Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kitchen stories: The Great Depression

My mother Lorna was the first of five children in her family. Three girls then two boys. Before the boys were born her Emily and Thomas had a grocery store in Southern Indiana, Jeffersonville. I don't think it was very large and they lived above the store. I do know they had a wood stove for heat and cooking and Emily said she could cook anything on that stove. You didn't dare let the coals die during the winter or you'd freeze to death and even the children, at an early age, learned to keep the fire going. There was always a pot of coffee at the back of the stove for anyone coming by.

In the late twenties they moved to Greenville, Michigan and Thomas went to work for the Gibson Refrigerator Company and, as a family history states, had something to do with the design of the gas refrigerator. I've done a small bit of investigation but found nothing to substantiate this claim.

What I do remember is momma telling of the Christmas they were in Michigan and how much money they had. Everyone had lots of gifts to open and each package her mother opened had luxuries like electric toasters and waffle irons with an added bonus; there were $100 bills slipped inside. It wasn't long after that the Great Depression hit and they ended up back in Indiana on a farm outside of Ft Wayne, in Monroeville. Thomas told the children he wanted them to know the joys of growing up on a farm as he and Emily did but my Aunt Marci confided it was was cheaper to live there and grow some of your own food. From time to time different relatives would move in with them and on Sunday Emily always cooked enough for a visitor or two.

Once Emily, knowing they were having a difficult time, told a city relative to come by and she'd give her a chicken. Grandma asked the husband if he knew how to kill it and he assured her he did. The woman took the chicken then invited them to dinner that Sunday. When they walked it the house it stunk to "high heavens." She didn't gut the chicken and cooked it with the "innards." The chicken was inedible. Emily had her come back to the farm where she gave them both a lesson on butchering a chicken.

The Depression was pretty hard on most city people but on the farm they raised chickens and and had a little truck farm; they even had a calf, they called him Popeye. When Popeye got bigger the three girls loved riding him but one day he was gone and they suspected he was served the next Sunday. When a baby chick would die, which would happen often, they would bury it in a matchbox in the yard complete with good Catholic burial to send it off to the great beyond. She said for a while you couldn't walk through the yard without stepping on a chicky grave.

The youngest, Uncle Joe was six-weeks-old when his father died but somehow Emily Pricella, now called "Pruce", carried on. She tried starting a beauty shop in her house for a while but ended up working at the Perfection Bakery in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. One of the benefits of working there was once a month she could buy a big box of "day old" bread and pastries for a quarter. She'd drag a huge box home on the street car just for the sheer joy it brought her kids. She'd also share with family members that always seemed to show up on that day. She'd also never let the kids eat the Ginger Snaps because she said the swept the floor and put it in the cookies.

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