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Depression Era: Southern Rural Life

by Barbara Olivier

Yes, I remember very well when one had to have ration stamps for shoes and sugar and other things during WWARII, then trade or give to others! These where the good ole days! The smoke from the old wood stove and cookstove with the fragrance of hickory wood and bacon or ham frying. Sometimes the stoves would get red hot so we had to turn the damper down or house could catch fire.

The first chore in the morning was to build fires, then we had to pump the water and carry from spring or a far away from home. The bucket had to be poured into reservoir on the stove to keep hot water. The cow had to be milked and eggs gathered from the hen house and there was always wood to be cut and kindling to be found and left behind the stoves in the wood box.

The walk down a muddy road a mile or more, to wait for the school bus in the rain, sleet and snow. We had steam heat at school from coal burning stoves and electric at school but at home studying was done by a oil burning lamp in the 40's.

In the rural areas there was no plumbing or electric and our bath was taken in large tub heated on the cook stove. The older ones went first and the baby last in same water unless it got too dirty in winter time, now thats called sharing! In the summer the water was heated by the sun and each had a tub.

There was very few oil burning refrigerators and left over food was kept in warming closet on top of stove. The milk and butter was kept in jars and left in spring or on ice that the iceman brought in blocks a few times a week.

Most everyday three meals were cooked so I learned fast how to cook standing on a box to reach the stove. We saved the old catalogs for the out house in back that was sometimes built over the running creek. We never wasted anything.

The food scraps were fed to chickens, dogs, cats and pigs. We made our own toys such as, using the empty boxes and cans to make us a play store which we pretended to sell to each other. Toys were also made from buttons and empty spools from thread.

My brother built a flying genie on a stump from a tree that had been cut with a long board across and some how we pushed to make it go round and round until we got dizzy and sometimes fell off. The swing was a rope that hung from a tree with a toe sack (potato sack or feed sack = burlap material) filled with stuffings.

If one was lucky enough to have any money or cars, they lost it for most part during the depression. I remember an old A model we had and dad used lye to remove the old paint and bought piston that we had to hand sand to fit. I have never understood that and why he didn't buy them to fit his car or if they just came in one size.

On trips a few miles from home, the car would run hot and dad would have to find water and then take his boot to dip from a pond or ditch and then we could travel a little farther.

I remember the day that Roosevelt died but not old enough to understand who he was, but mom and dad sure had the old battery radio going that we always had to save the battery for GRAND OLE' OPRY on Saturday night.

When we heard the whistle blow from a coal burning train, we had to have the chores done and catch the bus for school. In the afternoon same chores each day plus he farmed our food and in spring and summer we had to work in gardens and prepare to can the food which mom did in a pressure cooker. We had fresh vegetables all year and meat that was cured by dad.

The pigs and chickens had to be fed daily. When it was cold enough for meat to keep long enough to cure and then hang in meat house to smoke dad would kill hogs. OH what great pork chops and fresh sausage the next day. The hogs head was made into sausage meat and the feet boiled and pickled.

In those days I think each family raced to see who could have the most kids to help on farms. They needed farm helpers. We wash clothes with rub board and homemade soap and yes I remember scrubbing clothes so long that the hands bleed and the soap made them burn.

Here is the recipe for lye soap which I tried my luck at a few years ago. Its great for hair and skin. Use extreme caution when handling lye (an acid). Eye protection is essential.

6 pounds grease (lard, fat from animal =chicken-pork or beef
1 can lye
3 cups water

Start with cold water in large stainless steel container. It will boil and be very hot! Let cool to lukewarm. melt the fat. Let cool to lukewarm. Mix fat into lye water. Stir until it starts to thicken like pudding. Pour into non-aluminum pans the thickness you want your bars. Cut soap into bars. Ready for use in 6 weeks.

Our clothes were clean, starched and ironed and some were hand made from flour sacks or hand me downs that others had out grown. The irons were kept hot by wood stove in kitchen because usually a pot of beans or hominy which were cooking all day on wood heater or fireplace.

They used ashes for the lye to remove the dried corn husk. That was good stuff and we ate until our stomachs ached. The milk had to be left out so the cream would come to the top of jar and then the cream was put into a churn to make butter.

It was churned with a dasher or put into larger jars and you had to either dash up and down with the churn dasher or shake the jar for hours it seemed. Then you had to work the butter until all the whey was removed (water like) and pour into butter molds to harden. The remains were poured into Jugs/jars for buttermilk which was used for baking as well as drinking.

We were never hungry or cold and at night mom would take the irons and wrap them in a cloth and put to our feet. Three of us would sleep in same bed and sometimes in middle of night you would feel something real warm hit you and in morning we had to change the bed. Mom had 7 children that lived to adulthood.

The Church was about a mile or two away and we walked every Sunday when weather permitted. The food had to be prepared for the winter months and be canned and stored.

When we had company, the kids had to wait and I had lots of boney pieces of chicken and they made me ring the necks of the chicken and pluck out the feathers so I wasn't very hungry anyway. That's what I got for being the oldest girl. My siblings didn't even know how to cut up a chicken when they married.

We were seldom sick but if one took a cold then all was given a teaspoon of sugar with three drops of turpentine, another remedy was half teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and an aspirin for fever.

We farmed cotton, corn, soybeans and vegetables and would run to the garden after school to fetch a green onion to go with some buttermilk and cornbread that mom baked if she didn't make tea cakes for an afternoon snack.

I remember someone asking me once if we chopped the cotton down and picked the cotton and put into bowls. These were our city friends and cousins who could not have made it the first year of year 2000 if computers had crashed.

I just found a scale with a pea like the one used to weigh cotton. The cotton was weighed and then poured into a wagon or large trailer from a pick sack (canvas material) which we would climb into and have so much fun. Some of the cotton was picked for quilts mom made from scraps of clothes she made. We had to pick out the seeds.

My grandma Carney was the crafty one. She make beautiful crepe paper flowers and dipped them into melted paraffin wax to coat from the weather. They were then taken to what we call today a family reunion but she says they are for decoration day and I didn't understand what she meant by that. She did crochet and embroidery work and I now have framed some of it for my walls. Grandma was also the doctor who delivered the babies and set the broken bones or other remedies for the sick and injured.

She made beautiful clothes even for the dead who she made the coffins for and if there was no wood available she would take the ceilings out of the house and replace them later. Her son was the sheriff and he would say "just take them on down there and bury them" so you can see why I can find very few records. If you think we had it hard just do some family history research!

Our life was great and happy, most of family members were very musical. Mom played notes and dad played strings, we all sang. Once my sister and I was asked to sang "When the roll is called up yonder" for a funeral, now that was hard.

I met one of my old childhood friends from fifty year ago through my web page from this same Church in Earle, Ark. He is a Preacher now. This web page has found me several cousins that I never knew.

We all are willing to help on #genealogy-help chat channel, come join us and find what they really went through to make it better for themselves as well as their descentents (YOU) to come.

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