The World Changes
By Robert LaRue b. 1937
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.
My memory of the attack on Pearl Harbor and our entry into the war does not stand out. Maybe my parents shielded me from the details. Sometime during those early years, we moved out from the town of Baldwin Park to the foreman’s house on McMullan’s Dairy. Scary things like the blackout sirens and the disappearance of the Japanese people next door stand out in my memory. Even so, the daily routines of the dairy kept me occupied and maintained my sense of security.
In 1942, kindergarten caught up with me. I reveled in it. My grandfather was Baldwin Park School Superintendent. If I received any celebrity or favoritism from that fact, I was unaware of it. I fell in love with Miss Rice, my teacher. At the end of the school year, our parting was heart wrenching.
Even so, my sense of bliss was not being shared by the world at large. The world was at war. Lives everywhere were in a state of flux. Governments were intruding on people’s lives and becoming more and more controlling. My world was about to come apart.
When war broke out, my dad tried to enlist. He was deferred because he worked on a dairy farm and had two children. Three of his siblings did join up. Uncle Len joined the navy and completed Officer Candidate School. Aunt Sue became a Women’s Army Service Pilot. Aunt Rae became a Navy Nurse. Dad and Aunt Fran stayed home.
In 1943, an event occurred that is forever blanked from my memory. But it changed my life forever. For reasons that were never made completely clear to me, we were suddenly uprooted and moved from Baldwin Park 500 miles away to Chico, California. It had something to do with the draft board and someone wanting Dad’s deferment. Whatever the reason, Dad was transferred from McMullan’s Dairy to a dairy on a large farming operation in the Sacramento Valley.
The move was traumatic for the whole family. My parents were none too happy. We moved from a cozy bungalow on a showcase dairy to a shack in a row of farm workers quarters. Our new home could have been right out of John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” Dad was demoted from Dairy Foreman to common milker. I was torn away from everything I had known for the first six years of my life.
I started first grade in strange surroundings, knowing no one, afraid, and lonely. War on the home front had taken its toll. Miss Rice and my paths would never cross again.