It was just another Sunday
We live in the land of the free, because of the brave. Thank you to those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom. 💕 My essay, ‘It was just another Sunday,’ was published on Saturday, 5-28-2018.
The Depression years that began in 1929 lingered into 1941. The laborious hours my grandparents worked, along with careful spending, became a normal way of life. There were plenty of economic troubles in the large cities, but it didn’t affect the country folks as much. In fact, my grandparents built an addition onto their house for their expanding dairy product business. They also allowed enough room in the floor plan to add in their first indoor bathroom. And just like every other December, my mom, who was 13-years-old at that time, was getting excited for the Christmas season.
My grandpa was a huge Green Bay Packer fan and the game that day at Chicago’s Comiskey Park deserved to be heard. The winner between the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cardinals would play against the Green Bay Packers the following weekend in the Championship game. The Packer players themselves were even there to watch the teams play. Listening to the games on the radio turned into one of my grandpa’s newfound pleasures since the first broadcast to the public in 1939. Reception was spotty at times and my mom remembers watching my grandpa move the radio from one wooden crate table to the next. Between the constant adjustment of the dials, and the frequent jarring of the box, the radio was getting worn out.
When my grandfather couldn’t get a decent signal for the game that day, I’m guessing he turned the power dial a bit harder than he needed to. I can almost hear the airy hiss and squeals fading from the speakers.
Grandpa was quick to turn his focus to more important things. He worried about the health of his livestock during the cold winter months. “I’ll be in the barn,” he’d let my grandma know.
“Dinner will be ready in about an hour,” Grandma would remind him. She knew he would often get caught up in chores. It was Sunday though. Sunday was supposed to be the day of rest.
The primitive kitchen area had a free-standing cupboard that worked as a pantry. My grandmother always wore a dress, and I can imagine her swishing around the centered kitchen table, collecting the ingredients to make a cake. She’d pull the flour, sugar, vanilla and baking powder from the cupboard. An icebox kept the eggs, butter and bottled milk fresh. A hand pump installed near the basin delivered clean water for the family to wash their hands and dishes.
Customers flowed in and out throughout the day and the squeak of the store door, followed by a rush of cold air, announced their arrival. My mom’s job was to help my grandma with the store and the household. My grandma’s rules were that the customers came first and my mom remembers having her beloved reading time interrupted more often than she cared for.
Mom explained, “I didn’t really like waiting on people. Your Grandmother needed my help and it was do as she said, or she’d pick something that I really didn’t want to do, like dusting the shelves. Yuck!”
“Go and see who came in,” my grandma would instruct. “I need to get this cake in the oven.” She’d wipe her hands on her apron when her thoughts were disrupted, or she changed tasks.
I can envision my mom, her dark hair braided, her floral dress swinging at her knee, flipping her book over and scooting off her chair. She had a bit of teenage sass, partly earned from her time spent playing baseball with her brothers. She fired her hazel eyes in protest. “It’s probably Dad, you know. He just said he was going out to the barn.”
To which I’m sure my grandma replied, “You may be right, but we don’t know that, do we. Your book will be there when you get back.”
Mom’s two older brothers, Sonny, age 16, and Don, age 14, were responsible to help my grandpa with the farm. Mom remembers that on that day in December, when the boys’ chores were done, they took advantage of their free afternoon hours and walked the short mile to the town hall where they would play some indoor basketball.
Mom said, “I wasn’t allowed to go with them. I wanted to go! I loved to play sports. But my mother restricted my mixing with older boys. So my second choice was reading.”
“A customer came in, but Dad’s got it,” my mom reported, rushing past my grandma and quickly settling in at the table again. “Are you making frosting this time?”
During the Depression years, a cake was a special Sunday treat. The frosting would make it seem like a holiday, especially in the wintertime when the summer tourist season was over. The store shelves were light with stock due to the altered supply and demand.
My grandma was the kind of woman who’d do most anything to make her children happy. “Oh fine. Go ahead and see if there is an extra bag of sugar in the store.” It was important to have at least one bag left for the expectant customer.
I’m guessing mom crossed her fingers and toes when she leaped off her chair.
Grandpa’s customers were always bringing in the latest news they’d read in the newspaper or heard on their radios. My grandpa was a staunch Republican, but then again, he was a businessman. It had been years since a Republican presidential candidate was sworn in as president. In 1936, Republican candidate Alf Landon expressed his doubts about the New Deal and the Social Security program. In his campaign speech he claimed it was “unjust, unworkable, stupidly drafted and wastefully financed.”
Mom said, “My great-grandparents supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s program. They were elated when they found out they would start receiving a monthly check.”
My grandma supported Landon. My mom remembers her stating more than once, “your children are going to pay for this . . .”
After my mom found two bags of sugar on the shelf, she turned and saw my grandpa counting out change for a customer at the register. “I’m getting sugar for mom,” she said. She grabbed a bag and rushed back to the kitchen before my grandma had a chance to change her mind.
My grandpa followed behind her into the living quarters and checked the wood in the heater. He sat down near the radio and tried to dial in the results of the game.
It was approximately 4:00 p.m. that afternoon when the store door slammed, and the sound of boots pounded on the floor toward the kitchen.
Mom’s brother, Sonny, shouted the news that made no sense. “The Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor!”
Sonny stood breathless at the doorway and looked towards my grandpa.
Don quietly removed his coat.
Grandpa looked confused. “Are you sure it was Japan?”
“That’s what I heard on the radio at the Town Hall!” Sonny insisted.
“That settles it then,” Grandpa said, his worry lines tightened on his face. I can only imagine what that swell of patriotism, mixed with mounting fear, felt like. “We are at war.”
Up to that point, most Americans had never heard of Pearl Harbor. But my grandma surely had. “Oh, no. Henry is in Pearl Harbor!”
Henry was my Grandma’s youngest brother. He was only five years older than Sonny. Henry was in the Navy and stationed on the destroyer, the USS Farragut.
Grandma rushed toward the public phone that hung on the wall in the back of the store. “The phone is busy.” She wasn’t one to hide her tears. “I can’t get through.”
The line remained busy the rest of the night.
Supper appetites were lost. Manners came easy. My mom cleaned up the kitchen after dinner without a word, and the boys didn’t need to be reminded to go out and milk the cows. My grandpa was terribly frustrated with the old radio. The little bits of information that filtered through confirmed the bombing, but nothing else.
That night when my mom and her family climbed the ladder to the second floor sleeping quarters, their steps were heavy under the glow of the waning moon. It was hard to believe that the day started off like just any other Sunday. Everyone hoped that the morning would bring better news. They all prayed that Henry was okay.
Whether it was a tasty Sunday treat, finding out which NFL team would play against the Packers, or accepting the political decisions made by the party in power. In an instant, none of those things mattered.
The bombing that day put everything into a crystal-clear perspective.