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Digging through the 'morgue'

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Eric Bergeson Detroit Lakes,Minnesota 56501
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Digging through the 'morgue'
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

We forget. In this country in particular, we don't dwell on the past. We prefer to forget.

Last week, I spent some time in the local newspaper office digging through the morgue. 


The "morgue" is what newspaper types call the bound copies of newspapers from the old days. 

Open up one of the big binders and the first thing you notice is the nostalgic smell of musty newsprint. 

I am allergic to musty paper, so I sneeze. But the fun of gathering evidence of the past first-hand always overrides the tickle in my nasal passages. 

Three miles from home stands the abandoned Rindal Creamery. I remember when the co-op still took milk, but barely. 

Today, grass, weeds and volunteer box elder trees grow up around the creamery's brick walls. It is easy to drive past the ruins without noticing. 

But in 1942, according to the Fertile Journal, the Rindal Creamery Co-op Assn. held its fortieth anniversary. Several hundred people attended. 

The church choir sang. The local minister gave a sermon. The head of the co-op gave the main address. And an orchestra played! 

I am sure all who attended wore their Sunday best. 

Different times.

A few issues later, the realities of World War II hit home. 

Each week, the boys taken in the draft were listed on the paper's front page. 

Sugar was rationed. To get canning sugar, you had to drive to a central rationing site. That took gas, which was also rationed. 

Any driving wore out tires, which were rationed as well. 

In the entire county, fewer than a dozen new tires were granted by the rationing board during most weeks. 

Everywhere you turned, goods were scarce. 

If you were awarded the right to buy new tire, or bicycle, or new car, or even a retread tire, your name was listed in the paper for all to see. 

You can bet those volunteer rationing boards had plenty of second-guessers questioning each decision. 

Then came the drive for scrap metal. Dig in the woods and get out all of your junk! 

Neighbors sometimes reported on neighbors who tried to hide an old implement that was no longer getting enough use to justify not melting it down to make tanks. 

All areas of life were open to scrutiny. 

A long article contributed by the local garden club accused boys who stole crabapples of sabotage, of "aiding Hitler" by depriving the boys fighting the war of food. 

The logic went like this: Those who could were to raise their own fruits and vegetables so the canned goods produced in California could be shipped to the boys overseas rather than to grocery stores in the Midwest.

If you did not have a "Victory Garden," or if you wasted food, or if you didn't poison the potato bugs, you were aiding and abetting the enemy!

Clothes were scarce. So were shoes. It was unpatriotic, preached the newspaper, for boys to drag their feet along the street and wear out their boots. 

Wartime recipes which used reduced amounts of butter and sugar appeared each week. "Save the butter for the boys!" was the cry. 

Wartime weddings were sparse affairs. Brides seemed to take pride in keeping it simple. No long lists of bridesmaids. No fancy dresses. 

"The bride wore a simple yellow dress," said one announcement. "The five people in attendance were served a simple dessert."

The Lucky Strike cigarette drive for the troops conducted by elementary school students probably wouldn't happen today. 

Neither would the war-time propaganda movies starring Gary Cooper which showed at the local theater. 

It is also unlikely that citizens today would allow a local draft board made of up of volunteers to select which of the eligible males would be drafted to serve in the war. 

Sometimes the draft board's decision came down to: who is the better farmer, Egbert Nelson or Ingvald Thronvoldson? 

The better farmer stayed home, the allegedly worse farmer went off to war. 

A few years ago at the cafe, I asked local World War II veteran Muret Berhow how he spent the war. 

"Oh, I had it pretty good," he said with a wave of his hand. "I spent most of the war in Washington D.C."

  His job? To make waves in the bay with a little boat so the seaplanes could more easily escape the water's surface tension and take off.

What a surprise to find last week in the old 1942 newspaper that Muret's years making waves in D. C. came only after he was injured when his ship was torpedoed overseas early in the war.  

Muret didn't mention that bit of trivia. 

They sure don't make 'em like they used to!

We should remember that more than we do.