For a change I had made supper, a large pot of chili. It turned out really good, and we were on our second helping. That’s what took me back to the days when there was hardly food, let alone seconds. My mind drifted lazily; I remember thinking of just how lucky I am, when the wife said “your food is getting cold, what are you thinking about?”
I was thinking of when I was a young child at a time when food was far from plentiful. I grew up in England prior to and through the 2nd World War years. I remember as a child of four, my mother with three kids and no father, for he had died in an accident when I was two. Times were very hard in those pre-war days and poverty was rampant everywhere.
Looking back now I often wonder how my mother ever managed the miracles she was able to do, in order to feed and raise us the way she did. Many times I can remember meals that consisted of a pot of homemade broth with ‘suet dumplings,’ and a thick slice of homemade bread, no butter or margarine. If we were really lucky, mom might have dug up a small tin of Tate & Lyle Golden syrup to put on the dumplings and that was the meal.
A snack for recess at school consisted most times of cold toast carefully wrapped in wax paper, there was no such thing as stretch n seal way back then. Times were so bad, there was no money for chocolate or candies.
My grandmother down the street would sometimes make homemade black treacle toffee for the kids in the neighborhood. She used to make it in a roasting tin, then when it was ready and cooled down Grandma would break it all up into pieces, then came the familiar yell to us all. That was always a real treat and a fight to see who could run there first and grab the biggest piece.
A short while later when the war had started, there came the evacuations of kids & families, also food and just about everything you could think of, became rationed. Every family had a ‘Gas Mask‘, an Identity card and a ‘Ration-book’ issued for each member of the family; the book contained coupons for almost everything basic that a person would need in order to survive. Believe me, it was totally inadequate and impossible to make ends meet at times, but at least you had some entitlements to work with. Once again mother had her work cut out, spinning all kinds of magic in order to be able to present edible meals.
Those were very bad days with poor nutrition among most all kids. This would often result in some ailment or another. I developed what they called ‘Rickets’ and was effected with very weak ankles. To be treated for that, I and lots of other kids with the same problem had to attend a clinic; there we had to strip right off down to the naughty nothings and don these very dark goggles to protect our eyes. Then we had to go into this room and walk around for what seemed like an hour, bathed in ultra-violet lighting. This room had a funny odor to it and felt reasonably warm, like being outside on a hot summers day. In addition, we also got extra concentrated orange juice and some containers of cod-liver oil and malt. Most of the kids hated that stuff, funnily enough I quite liked it.
Everything in those days seemed to come in packages. Dried egg powder instead of real eggs, something I didn’t mind if I remember correctly. You would mix it with water or a little dried milk powder then cook it like you would an omelet today. Most all things came as dried or in concentrated form, such as orange juice. Milk came dried in small packages, the only fresh milk was given to us at school each day and that was half a pint. Shortening and margarine was measured out in approx a teaspoon amount per person per day. Sugar and real eggs were also rationed along with whatever you might need to even make bread. There were even coupons for candies or sweets as they are called in the U.K. Mom used to trade off the candy coupons so she could get sugar instead, at least with the sugar she could make other things, like jam for instance. Clothing and boots or shoes were almost non existent for a lot of years with the war going on.
Later on when I was 10 years old, mom had now remarried, we had also acquired 17 chickens in the backyard. Even they had to be registered so that we could go buy corn feed for the chickens. Any eggs that were laid each day had to be turned over to the authorities as part of the war effort, it was the law, rarely did we get to keep an egg. Once in a while that did happen and it was a celebration just to have a fried or boiled egg. One time I remember we had one of the chickens killed off and that provided a feast I can tell you, of course that only happened that one time. We had no garden to grow any food, so mom and my step-dad had to go rent a small allotment (piece of garden) from some place just to try and grow a few things to supplement our food supplies and diet. Hard days those, very hard days; later as the war drew to an end and the rationing was eased a bit; then there was room to celebrate and of course a few of the chickens bit the dust!.
There were many, many stories came out of those times and not all had happy endings, you grew up in a hurry.
I will always remember England’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Even as a child I had a lot of trust in that man. He steered England through those bad times and the war.
I sat there relating this to Elizabeth and she was so interested in my story. For not having experienced those times I reckon, it must have sounded to her like something from a fairytale and wondering just when the wicked Witch of the North would show up!
I sat and wondered, dare I even consider another bowl of chili!
Teas up! C’ya