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
Today we call it PTSD, back then we called it ‘shell shock.’
I looked forward to visiting my cousins in town. I especially liked it when we scrounged around the neighborhood and made fairly workable guns out of blocks of wood, clothespins, and strips of inner tube. One day, while we were wandering around the streets and alleys playing war and searching for anything we could break, a wild-eyed man jumped out at us, screaming and waving his arms. I recognized him: He was a distant cousin, Guisto. He jumped toward my cousin Dick, then toward me. My cousin John, the calmest of us, stepped in between.
“Guisto!” John barked. Patting himself on the chest and pointing to the rest of us he said, “Cugini, cousins.”
Guisto calmed down, lolling his arms around his sides, twisting, moaning. John approached him a ways and called out to us over his shoulder, “He just wants to go home.”
I knew the story; Guisto was wounded early in the war and spent years in Army hospitals. While he was away, his family moved two streets over. When he came home from the hospital, he could not accept that his old house was no longer his home.
He would stand in front of his old house and cry for hours on end, demanding that the new owners give it back. All our family efforts to get him to stop, to convince him of the new situation, did not work. Kids got hustled away when he came out because he could be frightening. Then one day Guisto was gone. No one would say where he went. The sight of his tortured face and the sound of his anguished cries remain vivid to me.
The one thing I remember most is that we all felt like we won out over awful enemies. We were on the good side we all knew. We had worked together as a country. Everyone was very patriotic. You could see flags everywhere. We had shared terrible times but now we were going to be OK.
I felt very proud and happy. Today, I remind myself of those days and wish we still had those feelings.
As World War II wore on, life on the home front became increasingly chaotic. Everything was in short supply. Ration stamps came into being. The “black market” raised its ugly head. Outside forces were taking over people’s lives. Unwelcome regimentation was extending from the military down into the civilian population.
The magician we call memory has many tricks up its sleeve. Trivial things often stand out ahead of major events. Its slight of hand hides some experiences and makes clear others. Perhaps we choose what we remember; perhaps what we remember chooses us.
As a first-born son and grandson, love and security surrounded me. A doting grandmother watched over me while my mom went to business school. Three aunts, age 17, 19, and 21 the year I was born, spoiled me. My world was safe.
I remember bits and pieces. Aunt Sue’s idea of babysitting was to strap me in the front seat of a Piper Cub and fly around Southern California as she built up flight hours. She let me take hold of the stick and bank and turn and climb and dive. At least I thought I was in control. I loved it. Aunt Fran had married and her father-in-law lived with them. He had a handcart he pushed around the neighborhood selling fruit and vegetables door to door. I delighted in tagging along as his “helper.” Aunt Rae was busy with nursing school but always had time for a hug and a kiss for Bobby. Read More
I was born in 1940 in Newark and then moved to Union where the memories of the war click in. How can I remember so much?
The dark green light blocking shades.
Daddy’s head lights half blocked.
The running board and rumble seat.
The excitement in the streets on VE and VJ day.
Mixing the ‘butter’ at my neighbor’s house. (Don’t know what we used)
Saving the ‘tinfoil’ from gum wrappers.
Party lines at Unionville 2 5057 J
Mom giving me twenty five cents to walk to the store (Heavens, she’d be in jail today) for a few slices of bologna.
Johnny ride a pony – hide and seek – kick the can – sleigh riding on the street in winter – freedom to roam all over the neighborhood.
My first portable radio – looked like a big lunch box.
Climbing and falling out of many trees…..guess I was a real tomboy.
Oh, and I do remember going to the old, old, Newark airport to mail packages to my Uncle Joe who was a cook (chef) in the Navy in the Pacific. (I still have his hat from 1939.) I remember all the things he brought home….a piece of a Japanese Zero, a hand grenade, a bloody Japanese flag.
Wow, as I said I born in 1940. It’s now 2017. That’s a lot of years!
I was born in November of 1939 and my memories of the war are vague for two reasons: because I was too young and because I’m too old.
My first memory involves listening to reports from the Battle of the Bulge (Dec. 1944 to Jan. 1945) on the floor model Philco (might have been Motorola) radio in our living room in the Bronx. Calling it a living room is a great exaggeration, but it’s where we lived.
My father was an air raid warden. When the sirens went off,
he would patrol the streets to be sure all the lights were out and the shades were drawn. I remember sitting with him listening to the radio in the dark. I had turned 6 years old in November. I have no idea who the reporter was, but my father and I listened with rapt attention. Today, I have a problem with the difference between what I heard or what my father told me.
He said – or the radio reported – that it was so dark that men in the field were wearing something like a miner’s helmet. For years I never thought to question this tactic. But, if you’re in a battle, why in God’s name would you put a light on your head? Wouldn’t that be the best target for an enemy? Anyway, that’s my recollection of the radio in 1945, and my earliest memory of the war. (I suppose I should do some research and find out if there is any truth to my memory.)
Of course, there were the daily routines we all remember: rationing, war bonds, paper and metal drives. I remember soaking cigarette papers, the ones with tin foil on one side, to remove the tin foil, We rolled it into balls the size of a baseball. They were collected by ‘the junk man’ with his horse and cart, to aid the war effort.
And I remember victory gardens. I lived with my parents and three sisters, my grandparents, an aunt and a married uncle and his wife in a three-family house at 4617 Matilda Ave. between 240th and 241st streets in the Bronx.
My grandfather, a boot black, bought the house in 1927. The neighborhood was pretty nice, it was called Wakefield.
Our victory garden was four or five flower boxes on
the back porch filled with basil, parsley and oregano. But on the corner of Matilda Avenue and 241st St.
sat the real thing: an acre of corn, potatoes, cabbages, zucchini and tomatoes. Mr. Spoto, who
owned the garden, guarded it like it was Fort Knox. Read More
Japanese Internment from the eyes of a four year old.
Robert LaRue b. 1937
My dad often lets me tag along as he makes his rounds of McMullen Dairy. We live on the dairy in the San Gabriel valley of Southern California. A cacophony of voices fills my memory of these home front times.
“Elgin, Elgin, come have a wee taste,” Mr. McMullen’s Scottish brogue rings out from his front porch. We climb the stairs and I watch with the curiosity of a four-year-old as the two men share a glass of wine while discussing the status of the dairy and events of the day. I know my dad’s name is Eldon and wonder why Mr. McMullen always calls him Elgin.
The house sets back among the trees of McMullen’s walnut orchard. I listen curiously to men talking in Spanish as they tend the trees.
We take our leave and walk on out to the cow pasture. Dad opens the gate and we follow the cattle down the lane to the holding pen outside the dairy barn.
The milkers take over and shout the cries of western herdsmen as they sort and move the milk strings into their respective stanchions.
Pete, the dairy operator, comes out of his house. He scoops me up, swings me around, and teases me in his Dutch accented English. He sets me down and he and my dad discuss the condition of the herd. When the cows are locked in their stanchions, Dad straps on his milking stool, sets his bucket under the first cow of his string, and the never-ending task of a dairy farm begins anew. Pete walks me back to our house and hands me over to my mom.
Mom is listening to the Hit Parade on the radio. She sends me out to play while she tends to her household chores.
I approach the backyard fence and listen to the singsong voices of the orient coming from the truck farm next door. The people speaking are bent over tending their rows of plants. A pretty little girl about my age leaves the group and crosses the field toward me. She sits down across the fence from me and we play in the dirt.
My parents have tried to explain that these people are Japanese and somehow different. I don’t understand. I can see that she is darker than Pete’s redheaded granddaughter, Sharon. Her eyes are different. But she is just as fun to play with. We play with few words, but words are not needed. Still, the fence separates us. She does not come to my house and I don’t go to hers.
The afternoon wears on. A woman comes and leads the girl away. She smiles and says something that I don’t understand. I watch as they walk toward their house. The girl turns and her hand comes up in a small wave. I wave back.
Dad comes home from the afternoon milking. Mom sets out dinner and we eat. After dinner, Dad and I go to the living room while Mom cleans up the kitchen and nurses my baby brother. Dad turns on the radio.
The smooth voice of Lowell Thomas comes over the airways. He tells us the news of the day. Most of what he has to say is about the war. The war is not news to me. Like the endless routine of the dairy, it has always been there. It is a part of our lives. We don’t feel it; it is far away. But we hear about it constantly. It is like the sound of the ocean when we camp on Laguna Beach. It rumbles in the background without end.
It is an afternoon like any other. Pete hands me off to Mother. I go out the backdoor to the yard. It is strangely quiet. I can hear the strains of Glen Miller’s “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree” playing from inside the house. But no singsong voices come from the field next door. It is deserted. The plants still stand, green and growing. But no one is taking care of them. The people are gone. I sit by the fence for a while, alone. The death-like silence wraps around me.
I go back in the house and ask my mom where the people have gone. “The Army took them away,” she tells me. She tries to explain, but her words are not enough. Not enough to quell the fear welling up inside me. The first chink in my armor of innocence has been opened.
Having read Ron & Roland Knott’s story, we have one too. Our mom had twin boys on Sept. 11, 1937. Like the Knott boys, the second one was not expected. Mom said she and Dad were very happy. I guess our older sister was too.
We remember the war years. It helped the war effort to produce your own food. We had a “victory garden” and got chickens that produced enough eggs for our family and some of our neighbors. We lived in Port Chester NY, not exactly farm country. After the war the neighbors wanted us to get rid of the chickens, so we had a lot of chicken dinners.
As a little kid, I had scary dreams of Japanese planes dropping bombs. I was afraid of my closet because I knew a spy could be in there! At night the fire whistle would blow and we would have to turn the lights out. We both went on to careers in the art field. We used to draw planes and tanks, etc. on wrapping paper in the war years. Most everything was rationed.
Our two uncles were in the war. Uncle George, our favorite, was in the Normandy invasion.(and survived). Uncle Bob was stationed in Iceland. Our Dad had a deferment because of having four kids and working at defense facilities.
Our Grandmother, MiMi, had a 41 Buick, with an allowance of four gallons of gas a week! All three of her daughters and all the kids piled into the Buick to do the food shopping. She whipped around a corner one time and we yelled out, “MiMi! Brian went out the door!” She was a lousy driver. Cousin Brian wasn’t hurt. At school the kids bought war stamps and when you filled the books you got a war bond.
On VJ day we talked Dad into shooting the double barrel off the back porch. He did, both barrels at once. What fun! People were shooting guns and honking horns. A very happy day!
On to the post years, life was good. People were able to obtain things again; cars, metal goods, bubble gum, sneakers, etc. No more rationing, meatless Tuesdays,… on and on. Let’s not forget.
Prices had been going up fast because of the shortages and then along came rationing. A lot of my memories about those times have to do with all the hitches and squabbles in our big family about rationing and hoarding and swapping rationing stickers. They changed over to tokens and points and we had to learn about when things expired. Some stores would let you trade one kind of stamp for another. One store in our town was like a bank with lots of tokens, points, stickers and ration books. Some people said it was illegal. Ads in the newspapers said, “Don’t pay above the ceiling price!” I worried when I overheard that one of my aunts had bought meat on the black market because my teacher said you could go to jail.
What I remember are the times when our neighbors and my mother and her sisters would all get together in our kitchen and talk in loud voices about rationing. They argued a lot about who owed what from last time and who would get extra next time. The stamps, tokens and checks did not all come on the same day or expire at the same time and that made things complicated. But they always worked things out and they always said they could ‘make do’. Which everybody said.
For those who never saw any of the Burma Shave signs, here is a quick lesson in a different aspect of our ‘Home Front.’
Before there were interstates, when everyone drove the old 2 lane roads, Burma Shave signs would be posted all over the countryside in farmers’ fields. They were small red signs with white letters. Five signs, about 100 feet apart, each containing 1 line of a 4 line couplet… and the obligatory 5th sign advertising Burma Shave, a popular shaving cream.
DON’T STICK YOUR ELBOW
OUT SO FAR
IT MAY GO HOME
IN ANOTHER CAR. Burma Shave
TRAINS DON’T WANDER
ALL OVER THE MAP
‘CAUSE NOBODY SITS
IN THE ENGINEER’S LAP. Burma Shave
SHE KISSED THE HAIRBRUSH
SHE THOUGHT IT WAS
HER HUSBAND JAKE. Burma Shave
DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD
TO GAIN A MINUTE
YOU NEED YOUR HEAD
YOUR BRAINS ARE IN IT. Burma Shave
DROVE TOO LONG
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
IS NOT AMUSING. Burma Shave
GOOD MORNING, NURSE. Burma Shave
TO HER RECKLESS DEAR
LET’S HAVE LESS BULL
AND A LITTLE MORE STEER. Burma Shave
SPEED WAS HIGH
WEATHER WAS NOT
TIRES WERE THIN
X MARKS THE SPOT. Burma Shave
THE MIDNIGHT RIDE
OF PAUL FOR BEER
LED TO A WARMER
HEMISPHERE. Burma Shave
AROUND THE CURVE
WASN’T IT? Burma Shave
NO MATTER THE PRICE
NO MATTER HOW NEW
THE BEST SAFETY DEVICE
IN THE CAR IS YOU. Burma Shave
A GUY WHO DRIVES
A CAR WIDE OPEN
IS NOT THINKIN’HE’S JUST HOPIN’. Burma Shave
LOOK EACH WAY
A HARP SOUNDS NICE
BUT IT’S HARD TO PLAY. Burma Shave
BOTH HANDS ON THE WHEEL
EYES ON THE ROAD
THAT’S THE SKILLFUL
DRIVER’S CODE. Burma Shave
THE ONE WHO DRIVES
WHEN HE’S BEEN DRINKING
DEPENDS ON YOU
TO DO HIS THINKING. Burma Shave
CAR IN DITCH
DRIVER IN TREE
THE MOON WAS FULL
AND SO WAS HE. Burma Shave
PASSING SCHOOL ZONE
TAKE IT SLOW
LET OUR LITTLE
SHAVERS GROW. Burma Shave
I was born in 1934 on a small farm in a small northeastern North Carolina town, Murfreesboro, population about 1200.
it was a rural farming community about 45 miles from Norfolk, Virginia. Looking back, it was wonderful, as life was uncomplicated and I fit the profile of everyone else who had a similar beginning: Saturday movie westerns, usually a double feature, plus the great “continueds” Captain Marvel, Dick Tracy, Don Winslow of the Navy, Green Hornet, and of course Superman and Bat Man.
Our parents were products of the depression……strict and caring.
We moved into town in 1941 when I was seven. My father built a house and I remember him saying that it would take a very long time to pay for it – the total cost was $5500 including the lot. It still stands today.
Our school was in a three story building about 1000 yards from our home and I walked to school every day. The first and second grade was 1/2 below ground so from our chairs we could see the feet and legs of everyone who was outside through the windows. The cafeteria was on that level. Grades three through seven were on the second floor and grades eight through twelve were on the third floor. Stairs only. We had excellent teachers. I even had a teacher who had taught my father many years before when they only had one room for the whole school. She taught math and Latin and was one tough cookie.
In those years following Pearl Harbor, until early 1946, life changed for us in what we had or could get via the rationing program which included most everything. It was put into place for just about everything that you needed soon after Dec. 7th. But being seven years old was still rather uncomplicated.