Because our Mother left when I was 4 and my brother Rich about 18 months old, we were reared primarily by our Father. As a truck driver, Dad was gone 5 to 6 days a week, when we were cared for by a great Aunty who lived downstairs in our duplex home. A true product of the Victorian era, Aunty was born in the 1880's. In her early 40's she had begun to be crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, and by the 1940's was badly incapacitated, hands gnarled, back stooped, knees and hips painful and deformed. She always had someone living with her to help out--fix meals, clean, etc. Members of our extended family, these helpers become our care takers as well. So, effectively, my brother and I were reared by the generation AHEAD of our parents. Some of my fondest early memories are of sitting, one on one side of her in the big old rocker, one on the other, and Aunty telling us stories of her childhood:
"We had a vegetable cellar dug into the ground. That was where we stored what we raised in the summer so we could have fresh vegetables and fruit into part of the winter. And in winter, Pa and some of the neighbors would wait until we had a long cold spell, and cut ice blocks from local ponds. They were hauled to the celler, buried in straw, and sometimes we would have enough ice to make ice cream in the summer. "
"I had a portable organ, and my brother Oscar played the fiddle; Pa would put my side saddle (it was red velvet!) on the horse, I'd put the organ in front of me and Oscar would climb on behind the saddle. We'd go to play at church and barn dances. Oh--we had us some times!"
"We didn't have much sugar--it costs too much--but we had sourgham molasses. In winter, Ma would cook up a batch of taffy with the molasses. If there was snow, she'd pour the cooked taffy in a snow bank, and as it cooled, we would butter our hands and start pulling it, stretching it, and doubleing it back on itself and stretching some more. Best candy we ever ate."
Once the stories were of her later life, they took on a sadder edge, but still sounded, often, like something out of a fairy tale:
"When we first moved to the south part of the city (Kansas City, Missouri--39th to 47th street area)., there was a sled ride in the winter from 45th down the hill to where Roanoke Road is now. You paid the man a nickle, and 2 or 3 got on a big sled, and went sliding to the bottom of the hill, where they would hook the sled to a horse and drag you back to the top."
"When Etty (her sister) and I worked at piece work downtown, sometimes we would take the street car and go out to Electric Park. It had "dancing fountains"-water with colored lights in it that went up and down in time to music--it was beautiful!"
"When I first got the rhumatism, I doctored all the time. I tried poltices--stove soot mixed with goose grease and turpentine, patent medicines, finally had all my teeth pulled--but nothing helped."
"When Bobbie (her son) joined the Navy, he sent home his allotment. Since I couldn't work at all, I had to go on welfare just to be able to pay the rent and buy coal for the furnace, and pay the light bill. The Pendergast people (a Democratic political machine) brought by basket's of groceries, so we managed okay. But it wasn't easy." NOTE-- I remember the "Welfare people" coming to the house, and going to the "ice box" on the back porch to check for butter. If you had butter instead of oleo with the color packet to make it yellow--you could lose your assistance.!