My Grandma Was an Air-Raid Warden!

Grandma was an Air-Raid Warden sounds like a great country song or perhaps a song from the ’70s. In fact, this is the story of our Grandma Sayde, my dad’s mother. My tale is not a story of war; I will leave that to historical blog writers. Instead, read on for two cute anecdotes from the 1940s that will give you a smile.

My grandparents lived in Brooklyn. My Grandpa Leo was a big man, not in stature but in presence. Yes, I am talking personality! Ask my cousins and anyone who knew him! When he entered a room, everyone knew he was there.  He was the epitome of the king of the castle and patriarch of the family.

My Grandma Sayde was a beautiful, devoted, smart, and loving wife. She knew how to guide the ship but needed to make sure that Grandpa thought it was “his” idea. Hmmm, kind of sounds like what I do with my husband, Mitch. Gotta love genetics!

My Grandma Was an Air-Raid Warden- Photo from the 1940s of Sayde Schlanger
Sayde Schlanger

What Happened When Air-Raid Alarm Rang

So, you get the picture, 1940s, man is in charge, or so he thinks, the woman has traditional homemaker roles. Except when the air-raid alarm went off! Then all bets were off.

Leo would race everyone into the bathroom of the apartment and barricade the door for safety. That is everyone but my grandmother.  

Grandma Was an Air-Raid Warden!

Sayde would put on a hard hat and venture outside to make sure people covered for safety and adhered to the blackout rules. What? The family is huddled by the tub while Grandma is out roaming the streets.

These are the woman who ran towards, not away, from the alarms. Their job was to patrol the streets during the blackouts. I did not inherit Grandma’s bravery; I would have huddled behind the toilet with the rest of the family. Dad went on to tell me that after the Air-Raid Wardens, better known as Grandma and her friends, completed their routes, they would sit and chit-chat until the warning was over.

So, the above story is told by my 90-year-old dad’s recollection of his 12-year-old vision and memory. Perhaps there was a bit more to the anecdote. But I did laugh when he described the scene.

Who Knew Blackout Cake has WW2 Reference?

And by the way, while researching this story, I found that my favorite birthday dessert while growing up in Long Island, Blackout Cake, was named after this period of time.

Grandma Story 2 – Scheming with Her Sister Lee

Another story was about Grandma the Air-Raid Warden and her sister, my Aunt Lee. Back in the day, it was hard to get necessities such as milk, butter, bread. The stores often raised the prices of household necessities; yes, this was a No-No. But Grandma and Aunt Lee had a scheme.

Sayde and Lee would meet in front of a local grocery store. Sayde entered the store with her warden uniform and quickly showed her ID tag; Aunt Lee hid outside. Yes, she was “hoping” that the store owner assumed she was from the Office of Price Administration, OPA. Grandma’s uniform and confidence as she entered the market confounded the store owner, which was a bonus for Sayde. She would greet the store owner and ask if he was selling his products at the fair and suggested rate. “Of course, “ the grocer would affirm.

As Grandma and Grocer were chatting, a customer, who happened to be Aunt Lee, would stroll in the store and ask the grocer about the price of butter. Of course, since the Warden was there, he gave the Not-Going rate (the lower price), and Aunt Lee quickly ordered a pound.

Customer Lee would exit the store, and Warden Grandma would soon follow. They would split the butter and do their 1940’s version of a high five!

The above story of my Grandma is a cute family legend. I have no idea how accurate it is, although this all sounds precisely how things could have played out. I am thankful that our Jewish family lived in Brooklyn during World War II and not Europe. Otherwise, these stories, as so many other stories and lives, would be erased forever.

Grandma Was an Air-Raid Warden - photo of Leo and Sayde Schlanger at our wedding
Leo and Sayde Schlanger at our wedding, 1979

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6 thoughts on “My Grandma Was an Air-Raid Warden!

  1. Great Story Vickie – feels like my family because you are family
    . So many stories from those times!

  2. Those were wonderful stories! I know my paternal grandfather was a proud commander of the Jewish War Veterans post in north Jersey and often was involved in war bond rallies!

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