by Don Swaim

I'm going back in time. To the days of war and wrath, of ration books, the OPA, savings stamps, newspaper drives, Victory Gardens, blackout drapes, and air raid wardens strutting in Sam Brown belts — when drug stores had soda fountains and juke boxes. "I'll be With You in Apple Blossom Time." The country was at war, but it was a fine war and a great time to be me. I was six when the war started. Later I'd hear about bombs and blood, but they were there, not here, so I didn't fully understand their deadly consequences. In most ways the war, to my immature mind, was an abstraction. Corregidor, Battan, El Alamein, Tobruk, Salerno might have been names of rock formations on the moon, and the concept of a Holocaust was unthinkable. We were cocoon-like Midwesterners (my father born in Indiana, my mother Missouri, I Kansas, my brother Illinois). Melting pot aside, we epitomized American culture of the time. We knew few Catholics, even fewer Jews, no negroes, certainly no Hispanics. I was safe, we were safe — or so we thought.


We had blackout drapes over the windows and air raid wardens patrolling the sidewalks ... but never an air raid. On the radio I listened to "Let's Pretend" on the CBS station out of Detroit, WJR. In school we read, yes, Dick and Jane. My favorite book at home was Little Buffalo Boy by H.C. and Lucille Holling.

Our house, 3637 Grantley Rd., Toledo, Ohio, 1942.

In the screened-in porch to the house's left, my father, after work, would draw amusing caricatures of Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. The company he worked for, National Supply, built oil well pumping equipment, but during the war it also made submarine parts. He attempted to enlist but was rejected because of his age (he was 34) and the fact that he had two children, in addition to working for a company said to be important to the war effort.


My father (Marion), me (Don), my younger brother (Steve), and mother (Helen). My mother was beautiful. She'd gone to college for two years at Lindenwood in Missouri before withdrawing to become a secretary.

We endured gasoline and other rationing, and few people drove their cars. It was hard to buy tires. We were issued ration stamps. No one complained, but some people hoarded. As always there was a black market.


First day of school, first grade, DeVeaux School. 1943. My neighbor and classmate Barbara Prickman and me. I'm holding a Crayola drawing I made of a jar with representations of vegetables inside. My first asignment.

Barb, Steve, and Don.
Sortly after this photo, I accidentally whacked Steve in the nose when he came up behind me as I was swinging the remnants of a kiddle lawn mower. He still carries the scar.


Barb under our cherry tree. She was six months older than I, but I vowed I'd catch up.

Barb's mother, Nell, behind their Grantley Rd. house, destroyed by an expressway.

Barb's father, Bill, magician by night, dentist by day. He rubbed mercury onto dimes.


Adults bought...
war bonds.

Kids bought...
defense stamps.

As always, we were reminded of the Nazi specter.


On the vacant lots behind our houses we planted Victory Gardens to raise vegetables. My mother canned them and stored the stuff in Mason jars on shelves my father built in the basement next to the coal bin. Her canned vegetables were mostly inedible.

We all tried to make do with less, although the war still seemed far away. But, like most kids, I wanted more.


Despite the war we always had time for Christmas. Here I was compelled to "kiss" my brother for a photograph. The disgust on my face is apparent. Besides, Steve always played with my toys instead of his.

Even though the war was ever present we grew up as if it wasn't. It appears in this picture as if I'm having exotic dreams as my bemused brother watches, but like most children I had few thoughts regarding the future, except about the lightning bugs I was going to jar that night.


World War Two ended in bloody triumph, but a cold war ensued bringing with it the threat of nuclear annihilation, and, domestically, an anti-Communist witchhunt prevailed. Sad times were ahead as Americans preyed on other Americans.


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