Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day. I was pretty young when World War II began and my memories are mostly taken from movies and other people’s stories. My very first memory of it involved a “Closed for the Duration” sign. Sorry, I could not find such a sign anymore to illustrate, so “Closed for the Season” will have to do.
By the summer of 1942 I was old enough to know that on the trip from our house into Wheeling we often stopped at an ice cream stand. One day it wasn’t open. Instead, a hand-made sign hung in the pass-through window. “Closed for the Duration.”
“What’s that mean, Momma?” I asked. Even my older brother didn’t know But being six years old than I, he had a pretty good idea. He was aware that the US was involved in a big war. In fact, as the next few years went by, he was hoping the war would last long enough for him to get into it. Alas! It ended too soon for him.
That ice cream stand wasn’t the only thing that seemed closed to me. My mother didn’t bake as many cookies and cakes as she once had. In fact, the occasion had to be pretty special for the family to get cake… like a birthday or something. And she and dad planted a garden in the backyard. Then my brother and I were assigned to weeding it.
Our car wasn’t all that new at the start of the war, but by the end, we were walking more anyway Dad needed not only money but stamps to buy gasoline, and tires were, well, they just weren’t.
Mom was an avid blood donor. What she really wanted was the ward pin the Red Cross gave out when donors reached certain quantities. Possibly to keep her from becoming anemic they asked her to be the local contact person. When a soldier was hurt, missing or killed, she was asked to contact his family to see if they were alright and had received the news through official channels. Some of the folks on the outskirts of our town didn’t have a telephone so she would drive to their homes. (She may even have had a small gas allowance for that, but I’m not sure.) I was with her one time when we parked about a mile away and walked across an open field to get to a small farm house. She made me wait outside while she consoled the heartsick parents inside She later said she would have preferred to go on giving blood.
Dad was the school superintendent and knew everyone in town, so he was a good choice to put in charge of the Civil Defense Patrol. I remember him going out in the evenings to walk the streets to check that no lights showed through windows. There were several older men who did this and some, dad said later, enjoyed knocking on doors and telling people to either turn off their lights or hang blackout curtains. He feared they would misuse their status, but never said it actually happened.
We didn’t have any kind of war factory near us, and we were pretty far into the middle of the country., so the idea of enemy planes going over, spotting a light below and bombing it was remote. Very remote. We must have been in a flight path, however, because our own planes – mostly likely being transported from one place to another – flew over regularly. One summer late in the war a single engine fighter plane flew over and the noise it made caused everyone to look up. The pilot was in trouble. Then wham! He crashed into a hill east of town. As far as I could tell, everyone who had heard the plane rushed to the scene. A few men from the Civil Defense Patrol got there before us. They had set up a tent to cover the pilot’s remains. That didn’t keep anyone, including me, from peaking under it to see the body. There wasn’t much left of him; I thought his body looked mostly like charred meat. My brother went poking around the plane and later, when we got home he asked mom for a jar. Turns out he had found a finger, still in the leather glove. He “pickled it” and had it for a couple of weeks before mom saw it. We gave the finger a nice burial in the backyard.
When war crept into our daily lives more than I realized. Going to the movies meant we would have to sit through a newsreel. Signs about helping with the war effort were everywhere. And once I started to school I discovered there were scheduled air raid drills. Most students didn’t mind that, since it was a break from classroom work.
Discussions at the dinner table always included something about the war. We had no one serving in it, even distant cousins,, but knew the families in town who did. Dad had been too young for the First world War and now was too old. Plus, he had a responsible job.
Walking to school every day I saw quite a few service banners in windows One of my friends lost a brother in a plane crash over France, another had an uncle who was badly wounded. The local VFW put up an Honor Roll next to the post office and added names or changed the status as needed. I have no idea what happened to that Honor Roll. It disappeared not long after the war ended.
What a great country we were then. We were all working together toward one goal, to win the war and get on with our lives. Lots of things changed after the war, mostly for the better for quite a while. We were in a growing period where everyone could have a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot.. wasn’t that a promise made by a politician? After that war we were were well on our way to having it all. The United States owned the 20th Century.
Today I’m wondering if we are in a new “duration.” One where our enemy is ourselves. Those veterans who came back and brought our country to life have mostly passed away. Now we have greed and self-serving interests. What happened to us?
I surely hope this “duration” is over soon. Oh, buy the way, that ice cream stand never did open up again. That “duration” was forever.