Upon President Roosevelt’s declaration of war on December 8, 1941, eligible young men began to volunteer and/or were drafted. This meant that the farm workers were cut drastically while at the same time maximum production was needed for the war effort. My brother, Eugene, volunteered for the Army Air Force, as well as did my cousins William Clyde Collins, Sr., and Robert Neal Collins, and many other able-bodied young men we knew. At Choestoe Church, we had an “Honor Roll” of those in service from our congregation, and we earnestly prayed for their safety each time we met to worship.
In the meantime, those of us—much younger though we were—had to grow up and become responsible in assisting with farm labor, like hoeing (which we were taught anyway from a very early age), learning to walk behind a corn planter and guide the mule along the rows, or operate a “cultivator” plow to plow between the rows to keep the weeds down. Maximum crop production was needed for the “war effort,” and it took all hands-aboard, young though we were.
Only ten days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my Grandpa Collins died on December 17, 1941. He had been a stay in the community, out ahead in more modern methods of farming. He had the first “threshing machine” in the area, going from farm to farm to thresh the harvests of grain. He had the first electricity on his farm, from his own Delco system, long before Tennessee Valley Authority got permission to run their power lines into the community. He also had owned the first tractor and tractor-drawn farm implements. Grandpa Francis Jasper “Bud” Collins had a Delco Plant that produced electricity for his house and some of his farm buildings. Because of the passing of this staid citizen of Choestoe so shortly after Pearl Harbor, those of us who loved and respected him so highly thought we had lost our foremost citizen. I, for one, grieved during that time near to Christmas. Never again was his country store as fascinating to me as it had been before his death, even though his son and two of his daughters continued to operate it, and his large farm.
To complicate matters in the Dyer household, my brother Eugene joined the US Army Air Force and as soon as his training was finished shipped out to the European theater of war where he served admirably as a bombardier on many missions over enemy territory. My brother-in-law, Ray Dyer, husband to my older sister Louise Dyer, also entered service. He was sent to the Pacific theater of war. We had two members of our family far away in war. We had two less adult workers for all the farm work. We eagerly awaited any word from them in daily mail, but letters were sometimes infrequent. And then my mother became quite ill with heart complications in the days before miracle drugs and surgery could promise relief from her suffering. She died on Valentine’s Day, December 14, 1945. At the time of her death, my brother Eugene was severely wounded and lying in an Army Field Hospital somewhere in Italy. At age fourteen I transitioned from teenager to adult because I became the main housekeeper, cook, and manager of our household. It was a sad time for the Dyer family, but somehow we kept going, because of our strong spirit of patriotism and derring-do.
What were Christmases like during these years from 1941 through 1945? Recall that rationing became necessary to the war effort. We could only have a “rationed” amount of sugar, other scarce items of “store-bought” supplies, and gasoline and tires were hard to come by. Say that we adjusted. Maybe these scarcities and restrictions were not as hard on farm families as they were on those living in the cities of our country. We still mainly farmed through “mule” power and human effort and had not yet become mechanized on our farm. Our first tractor came after World War II was over. It was amazing the tasty sweets we made using our own home-created product, sorghum syrup. My father, J. Marion Dyer, made hundreds of gallons of sorghum syrup each fall, from his own and other farmers’ crops of cane. We sweetened cookies and gingerbread, dried fruit stack cakes and peanut brittle candy with our country-produced sorghum. These made good sweets for Christmas during the war years.
At school we had all sorts of drives for the war effort: selling savings stamps and bonds; collecting scrap metal for the war effort; rolling bandages in home economics classes. We knew our nation was in a crisis situation and we as patriotic teenagers did what we could to support our troops and to hasten victory. We kept abreast of progress on all fronts. It is a wonder we did not become traumatized for life, having the realities of war and its effects on our families thrust upon us at such an impressionable age. But at least no battles were fought on US home soil. We were spared those atrocities and first-hand observations and fears of war. But we did, on occasions, attend solemn memorials for a few of our young military men who met their deaths in
service. Four Christmases came and went. We became older and wiser, more thoughtful and less presumptive because of how the war touched our individual lives and communities.
At the churches in our communities, we had our Christmas programs much as we had done before the war. There were still manger tableaus with shepherds and wise men gathered around. We sang the beloved Christmas carols, trying to sound notes of hope and majesty despite our concerns for the war and beloved from our churches who had gone as servicemen.
Maybe the little paper bags with our goodies—an orange, an apple, some peppermint stick candy and chocolate drops—had less of the goodies than in pre-war years. But those treats were there…and ever, hope was paramount.
And so we weathered the war years, 1941 through 1945. Maybe it is good for us to remember, to think of the sacrifices and triumphs, the determination to make-do. Have we lost some of our spirit of persistence and pride, of patriotism and faith? Christmas is a good time to reflect and recollect…and to set new directions that will lead to victory. We had this spirit in World War II years. Oh, that we could recapture the wonder, the marvel of working together for common purposes! In retrospect, I’m grateful that I “grew up” to adulthood at a young age because of circumstances.
The words of poet John Greenleaf Whittier express well the intention of having the Christmas spirit all the year through:
“Somehow, not only for Christmasc2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published December 15, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
But all the year through,
The joy that you give to others
Is the joy that comes back to you;
And the more you spend in blessing
The poor and lonely and sad,
The more of your heart’s possessing
Returns to make you glad.”