Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details

“In times of war and deprivation …”

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As scenes, and themes, of hunger envelop my current novel-in-progress, this writer’s Guest Post is a glimpse of history – and hunger – from the branches of our own family tree: th

The measure of a moral compass

By Tracey Edgerly Meloni

Nana’s last ration book, bilious green and brittle, is pasted to the inside cover of her journal. Rationing in the UK continued until 1954 – July 4 – and defined three generations of my family, for better or for worse. Now, it seems the hand of “democratic deprivation” touches – teaches? – six-year-old me.

Sample_UK_Childs_Ration_Book_WW2Holding it, feeling it, I am engulfed in memories that are not mine, but are as deeply embedded as if they were. All my short life I have heard about the evacuees from London and Birmingham that filled The Chantry, the Victorian Gothic-horror house where eventually I was born in England’s Lake District. Retold stories of GranNana “tsking” over the poor quality of coal available to heat the house while she supervised the hanging of “ill-fitting” blackout drapes, lamenting in her ladylike way the conversion of nearby Shap Wells resort into a POW camp for upper echelon German officers. I recall Nana joining the chorus: “We managed on one egg a week while the best provisions sailed past bound for ‘Those Germans’.”

My mother took up shooting rabbits for meat – “I’m not eating another revolting mouthful of bloody whale, and you’ll not convince me SPAM is meant to be eaten by humans. I’d rather wait for horsemeat.” 1601418_894304997248646_7548890421444550389_n

The “Land girls” made sure they – I can’t help but think “we” – had plenty of vegetables and developed recipes to make them palatable in the absence of butter and onions. Most treasured, and missed, were bacon, butter, cream and whole milk. Till the day they died, my forebear-women would not tolerate margarine, powdered milk or the dreaded peanut butter (used as a less-than-successful shortening in wartime baked goods).

Sharing the shortages was a red badge of courage. Rationing was good for all.

Mostly…

A Well Groomed and Tidy Land 86

Photo: Kathy Gilman

All the women spoke gleefully of the alligator shoes, a size too small, my mother found for 100 pounds (!!) on the black market. No one chastised Mr. Dixon-Hunter for siphoning petrol from unwitting hotel visitors. The tale of Rodney, the ill-gotten pig, hidden and slaughtered for a village Guy Fawkes Day feast, is still cheerfully ballyhooed.

Uncle Willie, my Godfather, who fought in a ghastly conflict no one mentions, sees my untutored ethical struggle. He smells of Pear’s soap and Players cigarettes and ginger. I love him very much.

tracey_edgerly_meloni“In time of war and deprivation,” he says earnestly, looking into my eyes, “our moral compasses may venture off true north.”

Years will pass before I grasp his meaning, but the words remained as indelibly etched as the brittle feel of the ration book.

 

2 thoughts on ““In times of war and deprivation …”

  1. Simply wonderful and well put memories of family and place in a place that I personally love – England. I remember seeing those ration books at a remembrance of the beginning of WWII when I was in England last summer. Thanks for posting.

  2. We Will Never Know what our parents and forbears went through in that war, in the war before and in the years of deprivation in between. My dad saved all his war stuff, including the announcement of VE Day when it came off the teletype. Like most of the soldiers, he didn’t know the full extent of what Hitler and Co. were doing, but on some level he realized the importance of being there. And saved EVERYTHING. My nephew has all his war stuff right now.
    And Americans will probably never understand the depth of suffering the British and French went through in both wars.
    It was a time that brought out the best and worst in everybody. I remember being critical of the British for India and Ireland and, well, us, until I saw Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech.” Which made me understand them so much better. A small country with nothing but a backbone of steel to help them hold off Hitler. Which made up for everything else. Almost. “Downton Abbey” and the Beatles also helped.

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