Monday, March 2, 2009

The way it was

I started to answer a question in the Dollar Stretcher forum "What They Did When Times Were Hard, but this is probably not the answer she wanted, so I changed my mind and decided to post here instead:

I can't remember a period when things were tougher than usual. Daddy worked on a ranch so we had the house and utilities free, but he made $300 a month (this was 50 years ago) and raised 8 kids. A 10 person household can eat a lot, but we never did without. Mom baked bread, gardened, picked wild food, canned, made butter and cottage cheese (we got real milk). We ate a lot of beans and potatoes, but they were good. A bowl of pinto beans, a pan of hot cornbread, homemade cottage cheese and wild greens is the best kind of meal.

One thing our family did, and many others did whether they "needed to" or not - and one that you very seldom see any more - is that we kids worked. Not only did we do our chores, which meant we carried in wood and water, fed the chickens, gathered eggs, helped with the garden, took care of the younger ones, we found ways to make money. By the time any of us graduated 8th grade (it used to go from 8th to high school at 9th grade), we were buying our own clothes and helping whenever it was needed. We felt a responsibility toward the family because we were it. Kids don't get to do that any more.

Mom was never a seamstress, but she could patch and make aprons, potholders, mittens from old sweater sleeves, rugs from rags and on and on. Not because it was a fun crafty thing to do, but because we needed those things and the money was not there to buy them. If it had been, she would have used it for something more important.

Daddy did all of his own mechanic work, of course, like everyone else we knew. Anyone would have been the laughingstock of the community if he took his car in to have an oil change and a lube job, or even to tune it up. It's harder to do some things like that now with computers in everything, but it saves when you can.

We didn't have a closetful of clothes. We had enough and no more. It really doesn't take 15 pairs of pants, a couple dozen shirts and a dozen pairs of shoes. We had three pairs of good jeans, five shirts and a pair of shoes. We wore the jeans twice and sometimes three times, the shirts twice. My sister and I had a couple of dresses, but since we didn't wear them often, that was plenty.

Mom washed with a washboard, and later on a wringer washer. We didn't have a water bill, but washing like that takes much less water and detergent that automatic wasters. Washers, I mean. She never owned a dryer, didn't need one. She hung clothes outside to dry, winter or summer and this was in Wyoming where they know what cold is. At one point, she had lines in the unheated second floor, but that was after most of the kids moved out, because that's where we slept.

Every morning, we'd put a large rock on top of the living room heater and every night Mom would wrap it with a rag so it wouldn't be too hot. We'd put it in bed before we crawled in... sheer luxury to put cold toes against a toasty rock, or to pull it up to huddle against until the sheets warmed up.

So what did we do when times were hard? We never noticed.


  1. My Goodness, I could have written this article, except for the hot rocks to warm bed. I also remember that Mom did make my dresses (pin-a-fores). When I got home from school, I automatically changed from my school clothes to everyday clothes. I never knew what store mittens were. Mom made all of ours.

    Mom helped Dad in the field, and I took care of the house--even as a youngster. When Mom had a new baby to take care of, I went to the field to drive tractor, ride the hay rake, etc.

    Mom did her washing like your mom did, including drying on a line in the upstairs bedrooms.

    I remember homemade cottage cheese, too. Yummy!!

    I wish we had a bed warmer, but it wasn't thought of. Alas.

    Regards, Peg

  2. I neglected to say that we changed from school clothes to play clothes, too. We learned to drive in the hay field and most of us worked in it all summer. It was school clothes money for us.

  3. What a great post! I didn't grow up this way- I had a mother who did everything for my brothers and me. But she left when I was 15 and I truly understand your comments about kids not getting the opportunity to be responsible for their families welfare.

    After my mom left we all pulled together. I had disastrous attempts at laundry and meals, but once I got the hang of it I felt a tremendous amount of pride (I think its the good kind, but God forgive me if not.:) My sense of self worth came from helping my dad and brothers out, not having the right kind of friends or being "cool". I felt needed. It was a blessing.

    Thanks for sharing, I think it is so needed in today's world to be reminded of these things. You never know who you are influencing through your writing. God bless!

  4. Of course your pride was the good kind, Jayne. It's called human dignity and it has nothing to do with selfishness and egotism. There's precious little of it in this world any more.

  5. Pat all these things are so true! I used a wringer washer and a closeline ( Kitchen in winter) to dry clothes for the first several years of my marriage ( 2 kids and 2 foster kids at the time, lots of diapers!). We managed.
    I remember being little 2 1/2 to about 3, my JOB in the family was to sit on the old wool blanket while my Mom pulled it around the hardwood floors after she had put paste wax on them! I can remember it was fun, but I had to stay on the blanket so my weight would help shine the floors! Later as I grew I got to kneel on the kitchen chair and lick the stamps for letters, and mix the colour packet into the white margarine. ( for a little kid that was a lot of work! LOL, but I worked hard at it so no one would know it was margarine.)
    I helped in the garden as young as I can remember too. Thanks for the memories Pat

    Pat in Kitchener

  6. I used a wringer washer up until my daughter was born (third child) then we got a dryer. I used it all the time for awhile, but got tired of it for a lot of reasons.

    I truly think one of the basic reasons kids grow up lost in our culture is that few of them have ever had the kind of responsibility that makes them a part of something.

  7. Excellent post!! I think our upbringing must have been similar. I,too, think responsibility, and being part of something bigger than yourself makes for better individuals. Kids today have just not had that opportunity and it is sad.

  8. A great article Pat, and thanks to those who also also shared their memories and experiences.
    I too grew up learning responsibility, and that money had to be earned. A lot of my memories also printed here! But good ones!

    It's too bad that people think that it's hard times when they have to learn to make due with what they have. Priorities have changed a lot!

  9. I agree that it's sad that kids today have not had an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Their worlds are very much limited to themselves.

    As to making do, so many people don't have a clue what they can do and what is really important.

    There was a study that concluded that people were happier overall 50 years ago. It's small wonder.

  10. I found your blog by googling "frugal blogs" and yours came up 3rd on the list. ;) I enjoyed your mom managed our home very well and frugally. It wasn't an anomaly to be frugal back was how we lived. Thanks for the reminder to reminisce...and thank my mom for managing her home so well. ;)

  11. Glad you found my blog, Denise! :)
    I know that my memories are not unique - you're right, it was not an anomaly to be frugal back then. How far we've come on the wrong road since then!

  12. This blog actually brought a tear to my eye. I was born in 1962 and lived a similar life in a rural midwestern state. The values instilled deep within me from that upbringing have served me well in my life and now I am passing them on to my own son. It is so important to have "know how" and I have invested a great deal of time, energy and love into giving this precious gift to my son.

    I love the ideas about other uses for the washing machine, etc. Mainstream living and social engineering through public education, mass media, marketing and advertising, etc. have really stripped our society of such ingenious and creative thinking and unique individuality by giving us their formula of how to live (in ways that make corporate entities rich!). But, there are those who keep it alive and I love it!! Thanks.

  13. Thank you, Emily. It's good to know that these values are being passed on in even a few. I understand the tears in the eyes... I have cried, too, for what is missing for so many people.

  14. I like this one; it brings back fond memories for me of my childhood and lessons about making do and being creatively resourceful...

    Mom and Dad repeatedly said it built character -- I agrued that perhaps it built a little too much character as I wanted to be more like my town friends! But am today very appreciative.

    I featured this particular post on my blog today with a link. Hope you won't mind...

  15. Wonderful memories. We grew up in a small country town in the West Australian wheatbelt in the 60's.

    Both Mum & Dad worked and we just knew we had to help, from chopping wood to hanging out the washing and getting dinner started from scratch.

    And now my two (15 & 21) have learnt how to care for chooks (chickens)and other animals, my son can shear sheep, cook from scratch, build fences, put in a crop, chop wood etc and the daughter can keep house, cook from scratch, sew, preserve etc etc.

    Both have had jobs around the house when they were growingg up to help the family unit and both work at their own paid jobs now (son on week-ends) because they enjoy a little financial independence.

    There is something to be said for teaching our children to be responsible, productive members of the community.

  16. I don't mind at all, Wildside, thank you. :)

  17. Molly, there is definitely something to be said for teaching children to be responsible, productive members of the community. It also makes them responsible, productive adults in the greater community of a nation, something that we're sorely lacking.