GOTTA PUT THE ONION ON Kate’s Journal


Episode 15 Alameda, 1945

Of all the aunts and great-aunties who gave us shelter during the period of my growing up, Great-Aunt Helen was surely the most quirky and endearing. She was my paternal grandfather’s sister, a country woman born and bred who circulated comfortably in society without reliquishing her down home persona.

She raised her own two daughters, and a niece and nephew with the same practical yet loving regard. No teenager, myself included, would put anything over on Aunt Helen, who was always two steps ahead of all of us.

Living on the third floor meant having to pass by Aunt Helen’s front door, so while in high school there was no way to hide the fact that I was trying to slip in unnoticed. They had recently stopped using the ferries from Alameda to San Francisco, so now I walked with Uncle Fred to the bus each morning on our way to Matson in the City.

Like so many older women, Aunt Helen’s feet were a constant source of pain, but for her weekly bridge games she reserved her dressy “sitting’ shoes. She would gather up her cronies and cheerfully call out “off we go in a cloud of hen dust!” and away they would go. I’m not sure she was the best of drivers, but her car full of chattering ladies didn’t seem to mind. Comparing in my mind the attire of a roomful of bridge players of today, they were certainly from another age. Everyone wore a hat and dolled up in their best. Today’s women are far less formal.

At the end of the afternoon, she would announce that she needed to go “Put the onion on.” Uncle Fred, whom the family called “Pop”, after walking home from the bus always entered the house through the front door as Aunt Helen entered through the rear. Her first job, even before removing her hat, was to chop up an onion and put it on to cook. She knew the smell of a cooking onion was irresistible to a hungry man, and Uncle Fred would be happily sitting in the front room with his evening newspaper, feeling that his dinner was on the way.

The War was finally over in August, 1945. (I have written about this momentous occasion in the post “V-J DAY, 1945” posted August 14, 2015.) Through the feelings of relief that the war was over, there peeked a wary suspicion of “what happens now?” Rationing was still in force to an extent, and life was carrying on much the same.

I had left the mail room at American Hawaiian behind and was now in the front office. Though I don’t recall a tremendous raise in salary it was a definite boost in prestige.

The glorious feeling that life would somehow be changed, and the boys would come home right away didn’t happen. I remember wondering if it was time for me to quit this nice job and go back to school.