We started a victory garden the summer before Pearl Harbor. My father worked for the Department of Defense and his paranoia kept our family in a perpetual state of war. In those years before television, he would serve Doomsday predictions every night for dinner.
Our neighbors decided to join in the effort, once my father's gloomy forecasts of ration cards, national sacrifice and shortages circulated up and down our street. We chose a huge open field at the end of the block. Working in the garden every evening felt like being on a vacation, fresh air, soft black earth I could sift through my chubby fingers, and the unfamiliar delight of working with others..
Old Silas Cowell managed the effort like an ancient General. He'd been a farmer before being forced to live with his daughter and he sought to renew his relevance through our vegetables. Instead of each family planting what they wanted, Silas assigned us crops to share. My family planted peppers: Jalapeņo, green, banana and cayenne.
I can still see Silas distributing those peppers once they matured. He stood, tobacco juice dripping through a stubbly grey beard, and warned everyone. "Use these sparingly, my friends. And drink some milk with them. Otherwise they will burn your brownie."
I asked my parents what that meant. My father laughed. My mother blushed. My brother told me. All in all, it was an educational summer.