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Over Here: 14 - Evergreen Cafeteria

"My formative years were steeped in broccoli, plums, sauerkraut, books, ration books, hickory nuts, hunting, memorial services, girls, and the glories of rutabaga,'' writes Ron Pataky, continuing his autobiography.

Even in the early 1940s, the Third Street Market already had been a fixture in Mansfield, Ohio, for several decades, as had the popular Evergreen Cafeteria, which occupied what I think was its northeast corner. I had no idea back then when the whole thing might have begun, and I didn't really care much. The important thing to me was and is that it was such an integral part of my growing up during the time of life people like to call the "formative years." My formative years were steeped in broccoli, plums, sauerkraut, books, ration books, hickory nuts, hunting, memorial services, girls, and the glories of rutabaga.

I still have a sign in my office that solemnly reads: Carpe Rutabagum. It hangs next to two others, reading, in left to right order: "He who so shall, so shall he who," and my favorite, "Help! I'm being held a prisoner in a ransom note factory!" The latter, of course, I printed in multi-font, multi-point letters, placed haphazardly on an otherwise clean page. It also later became a book by the same title. In a spirit of shameless self-promotion, I add here that the book should be available soon at better garage sales everywhere.

And to think the whole thing started with rutabagas!

The overall market plan was typical of urban "farm markets" across the country. There were no less than three large butcher shops, more or less an equal number of fruit, vegetable, and canned goods "stalls," (all quite similar to ours), a large, glass-enclosed fish market, a dairy bar, a small section for freshly-dressed chickens, a cheese place, and a bakery. In each, a person could purchase the finest food available on the planet, even in wartime (war, of course, being the big ingredient in the "formative" growth of early 1940s youngsters). Oh, and yes, there existed an entire list of things that were rationed. Most folks, however, took this very much in stride, accepting the situation without undue fuss, praying constantly for the boys overseas, and faithfully flying their American flags.

A star or two on a small flag in a front window at home meant you had a boy or boys "over there" somewhere, and a not-infrequent Gold Star in a window was the sobering reminder that young lives were ending each and every day amidst the smoke and horror of lonely, faraway places - in frigid, soul-numbing outposts; in fierce, threatening jungles and dust-choked deserts; across the endless expanse of vast oceans; in wind-swept mountain passes; just about anywhere. Occasionally you would see two gold stars, at which times tears often were unavoidable even among the very strongest of the many who could not help but notice in passing.

It was the greatest generation. Also, I think, the most memorable in terms of sentimentality. "War songs" were the hits of the day; and while a lyricist might get unceremoniously drummed from the composer's union in this day and age for writing a line like, "And Johnny will go to sleep ... in his own little bed again," such lines (from "The White Cliffs of Dover") were often the rule rather than the exception.

And yet, there seemed to always be a bright side to offset the pervasive grief that stubbornly clung to the land. It wasn't unusual at all to see and hear very real laughter mixed with very real tears, or the soft moans of a grieving mother as she sat in a quiet church along the way. There were many such mothers, brothers, and sisters. And proud, heartbroken fathers, whose grief shone through pained, glistening eyes.


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