Our parents’ influence runs deep and long. As an adult, I realize my father’s perspective on life continues to influence me, even though I only knew him a short time before he passed. Through his World War ll love letters to my mom, I gleaned more of his true personality and experiences. Such experiences included food insecurity and hunger.
As a young boy, after the early death of his father, Dad first experienced food insecurity and hunger. His dad was a first-generation American and set up a printing press upon his arrival, mimicking the profession he had left in England. His father before him had first fled Germany, then Poland, to escape Jewish persecution. Not that life was great before his father passed, but dad and his siblings suddenly were swept into abject poverty. This family history was challenging by itself, but for my dad to have to go to work to help his mom feed his siblings is more than should be experienced at a young age. To supplement his wages, he went through Brooklyn collecting thrown away food grocers couldn’t or wouldn’t sell. As food wasn’t plentiful for anyone at this time, there was competition for rescuing cast-off food. Bargains and vows of repayment were standard.
Adulthood brought dad a steady position with the NYPD. However, when World War II arrived, he temporarily left his job on the NYPD to enlist in the Marines. Food rations, bargaining for what would otherwise be tossed aside, and using leave time to collect food for his family back home, replaced a brief reprieve from food scarcity.
After WWII, things were not significantly better. Housing, transportation, and food shortages persisted. Once again, he would go around the city with a bag in which he collected vegetables, enough to feed his mother for two weeks at a time. Buying meat wasn’t usually an option as the Mafia controlled much of the meat industry. My dad continued to bargain and trade to supplement his wages. After he and mom married, she would sew in exchange for food and material goods.
I didn’t grow up eating casseroles because they reminded Dad of being poor and hungry. While he preferred roasts on Sunday nights, weekday meals were simple meat or fish and potatoes. After he passed, I learned Dad hated certain foods but would eat a little of each so that we would understand the importance of appreciating even foods we didn’t like.
Our family had a tight budget, but the food was a priority. I learned from mom creative ways to make leftovers into tasty second meals. A skill I still excel at. Some say I was taught the value of a dollar. I prefer to think I was taught to use wisely whatever resources I have. Not so much about saving for tomorrow, as about appreciating what I have today.