ST. LOUIS, Sept. 8, 2015 – Whatever generation you are from, there are unique “growing up” memories that shape our lives. Every generation has its “then and now” stories relative to those very minute details that made growing up so very different from today.
My own memories from the ’30s make great stories today.
For example, brushing your teeth. We had to brush once a week with baking soda.
My dentist was my grandfather, who was also the local blacksmith. He would take me to the shop, hold my head with his enormous hands and say, “Open wide.” I remember the fear that struck my entire body as he pulled my baby teeth.
Was my grandfather cruel? No, that is just the way it was in that day and time. Upon completion of the procedure, I washed my mouth out with salt water and thanked God that the ordeal was over.
To this day I can still feel those snub-nosed pliers touching my front teeth as he went for the “target.”
In spite of the rather primitive technique of tooth extraction and dental hygiene (or lack thereof), I have my own teeth today, some 75 years later, and with the aid of my dentist I am supporting a modern cap job covering those original teeth that were maintained once a week with baking soda and salt.
We have come a long way. Proving Grandmother right, today many toothpaste companies are advertising that their products contain (would you believe it?) baking soda!
How about that!
Even though we brushed our teeth only once a week, we did not have the cavities and dental problems in those days because we did not get much store-bought candy.
But there were treats and homemade goodies that were all the better because of the extra dose of love each recipe called for. It was more than buying a candy bar; it was a family task that was shared. A little work, a lot of chatting and great rewards for our labors.
On a Saturday evening we would make homemade ice cream. To this day, I have never tasted any modern ice cream that surpasses that wonderful taste. Maybe it was the cool clean breeze of the evening and the wonderful loving family that surrounded the event that added to the taste of that “cream,” as we affectionately called it.
To keep our dairy products cold, we put them in a pail and lowered them down into a well, which also provided our drinking water. We had no filters or any devices to screen the water, but it was clean and cold and it tasted good and refreshing.
Canning time was a great time of the year. You might see those jars with the gold toned lid in the antique store, or the lower shelf of the grocery story. We could not do without those jars.
Making apple or peach butter took the efforts of the whole family. The women peeled the apples and put them in a big black cast iron belly pot. The children wielded an enormous wooden paddle to continuously stir the apples as they cooked. The invention of a spindle device where you stuck on the apple, and the apple turned to peel it created a huge celebration.
What an invention and labor-saving tool that was!
The result of this work was apple butter for the homemade bread—and that’s a topic by itself as we always fought for the end piece of the freshly baked loaf. The other delight the apples were used for were apple pies that were topped with that homemade ice cream.
We also canned tomatoes, beans, cabbage (kraut) and other vegetables found in our garden. The canned goods were used in the winter. We grew the produce, saving seeds for next year’s crop. No grocery shopping was required or coupons needed, as all we had to do was go into the cellar and pick from the shelves of filled Mason jars.
Life was not all about churning ice cream and stirring apple butter.
Quilt-making was not only a necessity but was sometimes the centerpiece for a social event, where women shared news of the community sometimes referred to as “gossiping.” Competition for the best quilt was not only a social event but also a fund-raiser for the church or other charity organizations that raised money for the needy. These events were usually held on a Sunday afternoon. The entire family attended these competition and fundraising events, usually after church.
One of the year’s most popular social events was the church picnic. People got together and enjoyed the food and fellowship in a wholesome environment. The games we played were sack races, wheelbarrow races, ball games and target shooting.
Then there was the food competition, awarding cooks for the best pie or canned goods or other delightful concoction. There was always great food made on well-worn kitchen tables
For anyone living on a farm, the fall harvest was a time of great celebration. This was the time to bring in the wheat, and threshing crews would come to the farms with their big combines. Farmers from all around would take turns helping one another to bring in their wheat crops. Everyone had a job, from the youngest to the oldest.
You talk about teamwork—we had it all—motivation, objectivity, job satisfaction, equal opportunity and, yes, career path. Graduating from using a small pitchfork to a large pitchfork was what I call climbing the corporate ladder. The small pitchfork did not allow you to get the wheat onto the wagon and all of the hay fell down your shirt and that really did itch!
After the harvest was the harvest feast. Now the food display was also a magnificent sight to behold. You have never seen such a “spread.” I am talking—a good city block and a half! One section was vegetables, another meat, another pies, another all kinds of fruit and drinks (mostly large pots of black coffee and, believe it or not, no one was nervous).
The horses were unhitched and watered, and the men folk lay down on the ground for about half an hour. Then we harnessed the horses and grabbed our pitchforks, and the crews started the big machinery up again.
What a sight and what logistics! As I think back on the logistical efforts and organizational structure and communications, I remember that it was all simple and workable.
There were no corporate hidden agendas, no classes to take on motivation, teamwork or sensitivity training—just simple accomplishments by everyday folks who worked and lived together in harmony.
There is so much more to growing up in the “old days” but you know, most of these things we did – churning ice cream, making apple butter, growing a garden, canning vegetables for the winter and being a member of a church, can still be done – just set down your iPhone – unless you are watching a how to video!
My life was simple with plenty of respect, help and love. Those qualities were prevalent among the people I knew—I was blessed to have lived in this time of simplicity.
However, that’s from a time and place I am from.