Rationing

I don’t trust either one of ’em. The difference is that Apple wants to sell things to me or information about me to others, while the FBI wants to throw me in jail until they figure out, at their leisure, something to charge me with.

 

My Dutch friend Rina’s father had been given an opportunity he couldn’t refuse to work for free in a German factory, and then, after the factory was bombed in early ’44 was bid auf Wiedersehen and allowed to walk back home.  Luckily, his factory was in the Ruhr, so it was only 300 km.   At only 30 miles a day, you could do it in a week.  Well, if you weren’t a factory slave who’d been overworked and underfed for several years and couldn’t take the shortest route.

He got home as the serious food shortages hit and saved his family from starvation by sneaking out at night to parks where he remembered tulip beds and returning with a sack of bulbs, a source of carbohydrates that Rina says doesn’t taste too bad when you’re really, really hungry.

Of course we Americans had some minor hardships.  For the duration of the war, automobiles were not made since the factories had been converted to the manufacture of jeeps, trucks, and other military vehicles, not to mention tanks and airplanes. And since the Japanese had cut off supplies of rubber, new tires for civilian vehicles vanished, and there were rubber drives collecting old tires, garden hoses, and smaller rubber items to be converted into tires for the military.

Gasoline and motor oil were strictly rationed and the national speed limit was reduced to 35 MPH to save not only gasoline but also tires.  Oilfield workers, like my father, were not drafted since they were critical in the domestic production of fuel for the war.

In addition to items like shoes and clothes, food was also rationed.  For civilians, chocolate pretty much disappeared by the end of the first year, and rationing of most foodstuffs was begun in mid-’42.  Coffee was rarely found even if you had a ration stamp for it. Rationed foods started with sugar and included meats, butter, fats, oils, cheese, all canned and bottled foods, and dried beans.  This rationing also encouraged civilians to grow fruit and vegetables in “Victory Gardens” since your family could eat all it wanted of what it grew and then barter any extra to others in your area.

My father was a “pumper” in those days, which meant that his job was to keep a bunch of pumping jacks working properly and on the correct schedule, and pumpers were provided houses out in the country in the vicinity of their pumps.  So Daddy planted a large garden, and then when it came into production, built a sty, bought a young sow, fed her what we didn’t eat from the garden until she reached adulthood, had her bred, and then bartered her children.  The ones we didn’t eat.  So we were well fed compared to city folks.

Then in ’44, Daddy got a promotion, but this meant having to move to an apartment in Longview with no garden, so like everyone else’s in town, all our food was rationed.  One of my earliest memories was of my mother letting me help her in the kitchen by mixing the little envelope of red powder into the white oleomargarine and stirring it while i watched it miraculously turn yellow so it could better masquerade as butter.  (You needed the same ration coupon to buy oleo as you did for butter, but butter was a lot more expensive.)

Another fine memory from this time was a visit from my uncle, who was in the army and thus, unlike civilians, could get chocolate.  He brought a six-pack of plain Hershey bars, which my mother immediately took charge of and instituted her own rationing program.  A full serving of this fabulous treat i was too young to have tasted before was one square, and the method of consumption was to place the square on your tongue and, without chewing, allow it to melt in your mouth, thus greatly prolonging your enjoyment.  Optionally, you could wolf it in five seconds, but you weren’t getting another until after the next dinner, dessert not being served at breakfast or lunch.

What in the world, you ask, prompted this essay?  Well, i’m going through all my memorabilia and throwing into the recycling bin stuff like all my photos, diplomas, certificates, photos, and letters of appreciation from former employers, but in one of the folders i found my WWII ration books.  Yes, even small children were issued ration books since they had to eat, too.  And with their books, you could get canned milk, which was not sold to adults.

The best overall online source i found on WWII rationing was the Wikipedia article.  Take a look for a great deal more information than i’ve provided.  If you want more details, you can find them by surfing around in other links on the subject, as it was a complicated system.

Meanwhile, here’s the cover of my empty War Ration Book Two.

War Ration Book Two

Yes, that’s the name i was using when i was two.

And here are the remaining food stamps in my War Ration Book Four.  The whole system was extremely complex, but the red stamps were for meat, and they were almost all used up by the end of rationing after the war.  The blue and green were for different categories of processed foods, but even though we obviously liked the blue category better, i don’t know the difference between what you got with it as opposed to the green.

War Ration stamps from book 4

But don’t worry.  We won’t have rationing again because the whole point of rationing is to prevent the richest from buying up everything and leaving nothing for the rest of us.

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2 Comments

  1. Rick C.
    Posted 30 March 2016 at 17:47 | Permalink

    Loved your stories of the Victory Garden and the rationing coupons (and the related photos, thank you), and Rina’s stories of her father and the tulip bulbs, definitely. I’ve shared these with a few friends here. Perspective is a wonderful thing… Thanks, Matte!

    • Posted 30 March 2016 at 18:17 | Permalink

      The Dutch have a cultural bias against whining, so those in my generation don’t volunteer much information about the Hunger Winter and you have to pry bits and pieces out of ’em. Those bits are invariably about how a parent or someone figured out a way to get more food rather than complaining about its absence. I made up that bit about the tulip bulbs not tasting bad when you were really, really hungry because Rina never said “really, really hungry” but rather just mentioned that they had hardly any food. The way you know they were really, really hungry is from the mortality statistics and from the photographs of city kids with matchstick arms and legs. Well, and from the fact that they ate tulip bulbs.

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