Came 18 days after Pearl Harbor. Neither...

CHRISTMAS 1941,

December 23, 1991

CHRISTMAS 1941, came 18 days after Pearl Harbor. Neither the nation nor the city knew quite how to observe the holiday. Even Franklin D. Roosevelt sent forth a mixed message, speaking at one point about making it a "day of solemn preparation" and at another point handing out presents to all members of his staff and decorating the East Room with an all-white Christmas tree.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, throwing herself into good causes, worked as assistant national defense director and said, "I don't think it is possible for any of us to say this could be a happy Christmas." How right she was. At that Yuletide half a century ago, the nation was just adjusting to the enormous damage to the Pearl Harbor fleet, the Wake Island defeat and the impending loss of the Philippines.

Americans didn't know whether to be resolutely jolly or somber. But they were resolute. Winston Churchill, visiting FDR at the White House, added his eloquence to the occasion: "Here, in the midst of war, ranging and roaring over all the lands and seas -- here, amid all these tumults we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart."

The lighthearted "Down the Spillway" column on The Sun's editorial page commented: "Say this for war -- it does lift people out of their ruts." It also ran a parody of "The Night before Christmas," to wit:

0 As wreaths lined the furnace And champagne was chilled The Christmas tree shimmered There wasn't a pause As the shelter was finished To greet Santa Claus.

Mayor Howard Jackson announced there would be no blackouts or air raid tests. At the Holabird Quartermaster Depot, enlisted men wolfed down a holiday dinner featuring 22 separate items. Hopper-McGaw's advertised that "at this eleventh hour we are ready to help make yours a good old fashioned Christmas . . . We have everything."

The day after, merchants faced reality. "BLACKOUT EQUIPMENT" proclaimed Hochschild-Kohn, offering kerosene lanterns ($1.25 to $2.95) and blackout shades ($1.39 to $2.50). The war persisted for three more Christmases.

* * *

OKIE GIRL once again graces California's Interstate 5. The buxom billboard figure dressed in cutoffs beckons motorists into Frazier City for a meal at the Okie Girl Restaurant.

Though the sign is innocent enough in sheet metal and paint, bureaucrats took offense. They said the the farm girl's figure violated unwritten policy that bans depictions of human figures on such billboards.

The owner of the restaurant, concerned that the figure lures highway motorists into the small mountain town, vented her wrath in court to keep Okie Girl smiling at motorists. She won, even drawing support from the governor of Oklahoma, who didn't find the sign offensive at all.

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