Ration coupons, victory gardens, salvage drives, saving cooking fat, “buy bonds today.” All familiar words to a home front generation during World War II. Unlike our wars since, World War II affected every single person in this country, and no matter what your occupation or financial status, everyone had to deal with rationing. Rationed items included basic commodities like sugar and butter, but nothing affected the lives of people in the suburbs more than gas rationing.
People would complain a little when there was no sugar, but they knew it was for a good cause. But lack of gasoline meant a complete change in lifestyle. Suburban towns like Greece had no parks, and no major stores, even a Sunday drive in the country was out of the question. In fact, for a while, any pleasure driving was banned.
Soon one neighborhood in the Town of Greece decided that if the gasoline shortage wouldn’t permit driving around the country for fun, it was high time the neighbors got acquainted and figured out what to do about it.
In January 1943, this group held their first meeting; about 27 couples comprised the group which tentatively called itself the “Briarcliff Club” as most members lived on Briarcliff Road. A monthly meeting was agreed on and plans dis cussed for various kinds of outings and entertainment.
A two-hour sleigh ride was the group’s first social activity; the Greece Press reported that “the merrymakers startled the countryside ringing with Sweet Adeline and progressed through a long repertoire of other classical and modern melodies.” They ended their day with a fish fry at the Barnard Exempts.
Throughout the next year, they planted a “Victory Garden at the Barnard Except Home, participated in bowling parties, had neighborhood picnics, held a street dance and a clam bake, and sometimes traveled in a group to a county park. A Christmas party was held at the Valleywood Club on nearby Boxart Street and, at Christmas, Santa himself visited all the children on the street and shared Christmas cheer with each of the adults. Stories were told for years after that Santa was quite a bit jollier toward the end of his journey down the street than at the beginning.
An August 1943 softball game against the Strathmore Drive Athletic Club resulted in a loss. No one will ever know for sure, but several of the Red Wing team members lived on Strathmore Drive, which may have helped that team win.
It wasn’t until March of 1944 that they had to hold a party in honor of the first member of the group to leave for the armed forces.
It didn’t take long for the group to discover they couldn’t find any better company if they drove for miles and used tanks full of Uncle Sam’s precious gasoline. In August 1945, a sausage roast and street dance were held, but the War was over by then and the reason for the Briarcliff Club, gas rationing, had ended. Soon some of the neighbors moved away, others began to relish the freedom a family could enjoy with their automobiles. The Briarcliff Club just faded away, but not the memories and the stories told to their children of how they made the best of their situation during the War. What stories are you telling your children today?
Bill Sauers grew up on Briarcliff Rd long after the Briarcliff Club ceased to exist but remembered the stories about the club told by his parents and neighbors.
Originally published in the Greece Post Nov 8, 2007