Through Any Given Door

1.23 The War Years

Carleen, Betty, Larry

September 1940 • Watsonville and Vallejo ~ The family moved back and forth between the Vallejo and Watsonville. In 1940, Dad was working for Union Ice, and he occasionally took Larry with him on deliveries. My brother was impressed with the tons of ice in the huge vending machines, especially the ice machine located by the big fifty-foot-high barrel restaurant. He also vividly recalls going along to deliver ice to the large Army base near Watsonville, awestruck by the hundreds of tents and thousands of soldiers in uniform. My brother has other memories of that time. The park was a big deal, and after much pleading, Mom would take him and Carleen there. Mom sat and read, rocking Betty to sleep in the baby buggy while they played on the swings and teeter-tottered, running around until it was time to head home for dinner. He remembers weekend trips to Carmel, driving down Ocean Avenue with Monterey Cypress trees planted in the center of the street. The kids could hardly wait to dip their toes in the Pacific Ocean and picnic on the white sand beach.

Dec. 7, 1941 • Vallejo ~ The family gathered quietly around the radio—their link to the outside world—listening to the news about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor, attacking our naval base on Oahu. Our country had serious concerns that our coast would be invaded by Japan, and right after the bombing, all the local Japanese were interned or relocated. There were blackout sheets on all the windows. Everyone had flash cards so they could tell the difference between American and Japanese planes. Between 1942 and 1945, sugar and butter were rationed and the government issued scrip to buy meat. You couldn’t buy a new car because they weren’t being made; all manufacturing efforts went into making vehicles for the war. You could buy a used car, but gas was rationed.

As there was a food shortage, they picked raspberries as a family. The Japanese were no longer there to work the fields and the remaining pickers were employed in defense jobs. Larry, who was eight, and Carleen seven, picked all they could eat and could eat all they wanted. The farmers paid them a nickel a basket for what they didn’t consume. Our parents made two or three dollars a day. Larry and Carleen made a quarter each, their first earned money. Daddy bought them piggy banks so they could save their wages.

Mom and the kids were staying with Mom’s sister and her family for a few days. Ina had somehow secured a pound of bacon and the next morning she cooked it for breakfast. The children were at kids’ table in the other room. When Ina returned to the kitchen to fix their plates, she found that Mom had eaten most all of the bacon.

Ina chewed her younger sister out. “Babe, how could you do that?” she snapped. “What about the kids?”

Mom’s defense was that they were too young to know. “Besides,” she sniffed, “I haven’t had any bacon lately.”

Larry and Carleen

1942 • Vallejo ~ The only dog the family ever had was when they lived in Vallejo where my dad worked for Union Ice, but they didn’t have him for long. It was a little black-and-white eight-year-old mongrel, and eight-year-old Larry loved him. On a cloudy Sunday our parents took a drive out of town with Larry and Carleen cradling Betty in the back, Mom and Dad with the dog in the front; when they stopped, my parents quietly let the dog out. As they turned around to head back to town, Larry heard barking and swiveled his head, looking out the rear window.

“Hey, that looks like our dog. HEY!” he yelled, “that IS our dog.”

Dad shifted gears; he and Mom stared straight ahead. In silent unison they looked at the grey sky and reflected, “that was your dog.

The most exciting thing that happened to Larry that year was when a huge military blimp broke loose from its wire anchors and landed in the front yard. A fleet of military trucks with soldiers from Mare Island came to get the blimp. Larry’s excitement turned to despair when an army truck ran over his favorite toy. His steel red wagon, a Radio Special, was crushed.

My brother was the experimenter in the family, always attempting to figure out how things worked. When he was seven he was playing with matches, carefully trying to burn the little balls off the white bedroom curtains in Mom and Dad’s room. The sheers instantly went up in flames. Larry didn’t know what to do so he tore down the charred remains and hid them in the closet. The wall was singed but luckily the house didn’t burn down. Dad was enraged and told him he’d give him a strapping he’d never forget.

Claudia and Betty

In March of 1942, when the family lived in Vallejo, Claudia, the sister closest to me in age, but who liked me the least, was born. Betty felt the same way about Claudia when she was born. Betty didn’t like her from the get-go, nor did she ever forgive her for coming into the world, especially when Claudia—with her blonde ringlets, long eyelashes and cherubic face—became the favored child of the family.

Carl Clemens, Iceman

Dad worked for Union Ice from 1936 to the summer of 1943—about the time electric refrigerators ended the need for home ice deliveries. Electric refrigerators were built after WWII and the Union Ice Company made a desperate attempt to stay in business, advertising that ice was the perfect refrigeration for fresh products, better than the electrics which produced a dry coolness that wilted produce. Within a very few years the local delivery of ice to individual households ended and the only delivery left was ice cubes and crushed ice to bars and restaurants. That didn’t last long either. Ice making machines came on the market, spelling doom for the Union Ice Company.

1943 • Sonora, California In 1943, the family moved to Sonora, the county seat of Tuolumne County in the Sierra Nevada foothills, where Dad traded in his dark blue uniform for a suit and tie, managing the Sprouse Reitz on Washington Street. The former farmer, construction worker, iceman, and pinball wizard comfortably settled into small town life, running a five and dime and raising his growing family.

to be continued …

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Jim Chatfield says:

    Cathy, you never fail to tell an interesting story, and they bring back memories of that era. Thank you as always.

  2. Although most people don’t talk about favored children in the family, they most definitely exist. Jealousy and rivalries will almost always come between siblings at some time in their life. Interesting to read how it played out in your family.

  3. mark chapman says:

    Betty felt the same way about Claudia when Claudia was born. Betty didn’t like her from the get-go, nor did she ever forgive her for coming into the world, especially when Claudia—with her blonde ringlets, long eyelashes and cherubic face—became the favored child of the family.
    I believe my sister felt the same way about me. My mother once opened the bedroom closet and found my sister’s baby doll with a noose around it’s neck, hanging from the doorknob.

    • OMG… I tried not to laugh. Really, I did. The thing is, those ill feelings follow us into adulthood and then we don’t understand why we can’t get along. It’s simple really. Claudia was told to not come to Betty’s celebration when she died, and I had deliver the news. Claudia’s response was, “It’s okay, she never did like me.” It was a simple as that. She didn’t take it personally.

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