February 16th, 2019

Reiss’s Pieces


I had dinner the other night with an old friend, who shared with all of us that his grandmother had just passed away and he had to work with the rest of his family to empty out her house. And what he found, he thought was worth sharing.

In her kitchen, right over her stove, he found a small jar that said on the side, “used string,” and when he looked inside, he found little, tiny pieces of string. It seems that his grandmother was of the generation that saved everything and re-used what they saved. He was amused that the pieces of string she saved were so small and he couldn’t figure out what she did with such little pieces. Well, I have thought about his grandmother and her little pieces of string and I think he was wrong and that she probably took the pieces that she needed or wanted and tied the little pieces together until she had the length she could use.

And his grandmother brought a lot of things back to me. I was born in 1939 so my memories of World War II are much different than someone older than I am. I distinctly remember a siren going off and my father, who was a neighborhood warden, putting on his hat/helmet and going out to canvas the neighborhood and make sure no one had their lights on. And my Mother and I would pull all the shades and pull the drapes, turn off our lights and huddle in the corner. For the young people today I am sure that sounds like science fiction! But it gets better and better…

When I got to be a big girl, around 3, my father took me trick- or-treating and for the first time, I was allowed to be up when it was dark. As we walked around, I fell down and again for the very first time, I looked up and saw the stars! I had no idea what they were. Can you imagine? Remember that in those days lots of children were put to bed early and I was one of them.

What I really wanted to share with you especially after hearing about the used string pot, is what all of us kids did during those early days. We saved tin foil! We were told that if we could save a big ball of it, we would be helping the war effort and when we turned our big ball in, they would be used to make bombers. I know that I got some tin foil from my parents’ cigarette packs and some from chewing gum wrappers, but I distinctly remember walking in the gutter and kicking the leaves and detritus in order to find yet another shiny piece of foil. And at about age 5 or 6, I just knew that I was helping the war effort.

I don’t have any vivid memories of the end of World War II, but I do have amazing memories of VJ Day. And for those of you who don’t know what VJ Day is, it was the end of the war with Japan. Well, I was down at the Cape with my grandmother and we were sitting in her sister’s cottage and listening to the radio. When it was announced that the war was over, all the adults screamed with joy. I went outside and a friend of mine, who had a pony named Topsy, came down our driveway with her pony pulling a wicker cart. So, my grandmother gave me a large pot and a big spoon and put me into the cart and we went all over South Dennis making all the noise we could, and I banged on my pot with my spoon and helped deliver the joyous news. I couldn’t have been more than five, but that memory is so clear and I remember how proud I was to bang that pot and shout for joy. And my grandmother and Aunt Velna told me always to remember how proud I should be to be an American. And I assure you, I was!

In my day to day life, I don’t think I really understood what the war was about, but I did know that we always were doing certain things to help the war effort. As I opened my mouth every morning and my mother poured a teaspoon of cod liver oil down my throat, she always told me it was my sacrifice for the war effort! And I think that I believed her. Of course, there were many things that we as civilian Americans had to do, and throughout my early childhood I just knew that we were doing the right things. Sitting in the kitchen with a big bag of white stuff with a orange/red pea in the middle of it and having as my job to break that button and massage it though the white lardlike substance until it looked like butter. And butter it was that we used whenever butter was necessary. To this day I hate the smell of Spam cooking because real meat was a treat and instead we would have fried Spam for dinner. I didn’t like it then and the thought of it now makes my stomach roil.

Truthfully I don’t know if it was just my family who had little or no money to spend on anything except food, rent and heat. My brother and I never ever got anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. I never had a doll that I wanted and always played with paper dolls until one memorable Christmas. I wanted a “girl” doll more than anything but even I knew that this probably would never happen. And then it seems that my mother had a very young cousin who always gave us what she either outgrew or didn’t want any more. And this particular Christmas she gave us her old girl doll. It no longer had any hair and its eyes were pushed out and definitely not the doll that I would have wanted. But my mother sent this doll to a doll hospital and when it came back it had hair and eyes that actually opened and closed. My mother made me a wardrobe for this doll to wear, and when Christmas morning arrived, I was thrilled beyond all imagination to receive a lovely girl doll with all sorts of clothes, including a tiny fur jacket. Did I care that it was cousin Ginny’s castoff? Not a whit.

Life sure has changed and even my own children can hardly believe that those stories are true. And the children of today never have to dream and hope for anything. Everything that they want is right at their fingertips. I don’t know if it is better now or not. But it sure is different!


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