Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The War Years: A Memoir - Peggy Blann Phifer

The War Years: A Memoir

I was one month shy of three years old the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Of course I didn’t understand what that meant. I remember sitting on my mother’s lap as we listened to Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy speech on a Philco radio…the big kind that stood on the floor with all kinds of knobs and dials.

I didn’t understand the import of the President’s words, but I saw the worried looks on my parent’s faces, so I knew something was wrong. But all I thought about was what Mom had told me just the day before…I was going to have a new baby brother or sister soon.

I didn’t understand, or even realize until much later, that my dad wasn’t called up. When I was about one year old, Dad had completed his Master’s Degree in Chemistry and had a job that was important to the government. We had just moved into a brand new house in Stamford, Connecticut, but Daddy’s job was in New York City, so he commuted.

My sister was born in April, and my brother came along in March, 1943, on St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t remember a whole lot about those early years except the heavy blackout curtains, ration cards, Green Stamps, gold stars in some windows, rolling string, painstakingly peeling the foil off gum wrappers and rolling them into a ball, and Mom volunteering to roll bandages.

I was six when the war in Europe ended, and just recovering from chicken pox and not contagious. My dad was in California at the time and wanted us to come to him by train. Sadly, my sister and brother had just come down with the chicken pox and couldn’t make the trip. So they stayed with my maternal grandparents while Mom and I made that memorable cross-country train ride.
I’ll never forget that time. Grand Central Station in New York was packed with servicemen, some returning home, some headed to the west coast to be sent to the Pacific against the Japanese army.

The train consisted mostly of soldiers and sailors getting off and others boarding. My mom, a true redhead, and me with curly blonde hair and missing my two front teeth, gained a lot of attention from these heroes. We never lacked for anything. We traveled Pullman and the black porters treated us like royalty.

Meeting up with Dad in San Francisco, we returned home in his 1937 Flivver by way of Route 66. We stopped one night at the Grand Canyon where they had penny machines filled with corn to feed the deer. We were shocked to see snow on the ground in the morning. It was summer. There wasn’t supposed to be snow.

Then east through the desert, passing Indian tents along the road, selling baskets, pottery, and woven blankets. We’d stop now and then, but Dad kept an anxious eye on the gas gauge, praying we’d make it to the next gas station.
My sister never forgave me, blaming me for giving her chicken pox. She never did get to ride on a train.

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  1. Peggy, I enjoyed this blog post immensely. This was a distinctive time in American history and you have shared great memories. I hope your sister finally forgave you for giving her chicken pox.

    1. Thanks June. Yes, it got to be a running joke between us for the next sixty years. She's in heaven now, maybe riding on God's Railroad :)