The Way Things Were

The following article is for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the subject. 

Welcome to Wild Card Wednesday, where you never know what you’re gonna get.  Today, we’re going to indulge in a round of nostalgia.

I love Pawn Stars and my husband tolerates it, so we watch it often.  On a recent episode,  a customer brought in a book of WWII ration stamps to sell.  As it turned out, the ration stamps were too common for Rick to buy.  The customer took his WWII era ration cards home, and that was that.  But it wasn’t.

The whole episode reminded me of how my maternal grandparents came to purchase their first car.

My maternal grandparents were married in November of 1945.  They did not have a car when they married, so they used to hitchhike places.  My grandmother claimed it was quite safe to hitchhike in Martinsburg, West Virginia in 1945.

My maternal grandparents on their wedding day in 1945.

In 1945, there was a shortage of automobiles available for purchase because all available resources had gone into the war effort.  Purchasing a car required my newly married grandparents to put their name on a list.  When a car became available to purchase, the next person on the list was contacted and offered the car.

My grandmother said they waited a while to get a car.  The car they were finally allowed to purchase wasn’t brand new or model they really wanted, but it was what was available.  Refusing the car meant they’d have to wait even longer.  No telling when they’d get another chance.  So they took the car and were proud to have it.

My paternal grandmother had her own story about rations during WWII. She likes to dress to the nines.  Thus, her story is about fashion.

My paternal grandmother remembered that hosiery was next to impossible to obtain during WWII.

 

Nylon, silk, and rayon—the materials from which women’s hosiery was made—were rationed as part of the war effort. The silk was used to make powder bags for the military.  Nylon was used to make parachutes, tents, ropes, and tires.  Rayon was used for the same purposes as nylon.

My paternal grandparents circa 1942. Notice she is wearing bobby socks with her pumps.

Women had two options–bobby socks or leg makeup.  My grandmother had less than fond memories of the leg makeup.

Leg makeup was an opaque tan liquid women applied to their legs from foot to mid-thigh.  They completed the illusion by drawing a line—using a black liner pencil—down the back of their legs.  This makeup was apparently very difficult to apply evenly, and it smudged and ran throughout the day.

Some folks may be puzzling over the black line.  Hosiery used to have a seam running up the back.  The garment was made with a seam because early hosiery did not have the elasticity of today’s hosiery.

In the image below, the hosiery on the left shows the seam that used to run down the back of pantyhose.  My aunt–who was a child of the 1960s–told me that the seam was next to impossible to keep straight.  If you didn’t watch it, you had squiggly lines running down the backs of your legs.

 

During WWII the following items were rationed: sugar, gasoline, meat, coffee, shoes, rubber…and, of course, the materials to make hosiery.  At the bottom of the ration stamp books was the line:

Be guided by the rule: If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT.

The whole rations thing got me thinking.  Someone of my generation–Generation X–can’t imagine not being able to purchase whatever we had money to buy.  When I mentioned this to my mother, she had her own story about the way things have changed.

My mother remembers—with some degree of horror—that carseats were not available when I was a baby.  Before I could sit or stand on my own steam, my parents traveled with me in a baby seat that did not fasten to the car in any way.

If they had to slam on the brakes, they threw out an arm to hold me in place.  Once I was old enough to stand, my mother had me stand next to her with my arms around her shoulder or neck while she drove.  If she had to brake suddenly or make a sharp turn, she threw out her arm as a barrier to hold me in place.

I think this technique is ingrained in women of my generation.  I throw out the arm of iron when I have to slam on the brakes.  I’ve noticed that my cousin—who is two years my senior—does it too.   Even so, I can’t imagine a time when carseats weren’t available…and I can’t believe I survived it.

Mom’s story made try to pinpoint what has changed during my life.  Though I thought of a lot of things, I’ll share only two changes that caught my attention.

Back when Everybody Smoked

When I was a kid, people smoked.  They smoked everywhere.  They smoked in restaurants, in the mall, on airplanes, on buses, in their houses…even in hospitals.  No Smoking signs and policies have herded smokers to special areas. Smoking has been made inconvenient enough that it’s easier to quit.

Nowadays, I love it when we visit my aunt because she still smokes in her house and in her car.  It’s such a novelty that I take a break from cigarette abstinence and smoke too.

I even have my own commentary on the changing face of fashion.

What is the deal with showing you bra straps?

 

As I hurtle toward middle age at warp speed, I’m struck dumb when I see girls and women wearing tops that show their bra straps.  I was brought up to never, ever let my bra-straps show.

Letting the bra strap show wasn’t even sexy–like wearing a too short skirt was.  Letting the bra strap show was more like going around with spinach in your teeth—just bad grooming.  These days, the bra straps are part of the outfit.

Whether or not this looks cool is hotly debated, but I see enough people doing it that I think it’s accepted.  Even so, I can’t bring myself to bare my bra straps.

 

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