Shopping in ‘43 gave something to be thankful for

June 23rd, 2015 4:12 pm

First Posted: 11/27/2013

Striding toward his front porch, Christmas-themed shopping bags in hand, my neighbor Alner had his “Oh, I’m such a victim” look on his face.

“What’s up, old buddy?” I asked.

“Everything’s up, starting with prices,” he said. “The lots and parkades are jammed, and when you do get into the stores you take your life in your hands with those pushy crowds and the endless lines and … ”

I couldn’t take any more.

“Alner,” I said, “you need a dose of cosmic reality.”

His head drooped.

“Why do I take the bait?” he moaned. “Now we’re going on one of your time-travel trips, right?”

By the time I finished chortling we were standing on a sidewalk in downtown Wilkes-Barre in December of 1943, courtesy of my power of metaphysical travel.

“At least my dollar will go a lot farther here,” he said.

“True,” I nodded, “but finding what you really want isn’t easy in this holiday season of 70 years ago. All sorts of materials like metal and nylon have been diverted for the military. There’s a little affair called World War II going on, and our guys and girls in Europe and the Pacific need everything we can send them.”

Alner looked about.

“At least you don’t have to drive around for a half-hour just to find a parking space,” he said.

“You’d be lucky to have something to drive,” I said. “Detroit is making tanks and trucks, not sedans and convertibles. If you did own a car, you probably wouldn’t take it out on a shopping excursion anyway.”

“How so?”

“Civilians are allocated just a miserly couple of gallons of gasoline a month. As for tires – forget about it. Unless you’re doing some vital work, there won’t be any available for you until after the war. And don’t think about cheating. Back in May when the Cole Bros. Circus played in Wyoming Valley there were federal agents in the parking lot writing down the license numbers of patrons so they could see who was wasting gasoline on joyriding. A whole bunch of circus-goers had their allocations cut.”

“Some Christmas!” he snorted.

“No, Alner,” I said. “You’ve got it wrong. This is a picnic compared to what those folks in uniform are doing for us. There’s no holiday on those islands in the South Pacific, and our forces gathering in England are too busy to celebrate as they train for the invasion of France next June.”

“You’re right, you’re right,” he nodded. “I’ll bet the local families will be really thankful for their Christmas dinners this year.”

“They will be, for sure,” I said. “Of course, they’ll have to do without a lot of what they’re used to. You can’t just walk into the grocery store and buy whatever you want. You’re assigned ration books that entitle you to so much meat, so much butter and so on.”

“Those folks seem happy,” he said, pointing across the street.

“True,” I said. “They’re glad to make the little sacrifices while others are making the big ones. Kids aren’t screaming for gifts either; they’re giving them. The students at St. Mary’s School recently sold enough war bonds to buy the Army some Jeeps.”

Alner looked pensive.

“I’m ready,” he said.

And with my gesture, we were back in 2013.

“You know,” said Alner, holding up one of his colorful shopping bags, I guess this is a pretty good holiday season after all.”

“That’s the spirit,” I said.