By Jim Kitchens
During World War II, the U.S. government issued ration books to be used to purchase needed items such as food and gasoline. Jim Kitchen’s mother gave him his family’s ration books some 70 years after the war was over.
Food was rationed in the United States, and in many other countries, during World War II. The reasons were numerous, and they were obvious. First and foremost, the men and women of our armed forces had to eat. It was in our national interest for them to be well-fed, healthy, and strong. My mother, who was 27 when Pearl Harbor was attacked and 31 at war’s end, saved her World War II photo ID and what remained of our little family’s ration books (hers, my dad’s, and mine). She gave them to me some 70 years after the war was over. The identification card designated her as “Soldier’s Wife.” These historic war relics were preserved in a small, leather pouch, issued by the government and marked “RATION BOOKS.” Money wasn’t the only thing one needed to purchase food and many other consumer items, such as gasoline and tires. The appropriate ration coupons had to accompany the cash. Quantities were limited to prevent hoarding. Millions of American families on the home front supplemented their food supplies by growing vegetables and fruit at home. That practice had become popular during the World War I era, when the great American agriculturist and scientist, George Washington Carver, had coined the phrase “Victory Gardens.” The name caught on and was adopted by the U. S. Department of Agriculture during the next major military conflict, World War II. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt set a good example for the rest of the country by planting a Victory Garden on the White House lawn. During my boyhood, my family depended on a yearly vegetable garden for a major portion of our food, both fresh and frozen. The families of most of my friends did likewise. For about the first decade of my adulthood, I followed suit, then decided I was too busy to work a garden. For many years now, we’ve bought most of our food at well-stocked grocery stores. But now there’s the deadly coronavirus! To say the least, it’s a game changer. Going to the grocery store can be hazardous to our health. I don’t mean to pick on grocery stores; going just about anywhere can be dangerous unless, of course, it’s a place where there are no people. So, maybe I should plant a garden this spring. If Mrs. Roosevelt could do it, so can I! But wait. I don’t have a plow. How am I going to break up the ground for this garden? A good many years ago, there was a gentleman in Crystal Springs who would, for a reasonable fee, come to your house and break up your garden for you. He had a simple but very workable system: a mule, a wagon, and some plows on the wagon. The mule was key to this operation. She pulled the plow-laden wagon from place to place. Upon arrival, the mule was unhitched from the wagon and re-hitched to the appropriate plow. Where is Mr. Bill Sibbie when I need him? He and his mule are in a far better place. For the mule, I’m sure it’s a greener pasture and “unbridled” freedom. For Mr. Bill, it’s a place of eternal rest and happiness, where he doesn’t have to plow a mule unless he really wants to and the mule is willing. For me and my beloved hometown, the absence of Mr. Bill and his mule is a 21st century problem. What can I do? I might go to a hardware store and buy a brand new, gasoline-powered tiller. Then, I could break up my own garden. But do I really want to do this? Actually, no.