Monday, June 29, 2009

More of Grandma Tess's Tape

Grandma as a young woman

Grandma's friend Agnes, in a stylish bathing suit, about 1915

At this point in the tape Grandma talks about her family coming to Milwaukee while her stepfather is doing medical training in Boston. My mother, Carol, asks a few questions about cooking and the Depression.

Milwaukee was another disappointment to me. We couldn’t find a place to stay, and we went to a cheap hotel and lived there for a little while, and read want ads. Finally decided that I would have to go and board and room to start high school. I went into high school at twelve years old. In order to do this I had to work for my board and room., and be away from my father and mother, and the baby, which was the big hurt. But we got together occasionally.
But life as a student, trying to go to school and still work, do the work at home, and being as lonely as I was and having only two dresses to my name. Nobody wore slacks in those days. That was entirely out of the question. You wore skirts and a blouse or a dress. And Mother gave me one of her old dark blue dresses, and I cut it off at the waist and made a skirt for myself, and wore it out to the prom with a pink blouse. It was very very sad. When I got to the prom I found out I was the only one that couldn’t have an evening dress on. I didn’t know they wore evening dresses to proms. I didn’t even know what proms were. Twelve years old and from the Hicksville, I think they thought I was. But my date was wonderful, and didn’t – never reproached me or anything. In fact he took me over and introduced me to his folks. He was a complete gentleman. So, that was my first humiliating experience at school. But I was to have a lot of them. Except of course when I was (unintelligible), when it was one big humiliation. Life was rough. And it was rough for many long years after that, but I won’t go into all those details. 
We’ll let the girls ask me some questions now, about the Depression, probably, and my marriage.
Carol: Well, Mother, ah, I don’t remember Grandma Smith as being that great of a cook, but you were always a very good cook. So, how young did you start your cooking?
I was eleven when I started cooking on the ranch. Um, I helped, oh earlier than that I started helping and learning. And I liked it, so I sort of took over, making the cakes and pastries and things while we were still on the farm. And I baked cakes then. We had thrashers - great crews of men, they came to thrash the wheat, sometimes as many as twenty men, and that was a lot of cooking. So I had plenty of experience. But I always liked to cook and I liked to experiment and do things . When I worked for my board and room I did a lot of cooking. And I always liked to try new recipes, and I did them.
Carol: What about during the Depression?
During the Depression it was very hard to cook because we didn’t have any money, and the foods that were had to be had, even though they were cheap, they were expensive to us.
But we skipped a lot of time here. I had to get married in the meantime. We got married during the Depression,. while we were still out on DeWitt’s cherry ranch Mother and I and DuRell, waiting for my stepfather to graduate. And he was going to school back East then at Boston. And he went to Brigham Young and he went to Massachusetts General, and all the big hospitals back there where he interned. And he had started out in Marquette in Milwaukee. So, while all this was going on we were hanging on, trying to get by ‘til he got though. In the meantime I had grown up. I was eighteen, and then I was into my twenties. By this time we were out at Troy, and Mother was still doing her practical nursing, and there were babies born here and there. I was taking care of DuRell, and doing babysitting for the neighbors.
Carol: Was that the first paying job you had? Baby sitting?
Yes, it was, if you don’t count working for my board and room, which was much harder than baby sitting. The first I got money for was babysitting, and I got only about fifty cents a night. That was top wages then. And the night meant sometimes you had to stay all night. If they didn’t have transportation home or whoever you were staying for didn’t want you to leave. So, you never knew of you were going to stay all night or not, when you left, which wasn’t very happy for Mother. We didn’t have a phone at first at the farm, but after the boys started calling, the neighbors got really tired of having me go back and forth to answer the phone, so eventually, even though we didn’t have very much money, we did put a phone in.
But we were expected to live on a very very small amount of money. And we had to stretch it. I remember one time I put my family on a very strict diet, because I was supposed to mange the finances, so I could buy a new bathing suit, and the bathing suit was five dollars. So for a week we lived on cabbages and boiled potatoes, and we used to go out and pick dandelions and wild asparagus, and all that stuff.
Carol: Is this when you were in Troy?
Yes, when we were in Troy. We boiled it up. But it tasted pretty good. We were always hungry then, and everything we had, whether it was expensive or not, tasted good. And I finally got my bathing suit, but they wouldn’t let me get any more clothes that way. They said I was taking it out on them, and it wasn’t fair.


Michael Canoeist said...

Still fascinating material. Question: Troy MI? Troy NY?

Sherry said...

They lived in Troy, Wisconsin. Troy isn't much more than a crossroads. The bigger place nearby is East Troy, which probably has three or four thousand people.