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Souvenirs 10-31-2012

November 3, 2012

by Irma Schwantes
If you are among the poor or unemployed people you may be suffering the trials that our parents and families suffered through in the great Depression of the 30s. As I near my 90th birthday and mostly homebound, watching a lot of television I have been thinking much about those days. We were six kids in one of those families. How very different the days and the chores of those days were.

Wondering how many remember taking out the ashes from the heating stove in the kitchen, which was also the cooking stove, right under the grates which held the wood for burning, the ashes dripped through to an oblong shaped tin box with a wire handle. When the fire had been out for awhile with the ashes sufficiently cooled, the older brothers knew it was their chore to empty those ashes, carry it out to the garden lot to empty it. How many recall what is a "clinker" that may have turned up in a bucket of ashes from the furnace if you had a furnace. And how easily a chimney fire could get started. This happened to me one time when Frank was gone in the war, and I had to take care of those chores by myself. As quickly as I heard the whoosh go up the chimney from the basement, I ran all the way up to the second story to my neighbor apartment, grabbing a box of salt, pulling out the tin cover from the chimney wall, pouring the salt down onto the fire. Whew, when I think back on it today I can't imagine that I was not petrified to do that. I was just a young wife and mother alone with my little girls then. The neighbor, Gloria simply stood watching me as I completed the deed. Some where along life's journey I had heard about putting out a chimney fire by pouring salt onto it--- and that's what I did.

Remember "no heat in the upstairs bedrooms, with frost clinging to the bare rafters?" My sister and I were allowed to share the downstairs bedroom with our parents but our brothers slept three in one double bed and the youngest in a crib in the same upstairs bedroom.

Downstairs the living room door was kept closed all winter except at Christmas time, when we all gathered round the tree. We knew we were poor but we never seemed to suffer because of that. Our Grandma Kastens always sent a frozen goose at Christmas time by Parcel Post. Some how they had a way of keeping the goose frozen all the way from Wisconsin to New Ulm. And we always enjoyed the roast goose immensely. Also, our Mother had a way with sewing. It seems we received boxes of worn-a-bit clothing, which our mother carefully took apart with a razor blade and remade into clothing for my sister and me, or suits for the brothers. In old pictures which mother took of our family, the boys are pictured wearing neck ties. A luxury which still surprises me as I think back on it. How many mothers or grandmothers recall the days of using a hand cranked washer or hand wringer to do the weekly laundry? Remember dropping a little "bluing” into the rinse water as you did the laundry, and then there was always starch, to cook separately and to wring the items out of it before hanging it out on the clothesline outside, winter or summer. In winter the clothes would be frozen solid and brought in to stand against the kitchen wall to finish drying out. Ya those were the days.

We used to have milk delivered to our door every morning, the bottles were shaped so that the cream stayed near the top, and we had a special spoon with which to take that cream off the top, and we could whip that cream as a topping for a piece of cake or a dish of applesauce.

Every kitchen had a washstand which held a bucket of water with an enameled dipper floating in it. Everybody took drinks of water from that dipper, such was also the custom at some schools. And we didn't have a lot of illnesses breaking out from this custom.

Of course we all remember the outdoor toilets of those days too, I can't imagine how today's generation would survive with this, or the Saturday night bath in the laundry tub beside the heating stove in our parents bedroom. Ma always went first on those.

I almost forgot the pump out in the back yard, just a few feet from the kitchen door. All the water we used for drinking or washing, bathing or cleaning, it all came out of that pump. As I remember I think of how good it was from that freshly pumped cold water especially in the hot summer time. Well, I agree it has been hard times for some these days. Sometimes I wonder if this entire unemployment situation has been a contrived plan by the Republican party or at least some who are trying for a higher office? Of course now some will think I'm prejudiced and maybe I am because I am so disillusioned by some of the rhetoric exchanged by the candidates in this years' campaigns.

So maybe some can go back to learn how to stretch a dollar in these recession days. At the end of a weekly paycheck, suppertime usually included a big pot of Potato soup. It was made with home grown potatoes from the family garden with a few sliced onions included for flavor. It was cooked simply with water from that pump outside too, we seldom had milk unless an uncle from one of the farms brought us a pail of skim milk. Some in the family even liked and drank buttermilk, which sometimes soured easily.

So I hope I awakened some good memories for some of you. Looking back is some times a good thing. It can give us a sense of Thanksgiving for all we do have and to give thanks to our Gracious God for the many blessings we receive without even a thank you given.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord for he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when the heat comes, but its leaf will be green and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit. Jeremiah 17- 7-8

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