In England, before World War II, children played a game while singing a rhyme that began "Organes and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement's . . . " But children didn't hear those famous bells during the war years. After 1939 church bells all over England were silent, ringing only if that green and pleasant land was being warned of a German landing. Soon England was being bombed night and day.
My father had a manufacturing plant in London. After a particularly heavy night of bombing he found the factory had been damaged by a chunk of concrete pavement that had been wrenched from the ground a few streets away. Like a missile it sailed into the air and crashed through the factory roof. My father surveyed the premises, got into his car and started traveling.
He wound up in Hinckley, Leicestershire, where he rented factory space and 20 cottages. This little community, including workers who had been with my father for years and members of his family, settled in to support the war effort. Strict rationing and shortages of all kinds became a way of life.
In December 1941, America entered the war and soon their soldiers were stationed in England. The community set up a club for the "Yanks," who came on weekend passes to dance to phonograph music and have tea and biscuits.
Every morning on his way to the factory my father would visit his elderly mother in one of the cottages.
"Do you need anything?" he'd ask.
"No, though I miss a bit of lemon for my tea."
Lemons! Citrus fruit in wartime England was a rare sight.
"I could buy a diamond easier than a lemon!" my father joked.
"I know, but I enjoy a slice of lemon in my tea after a meat meal."
One day an American flier who'd just flown in from the States came to Hinckley. "Mr. Fisher," the young man said apologetically, "I thought you might like this. It's only a lemon but we left in such a hurry . . ."
Delighted, my father held up the lemon and turned it around in his hand as if viewing a magnificent painting. That very evening the club was having an auction to raise money for the war effort. To the astonishment of the Americans, my father handed the lemon to the auctioneer. The company oooh'd and aaah'd with excitement and the bidding was brisk. My father won the bid and turned the lemon back to the amateur barker, won the bid again and again returned the lemon. After a third round, Father carefully put the prize in his pocket.
Next day he arrived at his mother's door holding a box tied with a colorful ribbon.
"I picked this up for you."
"Now, now, Lou," my grandmother scolded.
"It's just a little thing."
Slowly she untied the ribbon and lifted the top of the box. Her eyes widened and her lips quivered.
"How did you manage this?"
"An American flier gave it to me."
"Fancy that, it came on an airplane!" she exclaimed. "America is surely a land of plenty." Carefully she placed the lemon on the window sill in the kitchen.
Every day my father would stop by to find the lemon basking in the sometime-sun of English summer. Finally he suggested that the lemon should be enjoyed.
"I don't have the heart to cut it yet," Grandmother said.
"I'll do it for you."
"No, I just want to look at it a little longer," she insisted.
And so the lemon remained on the window sill until its glorious citrus yellow became speckled with dark spots. Eventually it shriveled to an unattractive hard brown ball.
Just before the end of the war, my father came to America on a freighter which docked in New York. His American sister, Rose wanted to show him the sights.
"First, Rose, I'd like to go food shopping with you."
"Food shopping! Don't be silly," Rose answered, but her brother insisted on accompanying her to the bakery.
"What an aroma! What a sight!" He marveled at shelves bursting with breads and rolls. Then they went to the "green-grocer."
"I'd like a crate of oranges and lemons," he told the surprised vegetable man.
"Lou, you can't take them back with you," Rose said. "They'd rot on the shop."
"I know, but I just want to buy a crate -- they look lovely."
"Mister," responded the store owner, "why don't you take a dozen of each . . . we'll be here tomorrow if you run out!"