Memories and Musings: Childhood during World War II

Published 6:09 am Wednesday, April 10, 2019

By Gene Gallelli


Who or what is the Younger Generation? I suppose the answer depends on your age. To a mother, it might be a teenage child with a different opinion about everything. To a grandfather who spouts “That’s not music!,” it’s probably a comparison between today’s top ten hits to those of his high school dances in the gym after a basketball game. 

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Anyway, to anyone who remembers the Second World War, the “younger generation” most likely refers to anyone who is still alive. 


Not many of us can remember watching our moms squeeze a bag of oleo (margarine) to break the yellow dye pill so the finished product looked like butter. (The taste was not like butter!) She would let me do it sometimes, but watch me like a smiling hawk so my excited, tiny hands wouldn’t burst the pouch and make a greasy mess for her to clean. After all the “squishing,” mom would scoop the finished product into a small crock and store it in the ice box alongside the glass bottle of milk and yesterday’s dinner leftovers, if any. 


We lived with my grandparents across from the New York Central Car Shops and while my grandfather was at work, I would sit in the kitchen on many a morning, dressed for church or school, and marvel at how carefully my grandmother would mix toasted barley with dried coffee grounds because coffee was rationed and hard to get. (My dad would have been upset knowing that my grandmother, his mother, would let me drink “coffee” with plenty of milk when we were alone in the kitchen.)


We had a car — I don’t remember the make and model — but it sat silent and still in the driveway, like several others up and down our street, because gas was rationed and we had used all our gas coupons. It still was fun to sit in the “jalopy” and pretend to be chasing an imaginary wartime villain like a favorite hero did in last night’s exciting radio broadcast. 


Sunday Mass was often very somber and sad, especially when the names of the “faithfully departed” were read from the pulpit and so many women-in-black would sob loudly when a special soldier’s name was mentioned. (We kids were especially afraid of one woman-in-black who always sat in the last pew. We thought she was a witch!) My mom always made certain I had ten cents to put in the collection basket when it came around. (Many of us associated ten cents with the ice cream sundae with chocolate syrup and peanuts it could buy down the block at Sweetland.)


This period of history – and my life as a young child during the war – is full of memories and stories, some sad and some inspiring, and I intend to share many of them.