My mother had an amazing memory. She could recall events such as birthdays, holidays, and community related happenings like none I have ever known. She remembered details: what people wore, how they reacted, what the weather was like, and so on. She was born in 1921 and her recall of her life and surroundings begin from the time she was three years old.
In 1941 Mom was 20 years old. She grew up on the family farm on Route One and knew hard work. But she also knew the joy of a close-knit family that always included extended relations and friends who would come to spend the night and stay for six months. On October 4th, 1941, her only brother, Jim, was born. She recalled that day well.
Other than her brother’s birth, Mom didn’t recall all other events that happened that year in the vivid details that she did the events of other years. What happened on December 7, 1941, made those other memories fade. Mom’s memory of that day never faded. She recalled that late on that Sunday afternoon the altar at church being filled with people praying for the families of those who were killed when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, as well as for those who were wounded. On that Sunday, they prayed for peace even though they knew it was a time of war. She said Sunday church services after war was declared was like none she had seen before or since. The altar was always filled at the end of the service with people praying for those fighting the war as well as for those whose hearts were broken because of family members in the war. There were very few families that did not have at least one son called to military duty.
I learned a lot about World War II from my mother’s memories. Of course, it was her perspective, but she was an avid reader of newspapers and a radio listener. She was also a “war bride.” My dad came home for them to be married before he shipped out. A week later he left and didn’t return until the war was won. She never liked to talk about it but if I questioned her (and I have always been the queen of asking questions) she would tell of how her life was changed after Pearl Harbor. “It was a sad and anxious time,” she would say.
I have a book that tells of the year 1941. It is an interesting, sometimes sad book to read and reflect on. I offered it to Mom once for her to read and she thanked me and said, “I think I recall that year all too well. I don’t think I’ll read it.”
The book tells prices in that fateful year. A new house cost $4,075.00, the average income was $1,777.00 per year and a new car cost $850.00. Tuition to Harvard University was $420.00 per year (I don’t think many from Route One have ever attended Harvard University) and gasoline was a whopping 12 cents per gallon. Grocery prices are also a part of the information given in the book. Ten pounds of sugar cost 59 cents and coffee was 45 cents per pound. Eggs were 20 cents per dozen and a loaf of bread was eight cents. Lest we lapse into a longing to pay those prices, take a look at the average income and compare that to today’s average income. It equals out about the same.
Sometimes when I look at the book with all the facts about 1941, I recall the memories that Mom shared with me of that year. Sometimes my eyes get a little misty. Sometimes those days seem romantic and exciting – except to those who lived them. To them, it was a time when they relied on faith and family to get them through. And they truly are our greatest generation.
LaVale Mills is a columnist and Publisher Emeritus of The Red Bay News.