Remembering
World War II

Bits and Pieces -- Childhood Memories

... Jack Benny was on, and the Japs hit Pearl ...

Marie J. Kelleher

"Childhood days, wildwood days ... but still you're my own. In my beautiful memories." Words from the song, Memories, written by Gustave Kahn and Egbert Van Alstyne. Many of you have sung the full song several times over the years, most often during sing-a-longs. For me, this song together with other songs from both World War I and World War II, is among the pieces stashed away in my memory bank. Speaking of songs, how many of you can remember the parody to Whistle While You Work? Who was the jerk? Who was the meanie? Who was worse?

When I am alone with my memories, WWII begins with an interruption in the Jack Benny program. It was announced that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Anxiety, bordering on fear was my principal emotion. Both of my parents had been in the military in WWI. My dad had been a sergeant in the Army and he went to Lincoln School to see about serving again. My mother, a woman ahead of her time and whose father would not allow her to work while he could support her, had enlisted in the Navy, achieving the highest rank a woman could, Chief Yeoman F, relived her memories of "the end to end all wars." They instilled in me a patriotism for which I am grateful.

Pieces of activities done by my playmates and schoolmates, together with those done by all the other children, form a large collage. Many of us joined the Junior Red Cross and learned to knit. Taking knitting needles and yarn in hand, and with rulers at the ready, we cast on stitches, knitted a row and then purled a row, continuing until we had a 6"x6" inch square. It always took s-o-o-o long to do the final couple of inches on each square. Those poor women in the Senior Red Cross must have had a terrible time putting our assorted squares, some knitted tightly, some loosely, into what would pass for afghans, but they persisted because blankets were in short supply and were desperately needed, especially for the wounded men and women.

After school and during the summer, we would go to the Coolidge or the Ripley Schools to pack "ditty bags" or boxes. Carol Rackliffe Barry, another Melrosian, collaborated with me to come up with the usual items enclosed. They included pencils, erasers, pens, combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, (usually Ipana), soap, Lifebuoy was most often the soap of choice, note paper and envelopes, stamps, needles, khaki thread, rolls of Life Savers, Dentyne gum, etc. Carol can remember her grandmother knitting many pairs of khaki socks from yarn found at Jones' Curtain Store in Malden. We also learned to make squares of cloth for bandages, (sponges) and to cut bed sheets into strips for roller bandages. I haven't lost my touch for making sponges as I was able to make one for a young lad to use as part of a project on the role of the Red Cross in WWII. Schoolroom participation included contributing our scarce pennies, nickels and dimes to mite boxes. One Fall, we were sent out to the field looking for and collecting milkweed pods. Scientists hoped to be able to use the milkweed to make fabric for parachutes.

Other bits and pieces which help to complete my memories of 1941-1945 include joining my parents in saying the rosary each night as part of Fr. Peyton's Rosary  Crusade for Peace, praying for the safety of loved ones, neighbors and friends, standing in line at Kennedy's Butter and Egg Store for a 1/4 lb of butter, when they had some, and hoping they they wouldn't run out before it was our turn ... squishing the yellow dot into the glob of white "stuff" to make artificial butter when real butter was not availble ... learning how old my mother was when she sent me to Din's store with her ration book ... saving the foil from my gum wrappers and making it into a ball ... tying pieces of string together, and saving grease in a can. These last three items were turned in for recycling. I also learned to can vegetables from my father's Victory Garden and to make grape jelly.

There were air raids during which everyone had to be off the streets and, if they occurred at night, all our shades had to be lowered so no light would show which might guide enemy planes to a target. Each house had to have a shovel, a hose, and sand in the cellar so that if an air raid did occur and fires began, each family could begin to fight the fire in their own home. The air raid wardens would inspect our homes periodically and, if we were not prepared, we could receive a fine. I always wanted to be in one of the towers as an airplane spotter but I was always too young.  A search light scanning the skies at night meant that a plane was lost or overdue. As holidays approached and we wondered when Santa would arrive at Joslins, our mothers kept trying to save meat ration stamps so we could have a turkey for Thanksgiving.

I also remember seeing Mary Coleman walking down Baxter Street in her fashionable Cadet Nurses' uniform. Since I already knew that I wanted to be a nurse, I had visions of myself. Someday maybe I can share the story of nurses in WWII with you. Did you know that they traveled on the same troopships and went ashore on the same LST's as the troops who went ashore to do the fighting?

Since I began this article with bits of a song, I'll close the same way "Underneath the lamplight ..." and that is just where we children gathered, noisily on V.J. day/night. Our lamplight was the streetlight in front of my house. My Dad started to play the piano and soon most of the neighborhood seemed to gather in my living room to raise joy-filled voices as we sang the songs from WWI and the now-ended WWII.

A Post Script - My knitting days did not end with WWII. As a college student during the Korean War, my friends and I knitted socks and mittens to be sent across the Pacific. Because became clear. Those of you who knit have already guessed it - I hadn't locked my colors correctly.

Let us pray that no other generation has to experience war in any form, whether in the military or as the support persons on the home front.

January 11, 1999


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