Patricia “Pat” Abbott looks out the window of her home on Corbett Creek Road. The mist outside hangs low on the hills that surround the cluster of houses that dot this rural thoroughfare, Deer make the rounds from yard to yard, starting with the weather- worn grass in Abbott’s expansive yard.
“It’s not what I would call your typical coffee clutch neighborhood,” Abbott says. “People will help you if you need help, but for the most part, we’re all pretty independent.”
When Abbott first purchased the land she now lives on, moving there in 1994, it was undeveloped and friends and acquaintances were concerned that since she was retired and entering her Golden Years, she was biting off more than she could chew.
“I’m a refugee from the Puget Sound area,” Abbott cracks nonchalantly. “People said I was crazy I had lived there for over 25 years. I was retired and not getting any younger. It just got to the point where I couldn’t deal with the traffic over there and the gang warfare was getting pretty bad.
“In the 1950s, I could drive anywhere through Seattle, day or night, and it was no big deal. The 1980s? No way. There were places in Seattle that I wouldn’t drive through during the daylight.”
Abbott, 86, has a habit though of blazing her own trail despite the differing opinions of others. Born in Canton, Ohio, Abbott’s father was a research engineer and metallurgist and her mother stayed at home with Abbott and her siblings. She remembers a livelihood that revolved around heavy industry, steel mills and sundry factories, perhaps helping to reinforce her own strong determination and motivation to go out beyond the world she knew.
Seeking something to sink her teeth into
“I was not going to stay in the Rust Belt,” says Abbott. “That was not for me.”
She cajoled her parents into allowing her to go to college like her brothers and she graduated from Ohio State University in 1948 with a Bachelor of Science in Education and Sociology. While Abbott considers herself a proponent of learning and education, she felt as if she wanted something more than just a degree.
“At the time, there wasn’t really a lot of options for girls in college,” Abbott recalls. “You could major in nursing, dietetics, or be a teacher. College was seen as a place where you would go to find a good husband more than you would pursue an education to further yourself in a career field. I was seeking something I really wanted to get my teeth into.”
The opportunity presented itself through the United States Air Force. Abbott’s brothers and male cousins had enlisted during World War II, then again during the Korean War, so “I thought that maybe it was my turn. I was a bit of an adventurer anyhow, and the military held the promise of travel.”
“My parents were not thrilled about me joining, but by then they knew me well enough to know that I was going to do what I wanted to,” adds Abbott.
In her early 20’s, Abbott enlisted for six years, starting with Officer Candidate Training at Lackland, Air Force Base in Texas and moving on the Shreveport, Louisiana for three years.
When to speak up and when to not
“Honestly, I did not like that place at all,” Abbott says about Louisiana. “It was so hot, humid, and enough mosquitoes to form clouds. I suppose I should have put in a greater effort, since my father was from New Orleans, but I did not miss that place when I left it.”
Another difficulty Abbott encountered in the military was the lack of fellow females and available jobs. The era represented a particularly critical period in armed forces history.
After a year of bitter congressional and public debate, President Harry S Truman had signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948, establishing a permanent place for women (other than nurses, who were already permanent) in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
During the 1950s, opportunities for any but traditional job assignments declined significantly. More than half the women worked in “pink collar” positions such as personnel and administration and their basic training included stereotypical “women's” classes like makeup and etiquette lessons.
Abbott worked in Intelligence, organizing, filing and collecting data.
“I was what you could call a librarian. I would get assigned to a unit, show up, and the commanding officer would literally look at me and say, ‘I just don’t know what to do with you,’” Abbott says. “I served under several great commanders who realized that, man or woman, we were all there to do a job. I served under several other commanders who just did not like women and they let it be known. At the time, complaining about it wouldn’t get you anywhere. You learned real quick when to speak up and when to keep your mouth shut.”
Despite the discrimination and harassment, Abbott is not bitter.
“That same distasteful stuff happens in civilian life as well,” says Abbott. “You just have to stand by your guns. It’s a fine line.”
Abbott took full advantage of the opportunities presented to her through the U.S. Armed Forces, including the advantages of being stationed in London, England. At the time, there was no base housing, so officers were permitted to live off base. Abbott rented an old flat and converted it into an apartment, taking her off time to explore the city’s numerous cultural offerings.
“I enjoyed London thoroughly,” Abbott remembers. “There were concerts and shows at the Royal Albert Hall, dancing, museums---life was gay!”
Surrounded by other countries, Abbott also eagerly went forth to see the sights in Ireland, Germany, Spain and France.
“Train tickets were cheap and there was so much to see,” Abbott says. “I was young and wanted to see it all. You’d be stupid if you didn’t.”
Abbott was honorably discharged in 1958, leaving with the rank of First Lieutenant. She maintains that serving in the military was a broadening experience, exposing her to many different types of people and ways of thinking.
“I met some wonderful people and it was good for my overall perspective,” says Abbott. “You get tossed in the mix with a variety of people from all different backgrounds. You either sink or swim.”
Travels with Vicky
Using the G.I. Bill, Abbott moved to Western Washington and obtained a degree in personnel management from University of Washington. She worked for Safeco Insurance in Administrative Personnel for over 20 years before retiring from that job and starting part-time at an R.E.I. franchise. She would work there for four years, using her income for more adventures, this time traveling cross-country with her German Shepard, Vicky. Again, friends expressed concern that Abbott, a single woman, would go on extensive road trips by herself, camping most of the way.
“I wasn’t by myself; I had Vicky,” states Abbott. “She was a very good dog and a great conversation starter. I met a lot of nice, interesting people by having her along. Plus, you just use common sense. I would never camp near a big city. I would just stay in a motel. If I had a weird feeling about something, or if Vicky looked like she didn’t particularly care for a place or person, I would trust my instincts.”
With her loyal canine companion (long since deceased), Abbott went up and down California. Oregon, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, through the Midwest, and occasionally into Canada. They would hike and backpack around parks and campgrounds, sleeping under the stars when they could.
“The secret to aging well is just to move,” explains Abbott. “By that, I mean get off your backside. You don’t have to run or walk for miles and miles, just be active. Like they say, ‘Move it or lose.’”
If Abbott were to offer advice to the younger generation, it would be to pursue higher education and keep a sense of humor about life.
“Education is important if you want to get ahead,” says Abbott. “Also, don’t take yourself so seriously that you can’t laugh about what comes your way. Also, and this holds true whether you’re a civilian or in the military, be smart enough to know when to speak up and when to shut up. In other words, don’t gossip.”