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
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
Part 2 of 2 (If you missed Part 1, please click here)
Every day we pooled our eavesdropping, snooping and overheard talk of war from each of our homes. Roosevelt’s radio talks were occasions for excitement and serious deliberation by adults. We watched adults closely for signs of fear. We figured out they intended to keep bad news from us. They didn’t want us to be afraid and I think they did a pretty good job. (I never heard Edward R. Murrow’s chilling reports from London until I was a grown man.)
Almost everyone from our era shares this common experience: we went to the Saturday matinee at the local movie. It was part entertainment, part social and part tribal.
“Gene Autry, a war movie, (maybe Tarzan) seven cartoons and a serial!” That was Saturday afternoon at the movies for many of us. Boys never sat with girls. We threw popcorn. And the noise level was deafening. Here is my account of one such Saturday afternoon and a story that made two of us minor legends.
Leave a comment about your experience at the end of this post.
He was big and I was fast. It wasn’t talked about, it was just understood the way kids understand things among themselves. My cousin Dick at 13 stood as big as some of our teachers and I could run like the wind. These facts took on significance on Saturdays as we prepared for the matinee at the Hollis Theater.
Our Saturday matinees were probably like Saturday matinees everywhere in the 40s and early 50s. We saw two features, usually one western and a war picture. Five cartoons ranked OK but seven was better. The serials, though, were pretty poor. We could always spot where they changed something that allowed the hero, who was doomed last Saturday, to cheat death this Saturday. The oldest of my four cousins did like Nyoka the Jungle Girl, however.