A Tale of Teeth and Truth
RT has been rather reticent these past two or more weeks: it’s hard to be garrulous when your teeth are aching. Ouch! This particular ache was deep and throbbing and resulted in the extraction of two teeth on Halloween, one of which was infected. Penicillin (remember that?) and ibuprofen got our fearless writer through his convalescence, and now he’s going to present an excerpt from his mother’s memoirs, A Daughter’s Song and Dance.
Plane Spotting (Late 1941–Spring 1942)
War fever was at a pitch, and many people who were not eligible for the draft began “to do their part” in the war effort. Opportunities abounded: from volunteering for the United Services Organization (USO) to participating in neighborhood “scrap drives” that collected scrap copper and brass for use in artillery shells to growing your own vegetables. If none of this appealed, there was plenty of work to be had at war production factories. Many young women took the places of men who had been drafted into the military; for the first time in the country’s history, women were able to find high-paying jobs. They worked round-the-clock in factories that produced materiel for our troops: everything from boots to tanks to bombers to k-rations. The wages they earned gave them an economic freedom—and independence—that they had never dreamed of before. Although the old social taboos re-emerged after the war, this taste of freedom would lead to the rights-for-women movement. The war-time production effort marked the beginning of a profound social revolution.
All of this had an effect on my mother.
Early in the new year, Mama joined the Red Cross, rolling bandages and supervising the training of other volunteers. Then she heard about the Civil Air Patrol, the plane watchers who were supposed to spot Japanese planes off the coast. The romance of this appealed to her, and she signed up.
She and the other airplane watchers would go out every day with their government-issued kits and binoculars; they would stand on the bluffs overlooking the ocean trying to keep track of the planes that flew overhead; they had gone to class to learn how to tell the airplanes apart. It made them feel they were doing something for the country besides giving up cream in their coffee and butter for oleo. To be honest, I can’t remember how long she was a plane-spotter, but she thoroughly enjoyed her duties.
In the meantime, rationing was a burden on everyone. Almost immediately, we were issued ration coupon books for all the basic foodstuffs: meat, milk, butter, and bread. Bacon was an unimaginable luxury. Gas and women’s silk and nylon stockings were also restricted, so for many people life became boring, if not monotonous. California is car country, and with rationing came the end of trips to the movies and Lake Tahoe. But we were lucky in one respect: we were able to grow a wide variety of vegetables in our now-famous “victory gardens,” which made meals both tastier and more nutritious—and gave us something to do. Even the borders along city streets were used to grow produce.
But perhaps the oddest thing about these years was that it marked a much-anticipated milestone in the country’s history: amid the tight rationing regime, the Depression had finally ended. The United States could not find enough workers; many states even allowed teenagers to work in factories, and a guest worker program for Mexican emigrant laborers kept the fruit orchards of Texas and California in production. In fact, America’s entry into the war marked the beginning of a decades-long economic boom that would transform the country. …
Copyright © 2013, The Rag Tree