As I strolled through the meat department of the local supermarket this Christmas Season, I was amazed at the number and different varieties of meats on display. My mind wandered back a number of years when a good bit of our meat came from local butcher shops or from farm supplies. And I also remembered that during World War II most all meats were rationed, as supplies were sent to troops all over the world.
Christmas in 1942 was somewhat grim. News reports were restricted and rumor was rampant. We really didn't know all that was going on with our troops on the battlefields. The war effort was in full swing and everyone was asked to make do with less. Many things such as meat, coffee, sugar, butter, gasoline and tires were rationed. My wife and I were both a little homesick and wanting to be with family during the holidays. So we began saving 3 gallon gasoline stamps long before Christmas, hoping we could get from Kansas City to Wichita. We were confident that my farmer father-in-law would have a few extra gallons around somewhere to get us home again. When we arrived, we found the usual Christmas traditions in place and spent lime relaxing and rejoicing.
Among other things, we discovered that my father-in-law had just butchered a fatted calf and the carcass was hanging in the granary driveway, cooling and aging. As we were ready to leave, he announced he would cut it down and send along with us a hind quarter, if we could find a place in Kansas City to cut and package it for us. Always hungry for choice beefs, we were sure we could handle that. The thing that worried me was finding enough space for a quarter of beef in that little 1937 Ford I was driving. It had a trunk all right, but it was small, and tucked into what little space it had was a spare tire, a jack and a few assorted tools.
We loaded the rear seat with suitcases, Christmas presents and various other things that we hadn't taken to our new apartment earlier. We wrapped an old, clean sheet around the quarter of beef and with a little jiggling and joggling we fitted it in the trunk. Then we filled in the blank places with things that didn't fit inside the car. Finally we were off, back to Kansas City. We had had a generous snow a few days before, but the roads were clear and the weather cold. Speed limits were forty miles per hour and we were cautioned once by a highway patrolman for driving forty-five.
We left early, in plenty of time to arrive home before dark. Things went well until, just outside Emporia, a tire blew out. Tires were fragile in those days and a good spare was a must. However, we had a problem. The spare tire and the jack were in behind that quarter of beef. Furthermore, the roadside was covered with a blanket of snow and it was cold. We unloaded all the little things and stacked them on the sloping roadside. Then we tugged the quarter of beef out of the little trunk and carefully laid it on the snow beside the car. I finally got the spare tire out and proceeded to change the flat tire.
As I labored with the tires, a number of motorists drove by, suspiciously eyeing the quarter of beef. Some were even honking and pointing to it as they drove by. About the time I was finishing with the tire change, a highway patrolman drove up and stopped. He very graciously helped me finish up and put the tools away. Even more graciously, he helped me load the beef back into the little trunk and close the lid. He then cautioned me about the forty mile speed limit and, as he drove off, he said, "It looks like you had a good Christmas on the farm." And we had.
Absence makes the stomach grow fonder, especially for beefsteaks. We found a locker plant that would cut and package the beef for us, although it was nearly ten miles across town. Still, we were happy to find one. Soon afterward, we invited some good friends that lived in the apartment building to share a roast beef dinner with us. Not too long after that, one of our neighbors brought us a buffalo roast. That was a first for us. Her uncle, who lived near Halstead, raised buffalo. He had to kill one of them because it went on a rampage and tore up his fences.
World War II was a sad and trying time for most all of us. However, there were some good points about it all. We learned that we could get along without the many niceties that we normally enjoyed and were accustomed to. From episodes such as this, Betty, my better half, has developed a saying that goes, "Adversity builds character." Even the grandchildren have picked it up. I heard one of them tell his little sister, who was bemoaning her lot in life, "Now you just stop complaining, because your character is growing."
The Prairie Prophet says: "Happy is one who can say 'Good morning, God!'"