Well December 7th “a day that will live in infamy” is upon us again.
But rather than go into how America changed seventy years ago, I will try by memory to tell you what my life was like at that time.
Afterwards came the food and clothing rationing, the putting black covering on the windows and turning off outside lights so the coming Japanese attack on the West Coast would not be effective at night, and neighborhood air wardens touring their areas to notify those who weren’t complying.
Of course the attack never came, except for one bizarre incident: the Japanese military sent thousands of balloons toward the US from Japan with incendiary devices attached, counting on the prevailing air currents. Only one reached Oregon, landing on a farmhouse and setting fire and killing one family, the only reported casualties of an attack in the US during the war.
We lived in a small house at 2305 NE 54th street at the corner of Thompson in Portland, Oregon. As I have said previously, my father was primarily in Chicago with Roller Derby and operating the Chicago Coliseum, Arcadia Roller Rink, and the Armory at 16th and Michigan of which he had recently leased for additional attractions.
He either was in Portland at that time or arrived shortly thereafter. What I didn’t know was that my mother had been fighting a mis-diagnosed breast cancer since 1932, and would die shortly thereafter in March of 1942.
I believe we had set up the Christmas tree (we always had one) and were getting ready for the holiday. Oddly enough, I don’t remember that we celebrated Hanukkah (looks like a Norwegian name) at that time.
So how was life without television, internet, facebook, twitter, iphones and all the other inconveniences of everyday life? It would seem odd to you to be transported back to that time.
It was the fashion of boys my age to wear knickers to school (not those kind, but what golfers wore). School was three blocks from my house and up a steep hill, until I went back to Portland in later years and saw it was not steep at all.
Milk was delivered every day in semi-hour glass shaped bottles; since it was not homogenized, this allowed the cream to be in the smaller globe at the top. Since markets were not as efficient as today, food shopping was done more often, and there did not seem to be as much prepared food in packages and cans as today; certainly no frozen dinners. We were fortunate, we had an electric refrigerator (Frigidaire), although a number of our neighbors had ice boxes and the delivery truck would come by weekly. The driver using a metallic handle would pick up the ice blocks and put them in the top of the ice boxes. When he was inside the houses, we would climb inside the back of the truck to get chips of ice to suck on.
Radio and phonographs and movies were the main source of entertainment. My father operated three movie theaters at one time in Portland, prior to his promotional ventures. At that time, he had only the Oregon Theater which my grandfather oversaw as Dad was on the road. Virtually all Americans went to movies weekly, and there were incentives for people to come on different nights than the weekends. Monday could be dish night: every Monday you would get a different dish type, so you would have to keep coming to get a complete set. I remember Joe the operator at the theater would do a game show on Tuesdays, an amateur contest on Wednesday, etc.
Radio was what we ran our lives by. Early in the day until the afternoon would be the soaps, for the housewives. Mary Harman, backstage wife, the Guiding light, etc, ran in 15 minute segments Monday through Friday. In the afternoon after school would be the action serials: Captain Midnight, The Lone Ranger, Red Ryder, Little Orphan Annie, Tom Mix, Jack Armstrong and more. I listened to all of them…most were sponsored by cereal companies. and there were tie ins. Ovaltine, which I still hate, had a decoder which if you listened to Little Orphan Annie they would give you numbers which were equivalent to letters on the device and would give you a useless clue about the next program.
At night is when the prime programming was on: depending on the night of the week, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, Rudy Vallee and more. What was strange was that before they got recording down, they would broadcast a program in late afternoon for the East Coast and midwest (virtually all studios where in Los Angeles) and then rebroadcast it three hours later for the West Coast, both broadcasts live so there was some variance. Luckily, when we were in Los Angeles for the Roller Derby appearance every summer, I was able to see many of these shows live. All of them were half hour shows.
The most unbelievably popular show was Amos and Andy, featuring black characters voiced by two white men. It was so popular that movie theaters would advertise that if you came on the night they were on, they would stop the movie and play the radio show through the theaters’ speakers.
Other shows that were popular was the Lux radio theater, hosted by Cecil C. Demille, which would do a radio version of a popular movie from a few years back. It actually was an hour show. And there were many dramas and mysteries. We really got the news through newsreels at the movie theaters and from the newspaper.
My sister and I would take the bus and go to the Hollywood Theatre in Portland every Saturday afternoon, were we would see a double feature, 2 or 3 serials, 3 cartoons and get a free bag of popcorn for 10 cents.
If life seemed simple, it certainly seemed to have been fun. You played with your friends, rode your bike, played board games with family, went to the beach and outings with relatives. All that certainly changed on that one fateful day.