Paul's Corner: Till My Baby Comes Home by Jean Ross Justice
Jean Ross Justice published her only novel, Till My Baby Comes Home, a little before her death in Iowa City at 91. She had been the wife of the late Donald Justice, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and for many years a teacher at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Many, who knew and loved Jean Justice, had no idea that she was, herself, an extraordinary writer of fiction. She published two wise and sophisticated volumes of stories, A Family Feeling and The End of a Good Party in 2008 and 2014.
Till My Baby Comes Home is set in North Carolina in the 1940s and young women had their minds on soldiers on their way to battles across the ocean. Justice understands small town life and the way an event as grand as a World War can change the lives of all it touches.
Hallie Benoy takes a walk with Joe Barbieri, a soldier, in North Carolina on maneuvers:
“You’re different from anybody I ever knew before too! I never met an Italian before.”
“No Eye-ties in your past, no Dagos or Wops?”
“No,” showing a polite disgust with the words, which she’d never heard before.
It was so easy to talk to this soldier; it felt almost like a relief, as if, without knowing it, she’d been saving things to tell him. They’d covered some ground the first Saturday night, when she’d explained about Griffin. When Joe had handed her his address on the sidewalk, he’d added suddenly, “Unless you’re married,” maybe because, close up, he’d seen she was older than he’d first thought. “I don’t know, to tell you the truth,” was what she replied.
“You said you didn’t know if you were married or not?” he’d asked the week before as they walked to Dark Victory.
“He got in some trouble and took off. He’s been writing and sending me money every so often but now, suddenly, the last two years—nothing,” letting a meaningful pause follow.
“That’s too bad.” He gave her a searching look.