This photo is of my grandmother as a girl, her mother and step father
Carol: Tell me a little bit about your holidays when you were growing up.
Well it varied so greatly; when we were on the farm we couldn’t celebrate very much. We’d have turkey at Thanksgiving time of course, and probably again at Christmas. And we’d have canned, I remember canned plum pudding, and making hard sauce. So we did that, but there weren’t many presents and certainly Christmas trees. We never - there wasn’t a Christmas tree within miles and miles of that place. No pines at all. And nobody had Christmas trees. So we didn’t know what it was to go to a school festival, for instance, and have a tree. Ah...
Carol: That’s all right, go on.
And there weren’t many present because we didn't, well, we didn’t have place to buy them in the first place. And no money to buy them with. So, I remember a ribbon, a pink or blue ribbon. It was almost always blue. I hoped for pink and got blue. but, hair ribbons and paper dolls were the main presents that I would get. Very little compared to today’s children. Practically nothing. Maybe a dress, a homemade dress. But Mother made all my dresses from one pattern. And that was a strait A-line with long sleeves, no belt, button own the back, high neck and long sleeves. I could have a choice, either check gingham, or plain gingham, but blue. And if I had a checked gingham one I would have a blue ribbon, and if I had a plain one I would also have a blue ribbon. Because they were invariably shades of blue. and one time somebody sent me a pink ribbon, in the mail, one of Dr. Smith’s friends, and I was so happy to get that pink ribbon, because I always liked pink, but Mother didn’t care for it. But she let me wear the pink ribbon though. So I wore it 'til it was probably in shreds. I guess that’s why I like pink so well today. I’m always buying pink things. Like my bedroom’s pink and a lot of my clothes are rose or pink. Maybe that’s the reason. I never thought of it before.
Christmases on the farm were lonely. There were no other children around. No programs like there are nowadays. We did finally have one program at school. It wasn’t a Christmas program though. And little as I knew about the organ, I was supposed to play the organ. And it was nearly a disaster because the Christmas tree, a fake one somebody had brought and put on top of the organ. And it kept falling forward over on to me and the organ. And I was trying to hold it with one hand and play with the other. So, that wasn’t a big success. DuRell had something to speak, I remember, and he forgot halfway through, kept saying “Neecy, Neecy, what do I say next? What do I say next?” I couldn’t remember myself so I’d make up whatever I thought was appropriate for the time. But it wasn’t appropriate for the script. So it was rather a mess. I don’t think we ever repeated it.
Well, my first Christmas in Milwaukee was very sad. Because we were at the hotel and we knew nobody, and it was a strange city, we didn’t anyplace to go. We had no money. And we had no idea of where we would be, in the next week even. Dr. Smith had told us that we’d each have to go our ow ways, that he was going to start school at Marquette, and he would live at the YMCA. We would have to get jobs. Mother would have to get a practical nursing job where she could have DuRell with her, and I would have to work for my board and room. And so we were all very downhearted. And we didn’t know how we were going to face a very uncertain future in a strange city, strange state, strange everything.
And we walked the streets I remember looking on shop windows on that Christmas Day. And we ate at a cheap little restaurant, I don’t remember what we had but it wasn’t much. I know that. The only bright spot was a muff, my white muff, that my mother had bought me.
Perhaps I should tell you a little bit about my husband, Howard. He was in the first world war. Went right out of high school into the army. And he spent nearly two years across, was in some of the biggest battles of that war. He was eight years older than myself, so I was only a little girl when he came back. But by the time we met out in Troy, the age difference did not seem great. He was a very good father and a very good husband. quiet. Had a good sense of humor, but was very quiet about it. Never intrusive in any way.
This is my grandfather, Howard Tess, before he left for the war in France.
And I remember several little things that happened. We, he had put all his army clothing and the trinkets that he had brought home were stored in the attic over his mother and father’s house in East Troy. And he didn’t want to be reminded of the war, in any way shape or manner. So he didn’t want me to bring anything back, because to him it was a horrible thing that he wanted to forget. He wanted no memories. But when he was asked to march in a Memorial Day parade, I think it was, all the veterans of World War I were supposed to march - in their uniforms. So we went over to East Troy to collect the uniform. And lo and behold, when we shook it out, army moths fell out, flew out, and the poor uniform was like a sieve. There was no way he could wear it. So he proceeded to march anyway, without his uniform. But I felt badly and I know he felt badly that it was gone. .
Carol: He was an MP wasn’t he? Wasn’t he in the military police?
He was an MP during the first world war, and was never seriously injured, except when he had a case of very very serious mumps. And they went done on him, as the saying is, and he was very frightened and afraid he would never have children. And in fact his mother in law, his step mother and my mother in law assured me that we would never have a family. I was very upset about that, and I wanted children and wanted them badly. And we waited four years, and really I thought the legend was really true. It was happening to us. But in the middle of the fourth year I became pregnant with Ellen. And I don’t think there was ever a happier person on earth than myself and Howard. We were both so overjoyed. And then just two and a half years later, we had her sister, Carol. Our joy was double.
So, first we lived in - Howard was a mason by trade at the time, and they worked only in the winter, because they didn’t have the facilities they have nowadays, where they can work the year round. And to do plastering and brick work in zero weather in Wisconsin was impossible.
The year was 1925, and we were married. And we were in a deep depression. Howard when we were married only had a hundred and some odd dollars in his pocket. Or to his name, I think. And I didn’t anywhere near that much. But we were invited to his step-brother’s in Chicago for our honeymoon. Over a weekend. And his stepbrother was one of the head personnel at WLS. which many of the older folks will remember. He spoke on the new radio every day. Well radio was really just an impossibility. We could not figure out how that voice could go over the air and be carried from Chicago to ourselves. And they told us, much further. But the whole thing was like a dream. I can remember we went, were invited down to a little gathering at the bank to hear the first radio that I had ever heard. And I’ll never forget the feeling, the eerie, magical feeling, that you felt when that little box started talking. Oh, it was a comfort and a joy to a lot of people, all their lives. We saw the beginning of it was we saw the beginning of TV, years later.
TV was another miracle, almost. Unexplainable. And the first TV I ever saw was at my, by that time I was working at the drug store. And one of my bosses’ wives invited us down to watch TV. Well it was a big thrill and a big honor because everybody in town wanted to watch TV and nobody hardly had one. They were very expensive at the time. A novelty.
And it was not a big success however, because it was so snowy they used to call it then, that we could barely see the dancers on the screen. But of course all that changed with the years. In fact very quickly. But we went home shaking our heads and saying it would never amount to anything. That they had gone a step too far this time. And there would anything amount to TV. And look what's happened to it. It’s really a giant.
This was taken at a school near Hanford, Washington. Grandma is the little girl to the right of the teacher, and her mother, my great grandmother, is the woman in the scarf.
Well, I did most of my moving before I was married. It was out of one school and into another. And one batch of friends, and I left and tried to make them in a new place and a new town. I counted one time that I’d gone to six schools in one year. That wasn’t very good for my education. But it was just part of my life.
I forgot when I was telling you about the dresses Mother made when we were on the ranch. To tell you about maybe the most interesting part, which was the way we dressed underneath. First we had little shirts, some of them were sleeveless, but we had to wear them in the winter they had sleeves in hem. And over that was a pantywaist, and then the peculiar part, as I remember now, was our black cotton stockings. They had a tongue on them, as they used to call them. It was a square piece of stocking that was ribbed, and solid, and it came up and was buttoned onto... It had eyelets on it, and it buttoned onto the pantywaist. And never before or since have I seen such a thing, but I wore them all the time when I was on the farm during my childhood. And you wore nothing but black stockings, even the grownup wore nothing but black, because it was considered very forward and indecent to put any color up on your legs. Especially if it looked like your own flesh, that was wicked. Because women wore skirts and tried to cover up their legs; they didn’t show them, which is far far from today. But, over the pantywaist and the long black hosiery that was hooked to it you wore black sateen bloomers. Very cool. They were gathered around the waist and gathered around the knee again. And those you wore summer and winter. They never varied. They were never colored, and they were always very warm and uncomfortable. But we wore them.
Our shoes were more modern in a way, I know I had Mary Janes for Sunday, and sandals to wear out. I wasn’t allowed to go barefoot on the ground because of rattlesnakes. We had a great many rattlesnakes in Washington at that time. They’re probably still there for all I know. They came out from the cliffs and went down to the Columbia River, and if you walked through the sage brush you were sure to see one or two. There were so many of them. So we had to wear something to protect our legs, and never never go barefoot. It was too dangerous.
Carol: Mother, those panties. You didn’t have elastic back then, did you?
No, no. Well we had elastic in our bloomers, yes.
Carol: Oh I thought that was later thing.
No, we had elastic in our bloomers. But we never had elastic in our stockings, I mean, to hold them up or anything. We never had garters. They always buttoned on...
Carol: I could have sworn we had eyes on our underpants.
You had what?
Carol: Our underpants didn’t have elastic, (inaudible) I suppose.
Oh yeah, that could be. I don’t remember that though.
Carol: Well I do, because they came undone when I was at school.
That must have been embarrassing.
Carol: It was.
Well, life was full of many embarrassing moments.
Carol: Then as a flapper you were (inaudible). They used to bind you?
Oh yes. That was when I was first married even. We were still trying to look like a boy. And dresses were very immodest. And you tried to deny you had any. So, we had long strips of cloth, and one end was held securely under your arm and the other end was wrapped. Tight as tight was possible. And then you secured it with a pin or whatever, and that was your brassiere at the time. Nowadays the bras are much more comfortable, I must say. And I think prettier. But the up and down look like a stick was what we had all through my youth. I always prayed that I wouldn’t get too heavy in certain places because I’d be made fun of. But that is not the way nowadays, however.
You asked me once about tricks we played on the farm. And there was a skull when Mother was going with Dr. Smith, who was not a doctor at that time. When we had a housekeeper, and the housekeeper had a little boy who was my age. A little bit older, maybe a year older. And of course I was thrilled to have a playmate, because we didn’t have one. And he was very mischievous. I’d been a very good little girl, until he came into my world. But I worshipped him, and anything he told me to do I did. So, we threw eggs at pigs, and we tormented the sheep and the cattle. We were nasty little people then. We did a lot of things we shouldn’t have done. But I was having the time of my life. It was the first time I’d been allowed to really let loose and be naughty. And I was taking full advantage of it. So when Mother would go away on trips with Mr. Smith, the housekeeper one time went away also. And we were alone for a few hours. And it was such a thrill to be alone. Even the hired man had gone to take naps in the bunkhouse. So we decided that we would have the biggest thrill of all. We would ride the black stallion. He was very vicious, and he was cooped up out in the barn all by himself in a special room. And we were never supposed to go near him, because he was very vicious. But we did. The boy went in and brought him out, and somehow or another we got a saddle on him. Which he didn’t like at all, because he’d never been rode. And we, by the grace of God, got on him, much to his distress. He tried to get rid of us, but we hung on for dear life. He finally gave in a settled down. And we rode to the neighbor, which was about six miles away. And of course we didn’t ride him fast, we just walked. And it took us a long time to get that six miles through sand. Because the sand’s very slippery. You take one step forward and slide back two as the hired man used to say. But we got there just about supper time, and we expected to be invited in to eat. We tied the stallion up outside and he was blowing and snorting and showing his displeasure in every possible way. And, I’m trying to remember the name of the neighbors. I guess it doesn’t matter, but they had six children. And they were homesteaders and very poor. But we didn’t realize how poor, so wen went in the house and expected to be invited to eat. They were setting around the table, and they ere eating clabbered milk. That was their supper. And we were very very upset when we realized what we’d done, and they assured just we had to get right back in a hurry or we would be taken care of .
Ellen: You’d better tell what clabbered milk was.
Oh, oh. Ellen says I’d better explain what clabbered milk is. It’s milk that has soured and left to sit. And it forms a thick clabber substance, almost like custard. And to t hem it was a treat. They would put sugar and nutmeg on it, and eat it like pudding. But they made a whole meal of it. I suppose maybe in a way it was healthy. But they more or less lived on things like that because they didn’t have nay income, hardly, and had six children.
So it was all very sad. They all went to school in my little schoolhouse, and I felt that they were good friends but I hadn't’ realized how they lived. I was very shocked, and I think it brought me to my senses. We went home very slowly and quietly and put the horse away and went to bed. Well then in the morning when we woke up my mother and Dr, Smith were home and housekeeper was back in her room. And Mother said to me what a terrible thing I had done. Did I realize what a naughty girl I’d been? And I said yes that I was very sorry. And she said “well, your friend got a very hard spanking and you should have one too. But I really haven’t got the heart to do it.” So I got out of it scot free. Well not really scot free, but with a explosion which was a lot less then I deserved.
That was only one of the stunts we pulled. But I became my normal self after he left. Everything was back to normal.
But, we were our own doctors, or rather my mother was, on the ranch. Because there were no doctors around. And the nearest one wos many miles away and had to have notice and usually transportation to our place. So Mother had a list of home cures. some of which were pretty drastic. When we had ear aches she would heat up olive oil, and I remember her taking out a teaspoon and pouring a few drops in, and taking a match and heating it that way. And we would get one or two drops in the ear that was aching. And then cotton went in over that. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. It depended on how bad the earache was.
And if they had a cold in the chest, sometimes we had poultice plaster, which was made out of onions. And they were wrapped in towels and put on your chest, tied on, so they wouldn’t slip. And you slept with the onions. It wasn’t very pleasant, but the heat helped.
Let’s see, what else did she do for us. Oh, in spring we had to have sulfur and molasses. And I dreaded that twelve months of the year, when it would come round again. That was horrible. And we had to take caster oil. There was no pleasant pills or things like that there,
Carol: What was sulfur...
Sulfur and molasses?
Carol: What is sulfur? Where did you get it?
Well I suppose they got it when they were in Hanford, at the drugstore. They had sulfur there in big barrels, So I never questioned where it came from. But that was another cure, sulfur and molasses. And in the spring we had to swallow this stuff. We had it on our chest or we swallowed it - both. So, that was terrible. I didn’t know about store-bought remedies. The home ones were not so good.
But even when I was first married, we did, carried over a lot of the home cures, especially for earache. I remember my husband Howard blowing smoke into the children’s ears for earache. And sometimes it helped. If they could lay on that ear with a hot pad or something by morning it would break and the ear would be better.
Carol: Well another thing I was going to ask you about, Mother, is the beauty potions, like washing your hair. Cause I remember Grandma had very long hair. And she didn’t wash it very often. Didn’t she put powder or something it it? How did you wash your hair?
Oh, we used bar soap, just an ordinary bar of soap.
Carol: But you didn’t wash it weekly like we do now.
Oh no, no. That wasn’t considered good for you to wash it once a week. The oil in your hair had to nourish it, and you’d wash it all out if you washed it once a week. But it would be washed once in two weeks.
Carol: What about deodorant?
Well I don’t remember that we ever had any deodorant except talcum powder. We would put talcum powder under our arms. Mother used talcum powder for everything. She used it for face powder, and also for body powder, and shaving, anything at all. It was Cashmere Bouquet. And that was a steady item on our shelf, along with all the other home cures.
So do you have any other questions that you want to ask?
The year must have been about nineteen hundred and twelve, or thirteen. Because I was born in 1902. But we, there was a lot of things that you folks have never heard of that we had to live with in those days. One of them was, what was that...
We didn’t have a dentist near either. So when our teeth started to ache if they were too bad they were pulled, and pulled by hand, by my stepfather to be. Or else, if they weren’t that bad, they were filled with cloves. And otherwise you just suffered, there was no such thing around as aspirins, or painkillers of any kind. So, we took a lot of pain and (inaudible).
But one of the pleasant cures, as we got a little older, was that we got hot toddies when we went to bed when we were sick or had colds. Nowadays you’d probably say we had the flu, but no one ever heard of the flu in those days so all we ever had was a bad cold. And not until most had reached pneumonia was it ever called anything different than a cold. And I presume the flu bug was around then too but we didn’t know about it so we didn’t worry about it. But one of the pleasures as I got a little older was the hot toddies that I would get for in bed, that was hot milk, heated, then a little, maybe a tablespoon of brandy and sugar added to it. And I sipped that slowly. And Mother would tuck me in, and I would sleep like a log. And I always thought that was a very nice part of the medicine, compared to all the other horrible things that she gave us. As we were older my husband always make me hot toddies. When I was sick, or felt badly. If I had any troubles of any kind he’s come up with a nice high glass of hot toddy and give it to me before I went to sleep. So that habit really stayed with me all my years, until of course he died.
Howard died in 1970. And I had no idea that he would leave me that soon.
Carol: How old was he?
He was 74. But he was still working and would not quit. He enjoyed working and did not want to quit. But we had talked it over and decided to both retire at the same time at the end of the year, and go to Arizona for his emphysema, because we thought was his only health problem. But a few minutes later he had a very massive stroke, and departed from me forever, because he never came to, and died that evening. So, that was the story of a life well spent.
Carol said I didn’t say enough about the Depression. It was a horrible time in all of our lives, but at the same time we enjoyed some of it. There was no socializing unless it was at our own home. We didn’t go to dances, or certainly it was Prohibition, although we weren’t drinkers, everybody was not allowed to drink. So you didn’t set in this bar, or you didn’t go to the theater. You stayed in your own home, and if entertaining was done you did it in your own home. And you were invited back to your friends’ houses.
Our meals were very simple. We had an awful lot of wieners and macaroni. But the kids grew very healthy on them. I guess they were not deprived in any sense of the word. One thing we prided ourselves on was that we never went on the relief. Certainly we were poor enough to have done, because one time, one year especially Holtons could not pay their employees. And so Howard went for six months without a pay check. ANd during that time I took roomers in, and I baked cakes and sold them. I printed plaques. We’d set up sometimes 'til midnight painting plaques. And then I sold them around the neighborhood, and when the neighbors were too hard up to buy my plaques I took them to a neighboring town and I sold them there. I got enough for the thirty dollars that we paid for our rent. It was a big house, and I had four steady roomers, and also boarders. And that’s what kept food on our table and fuel in our furnace. And I remember it was a lot of work, but we made a lot of very good friends, and saw a lot more of our neighbors than we ever did in times that followed.
There were plenty of wonderful things that happened during the Depression. You found out just exactly how much your neighbor would do for you and how much he cared for you. and you found out too the ones that wanted to grab everything and did nothing in return, who your true friends were. So there was always some good out of every bad evil thing that happens to you. I remember that part all my life.
Howard and I had been married oh it was about four years when Ellen was born, it was during this time that we were going through this wonderful depression. And it brought to memory the way I met my husband. At the time I was going with another boy, and I had a girlfriend who came out to stay with me over the weekend, and she made me promise that I would find a date for her while she was with me. So I asked the boy I was going with at the time if he would bring somebody else for my friend. So he brought Howard out. And I liked Howard immediately, but he was very shy. He wasn’t the type to put himself forward. And to me that was very charming because most of the boys I had gone with were far from being shy. They were much to bold for my taste. And in the middle of the date the girl and I decided we would change dates. And so we laughingly suggested it to the boys, and they went along with it. And so she pedaled up in front that she wanted to be and Howard and I sat in the back seat. At first it was very simple. We didn’t talk much. But then as we got to know each other a little better we started to talk. I found out that he was so different than the boys I’d been used to and the ones I’d been (inaudible), and literally disgusted with. He was not demanding at all, and he was a complete and perfect gentleman. And I admired that in him because that was a far cry from most of the boys at that time. They were nice enough boys but they had a very good opinion of themselves and and thought you should too, and sometimes they were a little hard to fight off. So, ? it was compounded by the fact that my very best friend and his very best friend were married. And they lived on t he other side of East Troy, so quite by accident we happened to both arrive at the farm for an extended weekend. And we four had a wonderful time and really got to know each other.
And during that time we had one of the biggest snowstorms of several seasons. And we were completely snowed in. Couldn’t get out for several days. So of course we made the most of it and a lot of parties, not drinking, but we popped corn and told ghost stories, and listened to the radio that we could hear. It was not clear like nowadays, but it meant a lot to us. And then finally there was a big dance. And we wanted to go in the very worst way. So Howard and his friend went out and shoveled that road. And it was a dirt road at the time. Didn’t have cement then. They shoveled the snow off it in very huge heaps. They made almost a tunnel to drive through. All the way up the hill and down for several miles, so we’d be at East Troy for the dance. It was a labor of love. From that time on it was a definite thing. We were going together. So that was a rather delightful start for our courtship.
My friend lost a baby the same time that Carol was born. They were only born two days apart. And I can remember getting her Christmas card on the day of her funeral, telling me about the baby and about how we must get together. And I remember setting there with her letter in my hand, the tears running down my cheeks, because we never would be together again the way we were before. We couldn’t even go to the funeral because her husband called up and said not to because it was bitterly cold out and I hadn’t been out of the house for two days. And he said he didn’t want to have to go to two funerals. So Howard assured him that I wouldn’t go. So, I didn’t. But was one real bad thing that happened.
This was taken in East Troy. Grandpa Tess is the second from the left in the top row, and Grandma is the woman in the cap.