Part 21

The war years were for me a wonderful time. Sad to say, but true. In Rivers I had a young baby to care for, Bob’s letters to read weekly, and the support of my in-laws, friends and neighbours. All of us women were in the same boat so it wasn’t hard to find someone to share your problems with, or whose company you enjoyed.

Everyone has a rations book that pretty well ruled our lives. The government took into account how many people were in each family and how much food they could reasonably eat. Every time I went to McKenzie’s Department store I would hand in my ration book and stamps were taken off the page for each purchase I made. We weren’t allowed to buy such things as a dozen eggs at a time. The book told us if we were entitled to one a week or four a week. The same held true for flour, sugar, milk, salt, and lots of other foods. All of us had small plots of gardens called “Victory Gardens” where we would grow, or tried to, enough vegetables for both our daily use and for preserving. We got very good at canning quarts of beets, stringbeans, carrots, and making cucumbers into all sorts of pickles. My Mom had bags of recipes for pickles but eventually settled on a “bread and butter” one that was easy to make and didn’t use up a week’s worth of sugar rations! I still love this pickle today. Freezers were too expensive for families to buy so we made do with the icebox in the kitchen. The children in town loved to follow the iceman in his cart to take slivers of ice off his load while he was doing his deliveries during the hot summer days! He never seemed to drive his horse – it always knew where to go and how long to stop at each house. In the winter the same horse and cart delivered our coal to the back door. He must have known all the secrets in our small town!

Because my in-laws owned McKenzie’s Department Store I was fortunate to be able to have some of the leftovers on Saturday night – perhaps a loaf of bread or some fruit when it was available. Usually fruit was hard to get but every now and then the store got in a supply of bananas, or peaches from out West and then everyone in town was in line to get some! We spent a lot of time in lines during the war. It wasn’t an inconvenience because we were all in the same boat and used the time to chat and exchange news about how our local boys were doing.

The ration books were exchanged as they were completed. We were all so thankful when the war ended and we could shop for any amount of food we wanted. Strangely though, very few took advantage of this new freedom. We had learned to do well with less and this lesson stuck with us for decades to come. I think that today’s youngsters could use a lesson like this.

As the war progressed we settled into routines. There were the meetings to knit for the troops, church on Sundays, games of cribbage and bridge in the afternoons. Then there was the usual routine for shopping, writing letters and doing a lot of walking with the younger children. By the time the war was over I had two healthy children: Brian was five and Sue was two. Brian would pull his little wagon to the store for me and come home with the milk or the mail – such was life in a small town where the merchants and the people at the post office could trust even the smallest child to get his errands done. We never seemed to worry about our children being in danger from strangers because there were few strangers in town. When the war brides arrived they were only strangers for a few days before they found themselves included in our many circles of activity.

With the end of the war the men returned and life became even more interesting. The women who had taken jobs in our local stores, or had run the farms on their own, were replaced by the men. However, the ladies said they were ready to have their own families. Most seemed happy to give up the nine-to-five lifestyle in exchange for a life of caring for their children and husbands. Some of my friends at the time lost their husbands and they found it difficult to socialize with us at parties and dances. No doubt this is still true today with the single people in our towns when so much is geared for couples. As a widow, I find now that most of my companions are women I met during these years –with just a few of the men still there to tease us whenever we get together at the Seniors Centre for a game of cribbage or bridge.

The 1950’s were a wonderful time. With the peace came prosperity and we were always busy at the store. Bob kept long hours working with his Dad. He not only worked at the counter in the food area but also oversaw the off loading of all the supplies from the wholesalers. He kept the apartments above the store in good running order even when it meant going there at all hours of the day and night. He had been an airframe mechanic in Shuffield, Alberta during the war and took courses in Trenton as part of his training but never saw action overseas. For this I was very grateful although guilty that I was so lucky. Bob probably regretted not being sent across but he never complained about it. He said everyone had to do what was needed and he was needed to build the planes. Unfortunately, he never took the time to teach his sons some of the many skills he used to fix and repair nearly everything. The boys could never seem to meet his level of competence whether it was in cutting the grass or painting the fence. Consequently, they either had to learn for themselves or hire someone for the routine jobs of keeping one’s home in good running order. When we first went to see Brian’s new home in Pinawa Bob was surprised to see a handmade workbench with attached vice and panelled walls. He would come to use this area nearly every time we visited because “the girls needed a little something”. So Holly and Eilean had their own picnic table because Bob had some spare lumber and Brian had a workbench.

In spite of his self imposed work schedule, Bob somehow found time to take us on holidays into the States or to Clear Lake. He was a terrible driver so this may be why Susan was always so carsick! Cars were heavy but didn’t have great suspension so Sue felt every bump on the road. I have often wondered why we didn’t have more accidents when Bob was always so focused on getting to our destination he forgot to use his turn signals, or watch the speedometer. Often I would offer to drive to give him a break but he was also a terrible backseat driver and insisted on calling out every potential driving problem with the road, the traffic or the time of day if we were on our way to a particular destination. Fortunately, car radios were invented so I could concentrate of the music instead of his driving.

[Note: following several strokes in November 2005 and January 2006, Bernie's memory was no longer as reliable, although she could sometimes recall distant events with great clarity: this entry was transcribed word-for-word from a tape recorded conversation with her in April 2006. Bernie died on 27 January 2015, just a few months short of her 96th birthday.]

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