Family Stories: 1940’s Stroll with Mama

Family Stories

1940’s Stroll with Mama

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If you enjoyed my first stroll, Family Stories: 1930 Stroll… Mama was born , I hope you’ll enjoy strolling again with me through the 40’s. There is so many family tidbits of family history that can’t necessarily be written as a story… but it can be gathered for a stroll through time.

Take my challenge and take a “stroll” through time with your family… and do send me a link … as I’d so enjoy reading your stroll through time!

The 1940’s brought many changes to the United States… they were now heading into another war, young and old were taken away from their families… and many men never returned home! One of those young men was my uncle, Edgar “Leroy” McKinley… a young man of 18 drafted right out of high school… which should have never happened. He was the only son of my grandfather to carry the name and had suffered with asthma all his life, but like my mother has always said… it always “who you are and who you know”… even back then! My grandfather was only a “dirt farmer”… plowing a field for a living… not one of the higher class… who’s boys weren’t drafted out of school!

The 1940’s and the times they brought… the beginning of the war years

  • 1940: My mother turned ten years old this year… and in fourth grade: President Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act, making it the first military draft to be created during a peacetime in the United States. “I can’t even imagine how the mothers felt when this bill was signed… feeling fearful, even though they knew it had to be! It wasn’t long before many of those very boys didn’t even wait to be drafted… they enlisted to fight for their country!”
  • 1941: On April 7 an Annular Solar Eclipse is seen for the first time in North America since 1930… the sun was completely blocked out for 6 to 7 minutes by the moon: I wonder if people were as excited as everyone was on August 21, 2017 when we had a solar eclipse. Parties were scheduled all over and people made all types of viewers to see the eclipse. I was excited about it and went outside trying to make a shadow with a pizza box and a colander… hubby had no interest!
  • 1941: Beautyrest mattress $39.50: Who bought a real mattress in 1941? I’ve always heard how my grandmother made their mattresses… making them with large sheets of muslim stuffed with cotton… the very cotton that granddaddy grew. An opening was left open on the bottom so she could put her hands inside and fluff it up. AND… once the bed was fluffed and made… you didn’t dare sit on it. If you dared to leave a dent in grandmamma’s bed during the day… well, I don’t know what punishment you would receive, but I wouldn’t want to have found out! At some point, grandmama stopped making them and I suppose granddaddy bought her a real mattress.. by the time I was old enough to lay on the bed… I didn’t leave a dent… so I was good!
  • 1941: Bacon, sliced was 59 cents per pound: Another item granddaddy didn’t have to buy… they had a continuous supply of bacon from the hog butchering every fall. If they wanted bacon, they only had to go out to the smokehouse… I’m sure they never bought a pound of bacon. I bet homemade fresh bacon was the best… and probably it was the thick bacon… that goes so well with biscuits and gravy for breakfast.
  • 1941: Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the early Sunday morning of December 7th… bringing the United States into the War. We retaliated on Japan… and 4 days later Italy and Germany  declared war on the United States: My uncle Leroy McKinley was 17 years old… I’m sure thoughts ran through his head of having to go to war soon, but even more so, I’m sure my grandmother worried.
  • 1942: The draft age was lowered from 21 to 18: I”m sure everyone paid attention to this… it affected their sons… and now coming earlier than they expected. With a war already in motion… draft notices were quickly sent out to the younger boys. Did they come to the schools and sign them up?
  • 1942: Car Makers switched from making cars to making War Materials: When we went to war in WWII, Americans and Businesses became Gung Ho for their country! They were willing to give up anything and everything… that would never happen in today’s world… times have changed, and not all for the good. Americans would never stand shoulder to shoulder for this country today. Sadly, most would feel it wasn’t their place to give up things… imagine using ration books today? Our families who grew up in the 30’s and 40’s were much stronger than we are today! They would never  stop making cars today… besides the people ranting that they wanted a car… I don’t think the manufacturers would feel that American! It’s a whole new world… and sadly, not a better one!
  • 1942: Rationing took place across America… issuing Ration books to all Americans: Mama remembers the ration books her parents had… and I actually have a couple of their books… with many stamps still intact. When I asked mama about them… “Mama used some of the coupons from the books, but Daddy tried to conserve and not use what he could do without.” Sugar was one of the first things added to the books, so I’m sure the family meals and desserts were impacted… probably many recipes were changed to accommodate using less sugar in the recipe. Once you used your ration monthly coupons for sugar… you couldn’t buy anymore until you received a new coupon book. Maybe they bartered with their neighbors! It was different back then, people cared about their country and they wanted to help… they were willing to go without. “My mother talked about how she and her siblings gathered steel for “steel drives” when she grew up during WWI. I don’t think people today would do without like we did back then, it was a different world… people have changed so much now…  I don’t think God is happy with the world now.”
  • 1942: Cost of a gallon of Gas 15 cents. War caused the price of gas to rise… Americans were asked to conserve their gas: My grandfather conserved gas… he was too busy working from sunup to sundown to be out using gas in his Model T. Usually he only took the car out for a Saturday afternoon drive into town… he looked forward to those filling station afternoons talking politics… seeing who could talk the loudest!
  • 1942: War was raging… times were changing, not only in the homes but at the movies: The war created new type of movies… movies of war themes… Movies like Casablanca, Flying Tigers and even Mr. Smith goes to Washington. Bing Crosby appeared in the movie Holiday Inn and created one of the most popular songs, White Christmas.
  • 1942: The United States government encouraged citizens to gather scrap metal and fabric for war effort: Mama remembered when they gathered scrap metal… and she said that there were even some people that bought your scrap metal… they came around to farms looking for old metal plows and tool implements. Granddaddy would never sell to them, saying, “I’m not selling them anything to send overseas for the Japanese to make bombs with, I’ll bury my metal first.” That makes me want to walk around the old farm area with a metal detector… sure wish I could!
  • 1943: Mama turned 13 this year and remembered: “I probably never even saw a car until I was about thirteen years old. We went everywhere in Daddy’s wagon until he bought his first car, which was a Model T Ford. I feel I grew up ignorant living on the farm… basically I only went to school and came home. I wasn’t allowed to stay after school and participate in sports or other activities – that would have meant Daddy had to come and get me – he wasn’t going to do that…  he was out in the field plowing every afternoons. I wasn’t a city kid – they were the only ones who did after-school activities.”
  • 1943: New rations were added to the ration books… items like nylons and shoes. Every citizen was given stamps for 3 pair a year, but some jobs were exempted, jobs such as police, and postal workers: Mama didn’t specifically remember any difference during the war years, but shoes weren’t bought for the kids like today, and if you had a large family… you got hand me downs. Her mother grew up during WWI and talked about how she only got one new pair of shoes every year. One year, her brother returned home from town with her new shoes, but they were too small… she had to wear them regardless that they were the wrong size… she cried every time she wore them.
  • 1943: Gas Rations were 3 gallons a week: This didn’t really affect many in the farm areas as they still had wagons they could or still used. My grandparents didn’t go anywhere except to town on Saturday afternoons. He didn’t have farm equipment that used gas… farmed only with a plow and mule. My grandparents were the true “green” society of their era… the use and reuse… unlike today when they talk about going green… but they’re really a throw away society. Many of my generation still has some of the instincts of the use and reuse… but it’s dwindling away fast. Almost everyone had a junk pile somewhere on their property… a place to go to when making needed repairs… there was no Home Depot to run too.
  • 1943: Food rationing books were still being issued: The commodity of coffee was now added to their books. Instant coffee was introduced to the public… not sure if that was rationed, but if it wasn’t, it probably became popular: Mama said, “I’m sure daddy didn’t give up all his coffee… as he loved his coffee, so strong and black that it could probably walk off the table by itself;  he probably didn’t drink it as often when it was rationed. Most restrictions on rations didn’t end until August of 1945… but for some reason sugar rations lasted in some parts of the country until 1947.
  • 1943: Bottle Coca Cola 5 cents: Coca-Cola was the most popular soft drink in the South, especially in Georgia… it was invented in Atlanta: It was never served at their dinner table… only milk was served in mama’s house, or sweet tea on Sundays. Coca Cola was only something you might have bought out… and even though it was only 5-cents… that was expensive and considered more a luxury. Mama remembers going to their cousins general store in town on Saturdays and buying a coke for 3-cents, and often the cousin would give her a package of peanuts to add to the bottle…  enjoying both at once! That’s what everyone did back then… they just went hand in hand! The only other time mama stopped in Cousin Ulma’s store was after school when the school bus dropped them off in town… she had time to wait for the next bus to take the country kids home. She usually didn’t have any money, but Cousin Ulma often slipped her a candy bar or a Coke if the other kids were eating. Prices of things didn’t jump like today… They were still 5 cents when I was in second grade in 1958. I haven’t forgotten that there was actually a coke machine outside my 2nd grade classroom… and Mrs. Pierce would let us buy one if we had brought a nickel from home; I think it disappeared soon after. When I asked if granddaddy ever drank cokes… “it’d have been a miracle if he did, I don’t think I ever saw him drink a coke!”
  • 1943: The US Mint produced the one-cent coin in steel due to copper shortages during World War II. Copper was being used for the created of ammunition and other military items: I remember my mother telling me that when I was small, I think she called them white pennies… she saved them in a jar when she found them, and kept that jar in the drawer of the sideboard in the dining room. One day she asked me what happened to all her pennies… “I used them for ice cream”, I said. 
  • 1944: President Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term in office… becoming the only person to ever do so, but he died during the next year in 1945: I’m sure grandaddy voted for him… not sure he would have remained a Democrat today.
  • 1944: Band leader Glenn Miller was reported missing while on his way to perform for troops in Paris: Last year while walking through the famous Grove St. Cemetery in New Haven, Ct., I discovered he was buried there… or rather a gravestone was placed there for him. I imagine my grandparents listened to him on often on the radio.
  • 1944: Loaf of Bread 10 cents: Mama said her mother made bread daily… but she was always jealous because most of the city kids brought sliced bread to school. She would bring a biscuit with ham for lunch, while they’d have a sandwich on sliced bread… sometimes they switched with her as they wanted her biscuit and ham… maybe they wanted the ham as meat rationing didn’t end until late in ’44; she remembers her brown bag lunch even being stolen at times. That always got her in trouble with her mother when she didn’t bring back home that brown paper bag… it was reused everyday, it wasn’t something you bought at the store to use, you saved them to reuse.
  • 1945: My grandparents only son, Edgar “Leroy” McKinley was killed in WWII in Metz, Germany on February 19th… just three months short of his 21st birthday. It devastated my grandmother to the point that she began losing contact with the world… slowly now living in another world to ease her pain. It wasn’t until  years later that they were even able to have the body return home for burial. My mother was now fifteen years old… feeling sorrow in that she’d never see her brother again! He often wrote her letters… calling her “sis.”
  • 1945: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) dies in office; Vice President Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) takes the Oath of Office: I’m sure this was a big moment for America… and granddaddy was glued to the front of his radio… daring anyone to talk in the room… there was no rewind feature. We use that feature constantly… as hubby is always talking to the television set telling the characters either what they are doing wrong, or not doing at all! Granddaddy beat on the floor with his cane when he didn’t like what was happening! It would be several years later before he he had a television.
  • 1945: On August 6, 1945, during World War II, an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima: About the only time granddaddy turned the radio on was to either listen to the news or hear the president speak… mama remembers… “I better not come in the room and open my mouth if daddy was listening to the news, and especially if the president was speaking. Daddy’s favorite expression, “By God you better not come in here and talk.” I enjoyed reading books, not listening to the radio… we didn’t just put it on for music back then, it was only turned on for a specific event, and then turned off. If daddy wasn’t listening, he was sitting in his chair sleeping… he worked hard during the day. Mama would sometimes turn it on and sit and crochet or piece quilts… but I don’t remember specifically what she might have listened to.”
  • 1945: Only 5,000 homes have Television Sets: That wasn’t a large number compared to there only being 132.2 million people that had been recorded on the 1940 census. My grandparents didn’t have a television set until middle 50’s… and that was a used television my father gave them; granddaddy had never even wanted one until he saw wrestling was broadcasted… and he loved wrestling; he’d watch and bang the floor with his cane! My father had a job repairing TV’s after leaving the Navy… we were the first one in our small town of Union Point to have a color TV set, even if it was used, we had one! Mama said daddy would get aggravated as everyone wanted to come over on Saturday nights to watch TV. If he hadn’t worked there, we probably wouldn’t have had a television set either.
  • 1945: World War II ended August 15th when Japan surrenders: Another event where granddaddy sat around the radio… and on saturday afternoon, I just know there was a lot of talk at the filling station where all the men gathered. I’m sure there was mixed feelings on the war… as they had just lost their only son earlier in the year.
  • 1946: Electricity in the late summer of 1946 was brought to the rural farms in Greene Co., Georgia: Mama always said that they got electricity at the farm before she got married… and she married in 1947. In as much as grandmama was excited about electricity coming to the farmhouse… she still tried blowing the bulb out for a few nights, instead of just pulling the chain… hard to break life-long habits. Mama remembers that it wasn’t long after… that the wood burning kitchen stove was replaced and grandmama got a new electric stove… as once the electricity came in she wanted a new stove! It didn’t take long to adjust from “no longer” chucking wood inside for heat… to just turning a knob. I wonder what they did with the old cast iron stove… I never remember seeing it stored in the barns… maybe mama will remember. Granddaddy never just threw anything away… thinking that he might need a part off it one day. It probably made its way to the barns, but in an area I never explored.
  • 1946: World’s First Electric Blanket $39.50: This would be one luxury that my grandparents would have never bought, as grandmama made quilts. Grandmama pieced quilts every evening before bed… saving every piece of fabric that came her way. She even saved the muslim tobacco pouches that granddaddy’s rolling tobacco came in… taking them apart and sewing together to use as quilt backing. It would take several sewed together to fit on the back of a quilt…. granddaddy must have went through an awful lot of Prince Albert tobacco cans. I remember quilts everywhere in our house… there was always a stack at the end of the sofa… and a couple on every bed. I still have two of my grandmother’s favorite quilts… her flower garden and the wedding ring quilt she made my mother when she married. She made two of the wedding ring quilts, and gave Leroy’s to his wife he married before going overseas; they later divorced right before he was killed. Several years ago I searched her out and talked to her on the phone… she told me she always kept that quilt as a remembrance of him and his mother. She had visited them on the farm a few times; she was from Racine, Wisconsin.
  • 1946: Eggs 64 cents per dozen: Eggs were another commodity they never had to buy… actually grandmamma sold her extra eggs, butter and cream. Sometimes she took it to her cousin Ulma’s store in Siloam and take credit for what she needed from there. Funny story on the cream grandmamma saved… she’d pour the extra in a tub in the kitchen… one day while grandmamma was visiting with someone in the living room, mama took a cream batch in that tub… grandmamma got so mad because she had to pour out the cream… she used to sell it to some man who came around once a month to buy the extra. Every Saturday afternoon grandmama and granddaddy went to town, and while she spent time with Ulma… granddaddy talked politics with the men at the filling station across the street. I remember the large chicken coop that was alongside the walk to the barns. I often gathered the eggs when I was there… but walked cautiously… as to not step in the chicken poop… the worst thing to step in, especially if you were barefoot. Granddaddy had a special basket used to gather the eggs in… today it sits in my home. The chickens were funny when you fed them in the yard… one minute none would be there, then you’d walk out with feed and yell for them and they’d all come… surrounding you as you flung the feed. Mama was now 16 years old and in high school.
  • 1946: The U.S. started Atomic Tests on Bikini Atoll: Mama had already been seeing my father, Clayton Bryan… introduced to her through her best friend Willie Mae’s boyfriend. He was in the Navy when they met, and now was overseas on the U.S.S. Blue Ridge… headed toward the Bikini Atoll Islands. Little did she know, that he was going to be part of the first Atomic Bomb tests… something that he couldn’t share with anyone until returning home.
  • 1946: Popular Musicians were Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ink Spots, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Perry Como, and the Andrews Sisters: Mama enjoyed dancing… wonder who her favorites were? She used to tell me how she and her girlfriend would go to “Whit’s Grill”… a local truck stop in Union Point, where they would crawl up on the stools and  watch them dance in the back room.

  • 1947: Polaroid camera was invented: Film was probably very expensive… probably only the wealthy had these… I didn’t even know the Polaroid was invented this early. Mama had a camera, but probably a few years before this. She won it on a “punch board”… a board you sell chances on… then you send the money in and you win a gift. She won a small film camera… they were small 2-inch square pictures when developed as I have many of them she took. She only remembered using the film that came with the camera; her father wasn’t going to continue buying film and paying for developing… he would have considered that “not a necessity”.
  • 1947: The classic holiday Christmas film, “The Miracle on 34th Street” premiered. Mama never mentioned this movie… I know she did go to the movies in Greensboro and sometimes in Union Point, but maybe not often. She has mentioned that holidays, like even Christmas weren’t celebrated that much in her home. Her parents never had a Christmas tree… and I’ve always wondered why? She always said they were poor, but they never wanted for anything… food and clothing was always provided. I guess they felt toys weren’t a necessity!
  • 1948: My parents married on May 29th: My mother was 18 years old, a bride with a husband in the Navy. He married her while home on leave, but couldn’t take her back to the base at Wellington Naval Base in Memphis, Tenn. until they saved money for her to come. It wasn’t long after before she went there by bus… her father gave her money to go.
  • 1948: Kitchen table set $100.00: That was a lot of money… but granddaddy got a better deal when he bought an old oak table for $10.00 sitting out in the front yard of a family in White Plains… mama says it was painted every color there was… he also bought a set of used chairs. He brought them home, stripped all the paint off and mama had a “just like new” kitchen set for probably less than $20.00. That very same oak table sits in my kitchen today; my husband occasionally refinishes it… keeping it in good condition.
  • 1948: Food Prices were: Loaf of Bread 14 cents; LB of Hamburger Meat 45 cents; Coffee 85 cents for 2 pound bag; Onions 49 cents for 10 pounds; Pork Roast 39 Cents per pound: Probably out of all these food items, the only ones granddaddy would have bought was coffee and maybe hamburger meat… although he didn’t really like beef, that’s why he didn’t raise meat cows. He only had dairy cows on his farm and hogs… selling some pork to buy other foods the family needed. Grandaddy butchered the hogs in the fall… an all day affair… to not only kill and prepare the meat, but there was other things you did with parts of the hog… like rendering fat to make lard. I’ve always wondered how they did that, so google became my friend in discovering… and this was what first caught my eye on the page… “It was the mystery of the missing pig fat… that almost sounds like it could go with a Nancy Drew novel, huh?” Further reading gave me my information… When butchering the pig, you cut off all fat for rendering, which turns into lard after a long, slow simmering process in a cast iron pot. I have granddaddy’s cast iron kettle… I guess if I tested its DNA… I might know all what was cooked in it! Grandaddy often hired men and women to come and work on that day. They cut all the fat into small pieces and simmered, while frequently stirring to prevent sticking. The aim was to end up with a white lard preferably, but anything else would still be ok for frying. Mama often talked about how their evening meal were cracklins, and brains and eggs… the cracklins I would definitely try, but the brains and eggs I’m not too sure about… however she did swear how delicious they were! Uncle Leroy’s wife was there one fall when they butchered the hogs and she asked grandaddy to save her the pig blood… she wanted to make blood pudding. I don’t think my mother or grandfather ate it…she said it was always made in Wisconsin. I found reading the process of how to render lard quite interesting, and added a link on the first quote of where the site mentioned Nancy Drew.
  • 1949: My parents first child, Monica Yvonne Bryan, was born on March 8th, but died on Nov. 11th; she was born with spina bifida. I can’t even imagine what my mother went through, at age 19… losing her first child the very year she was born. They were still living on base at Wellington Naval Base. It wasn’t long after before Daddy was discharged from the Navy and they returned to Union Point, Georgia.
  • 1949 Food Prices were… Bacon Sliced 59 cents per pound; Bananas 11 cents per pound; Bleach 21 cents 1/2 gallon; Cantaloupe 23 cents; Fresh Chickens 55 cents per pound: Food back then didn’t change prices as fast as today. In 1941, bacon was still 59 cents per pound… never changing in 8 years. I actually thought bananas would have been cheaper, but being imported, I guess made the price higher. Cantaloupes were grown in Georgia, but mama has never mentioned that her father grew them, but I’m assuming he did, as he grew plenty of watermelons. Chicken pricing seemed high to me… so many had farms so I wonder how well chickens sold, but that might have been the reason for the high price. As both my grandfathers had farms… I have no memory of my mother ever buying any produce in the stores… and probably she brought fresh chicken home from her father’s farm also. We always left the farm with bags of fresh vegetables… and a watermelon for me!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this stroll through the 1940’s with me… I might just have to continue this stroll… as I’m having too much fun in remembering bits and pieces that would probably never have made its way into a blog post. Hope you’re going to stroll through your family lines!

To read the 1930 stroll, click HERE


To read more Family Stories… click HERE.

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About Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

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1 Response to Family Stories: 1940’s Stroll with Mama

  1. Antoinette Truglio Martin says:

    Thank you for the stroll.

    Liked by 1 person

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