AYER -- The first job Laura Peoples had was a secret.

As a high school student, she wrote book reports for her classmates based on stories she made up.

"I used to get $5 from the kids for every book that they wanted me to write," she said. "Five dollars, and it was beautiful."

But the 92-year-old recalls many more exciting jobs in her life -- such as the sense of adventure and the good pay that drew her to the Charlestown Ship Yard in the midst of World War II.

It was about 1943, and Peoples left her job as a mess-hall worker at Fort Devens for the city. She rented a room with another woman in Boston, leaving her parents in Groton behind.

"I wanted some adventure, some excitement," she said. "Because living in a small town, there was nothing exciting."

The United States was two years into a war that took away its men, resulting in the iconic "Rosie the Riveter" character that encouraged women to work. Everyone knew the shipyard was dangerous, Peoples said, but that did not stop her.

"When you're young and crazy and the money is good, you don't even listen to your parents," she said, sitting next to her cane on her living room sofa in Ayer.

She holds up a miniature mold of the U.S.S. Missouri -- the battleship on which Japanese forces surrendered in 1945, and the ship she helped build. Her voice is somewhat gone from three years of inhaling sulfur, but Peoples said she enjoyed working as a welder.


The aura of the shipyard, she said, was strictly business. Occasionally, she would see captured enemy ships coming into the harbor.

"There was a certain place in Boston where they took all the prisoners and a lot of them were young kids," she said. "It was pitiful to see that."

Work on the shipyard was exciting and dangerous -- sometimes she worked nights.

"The whole town of Charlestown was blacked out when the ships were going overseas," she said. "They didn't want anyone to know where the ships were going."

Peoples welded together parts for the battleship, along with many other young women and men.

"I enjoyed it, I really did," she said. "It was so sad seeing all the ships being loaded to go overseas."

Peoples is quick to clarify that she was not a riveter; as a welder, she used a torch and not the rivet gun, but her father was. They followed each other in jobs, from Fort Devens to the shipyard and later to Ayer's old tannery.

"My father and I were very close," she said.

Peoples left the shipyard three years later, settling down with an Army man whom she met at a party in Devens. The two moved into a house in Ayer, where she raised her only son and where she lives today.

"I like Ayer," she said. "It's a wonderful place to bring up children."

From Fort Devens to her last job as a nurse's aide, Peoples still kept up her original gift of storytelling. She wrote a children's book for her friend's daycare.

She pulls out a binder filled with colorful pictures that tell the story of Samantha and Raul, two children wandering in the jungle. It's the gift God gave her, she said, and she refused when people suggested that she go to school for it.

"I said to myself, 'I'm not going to learn how to do it,'" she said. "That's the gift I got from God on my own."

Despite years of hard work, Peoples is still active. Her Native American ancestry makes her an interesting cultural addition to the town's annual Fourth of July parade, and although her bad knee prevented her from walking this year, she still showed up -- in a limousine.

Peoples even drives up to New Hampshire for church on the occasional Sunday, and seven years ago, she became a certified missionary. With her vision still fine and her teeth intact, she insists that God has blessed her.

"I won't say that I'm cheating death because when it's God's time to take me, he'll take me," she said. "But I enjoy living and while I'm alive I'll try and help other people," she said. "That's the only way to go."

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