• January 27, 2022
 Open Letter: What’s it like growing up in tough times Grandpa?

Open Letter: What’s it like growing up in tough times Grandpa?

For you youngsters who believe “These are the times that try men’s souls” (Thos. Paine, 1776), I recall growing up during WWII when we faced similar tough times

At that time, the whole nation was solidly behind efforts to defeat the Axis Powers. 

Rationing was in effect, and we grew up without metal toys and made our own from wood.  We made model airplanes and guns with rubber bands from discarded inner tubes if we could find any. Bread came unsliced as steel for blades went to manufacture tanks and airplanes.

I recall scrap metal drives in which civilians deposited metal of all types at school yards…mattress frames, cast iron pot belly stoves (expensive collectibles today), and bicycles. Steel for cars? There was none because no cars were built for civilian use from 1941 to about 1947. 

Gasoline was rationed and available according to the letter of a sticker on windshields, based on priorities established by local rationing boards. No tires either. Got a flat? Fix it yourself using primitive vulcanizing tools. 

All pitched in. My mother and her group volunteered to roll bandages at Red Cross centers Life then in El Paso was not as severe as other parts of the country. Gasoline was available in Juarez at lower Mexican government-controlled prices.

Juarez is so far away from Mexican refineries that the Mexican government would buy gasoline refined in El Paso, transport it over the border at low prices for its citizens but all border denizens benefited.

I recall Dad going over on Saturdays to fill up and to load up on meats, fruits, etc., which were plentiful there. 

On the contrary, my late wife Vivian, who grew up in the Midwest recalled having one pair of rubber boots for three girls, no raincoats,  and really strict rationing of food. Her father was draft exempt due to childhood polio and worked in shipyards building LST’s.

The Mississippi was used as an assembly line with construction commencing up in Iowa and as ships were floated down the river, they would be completed by the time they reached New Orleans. She told me they might as well have been in the military. Once a project was completed the family would be moved to a different location and they lived in barracklike quarters. 

We lived on River Street, not far from the railroad tracks and spent time watching movement of troops and equipment on the Southern Pacific Railroad.  Locals would wave to the troops and many mothers and wives thinking of their own men would take water, magazine and baked goods to transiting soldiers. 

As tough as times might have been then, El Paso folks were generous. I recall gathering old clothes to donate to the Bundles for Britain project located in the Turney Mansion located on Montana and Brown streets. That mansion is now the International Museum of Art 

We grew up during World War II without role models as most young men from 18 to about 40 were in uniform. And yet we did a good job of growing up as to me, El Paso was the ideal place to in which to have lived through those years. 

So, chin up and endure through these tough times. Life could be worse. 

Antonio Martinez, El Paso Resident

(Editor’s note: this letter was originally a conversation between a grandfather and grandson, sparked by a question.)

Martinez grew in El Paso, graduated Texas A&M, is a Korean War Veteran and retired after working in Coca-Cola’s global marketing operations for over 30 years. He resides in Cumming, GA.


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