In the worst of times during World War II with rationing of gas and food, my family joined others in the United States by inviting a serviceman to lunch on December 25. For each of three Christmases we gave a soldier a few hours of attention and a home-cooked meal.
In preparation for the lunch in December, we saved a teaspoon of sugar in a special jar throughout the year. This was for two desserts. Each month Mother bought one food item. The menu never changed: turkey(sometimes a chicken), dressing, cranberry sauce, English peas, candied sweet potatoes, and pickled peaches. Dessert was Mother’s coconut cake and a chocolate pie -— made from scratch, of course.
Beginning in 1943 my grade-school sister and I, a gangly 13-year-old, planned and executed the room and table decorations: old Christmas cards dangling off a string hung above the doorways, a fresh cedar wreath on the front door, a small pine tree covered with silver balls and ringlets of construction paper (tinsel was needed for the war effort). Mother’s only white tablecloth, starched for the occasion, displayed her best dishes.
Thirty minutes before noon Dad left for the train depot, a mere 15-minute walk.Trains passed through our city to and from Memphis and New Orleans and crowds of service personnel choked the one-story building standing at the west end of downtown.
Dad’s responsibility was to select our guest. After entering the stuffy waiting room filled with cigarette smoke and the din of voices, he’d lean against a large column where he had full view. His eyes scanned each GI. He told us later how difficult it was to pick one serviceman from the hundreds milling around.
“They looked so vulnerable, so young,” he said later. “I hated that we couldn’t offer food to all of them.” He told us he searched for the young man who looked the most scared and lonely.
“You in town for awhile?” he’d ask the stranger. “There’s a hot meal waiting at my house. Want to join me and the family?” He and the hungry GI walked slowly back to our house chatting. This was Dad’s son for the day.
At the doorway we sisters rushed to embrace the soldier like he was a returning brother, pressing a small gift into his hands. At the table he could hardly swallow a bite of food, as we peppered him with questions about his life,his family, his state. After dessert and coffee we said our goodbyes reluctantly and Dad returned to the depot with a contented soldier, his duffle bag slung over one shoulder and a package of food for his supper in his hand.
Whether these young men completed their tours of duty, or died on some lonely spot of foreign soil, we never knew. However, they're a part of our memories of that time.
We sisters 10 years later