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Potatoes, Stars and Stickers

By Wethersfield Historical Society on January 3, 2011 1:47 PM

Potatoes, Stars and Stickersgoldstar84x150-thumb-320x571-139.gifMy father's small garden took over most of the back yard as he turned it into a Victory Garden. The idea being that the more we grew for ourselves the more we could send to our troops. We had beans, tomatoes, corn and even potatoes! I was amazed to learn they grew in the ground! After growing season Mom and Dad would can shelves of things he had grown so we could keep helping the troops in the winter. One day on a visit to my grandmother's I noticed she had small red and white banner in the window with a blue star in the center. I was told that star was for Uncle Al so we would all remember him and everyone who went by the house would know grandma was proud to have a son in the service. A few months later another blue star was added when my Uncle Frank left for the army. Most of the homes where my grandmother lived were three families. I soon realized that almost every floor had a banner with at least one blue star and sometimes two or more. As the war continued occasionally a banner would show a gold star. This was for a serviceman killed in the war. This became more and more common as time went on. Sometimes we would see a banner with two gold stars and my mother would exclaim; "Oh, my, how could anyone stand losing two sons to the war."  As she only had me and my brother I'm sure she had a feeling of a whole family being lost and, as we know, this was sometimes the case.

Soon shortages began to be noticed as more and more materials were needed for our servicemen. I remember silk stockings could not be had which was a big topic among all the women my mother knew. It seemed like a silly thing to be concerned about but it was a big deal for the women. Sugar and meat were rationed. Every family had a ration book that allowed them to purchase just so much of these items. To tell the truth I never remember being hungry or missing anything because of rationing. We used to eat cheaper cuts of meat because of my father's limited income and I gather these were always available. Also Mom was really good at cooking up something with potatoes and sauerkraut or pasta and cheese so we never felt deprived of food.

The one problem we had with rationing was with gasoline and tires for the car. Every familyPotatoes, Stars and Stickersrationing_sticker-thumb-320x397-141-thumb-320x397-142.jpg received a window sticker for their car with a letter on it and in different colors. As I recall black was the most common and was an A. Next came a green B, which we had. You could get more gas with a B sticker and my father got it because of the importance of his defense work and the fact that there was no public transportation to get there. There were other categories for getting gas but I don't remember how they worked. Dad had enough gas to get to work, (the authorities saw to that) but they cut it very close so there was very little for recreational driving. The same problem occurred with tires, which were also rationed and in those days only lasted for 12,000-15,000 miles. I know dad had them re-treaded at times to keep them going. The problem for our family was that we had a small cottage, almost a camp, at the Connecticut shore and the rationing of gas didn't allow for that kind of extra mileage. But fathers are resourceful and dad would car pool and buy ration stamps from others to get enough for our occasional trip to the shore.

Going to the Connecticut shore presented other problems. Because German submarines had been sighted off the coast it was feared that they might attack shipping in Long Island Sound. Therefore all cars that came within a certain mileage of the coast had to have their headlights half blacked out to cut down on the glare from the shore, which might outline U.S. ships. This was usually done with black electric tape but as the war went on someone came up with a black metal hood that could be attached and lasted a lot longer than the tape and could be removed when not needed. All the buildings along the shoreline had to have blackout curtains or shades that kept the light from escaping to the night sky, for the same reason. It wasn't a problem but it brought home the knowledge that there was a war and we might not be all that far away from its effects.

At home the same type of blackout shades were needed on our homes, but were only used when we had an air raid drill. These were held about once a month and then less frequently as the war turned in our favor. A siren would sound and we would have to close shades in the rooms with lights on.  Most families had one or two rooms for this purpose and would gather there so the whole house didn't have to be blacked out. Air Raid Wardens would walk the streets making sure that all houses complied with these regulations.

Potatoes, Stars and StickersWWIIplane spotter 004-thumb-320x364-152.jpgThese Wardens were usually young men who were not fit for some reason to be in the armed forces. They had some training in first aid in case of a real attack. They were also trained to spot enemy aircraft by their silhouettes against the sky. (Every boy my age had a pile of these silhouettes cards so we could spot enemy planes also. It was just a matter of time before we saw one!) Wardens and others would also act as spotters and spend hours watching the sky with binoculars for enemy planes. Because Connecticut had Pratt &Whitney building engines in East Hartford and the submarine base in New London we were considered a prime target for enemy attack and took these precautions seriously.

Savings stamps were a big thing. Every week, on the appointed day we would bring in our change to buy savings stamps, which cost 25 cents each. They were put in a small paper covered book and when the total reached $18.75 we would have enough for a $25 savings bond. This meant that for paying $18.75 now we would have $25 in ten years. To tell the truth 10 years seemed so far away that this whole deal meant very little to me. I also never understood why savings bonds could help win the war. Like so many things I was faced with at that age, I just believed that if everyone said this was important it must be and believe me the importance of savings bonds was drilled into us. There were posters everywhere telling us to 'buy bonds' and every time you went to the movies the newsreel would show scenes of some war bond drive, usually lead by a movie star or some celebrity, that would take in thousands of dollars in war bond sales. Our Cub Scout troop even went from door to door selling bonds, and I know my father had money taken out of his pay check each week for bonds. How they worked may have remained a mystery to me but with all that evidence there was no doubt in my mind that they were important.

It's strange what stays with us from our childhood memories but the thing I remember most about savings stamps was the money on the teacher's desk each week. After we all went up with our quarters, nickels and dimes the desk would seem to be covered with money, which she would slide around with her finger into sets of each kind for easy counting. The process mesmerized me! It seemed to me I had never seen so much money in one place and of course in my mind represented a fortune like those we read about in children's books.

Potatoes, Stars and Stickersritahayw-thumb-320x496-145.gifBesides victory gardens and rationing there were other things at home, which made us feel involved in the war on a daily basis. We saved newspapers and scrap metal of all kinds. All tin cans were flattened by cutting the cover from both ends and placed in a box for a delivery to a pick up point. The other thing we saved was grease from cooking; pouring it off into a large can to be delivered along with the metal. This seemed silly to me, as there appeared to be no connection between smelly cooking grease and winning a war. I was assured it had something to do with making gunpowder and went along with it.

I mentioned earlier that some foods were rationed and that this did not seem to affect us in any large measure. This all changed with the shortage of butter. My mother cooked everything in butter and my father thought bread was a vessel for holding butter so you could get it into your mouth. Dad solved the problem by taking cream, (some of which he drained from the top of our non-homogenized milk) adding a little salt and whipping it fiercely with the electric beater into a whipped form of butter. It was delicious and I marveled once more at my father's ability to take care of any situation. As time went on they came out with something called margarine, which was supposed to take the place of butter. Beside the fact that it tasted like a block of Crisco rather than butter it was also white. Some law did not allow it to be sold colored like butter and to solve this problem a small orange capsule was included with each pound which could be mixed with the softened sticks to give it a butter color. It still tasted like lard.

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