June 14, 2010

A Forgotten Word: Sacrifice

When I was growing up, World War II always struck me as being part of the far distant past. Somewhere along the way, I did the math and realized that the war had been over less than 14 years when I was born. It's hard to believe that I ever thought 14 years was a long time. For crying out loud, 1996 was 14 years ago. That was like, what, yesterday?

My parents talked about the war, but since parents nearly always seem ancient to their children, I didn't really  relate to the stories. Of course my mom talked about the war much more than my dad. My dad served in England during the war, and his brothers and brothers-in-law all served, as well. My dad mentioned his service from time to time when it was relevant, but like most men who served, the times that he voluntarily brought the war up in conversation were few and far between.

When my mom talked about the war, she often told stories about the things everyone had to do without due to rationing. She told stories of women drawing lines on the back of their legs to look like the nylons they could not buy. She talked about enrolling in college at a time when many women went to school to find a husband, and upon arrival, discovering that nearly all the men had left to serve in the war. Her first cousin was still enrolled at that point but naturally, he didn't count. Later she went to work at the U.S. Army Command in Fort Worth after she discovered the employees there could buy chocolate candy bars. But all things considered, I think my mom's greatest war sacrifice was shoes. Sixty years later, she still isn't over that one.

The sacrifices didn't end as soon as the soldiers came home. Mom told stories about how it took awhile for factories to gear back up for consumer goods after the war ended, and between the Great Depression and the war, there was pent up demand for things like cars, causing rifts in families where relatives were competing for the few cars that were available. Some of those rifts hadn't entirely healed by the time I was born - not that we were related to any of those people....

And of course for Boomers, lives that were cushy by our parents' standards were still pretty spartan compared to today's. It's not unusual, when I'm with a group of friends my age and older, for us to talk about growing up with attic fans to cool the house at night, and sleeping on sheets that were hung outside to dry. People didn't expect as much as we do now. The Christmas I was 14, there was an oil embargo that led President Nixon to ask Americans to do without outside Christmas lights. For the most part, people complied. He lowered the maximum speed limit on interstates from 75 to 55. The response to that was, um, mixed.

When President Carter took office, reliance on foreign oil was becoming more of an issue, with long gas lines in major cities. To help cut the energy demand, Carter asked us to lower our thermostats to 68 degrees in the winter and raise them to 78 degrees in the summer. For the most part, people refused. That's the last time I remember a president asking us to make any sacrifices.

About that time, someone in Texas sent us a 45 rpm single called, "Freeze a Yankee." The chorus went like this:

Freeze A Yankee,
drive 75 and freeze them alive
Freeze a Yankee,
Let your thermostat rise and give them a surprise.

It was not one of our finest periods. Unfortunately, we haven't improved much in the years since then.

Our reliance on foreign oil has only increased. We have domestic oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, wiping out fishing and hospitality industries along the coast. We have resisted efforts to get serious about clean energy in this country, because it's hard. It will cost money. We don't want to change our way of life. But the mess in the Gulf needs to change our way of life. If it doesn't, then what was it for?

I still think we have to continue drilling because we have never developed a Plan B. At the same time, we cannot wait any longer to get Plan B together. It's time to get serious about developing alternative energy sources. It's time to get serious about clean energy. It's time to start making sacrifices.



  1. Margaret, I love your blog. I wish I had more time to visit more often. :-( You are one of the best writers in the blogosphere.

    Yes, I remember my Mom telling me, after the war, she was really excited to have a pop-up toaster. Goodness! People don't know the meaning of sacrifice anymore, do they? The folks in the Gulf are going to have to sacrifice a lot, though. It makes me so angry and sad.

  2. Thank you, Jo. I can't tell you how big a compliment I consider that to be, coming from one of my favorite writers.

    It's hard to ask 3 generations who have never had to sacrifice to suddenly learn how give things up. But I hope we figure out a way to do just that because it shouldn't just be Gulf Coast residents (and wildlife) who have to suffer for this. We'd be better people if we all learned to sacrifice for the greater good.

  3. Wow. I always love hearing your thoughts. Makes life today sounds pretty good, doesn't it??

  4. we are not a people who understand sacrifice.
    we are completely addicted to instant gratification,
    constant attention, and our own happiness.

    help us, Lord!

    i agree completely with jo. you are an incredibly
    deep thinker and fantastic writer.


  5. I found myself thinking this same thing last Thursday as I sat in the Orlando airport waiting for my flight home. I had just spent a week in the most magical tourist trap on earth and for the first time in 5 days I was seeing new pictures of birds covered in oil.

    My heart sank at seeing those picutres. But my heart sank again knowing that I was about board a 757 and fly home.

  6. When you are a kid, 14 does seem like ANCIENT history. Now, like you say, it is a drop in the bucket.

    And I do think we need to get serious ... but I don't know how this would be accomplished short of some kind of EMERGENCY that affected EVERYONE in the country.