When World War II ended everyone including Athenians felt relief but also perhaps a sense of hope, especially after the anxiety and deprivation of wartime. And as they approached the Christmas season with a sense of hopeful expectation often the Athens Weekly Review articles of the time reflected that. However, there were still some lingering deprivations caused by the war.
In one case a particular shortage involved a favorite East Texas sport. The headline in the December 6, 1945 Athens Weekly Review summarized the situation: “Quail Fairly Plentiful Here, But No Shells.” According to the reporter, hunters might find quail in the field, but that really didn’t matter since ammunition supplies were almost nonexistent because of wartime shortages. The reporter wrote: “Hardware dealers say there are no shells in the stories here and no prospect of getting any.”
There were also shortages in the lights that would decorate the courthouse square but merchants and officials planned to do their best as they also looked forward to the arrival of Santa Claus. In an article describing this the reporter related that “Athens will be decorated with Christmas lights this year for the first time since the war began.”
Downtown lights might be dimmer because of the shortage of “globes” – probably light bulbs. In fact, though 3000 globes were needed to fully illuminate the courthouse but only 1400 were available, left from before the war. Still, plans were that there would be a light on top of the courthouse and two of the usual “Merry Christmas” signs were to be placed.
Since in 1945 most Athens did the majority of their shopping downtown on the courthouse square, though local merchants were ready to welcome shoppers there still might be shortages, too. The reporter assured the reader, “Selections of gift merchandise, also, are as good as may be found in even larger cities than Athens.”
However, though “…some items of merchandise are still missing from the shelves and others are short, yet you will find in the stores of Athens merchants as complete stocks of holiday gift items as can be found anywhere.” Shoppers were also encouraged to make their selections early and so avoid the “disappointment and inconvenience of the last minute rush.”
And Santa was coming! He was to be downtown the week of December 17-22 when “he will appear on the streets to greet the children and take their orders, but will not parade as has been the custom in the past.” But there was a reminder of better times: “The parade and a few other attractions known in the pre-war years will have to wait until next year or until a year when things have returned to normal.”
And what would the downtown shoppers find? The J. Frank Kendall store offered house dresses (colorfast gingham in red and blue checks) priced at $3.70 for sizes 14-20 and $4.10 for sizes 38-52. In the T.A. Taylor store 3 pounds of coffee was $1.00 and you could also buy Pyrex cookware dishes at 45c for a loaf pan, 65c for a casserole and 45c for a pie plate.
Another example of community optimism was the message on the front page of the December 20, 1945 where there was a depiction of Mary and the baby Jesus and the text: “At last – peace on peace on earth…This year as we celebrate our Lord’s birthday, we give thanks because He has sent us the most precious gift of all – Peace. It is in this spirit of world peace and friendliness that we wish you the blessings of the Season…”
Indeed, often it was the children who truly reflected community thinking and this was – and is today- depicted in the annual “Letters to Santa” sections run each year. The challenges and anxieties from early in the war became clear in a letter from the December, 1942 issue. There one little girl reminded Santa that “…my big brother Books is fighting so please, Santa, give him all the bullets he needs to do the job…”
But to Evelyn Peterson, an 11 year old girl writing at the end of 1945 had another request published in the December 20, 1945 issue. She asked for a doll and other gift items but she had a special request concerning her older brother who was probably a returning G.I. “Don’t forget my big brother…who is home for Christmas for the first time in three years.”