“Life as mama knew it”
‘My children often asked me
If I saw Abe Lincoln shot.
If I rode in horse and buggy,
And I’d say “that old I’m not!”
So I took them to the places
Where I used to run and play,
And I told them many stories
Of how things were in my day.
The many homes we lived in
With the outhouse right behind.
Sleeping three in one full bed
For our winters were unkind.
The old pot bellied stove
Where ten children gathered close,
To warm their little bodies
Before dressing in their clothes.
Most all clothes were from relief
Or hand me downs from others.
Our shoes were lined with cardboard,
As were our dad’s and mother’s.
No butter on the toast we had…
Lard, with sugar on the top.
Canmilk coffee was for breakfast.
Always two to one full cup.
Hauling wood in winter snow
With a wheelbarrow twice our size.
Getting chased by neighbors horses
Trudging homeward with our prize.
There was a truck eleven
And another seventeen.
We grouped them both together
And called them leventeen.
When we’d hear that number called
We’d know that we’d been found,
Taking wood from off the pile
Instead of off the ground.
Old Joe’s pigs would free themselves.
They were big and fast and mean.
Thank heaven we were faster
And the pigs a bit more lean.
No screens upon the windows.
No garbage pick up then, and
The flies outdid the locusts
In the plague sent down from heaven.
Before we had our mealtime
We were all called from play.
To swing our towels above our heads
And chase those flies away.
Then we’d all sit down to supper
To a platter piled up high
With sliced fried green tomatoes,
Which we’d eat until we’d sigh.
Dangerous fun we all would have
Taking jumps on cardboard sleds.
Made for some skinned up faces
When we jumped into our beds.
Curling up into a tire,
Rolling down a great steep hill.
Jumping railings with a five foot drop,
Made our mom and dad feel ill.
On Saturday our mom would tie
A diaper on her head.
Then fire up the old wood range
To bake our daily bread.
With the kitchen warm and cozy
She would fill the old wash tub,
Then the youngest to the oldest
Would get there weekly scrub.
Picking beans from Barne’s garden
Just a penny for a pound,
Caused aching backs and dirty knees
From kneeling on the ground.
Picking berries in the summer
Was another job of ours,
We’d set out in the morning
And pick for many hours.
We’d stop at noon to eat
Wherever there was shade…
A peanut butter sandwich and
Warm iced tea mom made.
We would stomp cans in the center
To wear upon our feet,
To go clanking down the sidewalk
Or any pavement street.
Third powder was our swimming hole
With a mine shaft in the middle.
A dangerous place to swim,
Especially when your little.
We’d save paper, iron and rags
To help out during the war.
Victory gardens were aplenty
To help out even more.
The paper, iron and rags were
Put upon the scale to weigh.
So many pounds of each
Would let us see a matinee.
We’d laugh when mom was asked
If she had rags to spare?
She’d answer, if I give you mine
I won’t have clothes to wear.
I remember one fine day
When we all went to the fair..
They stopped to get some ice cream,
And they found I wasn’t there.
They found me sitting on a bench
I was very little then.
I said, “I knew you’d come and get me,”
But in my heart I didn’t know when.
Another time they moved
While I was staying somewhere.
Was I surprised when I got home,
And found they were not there.
We used to laugh and say,
“They would count as we came in,
Seven, eight, nine and ten.
They all made it home again.”
Those were the good old days,
As I look back now with pride.
They made us strong and hardy,
But it’s a wonder we survived!’
Credit: Carol Bouche’ Ottlinger
More from Carol:
“There was so much more I wanted to write, about picking cat tails and getting bogged in the swamp, tipping toilets on Halloween, with someone in them. Arlene falling in the hole, raiding gardens, picking flowers in the cemetery for mama. The old Hupmobile that ran on creosote during the war. Kids chanting “Bouches chariot, pick it up and carry it. For two cents I’d take it out and bury it.
Sitting out on the roof at night, waiting for our drunken neighbor to crawl up her drive way cursing us. Having hobos come to our house and mom feeding them. Then they would put a mark on the fence so others would know they could get food here. Catching fireflies in a jar, and Christmas!
Well I don’t think anyone, rich or poor, had a better one. Life wasn’t a bowl of cherries, but we weren’t in the pits. We followed the ice truck and ate chips off the ground. We even chewed road tar. When anyone was lucky to get a piece of gum and left it on the metal painted bed, they had better get up early or someone else would be chewing it.
No lead poison ever got us. We washed our hair in Fels Naptha soap, and when we got lice we were all doused with kerosene. Children’s diseases? We were always quarantined. They would tack a big white sign on our door, but we had a ladder outside our upstairs window and the neighbor kids would crawl up and sleep with us.
We shared everything we got. I guess you’ll have to wait until the book comes out.. Till then I love you and I wouldn’t trade my life for any of the kids today. We were poor but we had a childhood like no other, and we had fun!!!!”