Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Funny What Gets You Thinking...

Funny what thoughts come from a shopping trip. We went to the local grocery today, because they are having a case sale. I'm in the middle of stockpiling for the winter, when locally grown organic food is abundant and cheap. I bought two cases of canned milk, a case of corn, three litres of olive oil, a box of pears, and numerous other items for my stockpile. I sat down and figured it out and I saved $70.00 over what these items would cost if I bought them off-sale, so that feels good. I'd really rather not buy canned goods because of all the energy that is sunk into the cans and transporting them, but with the threat of H1N1 looming, I figure it's best to have supplies of necessary food on hand in case I get sick and can't shop, or in case there's a lot of flu in town and we want to stay home.

Last night a friend came by with 40 pounds of beautiful organically grown potatoes, 35 pounds of Russets and five pounds of red "new" potatoes. I'll be picking apples with my friend Anita this week, and will dry some and keep some to eat fresh. I've got large quantities of dried fruit and veggies now, and once I add a couple of large sacks of dried pinto and black beans we should be able to "shop the stockpile" pretty well this winter,

When I was a girl in Oklahoma every homemaker spent the summer in the garden and kitchen. The big black canning pot was rarely off the stove once vegetables began to come out of the garden.

We lived in this lovely little house in Duncan Oklahoma, a small town about 90 miles south of Oklahoma City. In those days it was a working class neighborhood. The homes were simple but very well kept and the yards were full of flowers, trees and meticulous lawns that the fathers or older brothers mowed on Saturday afternoon. We had an enormous garden, a clothesline and a chicken coop in the back yard. The chickens supplied us with eggs and (alas for my tender heart) fried chicken dinners.

Our lot was bordered by a creek with a deep channel which flowed full in March, and often flooded the yard, and even the house occasionally. By summer the water trickled past in the bottom of the ditch and my friend Tommy and I would fish for crawdads by dangling a piece of string in the water. For a hook we used a safety pin, baited with a piece of raw bacon. The crawdads wouldn't bite the hook, they grabbed the bacon with their claws and were too stubborn to let go. We'd catch them, and put them in a bucket to keep as "pets". At nightfall our Dads would sneak them back into the creek and tell us they'd crawled away.

Mother would can jar after jar of tomatoes and corn and peas and green beans, beets and pickles and all kinds of tree fruit. She knew where the wild berries and plums grew, where to find pecans and hickory nuts, and where you could pick the rusty orange persimmons that puckered your mouth until after a hard freeze. She didn't bake much "light bread", but every meal was accompanied by either baking powder bisquits or cornbread, always hot from the oven. Milk came in bottles, or from a relative when the cow was fresh. I churned a lot of butter by shaking cream in a jar until my little arms were about to fall off.

There were ventilated drawers in the kitchen cupboards for root vegetables like potatoes, onions and carrots. Flour came in cotton sacks printed with floral patterns, which ended up as aprons, school dresses, skirts, underwear and pillowcases. When clothes grew too ragged or stained to pass on to someone else in the family the buttons were cut off and saved, the zippers removed, and the "good" bits were carefully cut out, to be recycled into quilt tops. For years I could look at the quilt on my bed and see in my mind's eye every shirt, skirt and dress the fabric had come from. Nothing was wasted.

The most prized skill in a homemaker in the 40s and 50s was the ability to make do. Manufactured goods were still in short supply, and there was little money to buy what there was anyway.

I remember hearing Mother comment that she'd seen a living room in a magazine that she thought was so beautiful she wanted to decorate our living room to look the same. She began pricing items she'd need to buy but when she hit the $80.00 mark she was so scandalized by the decorator's shameless waste of money she abandoned the idea altogether.

Our living room had a polished wood floor, a printed lino "rug", and two patterns of wallpaper, a wide white and tan stripe on three walls and a chocolate brown "William Morris" style paper which had white lilies and green flowing leaves and stems on the fourth wall. I thought it was beautiful and I could lie and look at it for hours, tracing all those tendrils in my mind. The sofa and two arm chairs were brown velvet with crocheted pineapple doilies made by my grandmother pinned along the top.

There was a lovely small piano on one wall, reflecting my mother's hopes that I might be "musical" (I wasn't). It was extravagantly expensive, $600! I have no idea of how she ever came up with the money for that piano. My father probably didn't make $200 a month, yet somehow she scraped together $600 for a piano and several years worth of piano lessons. About all I got out of that investment was a love of classical music.

There were several large windows covered with sheer white organza curtains with ruffles. According to the fashion of the time these curtains criss-crossed the windows and were held back with ruffled ties. There was a floor lamp with a silk shade and a big low table the whole family, including my two brothers and their wives, could gather around. We laid out jigsaw puzzles on that table, and there was lots of room for snacks.

At Christmas there was the tree, the glass German bird ornaments, the bubble lights and tinsel. Hard candy. Huge family meals. And *a* gift. A doll, one year a dollhouse. One year my brother made me some stilts which I got quite good at walking on. One year my Dad and brothers made me a cradle for my dolls. My sister-in-law June made me a sock monkey, a toy we called a "Bimbo". I lost him for years and then found him again and I have that beloved monkey to this day.

I don't know if those were actually simpler times, but there were fewer distractions then. No TV, no running off to practices of all kinds, though I did belong to Brownies for two years. Church, school and Mother in the kitchen. Those were the constants I grew up with. I didn't know at the time how fortunate I was.

I am so pleased and happy to see the value of knowing how to "make do" being recognized once again. More women realize that practicing economy and creativity while staying home with their children is a positive contribution, one that takes resourcefulness and is as much a challenge as rushing to a job each day.

Not every mother can stay home (or wants to). To maintain a job and a family home is a huge challenge. I'm glad to say I was able to have a taste of both, working and being a stay-at-home mom. I enjoyed both, but I really preferred to be home with my children. I had a lovely childhood. I have lived a fortunate and blessed life. I wish everyone could have such happy memories.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That make do attitude filtered down to the next generation! I grew up that way too, but it was my Great Grandmothers who were the frugal ones...the growers, canners, quilters. I was 12 when I spent the Summer in Ada, OK with June and her Mother. That was the year I learned about plucking chickens and pressure cooking! Neither pleasant experiences, lol. Growing up in Duncan, we had fresh eggs, fresh milk, cream, and butter (Ma had a churn). We ate pears that were wrapped in newsprint and had been stored in brown paper bags in the well house. There were always fresh vegetables from the gardens (home canned for the winter meals), fresh meat from the butcher as Granddaddy was a butcher. Ma could stretch a roast further than anyone I know...and we were never hungry. Now, I can stretch any meat for several meals and beans/rice are a mainstay for us. I cook several meals at one time to save on the fuel costs for heating the oven. I package and freeze in small amounts to pull and use for a meal, ie: roasted chicken, I'll use hot sliced meat for one meal, chunks for another (with dumplings), cold sliced for sandwiches, and the shreds mix with chopped egg, celery and become chicken salad. The carcass is cooked for broth for a soup or for the dumplings. I think making do was quickly becoming a lost art. The economy if forcing folks to rethink their spending habits and revert back to the more frugal times. Oh...it's 56° outside. I have the house open, no A/C or heat going. Feels great..and it's FREE! Nite, Auntie Deb