I fear losing the collective memory of a generation, a very unique generation. Born in the 1930s we are small in number and all aging into our 80s. We are what I call “The Last Ones” We are the last who can remember the war, it’s rationing, its tensions and its joyous end.
We are the last ones who remember the post war boom and the formation of the American Middle class. We are the last ones who grew up without television; instead imagining what we heard on the radio.
We are also the last ones who grew up feeling safe. By the mid-fifties all that began to change.
Some call us The Silent Generation. That may be the case, but I hope this blog can capture and celebrate the memories of other children of the 1930s from around the country. The focus has been the post war years of 1945 to 1955, but that can change with your guidance.
I know there are lots of nostalgia pieces flying around about old time radio shows, 78 rpm records, and the candies we had back then. That's not what I’m hoping for. I'm hoping this blog can capture our stories and feelings and observations of those times.
Please read on. Share this blog so that more can remember, some will learn and none may forget
I was seven years old in 1941, living in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio but had no inkling of war-related issues and constraints at that time. My dad died in 1941. Mom was an accomplished legal secretary and supported my younger sister and me.
Around 1944 we moved to a Miami Beach apartment where mom worked as J.C. Penney’s private secretary. He transported her to and from his mansion every day in a limo.
Kids of my age were free to roam the area at will in those days. No drug problem existed then. We’d play various types of hide ‘n seek games on the rooftops of nearby homes until well after dark. Mom was a good swimmer and had a special pool pass so we also did that fairly often.
Only once did the evidence of war show up. One day at the beach I saw a submarine a few hundred yards offshore chasing a PT boat which was trying to get away from it. Suddenly there was a flash and “boom” from the sub’s deck gun followed by a near-miss spray near the PT boat. For a moment I wondered “Is this a movie, or what?” I finally realized that this was a German U-boat firing at one of our PT boats!
Busy as she was, mom took me to a small airport once, where I had a ride in an Ercoupe.
I knew then that aviation was for me! Mom was then going with my stepdad, who was in the Army in North Africa. After the war ended, I can still remember going down to the train station to pick him up, still in uniform and carrying his duffel bag. Read More
In 1941 I was six years old, and although I remember Christmas that year, no one made me aware of the bombing of Pearl Harbor three weeks before. I’m sure they were trying to shelter me from the horror of the attack, but I’ve always regretted that my parents didn’t alert me to the significance of that day.
In the early 40s, anything that cost a dollar was an expensive item. I do remember a neighbor lady complaining to my mother that a trip to the grocery store cost almost twenty dollars. For that matter I do remember my mom sending me to the local neighborhood grocery with eleven cents to buy a loaf of bread.
During those days, I remember a horse drawn wagon coming through the neighborhood selling fresh vegetables. (I wonder now how that worked with food rationing going on.) Another entrepreneur would come by offering to sharpen knives and scissors. Paper drives were in vogue. I never quite knew what they did with old newspapers and magazines, but it seemed very important. We donated any metal utensils and old pots and pans. We saved bacon and other kitchen grease for the war effort and turned our collection into the local butcher. They told us it would be used in manufacturing ammunition.
Rationing took away our butter. We were able to get white oleo margarine where they attached a packet of yellow food coloring you had to add to make it look like butter. Some ‘oleo’ had a colored bubble inside and you kneaded it for several minutes to spread the color around. I understand it was the dairy industry who demanded no margarine could look like butter. Mom would let me stir up the mixture.
Gasoline rationing was in place. Our family car had a B sticker which allowed us to purchase a little more gas than the A sticker. I guess it was because of Dad’s job with Pan American. My Uncle Dick had an A sticker. I don’t remember what he did for a living. He had a 1934 Ford coupe with a rumble seat where I got to ride sometimes. He and Aunt Henrietta lived in downtown Miami. He was an Air Raid Warden and patrolled the streets around his apartment during black outs to ensure no unauthorized lights were showing. He wore a white helmet showing his badge of office. He was very proud of that.
Automobiles had the upper half of their headlights shaded. Along Miami Beach all windows had heavy shades installed and were drawn at night. This precluded any background lights from illuminating the tankers and cargo ships traveling just off shore in the Gulf Stream. This procedure surely helped stop the massive sinking by German submarines in the early months of the war. Read More
December 7, 1941 may have been “a date which will live in infamy” for President Roosevelt, but it was the beginning of all kinds of strange and scary events for a four-year-old. The wailing sirens and darkness of blackout drills stand out in my mind.
We lived on a dairy in Baldwin Park, California. Baldwin Park is located only 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles. In the days before supermarkets, it was not uncommon for dairies to be located near population centers. On site retail marketing was a common practice.
Oglesby, a sleepy little farm town in the midst of vast fields of corn. Northern Illinois about 100 miles southwest of Chicago. No interstate, no supercenters, TV or cell towers. Nickel movies on Saturday afternoons. Tom Mix, Three Stooges and war time news reels (remember the narrators voice?). Yo-Yo contests at intermission. Mine had rhinestones and could “walk the dog”.
In 1941 when my grandmother died, my father bought the 77 acre farm from his siblings and we moved from Tampa to Mayfield, Kentucky.
Our house in Kentucky, where my father had grown up, was without electricity and lacked indoor plumbing for about the first year, as I remember. Our house was heated by a fireplace and portable oil heaters.
We survived growing most of our food on the farm. We did not have a car initially and made the three mile trip to Mayfield in a wagon pulled by horses.
I entered school in the second grade. My school did not have indoor plumbing facilities.
If you grew up in the 1940s you remember this villain who could – and did – strike anyone. Did you have a special experience?
Not all memories about this era make me smile. A villain lurked in all our childhoods back then. We talked about the villain, but always in quiet tones. We worried because we didn’t know when he might strike or who might be stricken next. We heard he could strike when you took a drink at the water fountain in the Hollis Theater or went swimming in Learned’s Pond. Parents couldn’t protect you. Nothing could protect you from polio. Read More
This post introduced our blog in April. It’s a special post about those who came of age in the 1940s and early 50s, “the Last Ones.” We are the last ones who personally experienced the scarcity of the depression, the patriotism during World War II and the exuberance in that brief, post-war period when we felt safe and when the middle class was born. Your stories are special. Post your stories here. I’ll share them.
We are the last to hear Roosevelt’s radio assurances and to see gold stars in the front windows of our grieving neighbors. We can also remember the drama of “D Day” and the parades in August 1945; VJ Day.
We saw the ‘boys’ home from the war build their cape style houses, pouring the cellar, tar papering it over and living there until they could afford the time and money to build it out.
If you didn’t live your childhood during World War II, please read one account (mine) below. If you did live through the war, what are your war time memories? Submit your story – or just a comment – below. I’ll share them.
“If the Japanese win any more battles they could win all the way to California,” I heard my grandmother say. She was sitting at the scarred desk that served as the hub of our small dairy farm speaking on our only telephone.
I was sure I shouldn’t be listening so I slipped out to be with the men in the dairy.
I had I overheard some of the men talking about how all the Japanese out west were being rounded up and sent out to the desert. Today they were talking about which of their friends were going off. We were a Navy family – my father and two uncles were gone. Two of our men were headed for the army. That would leave just my grandparents, my mother, my Uncle Carl, and me to handle the farm. We did share help and work with our neighbor farms. Read More