More early memories -- 07/30/10

So, continuing on yesterday's theme of earliest memories, another one that I mentioned in my comments at Sarah's blog was riding on a New York City subway line with my mother. This was during a visit to my grandmother -- my father's mother -- who had moved to New Jersey (either Hoboken or Weehawken, I can't remember which) -- during the war while Dad was overseas. We had no car, so I was accustomed to riding on the Kingston (NY) city transit buses with my mother when we went shopping or visiting friends and family who didn't live in our neighborhood (such as my mother's parents) and we would have traveled by train to get down to New Jersey but this might have been my first subway ride. The train was moving through a dark tunnel with lights flashing by over head. I must have been uneasy at this noisy bumpy different kind of travel and my mother was explaining to me about being in a train traveling underground but I was still confused because I thought those lights passing by overhead were street lights and I accepted that we were in a train in an underground tunnel, but I couldn't understand how I could see the street lights through the street. It just didn't make sense to me but I kept quiet about it because there was so much that was confusing about the world but I had learned to keep my confusion to myself and eventually things would begin to make sense. I was the kind of kid who had a gazillion questions about everything so the adults around me probably heaved a sigh of relief when I did shut up for a while. (And no, I do not know how I could know about street lights during wartime blackout conditions unless Kingston -- ninety miles or so up the Hudson River from New York -- was far enough inland that they could have them on or maybe they turned them off early or maybe -- well, I just plain don't know -- but I do not have any memories of blackout curtains on our windows or anything like that.)

An the picture above is of me all bundled up in this great sled we had that was sort of like a stroller with runners instead of wheels, really handy in winter and I absolutely loved being taken for rides in it. My mother would take me out in it but I also had two teenage cousins (both of whom would go on to become nurses) who would also take me out in the sled -- Carol, whose birthday party I wrote about earlier this year -- and Jackie, my godmother, who lives in Phoenix. (Since my father, by this date, would either have been on a troop ship crossing the North Atlantic, or would already be in England, the shoveling of the sidewalk and those steps would have been done by her, unless perhaps a teenage cousin or two might have shown up with friends.)

Below, the next day, at my grandparents' house (my mother's parents).

Many of my wartime memories are vague as to time and date -- clocks and calendars don't mean much to toddlers. I know that I once got in trouble for drawing on the food ration stamps with crayon -- I remember being shown the stamps and being given a stern lecture about never, ever doing that again. (My mother told me years later that she had been terrified that my artistic decoration might have voided the stamps but our neighborhood grocer accepted them, which had been a bit relief.)

I used "read" the newspaper -- that is, look at pictures, turn pages, look at more pictures, finally come to the comics page and try to talk my mother or my great -aunt into reading the comics to me. (Which they were willing to do, but they always had chores like cleaning and cooking and ironing and sewing to do first.) I do remember one time the front page had a big picture of a large number of tanks, dozen and dozens of them all lined up in precise rows in a parking area waiting to be shipped overseas. This caught my attention and I asked about it and was told that these were Canadian tanks. What was Canada? It was a country north of us that was on our side in the war. Wow. Canada obviously must have more tanks right there in that picture than everyone else in the world. All I could think of was that my Daddy was sure to be home soon if such a big and powerful country as Canada (that had such an incredible huge number of tanks to send) was on our side, then we would be sure to win the war really really soon now.

Another winter picture, this one from January of 1945. The war was still going on and my father was still somewhere in Europe. He used to send me letters (sometimes with little funny cartoon drawings) and my mother would read them to me. Sometimes I would draw some scribbles to send to him.

And then the war was over and he was able to come home.

I had had my vaccination shot just a few days before he was due back (this would have been the smallpox vaccination -- the standard protections against mumps and measles and chicken pox and polio, etc were all still in the future) and there was a big deal made about when the scab would fall off. The idea being, I think, was that the scab falling off meant that you had had a successful vaccination -- otherwise you would have to have another shot -- but I am working with childhood memories here and it may not have meant anything. I was so proud of my scab and wanted to show Dad but it fell off the night before he came home and I was very upset because he wouldn't be able to see the scab on my arm, but I was calmed down by my mother pointing out that I had the scar on my arm where the scab had been and it was the scar that showed that I was now a big kid.

Dad had telephoned the night before to say what train he would be on. Long distance calls were very difficult to book (you were supposed to avoid wasting any resource needed for the war effort and even though the war was now over, the shortages weren't) but he managed to get through and Mom held out the phone to me so I could talk and I screamed "I don't wanna!" (which Dad could hear and he burst out proudly laughing at having a stubborn pig-headed son -- uh, he may have changed his mind about that later ** grin **) because I had never talked on a telephone before (two year olds did very little telephone chit-chat in those days, we didn't even have our own cell phones yet) and I was scared of it.

And the next day we went to the Kingston station (of the West Shore Railroad, a subsidiary of the New York Central, which ran up the west side of the Hudson River) and a train pulled it and lots of guys in uniform got off and one of them was my Daddy and he picked me up and hugged Mom and was laughing and laughing and then we went home.

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