A Chat Over Pizza
Yesterday, my octogenarian parents and I were chatting about days past as we were sharing pizza for lunch at their kitchen table. I began the conversation because on my drive to their house it occurred to me that we have always talked about their lives from the point that they met each other–ages 14 and 15.
Now, we have to remember that both my parents were born only a year or two before the Great Depression (1929 to 1939). Many people became homeless because they lost their jobs and couldn’t pay their rent. I remember the stories of multiple generations of my mom’s family moving in together to avoid homelessness and to share what little they had.
My parents were 11 and 12 at the start of World War II (1939). Japan’s December 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor, nullified my dad’s 13th birthday–can you imagine? This is when the U.S. officially entered the war in the Pacific and in Europe. In fact, it was America’s war effort that jump-started its industry again and effectively ended the Great Depression. The six-year war (1939-1945), on top of the Great Depression, says to me that in the forefront of my parents memories were just hard times, hunger, and all around struggles and sacrifices.
I only had heard briefly about the government’s rationing program. So I took time to look it up and discovered it was another social aspect that took over their freedoms of choice. There was “Red Stamp” rationing that covered all meats, butter, fat, and oils, and cheese. Each person was allowed a certain amount of points weekly with expiration dates to consider. “Blue Stamp” rationing covered canned, bottled, frozen fruits and vegetables, juices and dry beans, and such processed foods as soups, baby food, and even ketchup. Ration stamps became a kind of currency and each family had its “War Ration Book.” Each stamp authorized a purchase of rationed goods in the quantity and time designated, and the book guaranteed each family its fair share of scarce goods–all, thanks to the war.
In addition to food rationing, there was rationing on clothing, shoes, coffee, gasoline, tires, and fuel oil. If you were fortunate enough to own a car, rationing of gas and tires depended on the distance to your job (if you fortunate enough to have a job), which meant there probably weren’t too many visits to relatives who lived elsewhere. So, after these many years I’m starting to get the big picture, the backdrop for my parent’s lives, and have a new-found insight into how and why they lived their lives and raised us the way they did. For example, my dad, until recently, didn’t know how to display his love. I recognized early on, that when he bought me a gift, it was always “top of the line.” He never refused “overtime” work, which often was feast or famine in the printing industry. We were the first family to buy a TV, and the first family to get a color TV in our neighborhood. All of these seemingly materialistic things were everyday items in which my parents and their families could not indulge. They never had basic security of a home to call their own, both parents together, and even more importantly, at least one of them working full time. Neither of them graduated high school. Both of them had to get jobs in their early teens to help themselves and their families survive. And the families considered themselves fortunate if they owned even a radio.
So, when I asked dad yesterday, what did he do for fun as a kid, his answer shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did, and it made me sad. He said, “I don’t remember having fun as a kid.” So I asked him what his earliest memory was, he responded; “The day my mom left us–I was five.”
And, when I asked mom about her earliest memory (and today she suffers from Alzheimer’s and has very little memory from moment to moment), she said it was the day her parents asked her and her two years’ older brother, John, to choose which parent they wanted to live with. When they both answered, “Mom,” the couple didn’t split and worked things out.
I am so very glad that I took time out from cleaning their house and doing daily chores to spend meaningful time with them. Mom turns 89 next week and dad will be 88 in four months. I feel blessed!