War on the Home Front


The day that war in the Persian Gulf was declared, a friend RTC phoned to tell me that she had ordered 31 TV dinners -- evidently enough to last a month if hostilities continued that long. I was somewhat surprised since my friend doesn't have a deep-freeze unit.

When I told this to a neighbor on Suffolk Road, I learned that she, too, was preparing for the war, but in a different way. She was laying in a supply of cosmetics and toilet paper since she recalled that such items were hard to come by during World War II. She said she was considering buying extra hosiery, recollecting that professional menders sprang up during the 1940s who, for a price of course, would reweave runs in stockings and mend holes in toes and heels.

My daughter, who lives in Towson, and a number of her and my neighbors and friends are building up their stockpiles of firewood.

A cousin near Pungoteague, Virginia, has bought a dozen

chickens, no doubt planning to exist on eggs if need be. She has also had her old bicycle repaired so, in case she cannot get gasoline, she will have transportation to and from the town, which is about five miles away. I forgot to ask her about fishing equipment. Since her home is situated on a little inlet, it is possible that she can obtain some sustenance from the water.

I recall, during World War II, my husband and I drove out to Mary's Meadows, the farm of George W. Abell of A, so-called because he was the grandson of Arunah S. Abell, the founder of The Sunpapers. George W. Abell of W, also well-known in these parts, was the grandson of Walter W. Abell.

George of A, who lived principally on the beneficence of his grandfather's estate, had lots of time on his hands. He was an indiscriminate collector of many things: antique furniture; iron toys; hunting prints; old farm equipment. Among his collections was a huge amount of surplus from World War I.

One summer day when my husband and I visited him, most of this material had been removed from the barn and was spread over a large field nearby. George had been sorting it for some time, apparently intent on discovering what might be useful to himself, his friends and neighbors as World War II continued.

We were the recipients that afternoon of a large candle mold (just what we needed); a cast-iron reclining fox, which I use as a doorstop; a hand-wrought lantern, and a life-size cast-iron robin, which resides in an urn near my front door. This seemed especially appropriate since my husband, whose real name was Robert, was called "Robin" from early childhood to his death over a year ago.

After guiding us for some time among the war-surplus items which were spread on the ground, George lead us to Stoke Poges, a succession of little rooms constructed on the side of a hill which, apparently, were to be used as bomb shelters if needed. Each of these rooms was equipped with a cot, kerosene stove and lamp and numerous books, mostly about the Civil War. George's friend, Carter Osborne, who squired Wallis Warfield (later the Duchess of Windsor) to the Bachelors Cotillon when she made her debut in Baltimore, often stayed for days in one of the shelters at Stoke Poges, reading, listening to the country sounds and enjoying the solitude of Mary's Meadows, just off Falls Road above Shawan.

Perhaps the most unusual preparation for war occurred in the 1860s when my great-grandparents were living in west Baltimore.

When the Civil War began, my grandmother, Margaret, was a young child. She shared a bedroom with an older sister, Louise. One day (in 1864, I believe) the girls were told that Union troops were marching south toward Baltimore. No doubt that accounts for the rest of this story.

When their mother, Sophia, passed by her daughters' bedroom late that evening, she was baffled by the sight of huge bulges under the bedclothes. To her amazement, she discovered that both girls had decided to wear their hoops all night in order that they could hastily put their skirts over them in case their home was attacked. Girls, in those days, were very modest, and Margaret and Louise didn't want to be found improperly dressed if handsome Union soldiers made a surprise entry into their home.

What am I personally doing in the eventuality that Desert Storm continues for along time? One thing for sure, I will lay in a supply of super heavy-duty radio batteries in case my television fails and I can't find my newspapers which are frequently flung by the distributor from a moving truck into a large boxwood bush outside my home.


Mrs. Harriss writes from Baltimore.

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