My mother was born in 1905 and died at the age of 94. I had asked her and dad to write some recollections from their childhood and family history. My wife and I were going through some of mom's things recently and came across her writing from my request. I'd read it before but had forgotten. Growing up near Perry, Ohio in the pre- and post-WWI period was difficult at best. Here are some things that stand out to me.
No vehicles. People walked everywhere, unless of course you could afford a horse, which my family couldn't. They walked to work. They walked to school. They walked to market. They walked to visit neighbors. A pastor walked or rode a horse or in a cart to their house for occasional church services for the neighborhood. My grandmother cooked a big meal for everyone on these occasions. When granddad grew older, they moved so he'd have a shorter walk to work.
It got cold in the winter. They had a shed outside in which they stored meat and other essentials for the winter. They had no refrigerator but the weather was cold, so outside storage was good. And they walked – in the snow and cold – to get anywhere all winter long. Sometimes they had to break their own trail to get anywhere.
Few outside sources for food. They grew everything (granddad was a professional gardener). They were on a farm and so grew their own vegetables and fruits. They had a cow for milk; a pig and calf for meat, and chickens for eggs and meat too. They canned all summer to get through winter.
They used everything. Nothing could be wasted. 100% ecologically sound living. For example: check out "head cheese."
Education was tough. Walk over a mile to school, in winter too. One room schoolhouse for 1st through 8th grades. Only one teacher.
Language barrier. The home language, especially early on, was Fin. Mom's parents had immigrated from Finland in the 1890s.
Families were large but children left home early to work. Mom's oldest brother Arthur was gone by the time mom started school. He'd visit occasionally, but travel was tough and he, too, had a family to support.
My feelings from reading all nine handwritten pages of mom's letter were twofold:
1. Life then was a lot simpler. Everything was shorter term. Where is the next meal coming from? Can I get to work/school today? Have we put away enough provisions for winter? Will the house blow away in this storm? It's getting harder for me to walk to work; should we move?
2. Mom had only one misspelled word in all nine handwritten pages: One "l" in Chillicothe. I did not inherit that skill.
So I guess a one room schoolhouse wasn't that bad after all.
Gene Canavan is a retired West Point Graduate and Paper Mill Utilities Manager and lives in Prattville, Alabama, USA.