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Looking back, life on a farm during depression days was like living on an island today, with no close neighbors and town five miles away. The only social times were Friday nights when everyone went to town to buy groceries, or Sundays with church. The rest of the time was spent tending crops, chickens, hogs, cows, horses and housekeeping.
We weren't bombarded with commercials; radio was used sparingly to get the farm market reports and to listen to the Cadle Tabernacle from Indianapolis.
Nothing was wasted. The dishes were washed in a dishpan in the sink, then the scant bit of water was dumped in a galvanized bucket on the floor along with potato peelings, scraps from the table, egg shells and soured milk. This bucket was emptied daily into a trough for the pigs. Everything raised had a use. What was not put on the table was canned and put in the basement for winter.
In the fall, when cooler weather came, a hog or two was butchered. The hams and shoulders were smoked and sacked so that the flies would not get to them. Sausage was hung and then fried down. After it was put in jars, a small amount of grease was added, then the jars were sealed and turned over. Usually, a beef was butchered also.
Dad had an eighth grade education but had an inquiring mind and was a hard worker. In the house built by my dad and brother-in-law in 1929-30 was a Delco light plant. Rural electrification came through later. "The house was built when times were hard" they'd say. A hand-dug ditch to which a galvanized pipe was laid below the freeze line from the house to a hill almost a quarter of a mile away led to a man-made reservoir. This supplied water to the upstairs bathroom without a pump.
In the summer, a kerosene heater was installed to heat the water in the tall water tank. In the winter, the heater was replaced with galvanized pipe going through the bathroom floor to the Heatrola stove in the living room and back up to the water tank. What an ingenious idea!
Lye soap was made from leftover grease and lye. Some was shaved up and put in a copper wash boiler containing hot water and white clothes. A wooden stick was used to stir the clothes. The bleached clothes were then rinsed and hung on the clothes line. The clothes line was wound around a pulley at the top of a pole and then around a pulley on the back porch. The clothes were pinned on the bottom line and rolled out over the barnyard.
Only in extreme circumstances did I get a pair of shoes. We went barefoot in the summer. When there was a hole in the bottom of the leather sole, I found a piece of cardboard to put in the shoe. When that wore through, I found another piece of cardboard. From jumping rope at school, the sole came loose from the front of one pair. At every step the sole would fold back under so I learned to step out and then down fast hoping to swing it to the toe of the shoe. Dad saw it and fixed it! "Go get me the hog ringers!" So I went to school the next day with three hog rings in the toe of my shoe!
Story collected for the Ohio Department of Aging Great Depression Stories Project 2009.
(Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)