My buddy Alner was looking really peeved as he unloaded his car.
“Why so glum?” I asked. “Looks like you just had a good shopping trip.”
“Here I am, trying to get ready for Thanksgiving,” he said. “I had to go to five stores and I still couldn’t get everything I wanted. And the parking – forget it.”
With a groan, he slouched toward his front door. “Talk about inconvenience,” he said.
My shake of the head must have been a dead giveaway. But, laden with his shopping bags, he had no hope of escaping me. Instantly, thanks to my power of metaphysical travel, we were strolling down a street in times past.
“OK, I give up,” he moaned. Where have we gone today, mister tour director?”
“Alner, if you’ll look around you’ll see that we’re back in Wyoming Valley of 75 years ago. It’s November of 1942, and you’re about to see a few things that will put your little shopping inconvenience into some perspective.”
“Not many cars on the road,” he said, looking around.
“That’s because people are saving their tires, since it’s nearly impossible to get more for the duration,” I said. “We’re not quite a year into the Second World War. Already you can’t just run out and buy whatever you want. Rationing of vital commodities is kicking in. Look at that gas station down the street.”
“Nobody’s there,” he said.
“Right! Gasoline is in short supply. You get only a few gallons a month, and the service stations sometimes run out. Our guys and girls overseas need fuel a lot more than we do for our store trips. Hey, since you’re in shopping mode, let’s stop in this neighborhood grocery.”
“Must be a big sale going on,” Alner said, pointing to the group clustered around the meat case.
“No, not a sale,” I said. “Note what these folks are holding — ration books. The coupons and stamps in them entitle you to buy limited monthly amounts of meat, coffee and other staples, and that’s only if you can find them. Red meat is in especially short supply, and people sometimes camp out when they hear through the grapevine that some steak is on the way.”
“That woman is certainly happy,” smiled Alner, pointing to a shopper hurrying out the front door.
“She managed to get a pound of sugar,” I said. “That was one of the first things to be rationed. Her family will stretch it for a couple of weeks.”
“With Thanksgiving coming up?” asked Alner.
“That’s the way it is, and these folks will be thankful for what they have. Maybe their tables won’t be loaded down with goodies like ours, but they’ll appreciate what they’ve got and won’t complain. Same with Christmas, which is just around the corner. They won’t worry about themselves as long as they can send gifts overseas and get a letter in return. You’ll find no grousing about crowds and parking here.”
“Yeah, I get your point,” said Alner. “I forget sometimes.”
“We all do. Hey, we’d better go back home. It’s getting late and we don’t want to be stuck in tonight’s blackout — another feature of these times.”
Alner picked up the grocery bags he’d dropped on the porch.
“You know, I think I’ll call the folks and tell them I’m looking forward to seeing them again.”
“That’s the spirit. But what about that vital last-minute shopping?”
“Forget it,” said Alner. “I have everything I really need.”
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]