People are fond of reflecting on the past and remarking about how simple life used to be. I recently read a post on Facebook from a woman remembering the things her grandmother did.
“My Grandma W. had an ice box like this in the kitchen on the farm. I remember her using it, there was a pan to catch the melted ice. I was there at least once when the drip pan overflowed and water spilled onto the floor. I don’t know if the ice melted faster than usual because of high temps or if it was forgotten. Outside the smokehouse there was also a spring box that cooled food to some extent. I think it was used mainly in the summer, I definitely remember taking the butter out there. It was about the size and shape of a bathtub, somehow carved out of a solid block of stone. It had a hinged wooden lid. There was water inside, not much, but enough to cool food items through evaporation.
The main meal was always cooked at noon and was always called dinner. G’ma heated up the wood burning cook stove and made a hot meal. She burned corn cobs left over from when corn was shelled to feed the farm animals. That was good for summer because it made a quick hot fire that then died out quickly, allowing the kitchen to cool down during the afternoon.
Leftovers were divided into categories — some to the ice box, some to the spring box, and things that would not spoil before supper were left on the big round table. The table was then covered with a large square tablecloth to keep off the flies. The tablecloth was almost always white and Had been hemmed by G’ma on her sewing machine. It was coarse and probably originally came flour sacks.
Sometimes G’ma made a hot supper, but more often it was cold food left over at dinner at noon. If we ate a cold supper we called it “piecing.” It was fun to piece there. There was often homemade bread, freshly churned butter, leftover cookies or pie. There was always garden stuff too — oh, the tomatoes!
When I was in third grade my dad and my uncles put in electricity. They then got their first refrigerator. It was a Crosley Shelvador (shelve-uh-door) because, of course, it was one of the first refrigerators to have shelves on the door.
G’ma was proud of that. I think G’pa was more concerned that he could see the electricity making the meter dials move. He did get used to it though, and he liked eating lots of cold butterscotch pudding when we pieced for supper. Yes, it was instant pudding. It existed then. G’ma never made the whole box at once though. She would guesstimate, and she usually had to add a bit more pudding mix or milk.”
I don’t know about you but I’m not so sure all that sounds “simpler.” When my family moved back to Greenfield following WWII we lived in a duplex and had a wooden ice box sitting in the hallway. Several times a week Mr. Mitchell pulled up in his horse drawn ice wagon and filled our box with a couple of blocks of ice. Everyday one of us had to empty the drip pan before it spill over onto the floor. Even then spills took place and mom always kept a mop nearby to clean things up.
Sunday dinner was usually fried chicken with mashed potatoes and a veggie and just as described earlier the leftovers were placed in the middle of the kitchen table and covered with a clean table cloth and consumed for supper. Mom had to shop several times a week because, even with an ice box, food would not keep very long. Bread didn’t have preservatives and the temperature inside the ice box just wasn’t cold enough to keep things from rapidly spoiling.
Prepared and frozen foods were a thing of the future so whatever we had for meals required scratch cooking which took far more time and effort than simply popping something into the microwave.
I’m old enough to remember my mother and other women making their own clothing and often from printed flour sacks. There was never enough cloth in a single sack so you had to accumulate sacks of the same pattern until you had enough for a garment. My mother was such a stickler for sewing quality she would spend hours restitching, by hand, off the rack clothing because it didn’t meet her standards.
We never gardened but my Uncle Joe always raised a huge garden and my Aunt Allen would spend countless hours in the heat of summer boiling water to can fruits and vegetables. My mother and Aunt Kate would sometimes get together and do some canning and make jellies and jams. Don’t know where they got the raw materials but we always had a few jars of home canned goodies in the pantry.
Bread came from the store and it was sliced. Desserts, however, were always homemade and my mother was a fine cake and pie maker. She worked at the Pad Factory and where she got the energy to come home everyday and cook a full supper escapes me. She must have been one hell of a tough woman.
Any person my age has similar memories and could add much to this story. But, to my constant amazement I can’t figure out how any of us who grew up back then can see it as a simpler time.
By the way, this article was typed on my quad-core laptop while sitting in my leather recliner. I occasionally took a break to sip my gourmet coffee made in my Keurig coffee machine. As soon as I finish this sentence I’m going to reach for the remote control and turn on my 42″ flat screen TV and watch something in High Definition on one of the over 500 channels I receive via my DirecTV satellite system. Jeeze, life is just so hard these days.