Recollections of rationing

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 27, 2010

I ran across a timeline recently where the words wartime rationing jumped at me. “Ration books during World War II,” I mumbled and closed my eyes for a minute. What memories that triggered.

I was a little girl, but I remember the rationing well. My daddy managed a branch store of a coal mining company where we lived among coal miners, sawmill workers and railroad employees. When the company transferred Daddy to another commissary to fill in for a butcher who was drafted, my mother took over as manager. She had one clerk, a young woman from that same community.

The rationed items they sold in the store were sugar, coffee, processed foods, meats, canned fish, canned milk, cheese and fats. Rationing began in 1942 and continued through 1945, except for coffee and sugar. Coffee rationing ended in 1943, but sugar stayed on the rationed list until 1947. The store received only limited quantities of these items, which really presented a headache. Sugar came in bulk, so they had to weigh and sack it first. Mother also had to cut the meat. I remember often standing safely back from the butcher block, watching as she sliced, weighed and wrapped strips of bacon.

Word spread like wildfire throughout the community when a delivery truck drove up to back stoop of the store. Armed with their books of ration stamps, people rushed to the store and lined up to get their share of the rationed items. Sometimes Mother ran out of bacon or lard (which was always in demand), and probably sugar, before everyone who wanted them got those items. Some went away disgruntled and angry, blaming her. It was frustrating in itself just dealing with the coupons, for she had to account for them as well as cope with those who missed out. Some people wanted her to sell them more than the coupons allowed.

One such customer got so angry when an item she wanted sold out before she got there that she never darkened the commissary door again. After that, when they saw each other, she ignored Mother. She never spoke to Mother again.

My husband recalls rationing as well. When he worked in his dad’s auto shop as a boy, the customers had to show their ration books when they purchased tires. He even remembers the specific letter on the books designating what they covered.

Rationing applied to cars and bicycles, too. In July 1945, Ford Motor Co. released the first postwar civilian passenger car since early 1942. I recall my parents having two cars in my childhood; the last was a used 1938 Ford sedan that had replaced a classy-looking 1934 Ford coupe. They switched brands after car companies resumed production following World War II and finally rationing was outdated. It was a memorable day for me when I accompanied Daddy to the dealership to take home our brand new Chevrolet.