Spotlight: Audrey Warren (Audrey)

By Nancy Polanski (nap) on January 31, 2011

Audrey's memories of her childhood, growing up at a time when so many Americans had to “do without” during the years of WWII, are extraordinarily sad and beautiful. She has consented to share them with us, so let's welcome Audrey to the Spotlight.

There was an excellent article written by Sandi Schmidt for her Texas Gardening cubit, back on December 7th, 2010. It was about recollections of Pearl Harbor. One thread following the article was written by Audrey, detailing many of her own memories of that time period. I suggested to Audrey that she may want to compile her memories in an article of her own in our Who's Who Spotlight cubit. She agreed, and Sandi has allowed me to transfer those memories to this article. I'd like to begin by doing that now, then we'll move along with more of Audrey's childhood memories. If you have not read Sandi's article on Pearl Harbor, I highly recommend doing so. I will add another link to it following this story.


From “Recollections of Pearl Harbor, 1981-84”: “.... I remember Pearl Harbor, though I was just a little girl. When I started to school we reused the high school's typing paper to draw and color on. That was a very hard time. Sometimes we didn't have a battery for our radio, and it was hard to get news. I remember hearing FDR when we did have a battery.

Food was hard to get, too. We bought our flour in 50lb bags, and cornmeal too, when we could get it. We used the bags for clothes, and we got hog and horse feed in bags that my sister always argued over who got the prettiest one!

I remember the ration stamps, but you could barely find the things to use them for. We raised most of our food, but I remember the grocer saved daddy a can of peaches he'd got from the "black market" and we thought we were in heaven! ….

We never went on welfare, either! We had meats and veggies, and even had some fruit trees. We picked wild plums and blackberries. Mother made jams and jellies. She even tried to make peanut butter, but it was to dry. Anything you could think of that you could eat, we raised it! She canned sausage in its own grease. Of course it got a little old tasting, but nobody else had any! Through all the hardships. Daddy had a fiddle and an old guitar. He taught me to play the guitar, and we would sing and make music. Daddy also shot wild game, and fished. We didn't want for food, just wanted something different sometimes! ….

I remember Daddy going duck hunting and bringing home several ducks, I'm afraid he never paid attention to limits! My mother and grandmother would sit up picking the pin feathers off to save for another feather bed, or pillows. They cooked the ducks for dinner. I never liked duck meat as well as chicken. It's too dark.

We had all the game meat we could eat, along with pork and chicken. We never slaughtered beef. We kept a good milk cow, and had milk and butter, as well as sweet milk. Sometimes we'd eat milk and bread with our supper.

Seemed like all the relatives wanted to come to our house for holidays. My grandmother made THE best plum cobbler you ever put in your mouth! The week before Christmas they would make 21 pies and 5 cakes. This should last till New Year's. Before we got electricity we put our perishables outside, or in a cold room that we wouldn't heat. In summer we had a "milk box" that we pumped cold water in to keep the milk longer. When it turned sour, we churned it and had fresh butter. Of course, it had to clabber, first!”


Nancy: Audrey, your story speaks for itself, so rather than ask questions, I'd like you to just tell us your recollections as they come to you.


Audrey: I was born on a cold November day about 5:00 in the afternoon, in South East Missouri. Times were very hard, but they had a doctor come to deliver me. I weighed about 5 lbs. About the earliest memory I have is watching my baby sister sleeping with her eyes open. I thought she was awake, but didn't want to play with me!

We lived in such poor houses, you could hardly call them houses. I remember my mother sweeping the bare dirt floor. Sometime later we moved to a house with a wood floor. I loved to watch the chickens under the house, through the spaces between the boards in the floor. I remember moving a short way down the dirt road to a somewhat larger house, with good floors. I remember the big (to me) truck that we moved in.

When I was four, Daddy bought 50 acres in North East Arkansas and he and my mother, and Daddy's cousin, (who had been with them since they were 12 and 14) built a six room house for us. My grandmother lived with us most of the time, and she helped with the housework, etc. We moved in as soon as they finished the kitchen, and three bedrooms were finished enough to live in. We walked planks to get to the kitchen till they finished the rest of the house.

I remember helping to put tacks in strips of wall paper, doubled, to fasten it to the walls.  I thought that was the prettiest wallpaper anyone could ever have! It was pretty red and pink roses, with their green leaves! I've always loved flowers of any kind, and they made up for not having a lot of other things that we consider necessities nowadays!

Not long after we got settled in, we got the news about Pearl Harbor. My family took the news very seriously, and of course I did, too. We had a battery operated radio that took a battery the same size it was, about the size of a car battery now. We turned it off during commercials to save the battery. We couldn't get electricity yet. We followed the war news closely, and worried about all our people who were being drafted. Thankfully, my daddy and his cousin didn't have to go. So we raised crops of cotton and corn and had a huge garden each year.


During the long, hot summers while WWII was being fought, we'd hear planes going over our heads, headed for battle. They went about every 20 to 30 minutes, sometimes 20 or 30 at a time. I would run outside to see them, during daylight hours. The trains also ran frequently during the war. Sometimes there were over 100 cars attached to an engine that looked as big as a house, and the man in the caboose would always wave at us as they traveled on down the tracks! Most of these trains were called Streamliners, but you would still see the coal driven ones that had black smoke billowing from the smoke stack. They often called the engineers, "Smokey Joe."

We always had at least one milk cow, a team of mules for plowing the crops and garden, and at least one sow (hog) to bring some pigs to butcher for meat and lard.

We always butchered the hogs on a cold, clear, crisp November day! I loved it! I always hid when they killed them, but I would watch them scrape the hair off after they were put into boiling water for about a minute to loosen it. Then they hung them up and started butchering.

As they got it somewhat cut up, they would take the gut fat and all the extra fat from the cuts of meat and render it into a liquid. Then they'd seal it into 50 lb tin lard stands (cans).

 After we finished all the trimming of the meat, we'd put all the shoulders, hams and side meat (bacon) down in salt for six weeks. To do this, Daddy would build a saltbox, just high enough for the salt to surround all the meat. It had to have about two inches under and over the meat. When it was salt cured, they would clean off all the salt and hang it in the smoke house, where they kept a low hickory fire going for several weeks. All the smoke came out in the room with the meat, and flavored it. MMMMmmmm, good!

As I mentioned before, everything was hard to get. The country was not yet out of the depression, and then came the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of WWII. Since there were six of us, we had ration stamps for enough to survive on, “if” you could find it! I remember Daddy bringing home a can of peaches the grocer had gotten from the Black Market and saved for him. Oh, how we enjoyed those peaches!

We eventually planted fruit trees, and had our own fruit. When fruit was in season, we gathered wild blackberries, even going to wetlands where I stood waist deep to pick the huge ripe berries! On the banks on the river grew wild red and yellow plums. We canned all of this, and made jams and jellies, and pies from them. So you see, while having so little, we really had so much. And we did it together, which is rare nowadays!


We had several animals on our little farm. We always had two mules. I remember Kate and Kit, and Tom and John. Always one of them was a big pet. I always made pets of the piglets too. They'd come to the fence when I called, then lay down and grunt for me to scratch their belly! We always had at least one cow, and when she "found" a calf we'd let the calf suck our fingers!


In the spring and summer, after crops and garden were laid by, Daddy would put out nets and lines to catch fish. I remember huge fishfrys on the Fourth of July. One of Daddy's cousins had five boys at the time. They would come over and we'd have all the fish anyone could eat! Fresh green onions right out of the garden. My Grandmother would make a large plum cobbler for dessert. Daddy would usually go to town for a big chunk of ice, 100 pounds, and we'd make ice cream later in the afternoon. Ice, sugar and salt were the only things "store bought". The milk was from our cow. The veggies from our garden, and the fish were provided by The Lord! Sometime after our meal settled, we'd play music. My fingers would get so sore, until I built up callouses on my fingertips.  But I loved it, and would endure anything, to get to play and sing!

We lived so far out, not really, two miles from town, but in the edge of the woods, that we had to order Ancona chickens, which are black with white dots on them. Not Doms, or Winedots. We couldn't have white ones, the hawks and owls would catch them. I remember gathering the eggs late in the afternoon. Of course, I had a pet hen! Her name was Penelope, and I called her Penny. She'd squat down for me to pick her up.

There were wet weather sloughs every spring, and the wagonbed would float when we went to town. One of our dogs and a mule always got bitten by a water moccasin. Mother always saved them.


We didn't have many toys, so we used what we had! We played with weeds for our jewels (yellow stink weeds) and trees were our "boyfriends". Mother burned a pan of biscuits to charcoal one day and we used them for cars in our little town we made out of sand.

When they bought the horse and hog feed, they were in pretty printed bags that were used to make our dresses. Flour sacks were usually white, so they went to make underwear, or pinafores when we were little.


When I was barely fourteen, we sold our little farm, and Mother and Daddy left my sister and me with my grandmother in Southeast Missouri to go to school. There I learned a different way of life. She lived in town, and we had never lived in town before! We made new friends, and became a part of the little Baptist church around the corner.

I met the love of my life there, he was seventeen. We "dated", walking everywhere we went! Lots of time spent in church. My sister and I sung many "specials" in church. But when I was sixteen we left Missouri to live in Tennessee, where I finished high school, met the boy I married, and had three children. When I was forty nine, I left home and went to Alabama to live. I had raised all my kids, so they didn't need me any more.

I didn't know what had become of my high school love, until one day I got a phone call from a girl I went to school with in Missouri. She had been looking for me for twenty eight years! She said they wanted me to come to the class reunion, and that my long lost love had said if she found me to ask me to call, if I remembered him. I DID call him, and we started a new relationship, just like we'd never been apart!


Now I live 32 miles, and an eternity of years from that little town in Arkansas. No sight or sound of a train here. Even the tracks have been taken up. But they will live forever in my memory, as well as the good old days of my childhood when everything seemed right, except the war, and a young girl's happiness reigned free! No worries, because Daddy would make everything alright!


I now have six grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. I don't get to see them as much as I'd like. They all live in Tennessee, about 140 miles away. But as you can see, I've lived a great life. And at seventy three, I'm looking forward to the rest of it!!


What an interesting and inspiring story we just heard from you, Audrey.  I can't ever thank you enough for telling it today.  You can be very proud of your heritage, and the strength and stamina you and your family showed during such harsh times.  You have my deepest respect.

Perhaps some of our readers would care to share some experiences of their own in the comment area below, and read the article on Pearl Harbor which you will find here (click).  Thank you all for joining us!


Related articles:
biography, garden, interview, Pearl Harbor, poverty, spotlight

About Nancy Polanski
I live in Western New York. I'm retired, after working for 30 years in the Microbiology Labs at our county hospital. My time now is spent mostly with the Karen refugee population in Buffalo, advocating for them, teaching, helping and enjoying them. I've twice traveled to their camps in Thailand and experienced their culture. It seems they have taught me more about life than I have taught them.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Wonderful story! mollymistsmith Feb 7, 2011 10:12 PM 1
What beautiful memories. Zanymuse Feb 7, 2011 9:58 PM 29
Never forget kareoke Feb 2, 2011 11:32 AM 1
I would like to know AlohaHoya Feb 2, 2011 11:30 AM 1
Great spotlight kaglic Feb 2, 2011 11:25 AM 1
So Glad You Wrote This... Bubbles Feb 2, 2011 11:23 AM 1

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