Deprivation, Quarantine, and Coping – circa 1940-1954

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The following message was written by Phil’s mother, Laura Shoffner, on March 25, 2020 and sent to all of her grandchildren in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Laura is a long-time English teacher in both public and private schools as well as a published author.

My precious grandchildren, I write the following with the hope that you will take from it strength, resilience, and hope in these strange times in which you find yourselves.  Yours has been a generation of abundance, independence, and, dare I say it, instant gratification.  To be faced suddenly with the lack of taken-for-granted creature comforts, restriction, and social distancing must be not only weird, but scary.  From earliest childhood I have been blessed with a vivid memory of my formative years.  What I share with you here is based on my recollections of years of my life when hardship, doing without, and, yes, fear were “normal.”  May you take from it the knowledge that, clichéd as it might be, “This, too, shall pass.”

In 1941 my parents built a new home in Johnson County, KS, the site chosen primarily because of the excellent independent K-8 grade school, Westwood View.  For this move to be financially viable, my family had for a time lived with my maternal grandparents.  In 1939 all of us moved to a rental home on The Paseo in Kansas City, and my parents took in a boarder, as well.  By these sacrifices, my parents were able to realize their dream of their own home.  Still, for the first year we had the same boarder, and my recently widowed grandmother lived with us.  How thrilled my parents must have been to find optimism after the dark days of the Great Depression.

That idealism was shattered by the events of Dec. 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbor. I was in kindergarten and could hardly understand my father’s relief that he had just a week prior purchased a new green Nash, a car that somehow made it through until new cars were once again produced around 1947.  Posters demonizing the Nazis and “Japs,” as we called them, filled us with concern as did the bomb drills we had in school.  Nelle Word, whom we called Nay and had been a long-time boarder with my grandparents when my mother was growing up, now had no place to live since she had to return from her job on Oahu. My parents invited her into our home.

Because everything was geared toward the war effort, rationing was put in place.  A short list of our “deprivations” included strict rationing for sugar, chocolate, rubber, gasoline, leather, cooking oil, heating oil, chewing gum, meat, and other groceries.  Each adult had a ration book with stamps (coupons) entitling them to obtain certain goods.  Here are some of my memories about rationing.

We made oleo margarine by kneading a yellow food coloring button into a Crisco-like substance. When we kids outgrew our shoes, ration stamps had to be found for new ones.  Later in life, I understood more about the cracked leather slippers my grandmother wore most of the time; clearly she had forfeited her new shoes so we kids could be shod.  The pediatrician made house calls when we were sick because only doctors and other essential providers had sufficient gasoline and rubber stamps to get around town.  Remember, cars back then had rubber tires aired up frequently.  Because of reduced driving, all of us had to use public transportation except in rare instances.  Mother could make a meatloaf last for two meals for six or seven of us, and prune whip was a frequent “dessert.”  I remember Nay making cookies using turkey fat because we had no shortening. During the war, there were no Country Club Plaza Christmas lights.  Our Yuletide gifts would seem ludicrous to you now, but even the smallest “surprise” was a delight.  Long distance phone calls were outrageously expensive, so in that way we, too, were isolated from family who lived elsewhere.  Letter writing, however, was a godsend, helping folks to keep in touch.

Looming over all of these measures was the concern for our fighting forces and fear that one day we might be invaded.  Movies often were propaganda-based, and our only lifeline to what was happening other than the radio was the newsreel at the beginning of each film.

My father was in an essential business, and while he didn’t have to go to war, he worked day and night for war-related engineering construction projects.  I can still see his drooping shoulders and red-rimmed eyes.

At school we kids could “escape” into a school full of creative and dedicated teachers who made our days fly by.  To help with the war effort, we collected old newspapers in our little red wagons.  We would pile them, grade by grade, in the school yard in an attempt to win that month’s prize for the largest collection.  All tin cans used at home were saved, stomped on to flatten them, and taken to the occasional “scrap” drives at the school.

When we had childhood diseases—mumps, chicken pox, measles, scarlet fever, etc.—the family was quarantined.  On the front door would be a large sign that said “Quarantine” in red letters.  Shortly after WWII, there were several polio “scares” during which swimming pools closed and few attended movie theaters.  In 1952 when my brother Chuck came down with polio, we were quarantined for three weeks.  I was a junior in high school, and my friends would shove my homework into our mail slot.

Small pleasures included the carton (not pack, mind you, but CARTON) of Juicy Fruit gum my Navy cousin gave me from the PX, being able to lick the bowl of brownies my mother had made (after scrimping on coupons) to send her brother in New York City, and the thrill of my very own Hershey bar when chocolate was again more widely available after the war. 

So here I sit at eight-three seeing and hearing echoes of that long ago time when our country sacrificed and “went without.”  Now, as then, we can do this.  We must do this!  And on the other side, may we be better people for the sacrifice.

Do I Need a Shingles Shot?

Happy New Year and welcome back to “Think Beyond the Nest” where we cover topics related to life as empty nesters. We’ve been a bit busy in the back half of 2019 with two weddings and a run for a local elected office (all good fodder for more blog posts), but in an attempt to be helpful and informative as it relates to our life stage, we wanted to share some info on the super fun (haha) topic of, wait for it…Shingles.

It starts with my dad who lives about three hours away. We talk every week and catch up on a variety of topics mostly centered around the current state of the Kansas City Chiefs or the Kansas City Royals. In terms of more personal topics such as ones health, he seems to be of the generation where you take life in stride, push through, and never complain much about all of the health issues that come with getting older. So I knew something was up when he mentioned how much pain he was in due to something called “shingles.”

Without getting too grotesque, he described a big, itchy and painful rash that had spread across part of his back. Medication helped a bit, but he suffered with this rash and the pain for quite a while. Finally, it went away and he’s fine, but I remember thinking, “Man that sounds pretty nasty. I hope I never get shingles, whatever it is.”

SO WHAT IS SHINGLES?

According to the MayoClinic.org: Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who’s had chickenpox may develop shingles. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus can enter your nervous system and lie dormant for years.

Eventually, it may reactivate and travel along nerve pathways to your skin — producing shingles. But, not everyone who’s had chickenpox will develop shingles.

The reason for shingles is unclear. But it may be due to lowered immunity to infections as you grow older. Shingles is more common in older adults and in people who have weakened immune systems.

We have an elderly neighbor who lives right across the street from us. We hadn’t seen him come or go in a while, and after checking in on him, we found out not only did he have shingles, but the infection and the rash was so bad especially around his eyes, that he had two hospital stays to help with his recovery. Thankfully, he’s made a full recovery and he was lucky the shingles did not cause any permanent vision damage. In speaking to him recently, he shared with us that he never had a Shingles vaccination.

Then at my latest “over 50” (closer to 60!) annual physical, my doctor said, “You’re at the age where you need to get the shingles vaccine. Shingles is not something you want to get.” Thinking back on my dad and our neighbor, I jumped on his recommendation and went and got my first of two shingles shots. Yup. You need to get two shots approximately two to five months apart. I got the Shingrix vaccine. The actual shot doesn’t hurt, but my arm was definitely sore for about three days.

In talking with other empty nesters who have also had the shingles shot, it appears people react in different ways in the 24 hours following the shot. Two friends of ours received the shot on the same day and both spent the next day in bed with flu-like symptoms. My first shot was OK. I felt slightly nauseous later in the day, but I was fine the next day. When I got my second round, I thought it would be about the same, but as the day wore on, I kept feeling more tired and a bit flu-like. So much so, that I had to crawl in bed, wrap up tight to stay warm, and luckily fell off to sleep. As expected, I was back to 100% the next day!

So, while you have to have two rounds of shots, endure a sore arm for a few days, and possibly feel a little crummy for a day, the experts say all of that is still much better than actually getting the shingles. The Shingrix vaccine can be in short supply, so you need to check with your pharmacy for availability. I was able to reserve a dose at our local CVS pharmacy.

Be sure to check our follow-up posts on the exciting topic of shingles as we follow Lailan through her two rounds of shingles vaccinations.