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Over Easy: Letty Owings, Age 89, Recalls More New Orleans History

4:09 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Ball gown and crown worn by Queen of the Krewe of Hiacynthians for their Mardi Gras ball, 1955.

Ball gown and crown worn by Queen of the Krewe of Hiacynthians for their Mardi Gras ball, 1955.

Letty Owings, age 89 and the author of this post, recalls history, customs and experiences in New Orleans in 1958-1959.

New Orleans Mardi Gras

No chapter on New Orleans would be complete without something about the Mardi Gras experience. We knew about the big parade, but beyond that we knew nothing of the festival. The secrets and functions of the city that revolves around a carnival remain obscure to outsiders. Mardi Gras is not just a celebration, it is a way of life meshed with social structure and status. Anyone who is anyone belongs to a krewe, an organization built on social status, occupation and ancestry. All year long each krewe prepares for the season which ushers in the balls and the parades.

The first balls begin on New Year’s Eve. Generally the functions closest to the New Year have the least prestige. That statement has many variations, so I should not be dogmatic with my pronouncement about the worst first. The parades, mostly at night, happen more and more frequently as the weeks approach the “real” Mardi Gras on Shrove Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. As an aside — “Shrove” days are set aside for celebration and excesses not allowed during Lent.

The date of Mardi Gras is strictly governed by the length of Lent in any given year. As Lent approaches, the parades pick up both in number as well as in prestige. People line the streets to view the floats and catch the trinkets thrown to the crowd by masked revelers. Why a cheap pair of beads thrown from a float takes on the mark of a status symbol is hard to say. It all has to do with the spirit of the occasion when good sense gets exchanged for excitement. I have still in a box somewhere the beads and trinkets we caught from the parades.

After a season of fever-pitch excitement and parades and balls, the Tuesday before Lent comes at last. This is the Mardi Gras tourists know about. Two Krewes are left to do their thing, Rex and Comus. Both Krewes parade in their finery, and their awesome collection of real jewels and royal robes. All participants remain masked until the Rex and Comus ball when the King (Rex, of course) and Queen are revealed to the public. Always the distinctive honor goes to well-known socialites of New Orleans. Few people ever get invited to the Rex and Comus affair. In fact, few outsiders or non-members of krewes ever get to go to one of the balls. Essentially they are closed affairs.

After the revelry and costuming and marching bands and drunkenness in the streets, at the stroke of midnight when Tuesday turns to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, the doors close and the ball stops. The celebration is over until next New Years Eve. But even at that time, many are beginning to plan the next year’s floats and balls.

Most persons outside New Orleans who go to the city to experience Mardi Gras, see only the last day parades and the wild confusion. That is not all there is, but in order to see the real thing, residence in the city for a time is a necessity. Even then, the rituals and preparations are mostly kept from outsiders. We were fortunate in that our quarreling neighbors who belonged to a krewe wanted our oldest daughter to experience the real thing. I made her a formal and off she went. At the balls, all men are masked. The women have a card signed by different gentlemen who care to dance with them.

A flood

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Over Easy: And All Through the House

4:38 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Old Barn  Oakland County MI

Image by Rodney Campbell on flickr

Letty Owings, age 88, recalls how a rural German Evangelical farming community in Missouri observed Christmas during the Great Depression.

And All Through the House

In the 1930s I lived in the rural Missouri countryside in a farming community of Evangelical Germans. The community was small and the people came over to this country quite a long time ago in the 19th century, but they hung onto their language and traditions. We spoke low German in the home, and there was a strict division of work, between the men and the women. This is how we observed Christmas.

The cutting of the tree was my mother’s task, but I went with her. We picked a scrub cedar in the woods, and my mother would get the ax on Christmas Eve, and cut the tree. The snow was deep on that day. The tree fit on top of the dining room table. We decorated the tree with the same decorations year after year that my mother saved in a closet: bells, icicles and tinsel. The tinsel was always a bit tarnished because it was metal. The decorations came from before I was born, and there was a star for the top of the tree.

My mother used the same cloth on the table each year, and she set the table with the same bluebird dinner plates. She and my dad put something on the plate, usually a few pieces of hard candy from the church, maybe a few nuts. Gifts were placed on top of the plates. Nothing was wrapped.

We burned wood in the stove. We had two wood stoves. Even though coal was cheap and plentiful, we didn’t use it for heating. Mom wouldn’t burn coal because it was dirty. Since coal burned hotter, they used it in the church and the school, so you saw the coal dust in those places. People kept talking about how the REA (Rural Electrification Administration) was going to come to us with electricity but they never did. It’s just as well because as it was we were blowing our lamps out early to preserve coal oil for the lamps, so you can imagine nobody had enough money to pay for electricity.

Impulse did not figure into our lives, things were the way they were. There were gradations of poverty with some better and some worse, but we never saw things in comparison, because we had nothing to compare ourselves to. We didn’t have money to subscribe to a newspaper, for example, but we were careful to save the occasional issue of Arthur Capper’s newspaper that made its way into the house, because we could stuff it around the cracks of the doors and windows, and it made lovely insulation.

On Christmas morning my dad got up very early and milked the cow, fed the animals, and put hay in the manger. Then, he came in and started the fire in the kitchen and made cornbread. When he and my mother had put the gifts on the plates and the cornbread was ready, he would call. We raced downstairs. There were three kids, and my parents carefully hid things ahead of time. They pretended not to know what the gifts were, even though they did, and they always showed great anticipation and excitement. We prayed, ate, and talked. On this particular year my sister got a scarf, my brother got socks (the men always got socks), and I got a doll. Her name was Pearly, and since my mom wouldn’t let me take her to the hay loft, I rocked her all day, inside. I still have Pearly, to this day.

On Christmas night, we went to church. The church had a Christmas program. We sang songs in English- Silent Night, and Joy to the World- and we got a sack of candy to take home. The men sat on one side, and the women on the other, although when I was little I sat with my dad on the mens’ side. The women covered their heads. My mother made our clothes out of feed sacks on a treadle sewing machine; she had a dress for church and my dad wore overalls.

The Germans celebrated a second Christmas day on the 26th. That was also a holiday. We lived three miles to the nearest kin by road, but the walk through the field was a mile. My uncle and aunt had three little boys, and on this day Uncle Jake took to the snowy field and made his way to our house. He brought me a Christmas present, wrapped in paper, from the three boys. The gift was a nickel. That may sound silly today, but it was a great sacrifice for them.
_________________

Loreena Mckennitt – Dickens Dublin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQNQRpxOHqo

________

Also, from Rome this morning:

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Over Easy: Them

4:17 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Over Easy Over Toast

Over Easy Over Toast

Good morning everyone! As I was writing a post about history, I came across a story in the news that really left me speechless. So, I start with links to the story. The topic of minstrelsy, side shows, and traveling medicine shows is broad, so I have only provided a brief introduction.

In the news:

Lynching coloring assignment for Jacksonville second-graders spurs investigation. A teacher used materials from this site. The actual page from the assignment is pictured in this article.

The 13-page edhelper.com book that the assignment came from is here., and it is titled, Who Was Jim Crow Comic Book.

Lynching coloring assignment teacher recommended for suspension “The second-grade teacher behind a Black History Month coloring assignment featuring minstrel caricatures of African-Americans, blackface and a lynching will be recommended for five days’ suspension without pay.”

The Superintendent stated that the coloring assignment was not second-grade appropriate, but I mean, is it ever appropriate?

The Butterfly Circus – Short Film (20 minutes). If you have not seen this and do not have the time now, I recommend a bookmark and a watch.

At the height of the Great Depression, the showman of a renowned circus discovers a man without limbs being exploited at a carnival sideshow, but after an intriguing encounter with the showman he becomes driven to hope against everything he has ever believed.

Them

This is a nonfiction account of various forms of entertainment during the 1930s in a small Missouri farming community, as told by Letty Owings, age 88.

Arcturus achieved fame when its light was used to open the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. The star was chosen as it was thought that light from Arcturus had started its journey at about the time of the previous Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. My brother achieved his fame by attending the fair, and since I had a brother who had honest-to-God gotten into a Roadster and driven to Chicago to see the Wolrld’s Fair, I earned the bragging rights to lord it over all the other kids.

My brother may as well have taken a trip to outer space. While he was gone I worried about his safe return because I had no more conception of Chicago than a man in the moon. He even got to see a great big wheel. When he returned, he lorded it over me and I lorded it over other kids. He brought me the first bobble-headed doll I had ever seen, and I could shove it down other kids’ throats, that I had a brother who had been to the fair in Chicago.

At home in the 1930s, blackface minstrel shows traveled through the community yearly or so. In hindsight today, it is amazing that no one ever gave these shows a thought, just as no one gave segregation in the schools a thought. The shows were a subtle way of saying that black people were ignorant and funny, and the purpose of the shows was to entertain by ridicule. The community did not always rely on outside entertainment and travelers. Sometimes local people would put on blackface and compose their own shows. The n-word was part of the everyday vocabulary of the day. At the time, people enjoyed minstrelsy and thought it was hysterical; no one talked about the shows being entertainment at the expense of others and without their knowledge or input.

Not everyone believed that blacks were inferior at that time. One day, I was in the car with my father. We drove by a home where black people were living, and I asked a question about the family, using that word. My father stopped the car and scolded, “Don’t you ever say that word again. God didn’t make anybody any better than anybody else. These people are just as good as you.” I never used the derogatory word again.

We also watched the traveling medicine shows. The salesmen displayed their wares on a truck bed or wagon, and people stood to watch. Everybody knew that the patent medicine peddlers were frauds, but it was great fun to watch the shows when they came to the community because the salesmen were so polished. They always brought secret-ingredient remedies tailored to treat common ailments related to farm life. For the most part, patent medicines were ‘feel-good’ stuff, and of course, they were not patented.

To boost sales, the snake oil medicine shows often included freak shows, or side shows, where an admission fee was required. The freak show was considered a fringe benefit. Of course, the goal was to sell the ‘patent medicines,’ but the shows (along with plenty of prostitutes, in some cases) increased the sales of the feel-good remedies. These side shows were also at the state fairs. The exploitative side show might feature a midget, a giant, a person with a big head or a pointed head (‘pinhead’), a fat person, a person with no arms, or people with other physical characteristics. I remember feeling a terrible sadness about these people on display, but I didn’t talk about it, and neither did anyone else.

The whole world, including the era of minstrelsy, traveling shows and side shows changed with the war, and after WWII, I do not remember seeing these shows anymore.

Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia “Using objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice.”

Over Easy welcomes discussion related to pretty much anything, on topic or not!
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Over Easy: Feed Sacks and Roses

4:46 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Bertha: the Singer 201K

photo by Princess Froglips on flickr

This is a nonfiction account of sewing, materials and clothing and how they progressed, from the late 1920s on a small Missouri farm, to the years beyond the war, as told by Letty Owings, age 88.

Feed Sacks and Roses

Massive change came to sewing over the years from the Great Depression to the post-WWII era, due to fabric importation from countries like China and India as well as the introduction of stretch (synthetic) fabric. The first time I really remember seeing a Made in China symbol, Ceaușescu was trading with Mao.

Before stretch fabric and textile importation, every store had a section where they sold bolts of cloth, and they also had remnant tables where they sold fabric scraps. Any town of any size had an industry, whether it was a button factory, a textile manufacturer, a sewing machine manufacturer, a foundry, a machine shop, or a related industry.

I first started learning to sew in 1929 when I was five and lived on a small farm in Missouri. I was fortunate, because my mother let me use the treadle sewing machine as soon as I could get up to it. Since we were so isolated on the small farm, I lived in a world of imagination and dolls, so I made doll clothes. When I reached the upper grades of grade school I started making children’s clothes for my aunt’s children, taking real pride in my work, and my aunt acted like she was grateful.

We washed our clothes with a scrub board (a washboard) and homemade soap. Our cleaning was not mechanized for many years because seclusion placed us behind the the times, but our first ‘washer’ was a hand-cranked wringer that we used to wring clothes that we had washed in a tub. Electricity did not extend to that rural area, even by the end of WWII. Our ironing board was made of wood.

The chicken feed industry figured out how popular the sacks were for clothing, and they put color prints on the hen scratch sacks. My mother made everything, even underwear and hats, from the sacks. She also dressed so that all of her skin was covered for picking corn, because a tan was considered ugly. My mother sewed the sacks and the remnant table scraps for many years. My prom dress was pink sharkskin with a black collar. We took the collar off, and the prom dress was my dressy dress after that.

People continued to sew from feed sacks even in later years. When I was first married and lived in Georgia, we had a visitor who asked for a bed sheet. We didn’t have a bed sheet, but I made one, by sewing four feed sacks together. A woman across the street in Georgia had figured out how to make money by sewing for rich people. She sewed for the Southern belles, and she taught me how to attach embroidered butterflies to a garment so the butterflies appeared to be flying. She taught me smocking and other sewing tricks. During this time, I would go to the fancy department stores and draw the patterns for kid’s clothes, then take the patterns to remnant places and use the drawings to make my kid’s clothes. Often, stores did not carry much variety in boy clothes, but I made boy and girl clothes.

No female ever wore pants in the years before the war. It was an absolute no-no, although when they started making wool pants for snow, my mother got me a pair for three dollars, to wear for bobsledding. During the Rosie-the-Riveter cultural icon era, where women wore slacks and heavy shoes to work in the war plants, wearing slacks never carried over to the home. Even boys sometimes wore little dresses. One permissible exception was that a female could wear pants to sled ride and ice skate. Incidentally, a fabric black market arose during the war effort, since fabric went to the 24/7 war plants.

I tore a hole in the butt of my three-dollar wool pants, bobsledding on the river bluffs with friends, but I never told my mother, because first of all, she would have known where I had been. When I taught in the tiny school I had attended, I once wore slacks in the snow during a one-hour break. The next day, a girl told me that her father had called together a family meeting and read a passage from the Bible to illustrate how unacceptable it really was, for me to wear pants.

In 1941, Ray, the man I would marry, was called to service in the war. He came to my house with a dozen roses, to let me know. I was wearing slacks, and I ran across the yard to greet him. My mother was horrified that I would even think to greet a man outside, wearing slacks, and she screamed at me. My mother was an artist in her heart, but the other side of being an artist is often a feeling of social displacement, and this description fit my mother.

end notes, author’s disclosure and updates:

Letty’s husband, Ray, who came to the house with a dozen roses, served in the Pacific Theater of Operations, Battle of Okinawa, on the attack cargo ship Artemis Class USS Lacerta (AKA-29), as a boat Commander. He turned 90 in January, 2013. This Friday, his son and grandson will accompany him on a visit to Pearl Harbor, and the Pearl Harbor museum.

Ray and Letty, who tell their story, are my parents. This essay is part of a series. Links to some other essays:

Public Health Hospital and Charity Hospital New Orleans Internship of 1958

The Lavender Ribbon

A Kernel of Wheat

Medicine in a Rural Farming Community in 1920s Missouri

Resources for people who own treadle sewing machines today (maintenance, conversion, restoration, repair):

The Sewing Machine Shop

The Wood Shop

TreadleOn.Net

An Off-Topic bald eagle update: The Decorah Eagles chose a nest that is off camera, but Raptor Resource reports that Mom Decorah is sitting on her first egg. They have observed the ‘Decorah Shimmy’ from the ground. Dad Decorah Eagle occasionally visits the Y-Branch that is still on-camera.

Public Health Hospital and Charity Hospital New Orleans Internship of 1958

2:39 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Charity Hospital

Charity Hospital by dsb nola on flickr

This is a true story of internship at the Public Health Hospital and at Charity Hospital in New Orleans in 1958, as told by Ray Owings, MD, age 89, and his wife Letty Owings, age 87. This essay represents just one year of a long and interesting history for Ray Owings, and it is part of a series. After this, we will go back and review the history of how he got to this point, and then will share more details about the medicine at that time.

Charity Hospital in New Orleans was specifically founded by grant in 1736 to serve the indigent population in New Orleans, and it was a teaching hospital affiliated with the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans (LSUHSC-NO) for more than 250 years until its close after Hurricane Katrina. The hospital was notable for being the second largest hospital in America in 1939 with 2680 beds and it has been featured in a TLC series called Code Blue, which was a documentary series featuring the ER that was one of the busiest in America. Here is one part of that series about Chavez Jackson, a 9-year-old boy who was accidentally shot by his brother, who was playing with a gun. If you take a moment to watch this, you can begin to get a feel for the intensity and emotion that was a constant in this ER:

Public Health Hospital and Charity Hospital New Orleans Internship of 1958

Letty relates:

The first thing Ray said to me was, “Maybe you shouldn’t have come down here.” Ray was never, ever able to come home and the place was just a madhouse. It was a weird, weird, weird year. Everything was crooked in the politics, and we had the likes of Earl Long getting out of his car and peeing by the side of the road. It was just bizarre. Somebody shot Huey Long right there in the Capitol because you had to get dramatic in New Orleans. Earl, at thirty-six, called Huey “the yellowest physical coward that God had ever let live.” Huey Long said of Earl: “Earl is my brother but he’s crooked. If you live long enough he’ll double cross you.” Source.

We had the shrimp people who paid for their baby delivery in shrimp because they thought the doctor ought to get a little something for his services and they were very grateful, so they brought shrimp. There just weren’t enough people to man the place, so I was home with the kids a lot and the first thing I did was slip and fall on some concrete slabs because everything was so wet your shoes turned green. It was truly a bizarre year but for all of its utter craziness, New Orleans had such a haunting and deep beauty about it. The weeping trees were gorgeous, and the flowers were so pungent it was like putting your face into a jar of perfume. We had four small children at the time.

Ray relates:

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Medicine in a Rural Farming Community in 1920s Missouri

7:49 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Separator

Separator by mallala museum on flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

This essay is a true story about medicine, childbirth and injuries in a rural farming community in Missouri in the 1920s as told by Letty Owings, age 87. I must note up front some information on how we compose these essays. Letty’s general health is in decline such that she can no longer write much, although she is a retired English teacher and one of the better writers I have ever known. She tells me her stories on the phone and I actually fact check with additional research to add context and history of events like the flu pandemic of 1918 that killed 25 million people in the first 25 weeks. She remembers much talk of this flu from her early childhood. To my amazement, her recall is not only 100 percent accurate, but it is also substantial in terms of piecing together the history. For example, she recalls cases of encephalitis. As recently as 2007, the flu pandemic was implicated in the outbreak of encephalitis lethargica in the 1920s, which makes her recall all the more interesting.

Her story coincides closely with the beginning of the keeping of vital statistics in Missouri. Record keeping began in 1911 and she was born in 1924 in what she describes over and over as an extremely rural area where there were no records kept. There was no geriatric specialty at that time, because there were no old people: life expectancy in 1911 at the beginning of record keeping was just 54 years of age. I will explain more in the essay, but before I do so I will express an opinion: there are excellent reasons for Federal agencies that keep vital statistics and epidemiological data, and efforts to do away with various Federal regulatory agencies is reckless on a good day. I strongly disagree with any political efforts to do away with health-related regulation.

Medicine in a Rural Farming Community in 1920s Missouri

Our farm house had been a log cabin and the plastered and crooked wooden walls made my perfectionist mother nuts. An artist at heart, my mother was papering these walls. She saved money for the paper and cooked her own glue. She had laid boards onto the base of the cream separator for a make-shift step ladder. The boards slipped and my mother fell onto the metal prong on the base of the cream separator, and the prong tore deeply into the flesh of her hip. My father found her.

Medicine in the 1920s was extremely crude, and death was always so close. In our fatalistic view, life and death were a lot closer than they are now. Infection from an injury like the one my mother suffered could kill as easily as not. The cure for everything at the time was gasoline. On the heels of war and a pandemic flu so severe that we still study it today, we were in a position at that time of being extremely poor combined with a lack of medicine. People never thought of death as a strangeness and the vital statistics from that time, even without figuring in the skew from lack of record keeping in rural areas, are truly shocking:

The overall improvement in the health of
Missouri women of childbearing age (15-44)
during the 20th century is exemplified by two
dramatic trends: (1) the maternal mortality rate
(MMR) declined by about 98 percent, from 770 per
100,000 live births in 1911 to 10 per 100,000 live
births in 2000; (2) female life expectancy increased
by more than 24 years (44 percent), from 54.5 years
in 1911 to 78.7 years in 2000.

We called old Doc Martin to come out and treat my mother. By this time, the doctor had switched from horse and buggy to car. When we didn’t have Doc Martin, the patent man occasionally came around, and sometimes my dad seemed to know the right kinds of weeds to cook for homemade remedies. We used Bag Balm, a horse salve (pink salve) product that is still available today, and we used Blackberry Balsam for diarrhea. Doc Martin sewed my mother’s wound and left with his chicken that we gave him for payment. Predictably, my mother developed a fever and became dangerously sick. She was in agony and she cried and it was upsetting for me as a small child to see my mother this way. She stayed in bed, as was the custom at the time, and there was great concern for her from the community. She survived her injury, but this was not always the case with accidents.

Much of what doctoring was like in the 1920s was simply hoping for the best but expecting death at any time, and this is difficult for us to understand today, where we take much for granted. Almost every family we knew had had some experience with the previous flu pandemic, for example, but we also had experiences with things like malaria, empyema, pneumonia, and a host of other deadly infectious illnesses. Early hospitals did not produce curative results because of nosocomial infections: “In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated roughly 1.7 million hospital-associated infections, from all types of microorganisms, including bacteria, combined, cause or contribute to 99,000 deaths each year.[2]”

Babies were born at home until the close of WWII in our area. There was no pregnancy test, no prenatal care, and although baby bottles were first patented in 1845 and are today regulated by the FDA (for the materials in both the teat and the bottle), in those days we did not have baby bottles available to supplement feeding. So, if a baby needed milk, one had to find someone who was nursing. The infant mortality rate was extremely high and this did not change until after the war. Both economic improvement and prenatal care including early recognition and treatment of complications contributed to the dramatic improvement in these mortality rates.

How Life Changed After the Infamy Speech of 1941

10:57 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

WAR RATION BOOKS, WORLD WAR TWO...

photo: roberthuffstutter/flickr

note: This is a true account of how life changed for college-age students and college teachers in the immediate aftermath of President Roosevelt’s Infamy Speech of December 8, 1941, as told by Letty Owings, age 87. It is a continuation of this essay.

Everything changed on a Sunday. I had come home briefly from college where I was enrolled in a nature class. I wanted to collect some puffballs from the woods for my class. My father knew where to find these things so we went to the woods where they were, collected some samples, and returned home. I sat in a room with the sample collection, and my father went to the other room to listen to the wind charger radio.

He returned a few moments later and he said to me, word-for-word, “Honey, we’re in a war.”

How Life Changed After the Infamy Speech of 1941

After my father had listened to the wind charger radio and learned that we were in a war, he drove me back to college at Missouri Central University. Since the announcement did not affect our classes, I took the puffballs that I had collected from the woods for my nature class.

The Announcement at the Assembly

On Monday, December 8, 1941, the university called all of the students into Hendricks Hall. The school chose the large hall as a meeting place because it was the only building on campus large enough to accommodate 1000 students for an assembly. A man named H Roe Bartle delivered the speech. He was a large and imposing man and his physical presence at the podium added to his powerful delivery. H Roe Bartle read from President Roosevelt’s declaration of war on both fronts. He ended the speech by quoting from the English patriotic song written and distributed in 1939 called There’ll Always be an England, by saying the words, “There’ll always be an England and England will be free, if England means to you what England means to me.”

The atmosphere in Hendricks Hall at that moment was eerie. It was like electricity and so emotional that while some students cried, others just stared. Many jumped up to enlist. Boys just shy of graduating were anxious to abandon their schooling and had to be convinced to stay in school and graduate. Since there were no speech writers to temper tone in those days, what Roosevelt said, Roosevelt said. Both Roosevelt’s announcement and H Roe Bartle’s subsequent speech conveyed the same gravity and raw heartfelt shock that we all shared. We had no concept of war, no frame of reference. We had entered the assembly as one person and came out another, with the final understanding that yes, our lives have changed forever. America became mesmerized.

Conscription and Rationing

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The Shivaree and Farming Community Wedding Customs Prior to WWII

6:48 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

FDR Profile

photo: dctourism/flickr

This is a true account of wedding customs in a rural Missouri farming community prior to WWII, as told by Letty Owings, age 87. The account is limited to the small geographical area. Customs may have been different, twenty miles down the road.

The Shivaree and Farming Community Wedding Customs Prior to WWII

Most country weddings in our community took place in the home. The bride and groom dressed nicely, but there were no bridal shops or wedding dress makers. A preacher would come to the home to perform the wedding. Even if people were not churchgoers, the preacher would “marry and bury.” At the wedding ceremony, someone, usually a couple, would stand up as witnesses for the couple being married.

The usual refreshments and a small reception followed the wedding ceremony. A few days after the couple got settled, the community held a shivaree. The shivaree was a post-wedding noisy party for the community where the newlyweds were pressed into service as hosts. In short, the shivaree was a mock serenade and a roast of the newlyweds. People brought all sorts of noisemakers and pots and pans to bang on, and they sang songs and enjoyed refreshments, compliments of the newlyweds. Adding to the atmosphere of friendly ribbing and polite mockery, nobody bothered to dress up. Supposedly, the shivaree was spontaneous and clandestine. However, it was an organized spontaneous that wasn’t really a secret. Since the newlyweds were expected to provide the refreshments for their own roast, they had to know where to be and what time to be there. Community members organized the shivaree by word-of-mouth instructions. Everyone in the community had plenty of advance notice for this ‘spontaneous’ post-wedding party, and looked forward to the fun. Newlyweds looked forward to the noisy event as well, and they would have been insulted at not being forced to host the shivaree.

The marriage rate in the community was nearly 100 percent in those days. Not getting married was almost unheard of, and for the most part, people married their neighbors. Courtships lasted 1 1/2 to 2 years, and people rarely waited past age 22 to marry. Women were younger than men in almost all cases, so you might typically see a 19-year-old woman marry a 21-year-old man, give or take. During the courtship, the woman never, ever called or contacted the man to ask the man out on a date. Men initiated all the courtship contact.

There came a time when a lot of social customs were clouded by the war overseas. Word trickled in that there was a war raging in Europe. One must bear in mind that we had no television or organized press in our community at the time. We only got our first wind charger radio in 1938. Rumors spread, conversations ensued and people exchanged opinions. Some people took the position that the war raging in Europe was none of our concern. It was Europe’s war and Europe’s problem, not ours. After all, WWI had been a bunch of foolishness that we had no business getting involved in, and there was no need to repeat the foolishness. People voiced this opinion even as Churchill was down on his knees begging Roosevelt for help. Others countered this view with, “Yes, but there’s a crazy man Hitler and listen, this man is a maniac, the rumors are true, he’s killing Jews and he is a madman.” During this time there was a pall hanging over America and it extended to social functions in our small farming community.

No one ever came out and said, “There is a pall hanging over our social functions.” However, it was apparent. For one thing, people had a sense of unease about enjoying themselves at social functions while there was so much suffering going on in Europe, and the conversations often turned to that subject, even at the likes of a shivaree. Also, people began to be self-conscious about speaking German out and about. My father’s side of the family included ancestral illegal immigrants from Germany who did not care for German militarism of the time, so they bribed a ship captain and came to this country to escape it. They brought the language with them and the language sifted down through the generations, even to me as a young child. In one case, a boy’s folks did not want him going out with me, because of the German. It was lost on some folks that descendants of German people from generations past were a peaceful lot. The remnants of the language became associated with the current doings of a madman in Europe.

Everything changed on a Sunday. I had come home briefly from college where I was enrolled in a nature class. I wanted to collect some puffballs from the woods for my class. My father knew where to find these things so we went to the woods where they were, collected some samples, and returned home. I sat in a room with the sample collection, and my father went to the other room to listen to the wind charger radio.

He returned a few moments later and he said to me, word-for-word, “Honey, we’re in a war.”

How a Farming Community Handled Death Prior to WWII

3:40 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Photo: amy_b / Flickr

note: This is a true account of how a rural Missouri farming community handled death before WWII, as told by Letty Owings, age 87.

The customs and traditions pertaining to death in our community were in place prior to the Civil War and remained unchanged until after WWII. Prior to the Civil War, the land that would become our farm was multi-crop plantation territory where corn, wheat and clover grew. After the Civil War, the plantation area was divided into farms. Our farm was 160 square acres. We had no street address; we were part of a community that included a population of about 300 in the country and 600 in the nearby town.

A woman I knew named Minni had lived through the period prior to the Civil War, and I would often visit her and listen to her stories. On the way to her house, I passed a slave graveyard of about twenty graves that remained on the property. Many of the graves were simple stone markers indicating a child’s burial. In those days death was common among infants and young children in general, and it was not regarded with the same concern that it is today. It wasn’t that people were mean about it, they were just more honest. In other words, deaths of infants and children were almost expected. Causes of death among slave children in particular were never noted or studied during that time, although looking back one can speculate that tuberculosis, pneumonia, and other diseases and childbirth complications common to that era for all children may have been the cause. We must bear in mind that penicillin was not available until after WWII.

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Seasonal Farming Tasks in the Great Depression

8:00 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Old Horse Drawn Corn Planter

old horse drawn corn planter by Colbyt69, creative commons, flickr.

This is a true story from the Great Depression as told by Letty Owings, age 87. It is a true account of various farming tasks during the historic drought years of the mid-1930s.

Seasonal Farming Tasks in the Great Depression

In the spring of each year, the community farmers watched the sky and talked with each other in church about when to prepare the fields for planting. For corn, the fields had to be plowed and harrowed, and then the rows were set. The implements used to plow, break up and smooth the soil and form rows were horse-drawn. After the fields were prepared for planting, corn planters were also hitched to horses. A container on the corn planter was set to click open every three feet or so, and release three kernels of corn to the soil. So far, we are talking about mechanization.

The mechanization ended after the planting of the kernels. The next task involved human hands that belonged to kids, for the most part. Once the corn plants were about two inches tall, the kids in the community crawled up and down the corn rows, inspecting each three-plant corn hill, taking visual inventory. We crawled down each row with a knife and a bucket of kernels, to see if three plants were in each cluster. Less than three plants in a hill meant that there was a cutworm in the soil, dining. We dug and chopped the worm, and replaced the eaten kernel with the new kernel. This task was called “replanting the corn,” and if you were a kid, you got that assignment. Replanting the corn was labor intensive and ritually performed every year. In church, farmers would ask each other, “Did you replant your corn yet?”
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