Family life in the 1930s

By Barbara F. Dyer | Jan 09, 2020
Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer The family

“How old are ya, Ma? Ya must be purty old ta have three children, take care of us, cook, sew, do laundry and all that stuff. How long before I will be old enough, wear flowered, cotton dresses and an apron, so I won't get them dirty?”

Ruth just smiled a little because she was 34 years old and said, ”Well, Susie, you have about 29 more years of growing to become old like me. But dear one, don't rush the time, as it goes by very quickly and you just might wish to be young again, someday.”

“O. K. Ma, can I go out to play now? How I wish there were some kids in the neighborhood for company. My sister, Betty, and brother, John, have gone up the street, where their friends live, but say that I am too young to tag along. Maybe my cat, Snooky is waiting for me outside.” Sure enough, there was Snooky and Susie thought how very beautiful she was. It was a tiger striped, ordinary cat, but very special to her. She loved cats and wanted many more, but her mother told her that one was enough. Snooky was happy with scraps from the table and a little milk. It was the time of the Great Depression, when cat food and veterinarians were unknown. Susie informed her mother that when she grew up, she would have 100 cats. Her mother just smiled and her little girl soon was outside playing with Snooky.

The cat and the little girl sat on the stone wall thinking of something to do, when a furry, kind of reddish brown critter scampered by. Snooky stood at one end and Susie at the other. The little chipmunk did not know he was in trouble. Snooky grabbed it (quick as a cat), but Susie took it away from Snooky as she did not want it hurt. What the four-year-old did not know was the critter had very sharp teeth and bit her. So she quickly let go of the chipmunk and she lost interest. The tarred sidewalk was quite warm, so she said, ”Come on cat, let's lie down on the sidewalk and have a nap, as it feels warm and there is nothing to do.” That did not last long, as Snooky spied a little green garter snake, which Susie picked up by the tail, and ran in the house to show her mother.

“Ma, Ma, look at the purty green angle worm I found! Isn't it wonderful? Can I keep it?” When Mother saw the snake, she nearly dropped the iron. “Susie, take that back out doors. It is a snake and they do not belong in the house!” Susie carefully took the cute little wiggly thing out and gently placed it on the sidewalk, hoping it would find its way home.

Mother had been ironing for quite a spell. She had to keep putting the iron back on the wood stove, iron a little and put it back on the stove to get it hot again. The process was tiring, but there were no electric irons. She also had quite a bit of laundry and to wash it she had to heat water in a large copper boiler, dump it in the washing machine with soap, let it drain out in a tub and then dump more heated water in the machine from the boiler to rinse it. One had to crank the handle of the machine with clothes running through the rollers to wring them out. Then they had to be hung on the clothes line to dry. In order to iron most materials they had to be sprinkled and rolled up, to be a little damp when ironed. After such a process, Susie was not sure if she really wanted to grow up and work that hard.

Shortly after all that excitement Susie's brother, John, came home and wanted to play ball. What fun! They found an old tennis ball down on the shore that the “summer people” had discarded and the old worn out broom that Ma had thrown away. Those made a perfect ball and bat for their ball game. He was three years older than Susie, so she pitched and he batted. He hit the ball as hard as he could and it hit Susie in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her. John picked her up and she bravely continued until he said, ”I know another fun thing to do.” She followed him until he found a hornets nest. Taking the broom he hit it as hard as he could, and ran. Susie thought maybe some flies were yellow, so she stood there looking at them. Of course, she was stung many times, and she thought that maybe some flies were pretty, but they were not very nice.

Well, they could always feed the flock of chickens some mash and some cracked corn. They were raised for nice Sunday chicken dinners. The big old rooster was just waiting and John was ready to tease him. A little cracked corn in a paper bag, and he would chase anyone with a bag all over the yard. John thought that was fun but poor little Susie. He took after her, with his wings flapping and those long tail feathers flying; that rooster attacked her. She was traumatized and was afraid of feathers for the rest of her life.

In the days of the depression, what were there for treats? They only had to go as far as their back yard. There were apple trees they could climb and snatch a green apple. They were not good for them, so their Dad would say, ”You will get coramobus if you eat those.” They never found out what that was and figured they would get whatever that dread disease was, but it was worth it, so they continued to climb and eat the green apples. Also in their back yard were raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries.

Next door, an elderly lady lived all alone in a big old farm house; she walked with a cane and didn't even have a cat. Susie went to visit her, because she felt she must be very lonely. They enjoyed each other and it became a weekly thing to do. Mrs. Ott probably did not have any money for candy, so she would give Susie a baked apple. Ma did not bake apples, so Susie thought it was yucky looking. She did not want to hurt Mrs. Ott's feelings, so she said, ”I just ate my dinner. Could I take it home and bring the dish back next time?”

“Of course, dear,” was always the answer. Susie told the same white lie every week. Susie's family was also raising a pig, so Salomi had quite a few baked apples. Susie and John did not realize their parents were raising the pig for food. The children treated her as another pet. She would root under her pen and became loose so Susie and John spent many moments trying to catch her. It was a difficult task but added to the excitement. John thought if he spread his legs and Salomi went under him, he could ride her and catch her like cowboys did. He tried it only once, as Salomi sent him flying in the air and both went merrily on their way. Their sister Phyllis was five years older than Susie, so when the parents said the kids could make fudge, of course it was Phyllis who was old enough to do so. One day Salomi was out and Phyllis made fudge. It looked good but did not harden. So Susie and John said, ”We will feed it to Salomi, as she will eat anything.” They were right, the pig went to the taffy-like fudge and then was easily caught.

When the pig was large enough their parents had her butchered. Susie and John were so upset that they would never come to the table when Ma said they were having ham or bacon. They refused to eat their pet Salomi, whom they had spent hours with, chasing her to get her back in the pen. They did not realize that in the Great Depression all families raised vegetables, chickens and even a pig for food.

(Continued next week.)

Barbara F. Dyer has lived all her life, so far, in Camden and is the official town historian.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jan 18, 2020 12:52

I do remember the depression and the sacrifices we made to support the war. I was 8 years old when it ended.

I am 85 yrs now!  Imagine! Thanks Barbara.

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