by Melanie K. Wooten
People say to me, “You can’t remember World War II; you were only five years old when it ended!” But they are so wrong. I do remember a lot of it and I want to share my memories with you of a more innocent time.
During the war, children in potential targets were removed from that danger, if at all possible, so I was sent from Washington, DC, to live in a rambling old house in what is now Old Town Manassas, Virginia, with my great aunties, my great grandmother, and my Uncle Tommy. (Try seeing where you grew up as a designated landmark. Kinda puts things in a different perspective.) Anyway, my father was a professional entertainer in that town filled with newcomers, so he stayed in Washington; my mother was working as a comptometer (predecessor to computers) operator in what would later become the Pentagon, so she stayed with her husband. People did that then, just as the earlier generations sent their children from their farms to live with relatives in towns so they could go to school.
I can still see that house in Manassas now, white and welcoming. There was a glider on the porch to the right as you walked out the front door. Down the wraparound porch, to the left, was a corner swing where we could sit, swing, banter, and catch those BA (before air conditioning) breezes. We all had to be dressed and waiting on that porch when the men came home from work. I guess it was a gesture of respect to their efforts on our behalf; I know it meant a lot to the grownups. I kinda liked it too; I never doubted I was a girl, even though all my cousins were boys and so we played boy games!
All us kids took (ugh!) music lessons and I can remember going to Baker’s Funeral Home, which was at the corner to the right of our house, for my piano lessons with Kitty Baker -- where I saw things kids pay money to see now. But death was a part of life in those days. After all, it was the middle of World War II; young men died and we knew it. Grownups more than likely died at home, surrounded by their families. I mean, I found Mr. Cushion dead in his Adirondack chair on his front lawn; I found my Uncle Tommy dead in his bed one morning. I wasn’t warped by that. Death was not an unknown territory; it was just a part of life. Kids don’t need to be sheltered from life. Truth be told, I wasn’t as scared then, as I was when I saw “Isle of the Dead” with Boris Karloff a good ten years later!
I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard that President Roosevelt had died. All us kids were outside, as usual. I had walked ‘downtown’ and I was looking at some puppies in a pet store window. It was a hot day and the sun was shining. It still doesn’t make sense to me that something so sad could happen on such a beautiful day. You must remember that during World War II, everybody was involved. My baby sister and I would take my Radio Flyer and go up and down the streets, along with the rest of us kids, collecting the old tires, metal and grease for the war effort. Everybody had a job; that was ours.
There were ration books, too, for butter, eggs and meat. Gasoline was strictly controlled and we were able to purchase gas based on the sticker in the corner of our windshields. Everyone wanted that A sticker, for apparent reasons. I know color had something to do with it, but that memory eludes me.
But rationing didn’t stop families from celebrating birthdays and such. I can remember the women getting together, obviously to discuss whose birthday was when, and then they would pool their ration stickers to get eggs, milk and butter to make a cake for a child’s birthday or an anniversary. Yes, there were deprivations but somehow, being together made it much more bearable.
One day in August, I had been sent to another woman’s house to get the milk for such a cake. My mammy (yes, we had one; more about her later) was making the cake this week and I can remember holding that glass bottle by its neck and making the corner to go up our front steps when I heard all this pot-banging and shouting. I was so startled, I dropped the milk.
In my five-year-old mind, my life was running down those steps, along with that milk. I was going to be killed! I remember trying to figure out what I was going to tell Nellie, when shouting became the words that “the war was over, the war was over!” That eternity of incredible courage had been distilled in my five year-old mind to: “Maybe no one will notice that I don’t have the milk so they won’t ask me where it went.” (Children are not as stupid as would appear; they just think of the same things in their own frames of reference.)
They didn’t. I lived -- and had more adventures.
Melanie Wooten writes to us:
"I am entitled to be buried in the Confederate Cemetery at Manassas, Virginia. My family has always been buried there and we had four sons in the CSA.
"As for the old house, I took my son there and it is quite a treat at the age of 65 to see where I grew up become part of Old Town -- and it cannot be changed. I think it is very important for our children to see where we grew up. Gives them roots.
"I remember those old signs with 25, 50, 75, 100, and we'd turn up the one to tell the ice man how much we wanted. (We had a drain to below the kitchen, mind you, so I didn't have to dump the tray.) Anyway, I turned the sign up to 100 pounds, just to see what would happen. We ended up with a single, 100# block of ice on the back porch and I got a tanning, I can tell you . . ."
Read more stories by Melanie Wooten ~
World War II ~ Virginia Childhood
My Southern Childhood
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