Dorothy Altringer and Lee Herman were teenage girls on an extended adventure when they met in World War II era Spokane.
They were country girls who’d moved to the big city for jobs re-skinning Bell P-39 airplane wings for the military, real “Rosie Riveters.”
Altringer was 17, Herman 19. They had flats downtown and spent their evenings jitterbugging and foxtrotting with young sailors from Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho and young cadets stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base. It was a good time to be young.
“We would go shopping together and buy the same outfit in sizes 12 and 14, then switch the tops and bottoms to get what we needed,” Herman said.
And it seemed like they’d carry on like this for while, maybe grow old knowing each other, but that didn’t happen. The girls became women, married men, had babies moved to other ends of the county, moved to opposite states and didn’t see much of each other for more than 40 years until Herman’s daughter sold Altringer a condominium in Spokane Valley.
There’s a name for friends like Altringer and Herman who meet early and reconnect later after their kids and their spouses are gone. They’re called “bookend friends” because of the way their relationship caps the beginning and ending years of their lives. Their relationship ended Feb. 28 when Altringer died after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. She was 77.
“Dottie – I called Dorothy ‘Dottie’ – was a great person,” Herman said.
Dorothy Altringer put her riveting gun down at the end of the war, married Art Tryon, a Kaiser Aluminum Corp. worker and moved to Trentwood. They had two children, Danny and Susan. Danny was born while Altringer was still a teenager.
“She took her role as a mother very, very seriously,” Susan Kraut said of her mother. “She was a better mother than she was a wife.”
Altringer always dressed to the nines, even while living in a corner of Spokane Valley that at the time was industrial, less than stylish. Nearly all of her outfits matched; the best ones were finished off with a complementing scarf tied around Altringer’s neck. And she expected her kids to dress accordingly, even as she fought them over teenage crazes like longer hair and white lipstick.
Her favorite store was Bernard’s in downtown Spokane. Kraut said it was rare that her mother came out of the store empty-handed.
“I didn’t like to shop. So, Mom would bring home 15 outfits for me,” Kraut said. “And she wanted me to try them on when she came home. I’d be doing something and she’d say, ‘Go clean up. I want you to try these on.’ “
It wasn’t that her mother was a clothes horse, Kraut said. Altringer was more of a perfectionist; she wanted her life to sparkle.
Altringer could make a meal out of anything. She made chicken fried steak that was to die for. Her cucumbers in vinegar were somehow better than anyone else’s, even though the ingredients were hard to individualize.
When she wasn’t cooking, she held canning parties with families and neighbors. And when she wasn’t canning, Altringer was crossing Avalon Road, where she lived, to work on crafts with Peggy Beardsley. Between games of canasta, the two women perfected yule logs.
It was her cooking, the attribute praised most by the people who knew Altringer, that pushed her marriage to Art Tryon over the edge, Kraut said. Tryon had arthritis, which he believed could be relieved with a special diet, one that didn’t include the wide variety of dishes Altringer enjoyed cooking. It wasn’t the only bone of contention between the two, but it didn’t help, Kraut said, and one day her father went to work at the Kaiser mill three blocks away from the family home and never returned.
By the time the couple separated, Altringer was becoming more of her own woman. She had taken a job at Spokane Presto Log, so she had her own income. Kraut remembers what she considers her mother’s first statement of independence, a canary yellow 1967 Chevy Camaro with a cloth top.
Spokane Presto Log is also where Altringer met her second husband, Bernard Altringer. The two dated for a while, then moved into Bernard Altringer’s home in Millwood. Bernie, as Dorothy’s second husband was known, was a good fit for Dorothy, Kraut said.
They danced all the dances Dorothy was fond of as a teenager living in downtown Spokane during World War II. They gardened and they loved to fish. It seemed like there were always kokanee being smoked in the old refrigerator behind the couple’s lake cabin.
Dorothy Altringer didn’t stay at Spokane Presto Log. The company didn’t allow employees to marry. She took a job at Key Tronic as chief administrative assistant and remained there for 21 years. She had a tight group of friends there.
Karen Williams, part of Altringer’s tight group at Key Tronic, said she, Altringer, and four or five others took to referring to themselves as “Miss,” as in “Miss Dorothy and “Miss Karen.” They’d all ask their supervisors for the same days off and hit the road to shop or gamble.
Altringer, as hard a worker as she was, always was ready for a trip with the ladies, Williams said.
But their relationship was more than fun and games, Williams said. Altringer had a way of persuading Williams not to blow her top at work when things weren’t going well. In the same way, Altringer always asked her friends to tell her not to get angry when she was upset. Altringer wanted the peaceful way out; she did her best to keep her cool.
“I remember she’d always say, ‘Oh shhhoosht,’ instead of saying, well, you know,” said Barb Tryon, Altringer’s daughter-in-law.
Altringer retired from Key Tronic with big traveling plans. She wanted to see the world but only got as far as a Richard Simmons cruise before her health became a liability.
She was diagnosed with low-grade Parkinson’s disease. And the bad news didn’t stop there. Bernie Altringer died in the mid 1980s. Within a few months, Danny and Barbara Tryon were in a severe auto accident, and Kraut suffered a debilitating brain aneurysm.
Altringer carried the family through the rough times and then reconnected with her old friend, Lee Herman, as Parkinson’s hit hard.
Herman, that old “bookend friend,” was informed by her daughter of Altringer’s whereabouts. Herman had recently lost her husband, so the two women had time to spend. Within no time, Altringer was asking Herman to spend the night at Altringer’s Spokane Valley home when she didn’t feel she could spend the night alone.
They were two Rosie Riveters, helping each other out.
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