Saturday, April 26, 2008

What Would Mother Do? An addendum to ‘our simple life’

my mother in 1944

After writing yesterdays post I got to thinking about the inspiration behind my lifestyle.

During the late seventies and first half of the eighties, my husband and I really struggled to make ends meet. We were supporting his three children from a previous marriage. That left little for the two of us and our two children. Pay days was unpredictable in amount. My husband was an auto body repairman who was paid flat rate. That meant that when work was good, you made money. When work was slow, you didn’t. We always said it was a “feast or famine” job and that was not far from the truth.

Fortunately I grew up with parents who had grown up and lived through the Great Depression. I was raised in a frugal environment and learned a lot from my parents, my mother in particular. No matter where we were we had a wood burning stove that heated the house. I recall my mother baking the most beautiful pies in a wood stove in the kitchen, also.

My parents saved in any way they could. They raised a large garden every year. Even when my mom’s health declined and she became disabled and Dad had retired, Dad still planted and tended a garden, even canning the food himself. It was just what one did.

Dad (sometime in the 1940's)

Mom was a wonderful cook and loved to bake as well. Her pies and cookies became well know throughout the local area. She was often busy baking, taking in orders from the town folk for her delicious pies and cookies. Mom was somewhat of an entrepreneur that way. As children my sister and I would tag along into town as she peddled homemade aprons to the workers at local restaurants. Later, she would sell her crocheted items on consignment at a downtown gift shop.

Growing up I watched my mother make meals from what others might consider nothing. We never, ever went hungry. I learned that as long as one has staple items in the home a meal can always be mustered up. It may have been a pot of beans, a pancake dinner or potato soup, but our bellies always got filled. If fresh fruit was abundant, one might even find a blackberry cobbler as the main course on the supper table. I didn’t say our diet was always balanced, but we never went hungry.

The funny thing is, as a child I never realized we were “poor”. My mom refashioned hand me down clothes to fit us. Butter, cottage cheese and sour cream were all made at home with milk from our cow. On the front porch my twin sister and I took turns cranking the handle on the butter churning jar. It didn’t occur to us this was work.

When a hog was butchered, mom used every little piece and part. I learned this when I came home from school one day and as I entered the kitchen, saw a boiled pig’s head sitting on the kitchen table staring at me! Once I realized this is how she made souse, by trimming all the excess meat, I could never eat pickled meat of any kind. I can tell you however, that my mom made the best pork sausage I’ve tasted to date. Growing up I thought sausage just tasted like that regardless, so the first time we had store bought, to say I was disappointed was an understatement. Over the years I’ve tried to replicate hers by adding seasoning to plain ground pork sausage, but to this day, it’s never quite the same…but sage is essential.

My mother passed away in the spring of 1980, just six weeks after my daughter was born.

She had been ill a number of years and despite the emotional pain of her absence, I was not sorry to see her suffering end. Through the years of raising my family and making ends meet through difficult times, I could always think back to what my mother might have done. I guess you could say she stayed with me, guiding me in the art of getting by.

So, even after disposable diapers were introduced, my babies wore cloth. That was never a conundrum; you only had to buy them once and when no longer needed, you passed them on to another mommy or used them around the house as cleaning rags. Even back then in the 70’s and early 80’s it just didn’t make sense to spend money on something you threw away…even when many a time I had to hand wash the diapers.

My parents instilled a lot of good values in me and taught me how to get by. I can count on one hand the number of store bought toys I had as a child, but I never felt deprived. Books were free at the library and as children used to do, we played outside games when weather permitted and otherwise, used our imaginations. I learned to sew by making my doll baby clothes from patterns my mother made. I learned to cook by watching my mother in the kitchen and asking lots of questions…she didn’t like anyone helping her at the stove. I inherited that tendency I must admit. Everyone knows I’m boss in the kitchen and to stay out of my way. : ) My mother inspired me to learn crochet work. She was an avid crocheter but didn’t have the inkling or patience to teach me, thus I taught myself.

Mother kept a clean, orderly home despite the number of children and grandchildren coming and going. She instilled that value to some degree in me. I remember her saying, “There are many reasons a person may be poor, but there is no excuse for being dirty, even if that means you have to haul water from the creek.”

As a teenager I thought the grass was greener on the other side, as they say. My big dream was to move away from the rural life and live in an apartment in the city when I was grown. I thought my parent’s ways were old fashioned and country life was boring.

Isn’t it funny how life can bring you back to your roots and what’s real and good and true?

my parents & siblings in approximately 1959 (?)
My twin sister & I are the youngest. That would be one of us with finger up nose.


  1. I love everything about this post :-)

  2. Great post. It is interesting to look back on your past and realize how we've become who we are.

  3. Rachel Rabbit, your comment gave me the biggest smile.

  4. Country Girl, I really like what you've said here. I guess life is really just about that...becoming who we are and sometimes we find out it's who we were all along. :)

  5. And so the family circle continues. ;-) I love the story! Just one thing... why make yourself older than you actually are? LOL

    You state the picture of all your siblings and you and your twin was possibly taken in 1954... But you were not born into this world until August of 1955 so we know it was taken sometime after that! ;-p Couldn't resist my dear!

  6. oops, thanks for pointing that out kandice! I fixed it. Should have been about 1959. I'm guessing Susan and I were about 4.


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