Friday, September 30, 2011

Why I Hated Shirley Temple

Perhaps "hate" is too strong a word. Maybe despised would be better. However, I don't think  I knew any other word than "hate" when I was such a young kid. So in my mind, that's what I said to myself and anyone else who would listen. Shirley was the "just too cute kid" of the era. All those bouncy little curls, her cute clothes, and her little tap-dancing feet that never stopped moving.

My mother loved her. All I heard was Shirley Temple this and Shirley Temple that. And while I had no idea who this Shirley person was, I put up with mom's gushing, but only to a point. When mom decided that my middle sister and I should look just like Shirley, little did we guess what it would involve. And while the middle sister didn't protest, I did--in my own childish way of yowling and howling at every brush stoke mom put through my bushel of hair.

Here is am as I was born--or at least months after. Obviously I was old enough to sit in a chair without falling sideways. Notice what kind of hair God gave me. It's important to the story. I want you to study my golden fuzz and sear into your mind that it is thin and straight as a stick. After Shirley, that hair of mine wasn't good enough for mom. No, she would find some way to make it hang in ringlets, bouncy little curls just like Shirley's that would shake just so cute when I walked.

Now I'm going to prove my case. Notice the hairdo? I don't recall when it was that mom brought the tall wooden stool into the living room for me to sit on, but I was old enough to have memories of it. Every Saturday I'd get my hair washed, rinsed in vinegar, and gooped up with some slimy stuff mom rubbed into it. I think it was called hair setting gel, but I'm not sure. Then she'd roll my hair up in pincurls and make me sleep on them all night. I absolutely was not a happy camper. I know that because I know my facial expressions and the one in the above photo is still the same one that spreads across my face whenever I am NOT having fun. Whether it was the curls or the parade costume, I'm not sure. Maybe I didn't like either.

As I grew older, I always had to get up extra early on Sunday morning because it took so long to curl our hair--my sister's and mine. Brush, brush, brush, then mom would take a section of hair and roll it around two of her fingers, then brush it into a giant curl. Each curl took a good five minutes to get it just the way Shirley wore hers. No hair spray in those days, so our instructions for the day always included to act like ladies and not run around like hooligans. I never knew what a hooligan was, but I figured it was someone with messed up curls.

The torture went on for years, even into grade school. Then came the day I rebelled and told mom I didn't want to sit on that stool one more time, just so I could have curls. For some odd reason, she released me from being a Shirley Temple look alike. My middle sister wasn't so lucky. She grew up to be a beautician. I think she liked all that hair stuff.

Author's note:

Once I didn't have to have my straight hair forced into curls, I no longer thought about Shirley Temple. I never knew what she looked like till I was old enough to go to the movies. By then, I no longer hated her--just so you know.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Stuff I Learned As A Kid--Chapter Five

If you're sad, you should dance; if you're happy, you should dance. At least that's how it seemed to be at our house. My folks loved to dance and until I was in upper grade school, I thought everybody's parents spent the whole  weekend dancing at one club or another. As I recall, the fact that a war was going on didn't deter them from their quest to spend every available minute dancing, no matter whether it was the jitterbug, jazz, or swing.   To be honest, I didn't know the names of the dances, I only observed them and was able to put names to them as I grew older. It seemed to me that there were a lot of dancing and singing movies during the war years. I think people wanted a relief from the radio and newspaper headlines of the day. I think that's why my parents continued to go dancing or have home parties. Rugs were rolled up, couches pushed against the wall, lamps moved to safe places and my sister and I  banished to the hallway until bedtime. The home dance parties were such a joy to watch. I loved all the dancing and admiring the ladies who were always so dressed up and their hair all done atop their head as was the fashion of the time. Do you suppose that's where I learned to love a good party, especially one that involved dancing?

When a whole bunch of people from a single city die, people are sad. I recall the day mom just didn't seem to be herself. Young as I was, I finally questioned what was wrong. She said our country had dropped a bomb on a city in Japan and a lot of people were dead. In my youthfulness, I replied that I thought we didn't like the damn Japs, so why did she care. My mild mannered, never used a swear word in her life, mother looked like she was about to faint. "Where on earth did you hear words like that?" she asked, her eyes snapping with annoyance. "That's what all dad's friends call them," I answered, wondering why I was obviously in trouble. "I thought that was their name." Mom said never to use those words again and reminded me that while the Japanese were our enemy, the rest of the people in Japan were moms and dads and kids, like us and she felt bad for what had happened to them. I went to dad with my question. "Why is mom sad about Japan?" I asked. He replied that it was an awful thing to have to do but sometimes, in order to save lives or end a war, or accomplish something better than what we had, there were hard choices had to be made. Through all my years of life, many have told me I'm courageous. I don't see it myself. Do you suppose courage is something that can be taught or is it just what you are?

When all the church bells ring again, not very many months after the first time, it's puzzling to a little kid. And it wasn't a Sunday this time either. "Now why are they ringing?" I asked my parents as we all sat around the table. I thought the war was already over." Mom smiled the biggest smile and said all the wars were over now. It was VJ Day, which meant the Japanese had decided not to fight with us any longer. My small heart was as happy as it knew how to be. I felt it kind of laughing and skipping at the same time. I questioned if my uncle would come home now and dad said we'd likely see him in a few weeks. Mom remarked that most of dad's good friends would be home too and dad said, sort of under his breath, "Not Johnny or Bill." Mom looked for a moment like she might start crying and whispered, "I know."  Do you suppose seeing their sadness at the loss of friends is what made me the compassionate person I became?

After the war was over, just about everything in the dime store and much of the drug store was stamped "Made In Occupied Japan." At least that's how it seemed to me. Every doll or trinket or necklace or bracelet or just about any other thing a kid could want was stamped the same way. I didn't understand what it meant as I'd never seen those words before, so I asked mom. She said that since America had won the war with Japan, we were keeping soldiers there to make sure everything stayed peaceful and that's why the Japanese wrote "occupied" on everything they made. I still have some of those trinkets. They've been stored safely away for decades and one day I'll hand them down to my own kids as pieces of my  childhood history. But then again, now that I'm thinking about it, I'm wondering. Do you suppose I could sell them on E-Bay as historical artifacts and get myself a boatload of cash?

Dad and me the Christmas
I got my fuzzy jacket.
My recollections have come to an end. I have remembered far more than I realized and considering I'm past seventy years in age, it makes me grin to think things stored in my childish memory banks have stayed so clear in my thoughts. I'm sure there are many things I saw or overheard that I've forgotten and that is likely for the best. There is only so much "news" a kid can handle anyway. I'm still grateful for my mom and dad who never sent me away with unanswered questions and for their determination, especially dad's, for believing that asking questions was the only way a kid learned. Never once was I scolded for a question simply because my folks found the subject too hard to explain to one as young as I was. I've always been grateful to the Lord for the memory I've always had and the way I have of remembering even the most mundane details. Do you suppose the ability to see and remember with an almost photographic eye is the reason I always wanted to become a writer?

Author's note:
My middle sister questioned me recently on how I could remember so many things from WWII when I was so young. I told her honestly that I have no idea why I remember them but that what I do recall is clear as a bell. I think you'll just have to take my word on it. I think it's the way my mind has always worked. And it's the reason I've always been delegated as the family historian.

Mom and me. Photo taken at the
same time as the one above. Since
mom was the usual answer person
for all my questions, simply because
she was always there and dad was
working, I've put this photo last. It
is my way of honoring her for the
wonderful mom she was.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stuff I Learned As A Kid--Chapter Four

All the people were supposed to buy war bonds. We saw advertisements for war bonds everywhere: in store windows, in the newspaper, and before every movie we went to. It isn't that my sister and I were big movie goers in those days, but we were sometimes allowed to see an afternoon matinee of Tarzan or Gene Autry or The Lone Ranger. Going to the matinee meant we had managed to save twelve cents out of our meager allowance and sometimes it took me weeks to accrue that much. Anyway, that's where we saw full screen ads for War Bonds. Famous movie stars were always selling them to regular-looking people. I never heard about anyone famous coming to our small town to sell war bonds so I came to the conclusion that nobody in our town ever bought them. Besides, I never really understood what they were. Mom said it had to do with paying for the war. In my mind, I figured War Bonds must cost so much money nobody but rich people could afford them. I had no idea how much a world war cost, but I knew my  family didn't have enough money to pay for it. In fact, I didn't know any families who had enough money to pay for it. Do you suppose my fuzzy logic then is the reason I've always been so terrible in math?

The news is as important as breathing. At least in our home it was. Every evening, dad would lay on the couch and read the newspaper from cover to cover--literally. The newspaper was big then, not like the itty-bitty ones we have today and it took him more than an hour to read it all. Once finished with the paper, he would turn on the radio and we'd all gather round to hear Edward R. Morrow report the war news of the day. Most of the time I little understood what was going on. Sometimes there was talk about big battles or a ship sinking, and other things I didn't really grasp. Every once in a while, the President that everybody called FDR came on the radio to talk about how the war was going and America's part in it. Dad always sat right by the radio when the President was talking. For him, catching up on the daily news was as important as the air in his lungs. Do you suppose that's where I picked up the habit of  always wanting to know what is going on in the world?

Telling what you know can get someone killed. It's true. There were posters all over town that said so. I wasn't quite sure what "Loose Lips Sink Ships" meant so one day I asked mom to explain it. She answered that nobody was to talk about where their friends or relatives who were in the war were going or what they were doing. There might be spies around, she told me. So the signs are to remind us not to talk. That was the day I stopped telling anyone, even my friends, that I had an uncle in the war. I surely didn't wish anything to happen to him just because someone overheard me talking about him. How was I to know few people eavesdropped on little kids? The posters said to be quiet. So I was. Do you suppose having to be mum during those war years is the reason I eventually turned into such a chatterbox?

When every church bell in town and all across the countryside rings at the same time and it's not Sunday, something really important has happened. I recall the occasion with great clarity. Our family was sitting around the dining room table eating breakfast when I heard bells of every tone ringing loud and louder. I stopped eating and listened. I checked my brain to make sure it wasn't Sunday, then questioned as to why the bells were all sounding. My dad said it was because the war was over. Mom jumped in and declared that only the war in Europe was over. We were still fighting with Japan. I asked if my uncle would come home now and the reply I got was, "We don't know." He didn't. We had no way of knowing he was in the South Pacific. Do you suppose having such a close relative in the military during my early years was the reason I have always been patriotic down to the marrow of my bones?

Final chapter next week....

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stuff I Learned As A Kid--Chapter Three

 I have an uncle named Sam. I saw his picture all over town. It was in every store window and on the sides of buildings. I thought he was scary--all old and grumpy looking and always pointing his finger right at me. All the signs said the same thing: he wanted me. I didn't know for sure what that meant, but it was worth a tremble or two. Then came the day when mom had taken me to the drug store with her and there, right inside the door was this big poster with the same man on it. Uncle Sam. That was the day I told mom I knew the names of all my uncles but I couldn't figure out who this Uncle Sam was. I asked her if Sam was her brother or dad's brother. Mom explained that he wasn't anyone's brother but he was everyone's Uncle. When I argued that nobody could possibly be everyone's Uncle, she explained that Uncle Sam didn't really exist. The name was just a word that meant the President and all the government people who made the rules for our country. Young as I was, I took it to mean that Uncle Sam must be like God--in charge of everything. Do you suppose the Lord will call me to account for getting things so mixed up?

Farmers are as important as soldiers. I don't recall when my dad and all his best friends went to enlist, nor do I know if I was ever aware of it. What I do remember is that my parents talked about them all the time, always wondering amongst themselves how they were doing and hoping they were safe. One day I asked mom why dad wasn't a soldier like his friends were and that's when I learned that although he had tried to enlist, the recruiting office had turned him down. I questioned as to why when I knew him to be big and strong. "Because he's a farmer," said my mother. She went on to say that the recruiting officer told dad to go back to the family farm as there was no one else to work it. Yes, they needed soldiers. But they needed all the farmers to produce crops for the troops and the homefront. And while I agreed that growing food was an important job, I could never figure out how it got to the soldiers without spoiling. Besides, we ate nearly everything our garden produced. What we couldn't eat, mom canned. Other than the forty acres dad always planted with wheat or corn, there was nothing left to send to the soldiers. It was a puzzle I never quite figured out. Do you suppose farmers are still as important as those who do the fighting?

Even kids have to help win a war. Grown-ups have the big jobs; kids have the little ones. Like saving the foil from gum wrappers. In those days, each stick of gum came wrapped in a foil covered paper and we were to peel off the foil, save it, and help win the war. Never made sense to me, but I did what was required. I gave the foil to mom, all rolled into a tiny ball. What she did with it was always a mystery. The signs around town said to save rubber and metal and grease and aluminum and foil and a bunch of other things and take them to a place where they could be turned into airplanes and bombs and other scary stuff. I could never wrap my mind around what good that little ball of foil could do anymore than I could ever figure out how bacon grease turned into a bomb. Do you suppose I was dumb or just an ordinary kid?

Everyone at home had to help fight the war. I remember seeing signs about knitting socks for soldiers and helping the Red Cross in any way possible and while I don't know if mom joined the Red Cross, I do know she helped those who did because there was a time when she took me with her. While mom didn't knit, she loved to cook, and there was a day when we went to a big building in our town and into a large, dimly lit room where about twelve ladies were sitting in a circle knitting. Other ladies were at long tables on another side of the room, cutting white fabric into long strips and other ladies were rolling them into balls. I understood the knitting because of the signs I'd seen. But I'd not seen anything about cutting up sheets--which is what it looked like to me. What is that about? I questioned. Bandages for the soldiers who get hurt, my mom told me. I thought about my uncle the medic and wondered if any of those bandages would ever be in his hands. Being there that day, observing the women who worked so diligently, made a lasting impression on me. It brought the war home, to a place I could understand. Perhaps my uncle wouldn't eat our corn or use our saved foil, but in my mind, there was a possibility those bandages could end up in his hands. Do you suppose any of our wounded troops actually thought about where those white bandages came from or the homefront hands that had cut and rolled them with such prayerful love and caring?

To be continued....

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Stuff I Learned As A Kid--Chapter Two

Thanksgiving was a special day as my mom's parents always came to visit. How we girls looked forward to seeing them. Sometimes dinner consisted of roasted chickens; other times it was venison. One Thanksgiving mom cooked a beef roast, though I never had any clue as to where the meat had come from--and little did I care. Looking back, I figure dad must have traded something with another farmer. I well remember the Thanksgiving we had venison. Grandma was eating up a storm, with seconds on everything, even the meat. I distinctly remember her asking dad where he had gotten the beef and mom telling her it was venison. I also distinctly remember that it was the first time I'd ever seen anyone turn green. Grandma stopped eating after that little disclosure. I was glad. More for us. Do you suppose God will take me to task for my utter selfishness?

Christmas was the highlight of our year. My sister and I never figured we'd have tons of presents under the tree. That wasn't how it worked in those days and since we knew no different, we danced with merriment, tossed tinsel on the tree and thought it was beautiful--even though we knew it wasn't. We strung popcorn on thread and made colored paper chains and adorned the spindly tree with the sad little ornaments we'd made and colored with our crayons. It was all magic. We didn't know to expect toys from Santa. Nobody got toys in those days--at least nobody I knew. What we found under the tree were new snow boots or a warm jacket or flannel pajamas. Things we needed and knew that we needed. It never occurred to my sister and me to pout or throw a tantrum because we had wanted dolls with real hair. Young as I was, I knew those new boots were a far better gift considering how hard Minnesota winters were. Do you suppose any of today's kids would be thrilled to have a single small present under the tree knowing the box held something needed rather than wanted?

Wasting food is a sin. I was never sure if it would send me to jail or not but I was suspicious it could happen. Any food on the plate left uneaten automatically put three irrefutable house rules into effect: no dessert, no snacking because I was hungry, and the leftover food had to be consumed before the next meal could be enjoyed. Our oven had pilot lights, which to my dismay, mom used to keep food warm till the next meal. For the most part, the leftovers weren't all that bad. But the day I had to eat the leftover sunny-side-up egg nearly did me in. I gagged it down, but only barely. There was always that image of jail in my mind. Little as I was, I sure wasn't going there over a decidedly unappetizing egg. Then came the day when I'd just plain put too many carrots on my plate. When it dawned on me that my eyes had been bigger than my stomach, I complained that I couldn't finish them. Mom would have none of it. She reverted to her usual comment that there were children all over the world who were starving and I should eat them then and there. In my ignorance, I asked her where I might find an envelope and a stamp. She questioned as to why and when I told her I was going to mail the carrots to starving kids in another country, I got sent to my room for being sassy. Do you suppose I could file a claim against my parents' estate for cruel and unusual punishment?

Your feet were made for walking. With gasoline rationed, new tires impossible to find or purchase, and replacement auto parts unavailable due to the manufacturers turning to building war machines, our family took to walking everywhere we went. When we did need gasoline, the whole family piled into the car for no better reason than to enjoy the trip to the gas station at the edge of town. I remember that gas was twelve cents a gallon and dad always had to produce enough ration coupons to account for the gallons purchased. I also vividly remember the day we went to buy gas and it had gone up to fifteen cents a gallon and my mom, who seldom raised her voice, had such a verbal fit over the cost that even dad couldn't calm her down. Such was life in those days. We walked to the grocery store, the clothing shops, the hardware store and even our church, a good half mile from home. Should my sister and I wish to visit a friend, we knew it had to be via bicycle. That's just how it was. The good thing was everybody else was walking too and during those war years, I think mom "ran into" more of her friends than she ever had before. I remember it well because my sister and I had to stand there and listen to boring, grown-up chatter while enduring the vice-like grip mom had on our hands. Do you suppose that's the reason my hands are still so small and my fingers so short and stubby?

To be continued.....

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Stuff I Learned As A Kid--Chapter One

This is one of the posters I recall seeing in merchant's windows. I didn't have full comprehension of how rationing worked, but since my uncle was a Navy medic, I understood that if I went without, he would have enough of whatever he needed to make it home safe. My childish logic worked. He came home safe and sound. 

If you're a kid during WWII, you learn things by osmosis. I know I did. The lessons taught weren't meant to be lessons. They were just part of everyday life in a nation where everything was rationed, all the better to supply our troops first and we citizens last. It was a time of ration stamps and wooden tokens, mended clothes, and unusual foods on the dinner table. I was young enough to know no better. For me, going without wasn't a big thing. Everybody went without--and I personally never saw anyone pouting or ranting about it, for it was an era when every American I knew stood shoulder to shoulder against a common enemy.

In the small farm community where I grew up, farmers and city dwellers alike bartered and traded, especially when the month's ration stamps were gone. Because we had pigs and chickens, with a ready supply of eggs, dad traded our supplies with the farmers who raised beef or who had milk cows. Oddly enough, I grew up strong and healthy, even though I filled my tummy with unpasteurized milk straight from the cow. The one thing I remember is how creamy the milk was. Not at all like today's offerings. I also vividly recall how good that milk was cold rather than straight out of Old Bossy. But maybe that was just my personal taste. At any rate, I not only lived but flourished. Selling unpasteurized milk these days is illegal. Maybe drinking it is illegal too. Do you suppose this belated confession will land me in jail?

We ate strange things. Weeds were a big favorite--especially since they were readily available long before the garden vegetables were fit for the table. Actually, dandelion greens were fought over when mom cooked them. Dad showed me and my sister how to look for the youngest ones. The empty lot behind our house was always green with some weed or another, and once my sister and I knew what to look for, we went at it with gusto. There was such a small window where they were tasty, so we grabbed all we could so mom could cook them up, sprinkle them with vinegar, salt and pepper. We didn't know people weren't supposed to eat weeds. If neighbors today saw me on my hands and knees in the empty lot down the street gathering up dandelions, do you suppose they'd have me committed?

Duck is tasty; rabbit is downright good; doves and quail are so small you have to eat a lot of them; venison is delicious; pheasant is dry unless loaded up with lots of mom's onion gravy. Oddly enough, I thought nothing about eating whatever dad brought home from his hunting forays. My sister and I were told to eat it so we did. And even though we liked chicken the most, we knew dad sold all he could to the local grocery stores and restaurants, so there wasn't always chicken left for ourselves. Besides, we needed to keep the eggs a coming, so there were always a lot of hens clucking around the chicken coop and barnyard. I do not remember one time when any of us complained about the food. We kids were taught to be grateful that we had enough to eat. According to today's guidelines for health, we were most likely over-proteined youngsters. Do you suppose anything bad would happen if the USDA found out about my overly carnivorous past?

Mended clothes can be uncomfortable. Most of the time, the mending was inconsequential. Unless the torn seam had frayed and mom had to take bigger seams to repair the damage. It was worse with blouses than skirts. Underarm seams chaffed the skin when sewn too tight and Lord knows, I put up with some chaffed skin in my day. Socks were the worst. Mom had a small light bulb she stored in a little basket where she kept darning needles, assorted colored floss, and a mixture of holey socks awaiting surgery. My sister and I hated darned socks. As thorough as mom was, making small lattices of embroidery floss across the hole, the sock never laid smooth, and since most of the holes were in the heel....well, you can imagine how comfy they were to wear. One day I got up nerve enough to tell her what I thought about darned socks and why couldn't we just go buy new ones? That was the day I learned that socks for soldiers came first and there were no ration coupons left to buy socks, even if they could be found. Do you suppose I could sue the government for my having to grow up wearing darned socks that blistered my heels?

To be continued....

Author's note: Seems I learned more than I realized for as I was putting this story together, it dawned on me it was far too long for a single blog. I've broken it into chapters. You can read more next week. Blessings to all my followers. Thank you for being so faithful to my blog.