Looking Back

By Grace McCoag in Community

I can clearly remember the 1939 to 1945 era, when World War Two was robbing us of so many young men and women. Our loved ones left their homes to fight for our freedom. Some never came back.  Those of us who were left at home, were introduced to ration books-food rules as to what you could buy.

We had separate books for sugar, meat, butter, gasoline and coffee. Canadians were luckier than the citizens of the U.K., where they had to have coupons for other things like clothing.

The government kept a close watch over ration book use. You could be fined for hoarding or for selling food stamps. Officials made sure they knew how many people were in each household so you did not report any extras who were not there. Rationing stayed on for a year or so after the war ended. Foods also went up in price, causing many Canadians to become malnourished.

During the first year of rationing, we lived on a farm so we were fortunate to have our own eggs, milk and meat. We had a large vegetable garden and an orchard with a variety of fruits that mother would can in the fall. Food rationing had little effect on us.

However, our lives changed partway through the war. My father, lured by the high wages, moved to the city. He found work in a factory which manufactured war materials like propeller blades for ships and planes.

In the city, my mother took in six boarders, all men who worked with my father. They worked long hours over hot furnaces used to melt and mix the necessary metals, and they were always hungry. I remember my father bringing home a flawed bronze propeller about the size of a grapefruit as an example of what he made.

Ration books were personal and had to be signed by the owner, but they could be reassigned to a meal provider. Our boarders all gave Mother their personal ration books, and she put them to good use. Sometimes she could save up enough sugar to make an apple pie that she would smother with caramel sauce- mmm good.

We learned to drink tea and coffee without sugar. We used powdered milk. Meat portions became smaller.  Deserts became calmer- not the sickening sweet that we had once insisted on. Margarine- that was something new we had to get used to. It was a vegetable oil substitute for butter. Originally white in colour, it came in a plastic bag with a button of yellow colouring inside. If you squeezed the button and kneaded the bag you got something that resembled butter when you finished, though it didn’t taste much like butter- or the margarine we have today.

Mother made lunches for the six boarders and my father, and that required margarine to be used on the sandwiches. But when Mother made them, she put margarine only on the outer edges of the bread slices. She said that the filler-salmon, ground meat with green pickle relish or whatever-would take care of the centre.

During the war years, everyone was encouraged to buy Savings Bonds to help the war effort. When I got married in 1950, Mother and Dad gave us a Saving’s Bond worth one hundred dollars plus accumulated interest. I had my eye on a beautiful set of dishes that I had spotted in Eaton’s catalogue  and thought it would be an ideal way to spend the gift. Indeed it could double as a Christmas gift and I could show it off on my Christmas dinner table. I filed the bond on the same page as the illustration of the dishes in the catalogue, planning to order closer to Christmas.

The new catalogue came in the mail, and being very organized, I, without thinking, threw out the old one into the garbage. Nearer to Christmas I prepared to order my first real set of china-ware. Only then did I realize the old catalogue and the bond were long gone into the city garbage dump. I never told Mother or Father how I spent their gift.