Rural community life during WWII

I remember that we mostly had mismatched silverware when sis and I were little kids. The ‘Sir David Beatty spoon’ was worth fighting over at meal times :>)
Not sure about grandmas set. I think it mostly matched. She really enjoyed her kitchen. Often had her ‘Ladies Aid’ over for ‘Hors d’oeuvres’, little strange tasting sandwiches, bread with the crust shaved off (saved for later bread pudding). She set the table with her treasured real linen and her finest dishes, then dressed up like for church.

The ladies all equally dressed in nice clothing, discussed the needs of the community and how they would gather and distribute essentials to the needy and find employment for the bread winners of the Traditional families common in those days.. They were the community welfare, working with the local churches… before govt eventually took over, subsidizing and encouraging the non-traditional ‘associations’, increasingly more common today….

I remember Gram’s early kitchen during WWII. The floor and cabinets were all covered in linoleum. The ‘everyday’ table cloths were something called ‘Oilcloth’. After WWII when things got better (end of rationing) she got all new stainless steel topping on her cabinets, stainless steel sink and better flooring. The one hanging ceiling bulb with a metal shade, was replaced with the latest ‘fluorescent’ lighting ring. The big, new box chest freezer on the porch after WWII rationing was over, replaced the town ‘Locker‘ trips.

The countless frozen chickens she had butchered, beef and pork, corn, frozen vegetables were much handier. Closer to the well stocked, hand grown, picked and canned garden fruits and vegetables in her basement. Whatever occurred, our family ‘compound’ would survive. Grandpa and Grandma had survived the ‘Great Depression’. For them, a World War was a walk in the park.

 The ICEMAN. Big man, sorta scary. Wearing a leather apron and carrying big blocks of ice over his shoulders with huge iron Tongs. He came in, rearranged the remaining pieces of ice, returned with correct size, set the new block and replaced the smaller pieces around it. In hot summer we got a few fresh chunks from him to chew on. The Milkman was another periodic visitor. We raised Chickens, a Beef, Hogs, but not dairy Cows. He drove a strange looking delivery truck and left a couple of bottles in the icebox. We never locked the doors, logically because the iceman and milkman could not get in when we were away..

When WWII took all of the younger men, only the old or crippled up guys were left for farming and other things. The Threshing and haying crews were all older guys with draft horse teams common. Corn was hand cut with machetes and stacked in teepee shaped ‘shocks’ for drying. Harvest time was memorable. Pheasants loved the corn shocks for shelter against the winter blasts and food.

I roamed the exciting fields alone as an adventuresome ‘tyke’. I recall the Threshing crews with draft horses being used to pull the ‘hay racks’. I got to scramble on board and ride to the barns. The big old iron spiked wheeled, tractor that in later years became a rusted derelict at Towner’s pond (formerly Prince Farm), was used to power the big grey Threshing machine during the WWII years.

The Threshing machine was moved from farm to farm, along with the ‘mature’ and kid crews. A long flat fabric belt, drove the pulleys that operated the countless gears and threshing devices, blowing ‘chaff’ into piles. The horses would walk and stop when the older men using their forks, ‘pitched’ the hay or cut grain up onto the high wheeled ‘racks’.

At Kanes farm the racks full of hay and straw from threshing, were backed into position under the eve of the big barn. A long heavy rope with a large set of claw hooks, grabbed onto the hay, much of it ‘baled’, from the rack in one big bite. Draft horses pulled the long rope, lifting the hay to the open upper doors, where men forced it into the far reaches of the loft on a long metal trolley. The operation was repeated and continued for the days it took for harvest.,..

Indian Summer’, though somewhat rare, thus periodically commenced. Some may remember that picture of the old man smoking his pipe, telling the little boy about seeing the hazy smoke and visions of the Indians. The famous picture and little story appeared every fall in the Chicago news, ‘Indian Summer’ or not.  
http://www.tkinter.smig.net/Chicago/InjunSummer/index.htm  

We often walked the quarter mile across fields, to Kane’s dairy farm, carrying two milk pails.The warm milk came right from the cows (dozens of barn Cats ‘mousers’ loved it), then was poured over a cold refrigerated coil into our pails. After it sat in our icebox for a day, the cream was scooped off for coffee and baking.

As a little kid, I always enjoyed a cup of fresh creamed coffee, with Grandma in her kitchen. Her fresh baked bread, rolls and donuts were never duplicated.  Grandma’s doughnuts were like none I have ever tasted. The rolled ones, brown crispy outside were the best. The kids at school nearby, could smell them and followed me home to beg for one. They were my short time ‘doughnut friends’ :>)

After WWII, the real refrigerators came to our houses. What a remarkable invention. The old wooden ice boxes went to the chicken house for storage of feed, Rats and Mice were always a problem around chickens because of their feed scattered about. Predatory Weasels and Foxes were a different problem.

 Rat Killin’ was ongoing and exciting, some real fun. After dusk, Gramps and I approached the chicken house in silence carrying Mom’s .22. Gramps ripping open the door, I ran and grabbed ’em while they were squealing and Gramps shot em. Sometimes they were too fast, too big and biting at me.. I slammed them against the wall, then Gramps shot them. Ahh the good old days. :>)

After WWII a new white electric ‘wringer’ washing ‘machine’ in basement came to replace the old pale green ‘clamp on’ hand crank ‘wringer’, that was a separate device. Before the electric wringer machine, mom and gram on wash day, both used the big copper tub on the kerosene burners to boil the water and wash clothes (same two handled oval copper tub used for boiling and plucking hundreds of chickens).

The big 80 gal post WWII water heater was something special. It somehow was controlled to only provide electricity and heat water at night’s cheaper rates. Clothes were all hung outside to dry, unless the quite common rainy weather prevented it. Freeze dried clothes, though looking stiff, get just as dry.

The first flooring I recall in our kitchen and grandma’s, was something found at navy surplus. In rolls and glued down, it supposedly was left over from ships, as was some of our original home construction material. Neighbor Larry’s floors were a cement board from surplus. Hard, cold and gray..

Our kitchen had a cast iron hand pump, like the one at an aunt’s little house I first recalled. Dad and grandpa put a little electric piston pump under the kitchen, when one became available. It pumped water from the concrete cistern that collected rain water from the house roof gutters. Both houses in our ‘compound’ had cisterns. The water was yellow and not much of it. Little pump often froze in cold winter. Had to go down into spider crawl space, with gas blowtorch to thaw. Then hang an electric light bulb for freezing nights and days.

A weekly bath was taken in cold yellow water, with some added water boiled on the little kerosene stove, on which mom cooked our meals. Before the porcelain tub and electric pump connected, the kitchen floor, wash tub was my ‘spa’.  The little kerosene stove had a round gallon can, that gurgled as the kerosene dripped into the burners. It also helped heat our home in cold weather, keeping the kitchen cozy. Our electric water heater in the hallway, after end of WWII, was a welcome addition, as was our first electric stove and fluorescent ceiling light. The hanging incandescent bulb was finally replaced. :>)

After WWII ended, uncle Harry came home from the war and married Betty to raise their family. Grandpa dug two pipelines from the new well in the communal yard, one for our house. I watched that well being drilled by a man with a pounding machine. It replaced an old hand dug, brick lined polluted well we could no longer use.

The tall, cabled drill rig derrick, eventually pounded the big drill pipe down about 100 feet. Lots of gray clay flooded out and down the driveway as it began pounding to break through the substrate. After pouring a concrete ‘well house’ below the ground and installing a new deep well piston pump, We finally  had clean, clear water we could actually drink. No more trips to the community well, filling big glass bottles in wooden crates. :>)

During WWII, grandma and grandpa had their coal furnace in their basement. It needed coal shoveled directly into the firebox every few hours and clinkers needed to be chipped loose and shoveled out with the cinders and ashes. The clinkers and cinders ‘paved’ our long driveway and provided traction in icy winter.

They then obtained a ‘Stoker’ to feed the coal. As a stronger kid, I often shoveled the stoker full with coal from the big ‘bin’ located in a walled off section of the basement (I still have that same big coal shovel). They eventually got the fuel oil ‘gun type’ conversion installed in that same furnace. Oil that replaced the coal. No more shoveling. Grams and Gramps were pretty well ‘seasoned’ by then and had lost some shoveling agility.

For years, Jake the ‘Coal Man’ (he was blackened by the end of each hard day’s work) had backed up his truck and delivered the coal through the basement window, by the birdbath in side yard flower garden. It had little red paper ‘hearts’ scattered throughout the black shiny coal chunks. I kinda liked the fresh smell of coal.

The coal furnace also heated some cistern water in the winter, before the big electric water heater was installed after WWII. The furnace had a big bulging iron ball suspended below the steel floor radiator grate. I spent many hours laying on that steel floor grate, after getting frozen and soaked during serious sledding.

‘Red Heart Coal’ was the best :>) Jake’s last name was ‘Flake’. Interesting name ‘Jake Flake’. He had daughters that turned out very pretty. His coal yard and home, was located near the EJ&E railroad tracks. The coal trains dumped the coal off the siding into his yard and he delivered it with his old truck.

Hockemier (Hokie) on highway 59A, had the local convenience store and Sinclair gas station. He delivered the ‘Fuel Oil’ of the sort we burned in the big brown ‘garbage burner’ that heated our house. Mom went back to school, learned a trade, found a job, then a better job, earned promotions and could finally afford to put in the ‘gun type’ furnace, located in the closet. That thing was sooty and really smoked. Later she had the floor furnace installed? If I recall, it was suspended under the house? Or she had a gas conversion put in the other box? Whatever type, it is always an improvement to actually get a natural gas line past the homestead. Homestead was ‘razed’ in recent years, but the memories remain strong.

Life sure changed didn’t it?.

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One thought on “Rural community life during WWII

  1. Comment from Robo of Cali:
    Remember the ice man with a horse drawn wagon in the alley off the house. Summer days would climb on the wagon while “Bill” was delivering ice and gather chunks of ice off the floor. “Bill” would come out and yell at us to get off the wagon, we’d scramble, but in retrospect, don’t think he really minded. In the winter “Old Bill” delivered coal in bags, with with the same horse and wagon. Didn’t climb up on the wagon, as we had no use for coal.
    Neighbor across the street sold “Good Humor” ice cream from the truck. Summer afternoons he’d come home and give us kids the broken stuff he couldn’t sell. He had a kid my age,… that helped. My father worked for Curtis Candy, Baby Ruth and Butterfinger. Dad would bring home manila envelopes of the stuff and give the envelope to an older kid to divide up. Looking back we lived on Sugar. How did we survive? Lead paint then too, we must have been on the edge of extinction, but did not have the PC’s to educate us.

    Robo

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