember the first time they walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I think that there is something interesting about this personal experience on a gigantically scaled project. How many people worked on the project altogether Tracey? Do you recall that?
Tracey: I don’t know the exact number and I don’t think actually anybody does know. I mean it’s certainly in the hundreds. We also don’t actually know how many people died because some of the workers who got the bends as we now know it they sort of okay well, can’t work anymore and they just sort of faded away. They weren’t actually counted real well. We believe the deaths were in several dozens somewhere between 20 and 40. The highest I’ve looked at is 50 but that’s probably overstating a little bit but yes probably about 20 or I’d say let’s say 30 like a number in the middle died and several hundred worked on it.
Diane: There again is pointing to the sacrifice. We actually have to pause to take a commercial break but when we come back we’ll dive into, Ken Burns made his first documentary on the Brooklyn Bridge and was broadcast on PBS. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1982 about a hundred years later. There was a public and personal response to this. We’ll find out more about that resonance when we come back on Dropping In with Tracey Enerson Wood. Don’t go away we’ll be right back.
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Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re talking about the history personal and grand of the Brooklyn Bridge with Tracey Enerson Wood who has written a novel the first of its kind about Emily Roebling, who was the wife of Washington Roebling, who was the engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge. His father was the initiator of the design and he died from injuries sustained on the bridge correct Tracey because he had tetanus isn’t that correct?
Tracey: That’s correct. What happened was that he was out surveying for the bridge. They hadn’t started construction yet. He ironically was hit by the ferry that he was planning to replace with a bridge. He was hit by the ferry as it pulled into the pier and it crushed his foot. He pretty much denied any care not that they may have been able to save him anyway but he denied care and then yes died of tetanus some weeks later.
Diane: Undaunted then was Washington Roebling taking over executing the plans and then he himself contracts Caisson’s Disease then is kind of put out of commission except that he’s able to communicate his design ideas to his wife Emily. She in fact is then on the hot seat and makes a couple of really executive decisions herself concerning the depth that the caissons would descend. She argues that it doesn’t need to go into the riverbed as deeply. It wouldn’t be as dangerous for the men so she stopped at like 78 feet if you can imagine being 78 feet under. It’s really quite a harrowing thing. As you say the multi-generational family saga of facing this kind of danger. I mean it’s sort of like the Jacques Cousteaus. There’s really just a sense of why. If you were Emily Roebling why you wouldn’t say hmm, two men down in the family. I’m in line and rather than shirk she steps up to the plate. It turns out that there’s a lot of really interesting innate analytical and logistical skills that women sort of normally possess in running families and houses. What do you make of that Tracey as an author when you were reading about the plans for the bridge and how it was built? It seems to me that you got fully absorbed in it. I learned a lot from reading your book The Engineer’s Wife. Did you resonate with the logistical engineering aspect as well?
Tracey: Well, I’ll tell you I wish I had a degree in engineering because yes, I had to learn a lot. I had a fairly steep learning curve. I mean I’ve taken sciences obviously in college but as I was a nurse I took mostly life sciences. The engineering aspect of it both was fascinated and sort of terrified me because I was afraid of really getting it wrong and imagining real engineers reading this and say I had to get things wrong. I adhere pretty closely to documentation and try to keep it simple like it’s obviously much more complex than I could put in a novel but I don’t want to say I dumbed it down but I tried to keep it at a level that I knew I could understand well and that my readers would as well.
It was quite the challenge but luckily for me there are lots of diagrams and lots of descriptions of the most important things. I wanted to concentrate on the aspects that would have more of a human dynamic because that the places where Emily would have to make important decisions for example or controversial things rather than or maybe exciting times like when the first wire went up or when someone rode the wire across the river to prove, that was Farrington that to prove its safety and the first ride across it and some of the dangerous things that happened in the caissons and then also in the towers. Those are the bits and pieces where I had to go into depth and understand what was going on so I could relate it in a real way. I certainly didn’t become an engineer but it gave me a great appreciation for them.
Diane: Absolutely and it’s relatable. I mean the amount the information when this wire is going through the hands of Farrington and then there’s a whiplash moment where it actually slips. All of this tension had to have been going on in incrementally in during the days and weeks of building this bridge. I will never be able to look at it in the same way again. I’ve gained so much appreciation for it through your book The Engineer’s Wife and it was as you say compelling for the personal story and oddly as I mentioned Ken Burns did his first documentary on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1982, 100 years after it was built. He said the public response to the story he had told he remembered back to his college days that they debated endlessly whether films had any impact on people’s lives, whether they really ever made people do anything but after the documentary first appeared The New York Times ran a front page photograph of a married couple and their children walking over the Brooklyn Bridge and they said they were from Idaho. They traveled all the way to New York so their family could see firsthand this remarkable structure.
They said they got the idea after watching a film on PBS. To me the building of the Brooklyn Bridge is still one of the most dramatic stories in all of American history and still people just have the desire to take a simple walk across. It’s almost as though you can feel the history, the palpable history the closer you are to it. I think I wonder if you had feedback that as a result of your book that people had more awareness maybe future generations, millennials younger people who might not been aware of this history. Had you realized any of this?
Tracey: Yes, actually. One of my favorite responses I’ve been getting is mostly women but some of them taking an interest in this and saying they had no idea of the story behind it. Without exception they’ve always heard the bridge, they’ve seen pictures of the bridge but when I hear how amazed they are about learning of its story and many of them saying now I know I have to go visit the bridge or I had a young girl talk about she was thinking about possibly engineering. It’s still to this day a bit tough I guess for women in the field of engineering. It was a very short message but she said she felt it inspired to go on so those kind of things just keep you going. Of course, I know there’s probably many more out there that I’ll never hear from but it is my hope and my dream that there will be young women inspired that there will be old people that want to walk across the bridge and feel its stones and wires and just feel the connection with the past with something that is so American. Just the strength and beauty of it is amazing across generations, across races, across countries. To me it is just that most wonderful of monuments.
Diane: I agree and the fact that you can get so close to it and it becomes so tangible. Almost everyone, people remember the first time they were on top of the empire state building, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, maybe going to the Statue of Liberty. I mean it’s an iconic moment and it’s a prolonged moment because it’s a whole experience one that you’ve amplified through the telling of this story. I think it would be delightful to think that young female engineers would be encouraged by this story, this Marguerite Rawalt who said, “The world needs scientists and engineers. If a brain is qualified to do such work it should be encouraged not smothered because it’s a female brain.” This was actually a recent quote. STEM is still an area where young girls need support to develop their skills but hey, look the other thing the Roeblings did was to start create to create bloomers so that so that Emily didn’t have to keep wearing her ginormous circle skirts down into the caissons. I mean this was also really fun and they did it as a partnership.
Tracey: Yes well that actually I will have to say was imagined. I haven’t read historically that she wore boomers on the site but I figured she he must have because it was dank and dirty and climbing around and I couldn’t imagine how she would keep her skirts clean. I know that she was in fact an excellent equestrian and that she would have been used to wearing that the clothes are allowed for that. Probably she would have been one. This was exactly in the era where they were experimenting with pants for women that we call now but obviously that wasn’t allowed. I put that in the story. I think that’s what she would have done.
Diane: I think so. I think you inhabited her character correctly. It’s really interesting because she was a sort of an involuntary, she was a suffragette but she was an involuntary hero in that when her husband was sidelined she became involved in the engineering. It wasn’t necessarily her singular honor. It was one that she shared with her predecessor, with her husband and his father. It’s something of a story of being behind the scenes as well whether you’re in bloomers or not. We can imagine but it’s interesting to me that you’ve raised this story of a heroine who did step from behind the scenes. She was ultimately recognized for her achievements was she not?
Tracey: Yes, she was. For example there’s a small piece of the speech that Abram Hewitt did at the opening and he did recognize her and also praised education for women which was a huge thing. Emily in my book of course is very honored and that’s probably like the favorite thing ever that like well I did accomplish something because maybe I’ve changed the role for women but as far as her being in the background and doing all she did I don’t think it was her first choice. I think she would have just reading her letters especially her letters to her son John that she never sought the limelight. She was a behind the scenes kind of person. That’s the way women operated a lot. They got things done but they got it through convincing the men or through their money as her social circle did but she never did it for herself.
I’m sure uh that she tried to push it off on the other senior engineers like C. C. Martin for example but I think it was wash who was like the quote you mentioned thought that she had the brain, knew that she had the brain to understand it because remember they did the Cincinnati Bridge basically. They’re living together in a tiny little place. They were newlyweds and she would have at that time hung on his every word because he knew that she had an attitude for that. I think Wash would have really pushed her to do it. Now it’s not really written down in their letters but just from kind of reading between the lines I think that was really the push that he wanted her to do that. He gave her the confidence to do it. He didn’t give her a lot of choice in the matter sometimes because he refused to see anybody. In the years before he went back to Trenton he basically stayed up in his bedroom. When people came by he would.
That’s in the book and that’s absolute historical fact. He wouldn’t talk to them. Ipso facto she kind of had to. What else is she gonna do? She couldn’t have the engineers come in and talk directly. She had to get in the middle of it and once you’re in the middle of it you’re in the middle of it. He was fading for many of those years. He did recover and his mind was pretty much sharp but he had some episodes that nearly killed him. I think those were the times where she just sort of buckle up buttercup and went on.
Diane: Think the other thing that it was fraught with for her is that she did develop a public persona. She did wield power. She wielded considerable leadership but internally she was suffering because of the loneliness within a marriage. Being lonely in a marriage is unlike any other form of loneliness. It’s lonelier than many other forms of loneliness. One person described it as a void that you cannot cross, a dark void that you cannot cross. I thought to myself so interesting that the bridge metaphor kind of does cross this void. She was sorely tempted. Emily Warren Roebling had the affections and attention of P. T. Barnum. She may have had others as well and this internal conflict that she had to resolve was maybe even a deeper one than the external having to assume authority when you’re really reticent about it but we are going to take a commercial break now.
When we come back we’re going to find out what happened in terms of the actual keeping the skirts clean of Emily Warren Roebling. How that dynamic worked out? Don’t go away. We’ll be right back with more on Dropping In.
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Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with author Tracey Enerson Wood who’s written a novel The Engineer’s Wife and another upcoming novel The Army Nurse. Tracey, you’re cultivating I think a series of iconic women. Women who maybe had to step from the shadows, who were unsung heroes but emerge as true heroes, heroines. I do think there was a toll here for Emily Warren Roebling in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. She was enormously lonely. Her husband basically decamped to Trenton, outside of New York City. She was stuck with a job. She rose to the occasion in spades but inside she was depressed. She longed, let’s say she longed for intimate companionship. It had been three years since she’d been with her husband in that way. She was courted. She was an attractive woman. I’ve looked at her photographs. She was courted by none other than P. T. Barnum, a larger than life character if ever there was one. As much as there’s a sacrifice for something bigger than ourselves she really was challenged by this wasn’t she?
Tracey: Oh, I think so. If you read some of the letters especially the letters to her son John you can just feel her frustration and loneliness. She wrote to him, her son at one point was said, I’m going to loosely quote her saying that your father will do nothing. He is just beyond me. I can’t reach him. Those kind of things just during one of the very, very dark phases. You know that had to be just crushing. To read the early love letters between Emily and Washington, you would know how much they were in love, how very close they were, just their silly jokes with each other and their playfulness. It was truly a love story, a very loving marriage and then to have his illness, his condition basically come between them. Then also of course the building of the bridge falling on her with him being sort of this cranky guy back up, locked up in his bedroom issuing orders.
That had to be very tough and she didn’t have the training for it. She was taking just daily grief from everybody she worked with because she was unqualified. It had been just very, very stressful. I would think that she would want an outlet to be able to go out into society and just sort of have fun but she was also being harassed in the press and in society, just sort of heckled on the streets in some cases and not able to follow her real goal which in her mind was to join or lead maybe even the suffrage movement. A lot a lot of frustration. You’ve got to think there were temptations out there, the actual love story between her or not really love story but the relationship between P.T. and her is largely imagined because much of that is erased from history even though there’s lots of historical documentation that they had to have worked together in a number of ways. He moved very close to her, a lot of circumstantial evidence but it’s basically been erased. I think there’s good reason for it to be erased because that’s what they did back then. They paid off the papers and stuff not to report those kind of things.
Her everyday life must have been just very, very, very difficult. Like you said she rose to the occasion in spades. That’s why I think that she’s an amazing role model to people now to not give in so easily. You can be yourself and yet push yourself, encourage yourself to whatever the dream is, whatever you want to do. Just push and work to get to it. Don’t give up so easy.
Diane: It’s part of a fabric of a marriage too that you’re preserving. You know that once it’s pierced you can’t mend it. She was trying to maintain a stiff upper lip meanwhile P. T. Barnum is courting her with flowers and chimpanzee acts and going to the circus and seeing the high wire acts. All of its dazzling and stimulating and interesting beyond the gritty grime of going down into these caissons and working on this bridge which physically she had to make site visits. She was attracted and lured. I think that’s a very viable storyline to have played into also I think this idea of loneliness. Who are you going to talk to about that? You can’t really say it to anybody. I’m lonely inside my marriage. It’s hard enough to do now let alone then. She was a fairly privileged woman. She had this position. It was a very Victorian kind of times. You couldn’t say anything scandalous or be caught unchaperoned somewhere and it’s still shameful to acknowledge that you’re lonely if you’re married.
It means you’re doing something wrong. It means something wrong has happened. There kind of blame shame kind of and yet I think she did finally talk to someone about it. She had her mother which was also a support but I think what you’re talking about the perseverance and the idea of maintaining the integrity of a relationship versus caving in because you’re having all of these issues. Maybe it is character building. Maybe it does make us stronger. You can say well martyrdom is so played out but maybe it’s not if it’s for a worthy cause and her purpose was a worthy purpose. All of us have to learn what our purpose is and what sacrifices we’re willing to make. I wonder if your military background and you’ve moved place to place. I’ve met you in Stuttgart one time. You’ve since moved back to the states but I wondered if you had first-hand experience with those kinds of emotional states that it takes to persevere until you’re actually reunited and can be together again with your husband?
Tracey: That is true Diane and thanks for remembering that. My husband was in the army for 27 years. We moved, lost count but it was over 20 times. Over and over again getting into a new town, a new base, a new circle of friends, new job. That of course is challenging but even more challenging probably was the absences of my husband. It’s just a training thing. They’re gone for three, four weeks. That actually can be not too bad because you plan to do some things maybe with the kids but you wouldn’t do otherwise. You sort of use that time to have a special time with the kids or with my side of the family for example but there were times where they would leave on very little notice. They were gone within a few hours. You didn’t know where they were going or when they were coming back.
That was the hard part. If you know where they are and you know how long they’ll be gone you can plan for it but the most difficult thing is to not know when they’re coming back. What to tell the kids, how to plan? Do you plan a vacation? Do you stay where you’re living? Do you move on to where you think your next place is? I mean it’s the nebulousness that I found the most challenging of the sort of military life. I imagine that would have been true for Emily as well. She didn’t know if they’re gonna wake up that one morning and Walsh would be able to walk well again. He’d sort of snap out of his funk and because Caisson’s Disease was like that. He’d have good days and bad days. She didn’t know whether and I think probably she hoped and believed that the whole time that he was gonna come back and be fully involved in the bridge and be the chief engineer that he was. I think that’s why she gets done like he’s coming back. I’m just kind of filling in but then he never really did.
I read that he set foot on the Manhattan Tower I think one time in the entire time it was being built. I imagine at that time that was of course a second tower to be built. Then by the time the wires were going across she’d probably realize that this was it. This is the way it’s going to be but I tried to sort of summarize those feelings of working through a marriage that was so challenged. I tried to summarize that in the scene on Coney Island Beach with Eleanor when Eleanor is telling her that you got to get through the breakers, the breakers of a marriage basically. There’s calm waters out there but you’ve got to find each other. That to me was sort of an analogy for the marriage that she was experiencing. I’m hoping maybe people can see that and apply it to their own relationships that get through the tough parts. Get through them together. If you can’t get through them side by side then find each other on the other end and work. Keep swimming.
Diane: Keep swimming. I honestly I thought it was one of the major takeaways of the book. It really for me struck a chord having the idea of accepting what is versus what you thought a marriage was or some fairy tale concept of it. I think you’re very grounded in reality. I think that you also spoke to this interior life in a very sensitive and compelling way. I’m not at all surprised that it came from a kind of a first-hand view and feelings of your own. I think that it really for me, I just think that having lived through the scandal of say Sarah Ferguson getting her toes sucked by her accountant in Great Britain when Andrew went off to the Air Force or the Navy or what.
I mean she couldn’t even make it through four months or something without getting involved with somebody. You do have to wonder about like the immediate gratification versus the idea of can we possibly work for something long-term. Are our attention spans just so truncated that we can’t even quite make it to think long term what am I really here for? What am at root, this love that I have or that Emily had with Wash. I mean it was profound and in the end if you’re working together on a project of this magnitude or just on life itself is difficult enough with kids, with Covid, with educating at home, everything. It’s a challenge but hey, if we throw up our hands in the middle of it then we’ve lost and it’s won. I do think that you’ve made a case for soldiering on. I think it’s actually very true.
I also think that you’ve done a wonderful job of honoring soldiers and war veterans with another book that I know of from you Homefront Cooking, the proceeds of which went to support veterans. I think that it seems as though you have an affinity for some of the more overlooked segments in our society. Does that feel right to you? I mean that the military has been not accorded always the honor that it should have.
Tracey: Oh yes. I think I mean it’s less than two percent of our population I think that’s ever been attached to the military. If you’re not in it, it is very difficult to understand the life. I mean I wasn’t even active duty myself but at least I had a view of it. I saw how much our service members sacrificed their dedication, I would just look at my husband at you know 4:30 in the morning strapping on his boots because he had to do PT before the work day started like seven. I would just like pull up the covers. I’m like you go for it honey but they work so extremely hard. They’re so dedicated and they don’t ask for any thanks at all. They ask for very little. That population has always been very dear to my heart. With Homefront Cooking, thank you for looking at it. I felt that I could give back a little bit. It was not only about raising money to go for veterans. It was also about preserving their stories and I wanted to center it about food. I went to veterans and say, what’s a favorite recipe that you share that means something to you and I felt those stories were getting lost and so that’s why I wrote it.
Diane: The personal stories are the best. Tracey Enerson Wood, it’s been delightful having you with us interweaving the personal in the historical and the unsung heroes which we must remember in this time of the pandemic. Good luck with the next book. We’ll be back to you on that. Thank you to Matt Weidner and Aaron Keller, our engineers. To Robert Giolino, our executive producer, most of all thanks to our listeners. Stay safe out there and remember to keep building bridges. Till next week thanks for dropping in.
Thank you so much for dropping in. Please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8 AM Pacific Time and 11 AM Eastern Time on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see you then.