During the war we took family walks on weekends. Before crocuses were up or witch hazel bloomed, with patches of snow in the deepest shade, we headed out to woods not far from home. The only sign of life was skunk cabbage.
The stiff, waxy spikes, the color of eggplant, splashed with bright red or mustard yellow, popped out of barren ground. Deep in the center of the plant, it was warm to the touch. The skunk cabbage converted starch stored in its deep roots into sugar. The smell of rotting meat was overwhelming and provoked shouts of outrage from my siblings and parents as I rushed to test the warmth within the leaves. The smell attracted flies looking for fresh carrion to lay their eggs.
The flowers faded in a few weeks and huge, green leaves, some two feet long and a foot wide, emerged. By June the leaves were gone, not simply dried and dead, skunk cabbage disappears entirely until the following spring. It was one of the many mysteries of the wilderness.
As soon as the war was over, the Sunday walks became Sunday Drives. The idea today that any parents would get in a car with children to drive around with no particular destination in mind, solely for entertainment, seems unthinkable. But in the Post War Forties, with cheap gasoline once more available, we would head out in our four door car, father driving, mother sitting next to him in the front seat, we three children crammed in the back.
All we could do was look out the window (fighting was absolutely forbidden) and, when things got really desperate, listen as my mother read to us. Driving home in the dark I would fall asleep while the family sang camp songs.
We drove on small, two lane roads, most only recently paved and a few still gravel or graded dirt, through scattered villages, not yet tourist attractions. A tiny general store with a gas tank, small clapboard structures with an asphalt shingle roof, covered porch, a couple of chairs and a bench. Inside, one musty, dark room with shelves of canned and bottled food, bright red cans of kerosene, a few hand tools, all illuminated by naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and sunlight filtering through glass windows streaked with dirt.
There were no fast food chains. Mother packed a lunch basket. We never stopped to eat at restaurants. There weren’t any. The total cost of these excursions was the gas and a few bottled drinks.