The Way It Was| Part 7

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.
While loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

Editor’s Note: Above is a quote Eshrink found while doing research for this series of blog posts: The Way It Was (a glimpse into how he saw life growing up during The Depression and WWII). He said it might be his all time favorite quote so I decided to put it at the top of each post in this series as a reminder of the power of words and the power of love. Eshrink’s writing illustrates the power of both! In case you missed earlier posts in this series, I’ve provided links below.

Welcome to Part 7 of The Way It Was from Eshrink. We pick up where we left off in Part 6, where Eshrink describes the mood of the country before the USA was foisted into WWII.

THE WAR YEARS

The debate about America’s neutrality was dramatically resolved December 7th 1941 with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a day which according to Roosevelt “will live in infamy.”  The memory of that day has never dimmed with every detail remaining firmly etched in my brain.  We were visiting my Maternal Grandparents, and had just finished one of my grandmother’s fabulous Sunday dinners of chicken fried in that old cast iron skillet, which was where she worked her magic.  Dad had recently completed wiring of their house and their new Zenith radio was playing as we sat finishing the mince meat pie.  Suddenly Dad jumped up and ran to the living room and turned up the volume.  Grandad was severely hearing impaired so Dad shouted in his ear that we had been attacked by the Japs.  On our return back to our house, our radio was blasting out the bad news.  The “sneak” attack had come without warning.  Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor_Japanese_planes_viewSeveral of our ships had been sunk, but there was no accounting yet of the number of casualties.   I went upstairs and laid across the bed aiming my brother’s 44-40 Winchester at our backyard vowing to take out any of those slant-eyed devils who might show up.

The next day, not much could be accomplished in Mr. Davidson’ sixth grade class so he used the entire day to discuss current events.  Our morning Pledge of Allegiance was so loud, it was almost boisterous.  When Roosevelt’s speech to congress was broadcast over the school intercom, the room became deathly quiet.  With the completion of that speech, I was even more eager to take up arms.  I was not alone, for recruiting offices all over the country were swamped with potential enlistees.  Two days later, war was also declared on Germany and Italy.  Both countries had joined Japan in an agreement that came to be called the Axis Powers Act and therefore they were assumed to be aligned with Japan.

Fear and Anger

The sense of security we felt due to physical distance from our adversaries had been replaced by fear of invasion.  With our Pacific Fleet decimated, there was concern that the Pacific Coast could come under attack, and those living in coastal area were urged to be alert.  There was not only fear, but anger.  There were rumors of saboteurs not only amongst Japanese residents, but those of Japanese ancestry.  Conspiracy theorists promoted the perception that all Japanese were by nature devious and that their loyalty would always be to the Motherland no matter their status in the United States.  This would later lead to the shameful internment of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry in total violation of The Constitution that we were defending.

forced-internment-japanese-americansMany years later, I would come to know a fellow physician who had begun his life in one of the internment camps.  He had little memory of the experience, but told how his parents and grandparents had owned valuable land in California that was sold for taxes while they were interred.  They came out of the camp destitute.

The next day, December 8, the Japanese invaded the Philippines.  The Rape of Nanking had already gained the Japanese a reputation for cruelty, which was confirmed by what became known as the Bataan Death March.  Somehow, news had reached us about the barbaric treatment suffered by our soldiers following the conquest of the Islands, and our anger morphed into hatred.  Roosevelt’s insistence that we were woefully unprepared for war was proven correct.  However; it seemed as if the country had turned on a dime and the “war effort” was instantly in full swing.

The War Effort

It seemed that almost overnight factories all over the country were converted to producing war materials.  Automobile manufacturing was instantly converted to the production of jeeps, trucks, ambulances and tanks, and planes.  Soon warplanes were rolling off assembly lines in numbers no one had ever imagined possible.  New factories were built in a matter of weeks rather than months.  There was hardly any industry that wasn’t involved in providing war materials.  Almost instantly, military training facilities became tent cities as the number of draftees and enlistments skyrocketed.  Draft boards were busy categorizing potential draftees as to who should be deferred due to each person’s importance to the war effort as civilians.  Those ineligible or unfit for service were classified as 4-F while those whose card was stamped 1-A would soon be on their way.

All In | Everyone Participated in the War Effort

There were many ways for all to contribute to the war effort, and the of feeling of being united in the grand cause undoubtedly did much to contribute to morale and patriotism.  And patriotic we were.  We kids collected scrap metal, paper, and rubber.  There were paper drives in school.  We saved our pennies to buy war bond stamps to be used in the war effort.  We were deluged with propaganda from radio, newspapers, posters, and perhaps most effective of all, the movie newsreels.  Hollywood also got into the act with movies featuring our heroic fighting men and the demonic behavior of the enemy.  It was all very effective and probably necessary in order to mobilize and unite us.

Rationing cards were distributed to cover some foods, in anticipation of the needs of the those in the armed services.  There was also rationing of gasoline, and other petroleum products, along with shoes, and clothing.  I recall that restrictions on coffee and tires were particularly stringent.   Tires were especially important in those days since they were made exclusively of rubber which was imported.   As the war went on, tires became more precious and it wasn’t uncommon for a person to awaken to find his car on jacks without tires.  When a car was wrecked, the first thing salvaged was the tires.  When I worked at Dad’s service station during the later years of the war, I remember we did a brisk business patching tires and tubes in an attempt to get a few more miles out of “bald” tires.ration card gas

Not All Ration Cards Were Equal

Every household had their ration book and every auto had a sticker on their windshield announcing their status.  The A sticker was for those without special needs, the B and C stickers were for those whose driving was essential to the war effort.  There were no self-service gas stations in those days and it was the attendant’s job to collect the appropriate stamp along with the customer’s money.  Likewise, the station would be responsible to match the stamps to the amount of gas sold.

The Good. The Bad. And the Opportunists.

It has been said that war brings out the best and the worst in people, and it was inevitable profiteers would emerge from the midst of the patriots.  It didn’t take long for a vigorous black market to develop.  Although; I had no personal experiences in that regard, it was clear that those people were considered unpatriotic.  Certain things were particularly valuable.  For example, nylon stockings had recently been invented and were highly prized.  Unfortunately; nylon was also needed to make parachutes and the resultant scarcity made the stockings very valuable.   Likewise, a tire with little tread left could bring much more than the cost of a new one.  A guy with a gas can and a siphon hose could find ready customers for his product.  Car care became important for there would be no new cars until the war was over.

Actually, there were ample opportunities for profit without skirting the law.  Companies with government contracts, which included manufacture, construction, and transportation were billed on a cost-plus basis.  Consequently, there was no need to cut costs because the nature of the “cost-plus basis design” meant the higher the costs, the more the profit the company being contracted.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Thrived

There were many rags to riches stories, but my favorite took place in my own town.  He was a Hungarian immigrant who still had trouble with the English language and was frequently seen in the streets all over town pushing a wooden cart mounted on two wagon wheels.  He scoured the neighborhoods for any trash of value.  As the war progressed, the need for metals of all kinds increased, and Harry had a large stockpile in his back yard.  There had been many complaints about Harry’s messy place, but as the scrap and paper drives went into full force, Harry became the go-to guy who could buy and sell the scrap.  He became quite wealthy.  His son was in my class in High school and was the only kid to come to school in a suit and tie.  He subsequently became a lawyer, moved to Hollywood, and used his considerable inheritance to invest in the motion picture business.  One newsreel in particular sticks with me.  It must have been early in the war as it showed groups of solders training with wooden replicas of rifles.  The film was to demonstrate the need for scrap metal of all kinds that could be melted down to make guns.

Support and Spirit AND Opportunity

It seemed that everyone was involved in the war effort as it was called.  There was the USO whose volunteers were present wherever there were uniforms, passing out coffee and donuts and schmoozing the troops.  Women were busy knitting socks and scarves and sending “care packages” hoping the cookies would survive the trip.  Women were entering the workforce and doing jobs never felt appropriate for them in the past.  rosie the riveter dads ww2 blog“Rosie the Riveter” was hailed as a heroine.  Factories were in need of more employees as most began running three shifts.  The word was that there was big money to be made in the defense plants sometimes as much as a dollar an hour.  This got Dad’s attention besides, they needed him in the war effort since he was too old to serve so he quit his man killing job, and went to Akron where he went to work the second shift at the recently built (in record time) Goodyear Aircraft factory where they were turning out Corsair fighter planes at a record clip.

goodyear aircraft ww2 dads blogpniswv0620goodyearhistoryspotlight goodyear factory maybeGoodyear_HangarMany had the same idea as Dad and housing was very scarce, but he found two rooms behind a barber shop on the south side of Akron (not exactly a posh neighborhood) and called for us to come join him.  Mom got a job on the same shift doing some clerical work, and even my brother, who had just turned 16, worked there filling vending machines throughout the plant.  Schools were so crowded that classes were only held in two four-hour shifts per day.  Initially, I enjoyed the solitude of being home alone.  I was able to spend my evenings in the darkened barber shop watching the occasional fights outside the beer joint across the street.  I even had free reign to sample the many hair tonics.  School in Akron was a bummer.  There was a lot of racial tension largely due to a an unusual number of southerners who had migrated north to cash in on those high wages, and were  unaccustomed to dealing with uppity black folks.

I was unhappy and my request to go live with my maternal grandparents was honored, but that is another story (which I have written about previously). Editor’s Note: The story of Eshrink’s experience during WWII while he stayed at his grandparents’ farm is available as a free pdf download at this link or you can purchase the hard copy here. It’s a great read…it makes me feel like I’m catapulted back in time.

Blue Star Families

Almost immediately after Pearl Harbor blue stars started appearing in windows, and soon many would be taken down in favor of gold ones.  Parents lived in dread of the appearance of a Western Union messenger praying that he would not stop at their house with the “we regret to inform you…..” message in the pouch they carried.  My brother graduated from high school in May of 1944 having reached his 18th birthday in April.  In October he would find himself pinned down in the famous Battle of The Bulge.  What letters received were by V-mail, a system in which written letters were reduced in size and printed on very thin paper in order to reduce the amount of space and weight required to ship them.  Although soldiers were forbidden to say where they were or what they were doing in combat, it soon became obvious to my parents that he was there, since no letters had arrived in a long time.  The plight of the troops was big news and Mom and Dad sat by the radio listening to their favorite commentators at every opportunity.  I believe they attempted to minimize the danger in order to protect me, but our family was among the lucky ones for whom the telegraph never came.

The First War Correspondents

Print media was still king of the news gathering business, and correspondents like Ernie Pyle soon became household names.  He put himself in the midst of the action, and sent home stories of personal hardship and bravery on the part of the GI Joes.  His stories were always on a very personal level, harvested from direct observation or conversations with those spending time in fox-holes.

ernie_pyle_marquee2
Ernie Pyle Wearing HelmetAfter covering the European theater, he moved on to The Pacific and was killed by Japanese machine gun fire.  Of those who commanded our rapt attention on the radio, the most famous was Edward R. Murrow, who broadcast from London during the Blitz.  quote-a-nation-of-sheep-will-beget-a-government-of-wolves-edward-r-murrow-35-44-23He recorded his experiences on multiple bombing missions over Europe, and at times one could hear the sound of anti-aircraft.  These flights were not without danger…over 2,000 planes were lost prior to D-Day, according to war department records. After the war, Murrow made the switch to television once that new medium was introduced.

Early in the war, things did not look good.  The Japanese were having their way in the Pacific, England was vulnerable, and invasion was felt to be imminent.  Air raid drills were conducted routinely, even in our small town in the Midwest.  In fact, my future father-in-law was an air-raid warden.  In spite of all this we were deluged with propaganda touting the certainty of victory, not only due to our physical strength, but the righteousness of our cause.  It was fashionable to show Churchill’s “Digital V” for victory sign, and difficult to find a place where there was not a poster with Uncle Sam pointing his finger: telling you to buy bonds, conserve, collect, contribute, or sign up!

Winston-Churchill Victory sign

i want youEditor’s Note: THANKS for reading! Stay tuned for the next installment where Eshrink walks us through the turning point of the war…spoiler alert (the good guys won!)

 

 

 

 

 

The Way It Was| Part 6

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.
While loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

Editor’s Note: Above is a quote Eshrink found while doing research for this series of blog posts: The Way It Was (a glimpse into how he saw life growing up during The Depression and WWII). He said it might be his all time favorite quote so I decided to put it at the top of each post in this series as a reminder of the power of words and the power of love. Eshrink’s writing illustrates the power of both! In case you missed earlier posts in this series, I’ve provided links below.

Introduction: Welcome to Part 6 of The Way It Was from Eshrink. In Post 5, Eshrink wrote about his memories of the late 1930s (pre-war for Americans, but wartime for Europe). He also described everyday life, the values and customs of the day, as well as working conditions that he remembers from his dad’s stories working at a tile factory. In Part 6: Eshrink will write about his first experience with death, which is one reason he posits that he remembers this pre-war period so clearly.

The Way It Was: Part 6

Death | Funerals | Customs

Meanwhile,  ”across the pond,” the German panzers were on their way to achieving their goal of world domination.  In October 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. I recall the name Neville Chamberlain being disparaged, but later learned that his sin was in attempting to appease Hitler in order to spare England from attack.

chamberlain and hitler dads blogIt seemed that everyone except him knew that there would be no stopping the Germans until they had punished all of Europe for Germany ‘s defeat in WWI.  Those dates are remembered by me since the death of my paternal Grandfather was during the Russian invasion of Finland, which happened three months after Germany conquered Poland.  As we listened to the news, I was enthralled by stories of how, although hopelessly outnumbered, a few brave Fins had held off the entire Russian army with soldiers attacking on skis.  That would not be the last propaganda we would hear designed to bolster our spirits.

FInns on skis fighting russians dads blogDeath

My Grandfather’s death was illuminating in several ways.  This was my first experience in dealing with death, and I didn’t like it.  I visited him with Dad just two days before his death.  He was on his death bed as the saying goes and suffering from pneumonia, which has been called the “old man’s friend.”  In years to come, I would hear Dad express regrets that he had not complied with his Father’s last wish to bring him a bottle of Muscatel wine.  As was the custom, when my grandfather died, he was laid out in the parlor for all to see. There was a steady stream of visitors to offer both regrets and food.  In spite of the sadness of the occasion, I was enamored with all those goodies the ladies left on the kitchen table.

The burial was scheduled for three days after his death, which I have been told is just in case of a resurrection.  Ostensibly, for the same reason, it was mandatory that someone stay with the body night and day during the “showing.”  In this case, his children and their spouses took turns standing guard.  I have since read that the custom actually originated due to the fear that rats might undermine the undertaker’s efforts and spoil the whole show.  This particular death is also memorable because it was the only time I ever saw my Father cry.

It was customary to “take leave,” an exercise which took me by complete surprise!  The entire family was herded into the parlor, the door was closed, and suddenly as if on cue, everyone began to sob.  It was so loud that I cringed, and one of my aunts, who was famous for fainting at every opportunity, slipped from her husband’s arms and fell to the floor.  Just as I thought of a way to escape, the sobbing suddenly stopped. Again, as if on cue, eyes were dried, the undertaker closed the casket, and we headed for church where Scud’s virtues were briefly extoled and we made ready for the short walk to the graveyard behind the church (grandad’s real name was Jesse but known in the community as Scud).  Most of his friends would probably not even know his real name.  One’s given name was only to be used by strangers.  It had been a tough day, but all that pie and cake back at the house almost made up for it.

One of my regrets is that I feel as if I had never known either of my Dad’s parents very well in spite of having vague memories of visits there.  Although Grandad apparently had serious problems with alcohol, it now seems to me that he has not been given credit for some major accomplishments.  My one fond memory of him was when he introduced me to sugar on my tomatoes, which converted me to a tomato lover.  At the viewing, one of his acquaintances referred to him as a “tough old bird” which might contribute to him becoming the subject of another blog in the future.   It seems strange that I remember Grandma’s sister but little about Grandma.  The sister hosted the annual family reunion at the large dairy farm where she lived in a grand farmhouse.  We looked forward to these celebrations as they were great fun.  There were cousins galore and an abundance of the participants’ favorite recipes.  One of the highlights of the day was the performance by my great Uncle, who was an award winning “old time fiddler.”

Pre-War America as I Remember It.

During those prewar days, Europe took little notice of my small part of the world, but we were very concerned about what was going on over there.  There was vigorous debate as to what extent the US should be involved.  FDR had managed to increase military spending, and wanted to sell weapons to England.  The isolationists were successful in their opposition to even peripheral involvement by US.  Their view was that we were safe from attack due to the 3,000+ miles of ocean between–an idea that was soon to be squashed.  FDR in one of his fireside chats announced that he was implementing a program he called “lend lease” in which we would lease rather than sell arms to England.   He thereby by-passed Congress and everyone knew that Hitler’s submarines would be gunning for any transport of arms to Europe, which would inevitably lead to war.  I was old enough to understand some of this, and listened to some heated debates on the subject.

Meanwhile, the Germans were gobbling up property as fast as their tanks could take it.  They were conquering France with little difficulty, along with lesser countries.  France had felt themselves impregnable due to the Maginot line; a series of fortifications lining their border with Germany.  Dunkirksoldier1It was a marvel of engineering which I had read about in history class, but its effectiveness was lost when the Huns simply went around it, picking up Belgium in the process.  With that they were able to surround the French and English forces leading to the disaster at Dunkirk as in the recent movie by that name.

 

 

 

The Way It Was| Part 5

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.
While loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

Editor’s Note: Above is a quote Eshrink found while doing research for this series of blog posts: The Way It Was (a glimpse into how he saw life growing up during The Depression and WWII). He said it might be his all time favorite quote so I decided to put it at the top of each post in this series as a reminder of the power of words and the power of love. Eshrink’s writing illustrates the power of both! In case you missed earlier posts in this series, I’ve provided links below.

The fifth installment of The Way It Was picks up after Eshrink illustrated how the technology we have today has made life so easy by describing how they did things and what they didn’t have in the 1930s in his previous post: Part 4. 

The Way It Was: Part 5

We humans are very adept at making stuff, but not so good at predicting their consequences.  When I was a kid we spent most of our free time outdoors only because we had no play stations, cellphones, or TV.  There were no traveling sports teams, other than in high school, and kids were expected to be creative enough to find ways to occupy themselves.   We were free to fight, make up, make friends and enemies, in other words learn how to socialize.  In the January issue of Scientific American is an article titled: “Evolved to Exercise,” which posits that humans must be active to remain healthy, which made me think of the recent statistics regarding what some refer to as an epidemic of childhood obesity.  An even more frightening stat is that Type 2 diabetes, formerly a strictly adult disease linked to obesity, is now being seen in children.

In my own case I lost my super stardom in the 4th grade when we left the little farm and moved to town.  As a matter of fact, I did not feel accepted and became shy.  I was bullied and in response became something of a wimp.  I was saved from the bullies who were routinely taking my lunch from me by a kindred soul who had some intellectual deficits and a speech impediment that left him a few grades behind.  Fortunately for me, he was large in stature and came to my rescue.  This story will be quite familiar to my gang as they have heard it many times and it was featured in the “Papa Stories” which I wrote long ago for the Grandkids.

News of the Day

There are only snippets of memories of those days in the late 30s, but since I had no friends after we moved, I must have spent more time listening to the news on the radio and even reading the newspaper.  I do recall hearing stories about Father Coughlin who was a Catholic priest, one of the first to use the radio as a platform for preaching.  Now 800px-CharlesCouglinCraineDetroitPortrait dads blogsince looking up his history, I realize Dad had disliked Coughlin not because he was Catholic, but because his preachings had become anti-semitic and pro fascist.  Coughlin heaped praise on Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito, and felt Hitler was correct in blaming Jews for his country’s problems.  His programs had taken this turn apparently due to his antipathy toward Roosevelt whom he had initially supported.  He is said to have had 30 million listeners to his weekly program, many of whom had joined his “National Union for Social Justice.”  He was forced off the air when the war started.

In like fashion, I used Wikipedia to fill in the blanks of my foggy memories of the German American Bund, which was a pro-Nazi organization formed at the behest of Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s right-hand man.  It’s goal was to form a Nazi party in the United States.  Membership was limited to those of German descent and even some American citizens were members.  Until now I didn’t realize what a formidable organization they had become with uniforms, Nazi salutes and even the establishment of military style training camps.  I was amazed to learn that this organization was allowed free reign until 1942, well after war had been declared on Germany.

During those prewar days of the late 1930s, there was a lot going on with much concern over Germany’s rearmament.  The news reels showed footage of massive displays of armaments along with thousands of “goose stepping” troops giving the Nazi salute as they marched past Hitler.   Roosevelt’s fireside chats warned of our lack of preparedness, but his entreaties were ignored by the isolationists who had barely recovered from World War I with its millions of deaths.  The veterans of the war who continued to suffer from wounds, disease, or the sequelae of exposure to poison gas were daily reminders of the horrors of war.

Working Conditions & Unions

It must have been sometime in the late 30s when Dad became involved in attempts to unionize his workplace.  His complaint was regarding working conditions. He worked in the “press room” of the tile factory which was said to be the most dust ridden area of the plant.  Indeed, he arrived home from work every day covered in white dust so thick that one could barely distinguish the color of his clothes.  Our town had at one time been world famous for the production of ceramic products of all kinds, and also a place where there had always been a lot of “lung trouble” which was often fatal.  There had recently been studies in which there was shown to be a link between such dust and pulmonary disease and an increased susceptibility to tuberculosis.  This disease was also found to be prevalent in those working in foundries (they used a lot of sand in molds), and recently has been found to be the major culprit in the black lung disease which afflicts coal miners.  It was called silicosis after the silica which was shown to cause it.

The late thirties was the hey-day of union activity following passage of the Labor Relations Act, another of FDR’s New Deal legislations in 1935.  I have rather vivid memories of several evening visits to our house by a union organizer.  There were intense discussions and he left a lot of literature including scientific publications about silicosis.  I thought that stuff was cool.  There were pictures of X-rays, and lungs that had been cut out of people.  I presume that my Father was chosen to head up the campaign to organize the plant because of his reputation of being outspoken.  I recall one discussion about exhaust systems which could remove nearly all the dust in the plant.  Dad was particularly angry to find there were solutions to this problem which the company had ignored.  After all, he knew several people who were disabled or dead as a result of that dust.

The first step was to try to be the first to punch his time card out in order for him to station himself outside the gate in position to pass out literature and talk to any one who would listen.  It was strictly forbidden to do any campaigning on company time and even discussions were grounds for immediate dismissal.  In spite of his best efforts, the vote to join the union was turned down.  I remember Dad saying they were all a bunch of “chickenshit suck asses.” He suffered no immediate retribution, as I think the law protected him from being punished for union activities, although I am sure there was no effort to make things easy for him.  He did have a great deal of respect for his foreman, they had become friends and I suspect he may have attempted to shield Dad.  The company remained in operation for many more years and of course never did anything to ameliorate the dust problem.

As for me, I have always felt a kinship to the union movement.  In spite of the excesses they perpetrated in later years, they did much to not only create a blue-collar middle class but also help improve working conditions.  There is a family myth (might even be true) that my Mother’s great uncle, who was a charter member of the United Mine Workers, once escaped from a group of strikebreakers with noose in hand by climbing out the rear window of his house as they broke down the front door.  Now the UMW is a toothless tiger and once again mine safety regulations are being ignored.

Values

Before proceeding to the war years, I feel it important to elaborate on some of the values and behaviors held important then.  There was great emphasis on manners which extended to the deferential behavior towards women.  We boys were trained that the female was a delicate flower which could be easily destroyed either physically or emotionally, and to strike a woman was not only unmannerly but unmanly. It did seem strange that our Mothers, though obviously female, were tough as nails, and to disrespect her could well unleash not only her wrath but also Father’s wrath.  Discussions in mixed company of anything remotely connected to sex, even the word sex, were strictly for bidden.

All these and other conventions were supposed to be a mark of respect, yet respect in the workplace was lacking.  Women were barred from positions of leadership, and mostly limited to jobs that involved positions in which they were subservient to men, which was also mirrored in their marital relationships.  In general, they were felt to be too emotional to make decisions and to handle responsibility.  We thought we were being respectful, but now I am told the opposite was true.  The war soon to come would shatter many or those stereotypes as women were given the opportunity to demonstrate they were capable of more than nurture.

The Elderly

There was a great deal of respect shown for one’s elders (I was born too late for that).  The rule was that they should always be addressed with the proper prefix (Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc).  The proper suffix should be used in in responding, such as: yes sir, no sir, yes Mam, and they should never be addressed by their first name unless permission was granted.   In private however; they would often be referred to as old geezers or worse.

Table Manners

Table manners were high on the agenda and dinner was always punctuated with instructions as to how one should use the tools, pass the serving dish before spooning out a serving for oneself, and keep elbows off the table.  Eating with fingers was a definite no-no, and to not eat every speck on one’s plate was to insult the cook, not to mention all those starving children in India.

Seen and Not Heard

In the presence of adults, children were to “be seen and not heard” which always left me wondering why we were there in the first place.  One particularly difficult place for me was my dad’s brother’s house, whose wife always impressed me a being “stiff as a board.”  They were childless, their house was immaculate and extensively populated with breakable items.  Upon arrival, I was always directed to a plain chair near the corner of their living room.  I don’t believe she ever talked to me but did occasionally talk about me.  At the same time, I was petrified and scared to move a muscle.  I bode my time by reciting numbers in my head (“a thousand one, a thousand two, and so on until I hit 100, then started all over again.  I remember asking my Dad why they had no children and he answered, “He is a dry bag.”  I only had an inkling what he meant, but didn’t pursue the subject.  In his honor of my Uncle, I named our most recent adopted dog, Floyd.

In marked contrast to Aunt Florence was Aunt Toad, (I never knew her real name, nor how she came to that nickname). She was also childless, but she couldn’t get enough of my talking.  She always greeted me as if I were the most important person on earth and after stuffing me with cookies, cake, and her home squeezed grape juice, she would ask me all kinds of questions, and I would talk non-stop, confessing to all my dreams of being a private detective or airplane pilot, or whatever grandiose scheme came to mind on a given day. She would listen attentively.  She never appeared to doubt my capabilities to do any of those things, and I felt comfortable telling her anything that came to mind.  I think she would have made an excellent psychotherapist even without the cookies and cake.

What We Wore

You may have noticed there are few walk in closets in houses of this vintage or older.  Usually all the space needed was room for a Sunday suit a couple of shirts and maybe a pair of “good pants”.  The suit was for church and funerals.  The pants for family reunions and eating in fancy places. Of course, there was no air conditioning and the suit was mandatory on Sunday no matter the temperature.  A pair of good shoes was also necessary.  Although May 1st was the magic date at which we kids could shed our shoes for the summer, we were forced to stick our swollen feet back into shoes we had probably already outgrown in order to go to church or even a movie.

Men wore hats no matter the occasion, almost always felt, but there was an occasional flat top straw seen in the summer.  No hats of any kind were ever to be worn in doors, and anyone who crossed that line was in trouble.  Hair was worn slicked back, and brilliantine was the most popular way to accomplish that.  It also smelled good which was nice since weekly or less frequent shampoos were the norm.

Editor’s Note: Stay Tuned for “The Way It Was: Part 6” where Eshrink chronicles the pre-war years (WWII) from his perspective as a child. Not only will he discuss “the mood of the country” as he remembers it regarding the war in Europe, but shares personal stories, such as the first funeral he attended when his grandfather died and remembrances of the people who shaped his life.