As December 7th, Day of Infamy, approaches, I’ve been considering my memories of that wartime and trying to sift and sort them.My first memory is not even my own, but my parents showing me a picture of myself and saying it was taken on December 7th. Later my parents would talk about how every able-bodied man rushed to the recruiting offices to enlist and felt disappointed and somehow unpatriotic if they were turned down. My father wanted to enlist but was too old, so he tried to get into a program where he would relieve a lighthouse keeper who could then go to war. However, he could not pass the hearing test.
My own memories are, of course random ones. I don’t recall being actually afraid, but I was certainly aware that something very serious was going on in the world. By 1942 we were living in Medford, and that’s when I first recall the air raid drills. A loud wailing signal would sound, and my parents would hurry around the house pulling down the black-out shades on each window. Though I never saw him, I knew that an air-raid warden patrolled the neighborhood during these drills, checking for compliance. In my young mind, I don’t think I truly associated this with the possibility of being bombed, but when they painted the gold dome of the State House in Boston with gray paint, I was certainly aware it was done so there would not be such an obvious bombing target.
War, if I could even imagine it, was very much something that was happening somewhere else. There must have been a special radio broadcast at noon because my Aunt Dot would have the radio on as we ate lunch, and to this day I can still hear a voice saying, “This is Edward R. Murrow reporting from London.” It must be my imagination, but I think you could even hear the bombs during that broadcast. This, of course was before the days of television, so I was spared the visual images. I do, however recall being taken to the movies and when the newsreel showed Hitler, my Aunt Maude covered my eyes so I wouldn’t see such an evil person. My only personal connection was praying each night for a cousin who was a Marine and ultimately fought at Guadalcanal.
As I’ve tried to categorize my memories, I find that the majority are about rationing. My earliest memory is of going with my Aunt Dot to a rationing center and standing in line to get ration coupons for sugar to make a fruit cake. Butter was also rationed, so people began using margarine which came in unappetizing-looking one-pound white blocks. Included was a small coloring packet, and sometimes I was allowed to help squeeze the color into the margarine. Because meat was rationed , my Aunt Dot was quite surprised when, one day, she looked in our refrigerator and saw a delicious-looking steak on a plate. She figured my father must have bought it in the North End and left it for our lunch, so she cooked it, and it was quite tasty. We found out that night it was horsemeat my father brought home for the cat! That cat, by the way was named Victory by my father .
If there was any patriotic activity, our family did it. We flattened tin cans and saved newspapers “for the war effort” though I have no idea where my father took them. Each week my father proudly gave me a quarter or two to take to school to buy stamps for war bonds, and he spent every waking hour of daylight that he was not at work tending an impressive Victory Garden.
Though the experience of wartime was distant and filtered through the adults in our life, the excitement of the war’s end was contagious. On VJ Day my friend MaryEllen and I organized a noisy parade, marching along the streets of our neighborhood waving small flags, banging lids and pans. A neighbor came out and scolded us for making so much noise as her husband was trying to sleep. “The war is over!” “The war is over,” we shouted boldly and jubilantly as we went on with our parade.
© Dorothy C. Judd
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