Here is a philosophical question for you: How can something with no real beginning ever end?
When I changed the channel the other day I saw President Obama announced an end to the war in Iraq. Then I switched back to Dancing with the Stars. I only have one son who ever went to Iraq, and it has been a long time since he came back. So, other than that, I can’t tell you the way the war in Iraq changed my day to day.
When I was growing up, everyone, including the children, knew we were at war.
Walter Winchell announced on the news that we would all have to tighten our belts and give up things because the soldiers needed our all.
We had to have ration books to buy shoes. Parents would give the children their shoe stamps because the children outgrew theirs.
Before the war, the grocer would call my mother on the phone and say we have some special pork chops today, can I send you some? After Pearl Harbor meat was rationed, so we had what we called meatless dinners with canned tuna or dried chipped beef. That was when we discovered TREET and SPAM. I can say they had their own flavor. My brother Tucker wouldn’t eat anything but tomato sandwiches.
Gas was rationed, and so was sugar.
The government sent us the ration books in the mail. We had different books for each commodity. The ration share depended on the number of people in the family. There was a black market where you could buy things without a coupon, but I don’t think my parents ever did it. There was real spirit of unity and patriotism around the war effort, and no one took advantage like that infamous awful country girl.
On the radio we were encouraged to plant a victory garden. My mother planted our victory garden in a vacant plot beside the garage, where we hired a man down on Lomb Avenue to till the earth and he built beautiful raised rows. Everyone laughed when the vegetables came up because my mother had planted the seeds between the rows, down in the furrows, instead of on the raised mounds, so the vegetables looked like they were growing out of ditches. But we still had plenty of beans, squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes to eat.
We had no toys made of metal. I remember my dad telling me when I was old enough to have a bike that it would not happen. You could not get a new bike, much less a new car. Factories that used to make cars were making tanks and planes. All the metal was going to war.
Even after the war ended you had to get on a waiting list to get a new car. After five years of war, our cars were pretty worn out.
But everyone pitched in and did what they could to help out so that the soldiers could come home safe and sound. But plenty of them didn’t. My cousin Chester went missing in the Battle of the Bulge. We didn’t know anything about what happened to him for almost a year.
That sometimes made us feel pretty helpless. But there was plenty we could do. Almost every day of the week there was some chore for the war effort.
We saved used cooking oil in empty tin cans. Every morning after breakfast my mother would pour off the bacon fat into an empty vegetable can and cover it with wax paper to keep it from spilling. Every Monday we carried the cans to school. There would be hundreds of children walking to school with paper bags holding tin cans full of grease. Imagine that.
I remember disliking taking the grease to school. It was smelly and messy. If it got on anything it left a stain. We left the cans outside the classroom. Someone came and took the grease away. I never saw who. I wondered what we were taking the grease to school for. All I knew is it had something to do with making eplosives for the bombs. Sometimes they showed bombing over Germany in the newsreels and I wondered if that was some of our Birmingham bacon fat exploding in Berlin.
The government promoted war bonds everywhere all the time to raise money for the war effort. There were ads in the paper. When you went to the movies there was an ad in the newsreel asking you to buy war bonds. A cartoon of Lady Liberty or Uncle Sam in a red white and blue suit would repeat over and over: buy stamps, buy war bonds. Posters in restaurants showed Uncle Sam holding them up and hawking the bonds. I heard ads asking people to buy bonds in amounts up to $1000.
This effort even reached into the schools. The teachers would announce at the beginning of every week, “Tomorrow is stamp day.” All the children would go home and get the grease off their hands and bring in their quarters on Tuesday. I remembered thinking how long it would take me to bring enough quarters for one of those thousand dollar bonds I heard about.
But for every quarter we would get a stamp to put in a little book just like an S&H Greenstamps book--though I guess that calls for yet another history lesson for most readers today. When we accumulated $18.75 in stamps we could redeem the book at the bank for a war savings certificate. It was on parchment paper with a border around it with War Bond written across it in big script letters. It would mature at $25 if you held it for ten years. I later used mine to pay college tuition. My brother Tucker still has his war bond certificates. He said he thought they would be worth more than the $25.
In other words we were all involved in the war effort. We did what we were told was helpful. Nobody questioned why we did it.
We were even ready for the war to come to us. There was an air warden on each block. At random times a siren would blow and everybody had to pull down the blackout shades my parents bought at Sears. Then we would all run outside as fast as we could to watch from the heights of Ensley Highlands while they blacked out the 11 continuous miles of steel mills.
We could see the glow of the mills from our house every night. But on the night of the air raid drills the authorities would produce a shroud of smoke and bit by bit the mills would disappear.
The people who lived on my block in Bush Hills, rationing shoes and carrying cooking oil to school for our country, would not have thought so. We all pulled together, and did whatever was necessary every day, for a common goal.