HOMEMAKING DEPRESSION STYLE
As a young girl, I vividly and fondly remember walking into my Grandmother's Depression era kitchen greeted by the tantalizing and unforgetable smells of spicy ginger snap cookies, homemade applesauce, and succulent homemade blueberry pies. Although the smells are my most cherished memories of Grandmother's house, I clearly remember being greeted by a fascinating old woodstove, a relic from her past. Grandmother's kitchen was trimmed in old fashioned oak bead board wall panels (narrow tongue and groove wood panels) and cupboards. Can you imagine, as a child, waking up to the fragrant smell of homemade blueberry muffins baking in the oven to be served hot for breakfast on colorful Fiestaware plates? Although I'm sure I only glimpsed a microcosm of depression style homemaking, I amconvinced the lean times of the Great Depression stimulated ingenuity, industry, resourcefulness and creativity which I believe is a template for modern day families interested in building character through the old fashioned values of homecooking, family relationships, memories of togetherness, and opportunity to live with an eternal perspective. Let's take a look at how a typical home was managed then and what we can learn from our ancestors.
Seventy years ago our nation was embroiled in the midst of what is commonly known as the Great Depression Era. Typically, we think of the 1930's as a time of bank closures, soup kitchens and food lines, door to door begging, widespread unemployment and underemployment, hardships, and family farming devastated by the dust bowl era. Actually, unemployment hovered around 25% with one in four able bodied workers without work. Despite widespread misfortunes, this is an era where people everywhere opened their hearts to anyone in need, and learned to enjoy and appreciate the simple things of life, learning to make do, wear it out, or do without.
My parents recall the depression years as the years BEFORE frozen convenience foods and box mixes, expansive super market selections of fresh fruits and vegetables available out of season, fast food restaurants, television and the internet. Ice, baked goods, milk, and produce were usually delivered to homes by horse drawn carts. Without freezers, families survived long winters through industrious back yard gardening and home canning. Moms baked most of the breads, rolls and pastries themselves and occasionally indulged in "purchased baked goods" which came delivered to their home.
Food, prepared from simple basic ingredients from scratch, kept mom at home spending a good portion of each day preparing the family foods. Common menus included pot roast and gravy, chicken pot pie, macaroni with tomato sauce, potatoes cooked all different ways. Rounding off the meal would be a compliment of home canned vegetables, fruits, jams and jellies. Green salads were seasonally available and fruit was served fresh in season or from canned goods that were preserved during the summer. Desserts often consisted of pie, pudding, and custard. Compare today's meals often picked up on the run or heated in the microwave and consumed in the car or by oneself rather than the family seated around the breakfast and dinner table discussing the events of the day.
With money in short supply in most households, families relied on mom to fashion family clothing.Today's access to discount stores, thrift stores and garage sales were non-existent at that time. Many families depended on mom or grandmom' s needlework skills to sew dresses and shirts from such things as feed and flour sacks since these items were usually sold in floral print cloth sacks. Old and worn clothing was often refashioned into useable clothing for theyounger children by talented home seamstresses . Useable clothing was always handed down to younger siblings or donated to those in need. Indeed they lived by the motto: "Use it Up, wear it out, make it do, or do without".
Clearly, life was difficult. When asked today, however, the then- depression era children often have many fond memories of making their fun without a lot of money. For fun pasttimes, families organized old-fashioned ice cream socials, often held in schools and churches. Other neighborly get-togethers encompassed everything from quilting parties and spelling bees to dances, and weekly musical get-togethers in homes with real instruments including saxophone, trombones, accordians, piano, drums, and guitars. Children thrived on neighborhood ball games, board games, and imaginative play; and contrived doll houses and clubhouses from discarded cartons from the appliance stores. Contrast the old-fashioned games with today's annoying and noisy Nintendo and electronic games that depend more on spending money than imagination.
Going to the movies in the 1930's cost a dime. This was the era of the opulent movie houses furnished in plush red carpets with shiny brass railings, and lavish lighting. Many of the grand old movie theatres housed the mighty Wurlitzer organs that had been made just for movie theatres. Organists would play rousing tunes to excite the crowd and show off the vast sounds and capabilities of the old organ. Following the opening numbers would be the main feature which would transport the patrons to a dream world far from reality for hours. Shirley Temple, Tarzan, and others entertained the crowds during the Saturday afternoon matinees. Contrast the excitement and exhilhiration of attending movies in crowded and extravagant theatres to today's visit to the neighborhood video store followed by movie viewing in the comfort of one's own home.
Some family amusements were seasonal in nature. My parents remember winter time treats of "snow candy". While the children filled pie tins with clean snow, Grandma boiled down the maple syrup until it would pour in a sticky, thread-like stream over the gathered snow for a sweet and sticky treat. My father in law recalls making homemade ice cream in the old hand cranked ice cream crocks anytime of year for entertainment. Cider making during apple harvest from the bruised or wormy apples could be a popular rural community event. Homemade root beer and soda made from commercial syrups, bottled and corked at home made a popular pasttime and tasty beverage.
Other families might spend their free time picking wild huckleberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries in season from rural hillsides to make tasty jellies, jams, and drinks to be enjoyed for the rest of the year. Yes, with a little ingenuity, people made themselves many delicious goodies just by using mother nature's gifts and very little cash. Contrast these virtually free events with today's frequent visits to Starbucks and neighborhood ice cream shops which require more cash than diligence and effort.
Children of the depression collected the "Big Little Books", small 3-1/4" by 4 1/4" books which fit into small hands and sold for a dime. Usually filled with 350 or more pages, these little books were the perfect fit and perfect price for children. Favorite titles included comic-strip characters like Little Orphan Annie, Tarzan, Mickey Mouse, and Buck Rogers. Later, as Big Little Books grew more and more popular, titles expanded to include characters from movies, radio and literature such as Tom Mix, the Lone Ranger, The Three Musketeers, Will Rogers, Shirley Temple and even Shakespeare's Mid Summer's Night Dream. Yes, those books held a special place in the hearts and minds of kids trying to build their own little familiy library as well as adding an exciting element of adventure into their young lives. Found on the shelves of antique stores today, these kid-size books opened up new worlds to young readers and bring back fond memories to those who grew up with "Big Little Books". How many homeschool families do you know who aren't still painstakenly collecting literature classics rather than indulging on pop literature such as Harry Potter, and other choices consisting of dubious morality, and challenge to adult authority?
Radio drama theatre serial programs amused families who had finished their chores and the evening meal to gather around the radio to listen to their favorite programs. Radio programming often greeted the new day with religious devotionals followed by a schedule of breakfast club variety shows, moving on to more music and talk hosted by Arthur Godfrey. Afternoon radio shows events included old time soap operas, just as television does today. The depression is remembered for popular children's programs such as The Lone Ranger, Captain Tim Healy Stamp Club of the Air, and others. Contrast families gathered around the radio with today's children hooked into a walkman or an MP3 or watching MTV to listen to the popular music of today produced by rock stars with lifestyles we can only pray our children choose not to emulate.
Yes, the Depression years posed an extended time where people learned to live with hardships, simple home cooked meals, uncertainties, and living without. Most Americans say they never want to see the Depression years return. Compare Depression era living with today's lifestyle of busy schedules dominated by soccer leagues, convenience and fast foods, ready made clothing, consumer debt, life dependent on the internet, and other extravagances and indulgences! Given the choice, my preference is to rely on the old-fashioned merits of home cooked meals served around the dinner table, gratefulness for what I do have, and home centered values and family activities such as reading, hiking, gardening, and attending church and community activites. Whether your family is currently prospering, unemployed, or struggling to make ends meet today, I hope you and your kin will not only be inspired by those who had everything but money and consider what part of "depression style living" belongs to your family's lifestyle and ambitions.
Copyright, 2004, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com
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