If You Don't Laugh, You'll Cry - Laughing's Better!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Working Mothers

I want to write about my mother, but over the years I have discovered that it is most difficult to write about someone you are very close to. I have written about my mother before, but the main thing I want to talk about today is how industrious and hard-working my mother was, despite her upbringing in a wealthy family, or her tiny size.

Wilma Butler was the 7th child of my grandparents, with about 5 younger siblings. About two of her siblings died as small children, I think. The Butler children were all born between 1888 and 1913. In those days children were usually born at home and illnesses children can easily avoid now – mumps, whooping cough, measles – often took the lives of small children. When my daughter Dee was born weighing only 5 lbs. 8 oz. my mother was very upset, because in her experience babies that small didn’t survive. Of course, Dee was put in the incubator and her lungs were fully functional, so I never thought she wouldn’t survive, but my mother had been traumatized by seeing two of her siblings die.

 above, Mother and two of her sisters

Mother told folks she was about 5 feet tall [it was closer to 4’10] and that she had been born at the turn of the 20th century. It was actually about 1899. My dad smiled when he overheard her say that, but never said a word to refute it. She had auburn hair and her eyes were kind of green. She had a quick temper that could remove the hair of a mule but she got over it just as fast.

My grandparents Beulah Phillips Butler and Robert E. Butler were well to do, apparently lacking for very little. Grandaddy owned drug stores, car dealerships, and a marble works.

above, the Butler family, around 1921

However, with so many children to educate, Granddaddy turned a room in his house into a schoolroom and hired a teacher. They also had a governess who taught the girls manners, beautiful needlework etc. I never discussed this with my uncles so don’t know what she taught them. I think that some of the children were allowed to go to public schools, in later years.

Schools in rural Georgia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were nothing like schools today. A one room schoolhouse with one teacher, and all grades learning together was not unusual. Grandaddy Butler could afford to pay a tutor and give his children a better education than most, and most of his children (including the girls) went to college, which was highly unusual, in those days. Grandaddy was not overly fond of children, but he knew that education was important.

Despite being wealthy, even with all the servants, everyone had to pitch in with housework. Mother most often helped in the kitchen because there were just so many to feed, three times a day. We take for granted nowadays that even if one cannot cook, there are plenty of takeout options or frozen or canned foods. When my mother was growing up, that was not the case. For instance, if you wanted fried chicken, you had to kill the chicken, pluck its feathers, cut it up, and fry it – usually over a wood-burning stove.

Refrigerators didn’t become common until the 1920’s or 30’s and then they were “iceboxes.” (To the end of her life my mother always called the fridge the “icebox.”) Blocks of ice cooled the food, and they had to be hauled in and the melted ice hauled off.

Most families -- when Mother was growing up, and when I was growing up -- canned vegetables and fruits in the summer and fall, to use in the winter. Glass Mason jars had to be sterilized and then the food put in. Then the jars would be put in a water bath and cooked on the stove to a certain temperature, then the lids were eventually put on tightly, to keep out air from spoiling the food. I remember my mother working long hours to “put up” glass jars of tomatoes, green beans, butterbeans, chow chow (a relish with cabbage and onions), peaches, apples, etc. When Dad got home from work, if she was still canning, he would help. Everybody helped. I can remember as a little child peeling tomatoes.

My parents liked to can a mixture of corn, okra and tomatoes. Some people called it “soup mix.” My mother’s soup mix would have other things, like butterbeans. My dad’s sisters would make sausage balls and put them in jars – and they stayed delicious and edible because there was no air in the jars to spoil the meat.

Most women put up preserves, jams, and jellies, and we ate on that all year. Mother didn’t like to make jelly.

Canned foods were just not easily available before World War II. Mostly just tomatoes, beans, and corn were easily found.

Many families would dry fruit on big tables, outside in the sunshine, with screens on top of the fruit to protect it from birds and insects. Daddy remembered in his family (and he grew up on a big farm) when fruit was drying and a rain storm came up, everyone ran to get the fruit inside or covered, to protect it.

 above, Mother and Daddy when they were "courting"

When Mother was a child and when I was a child, clothes and linens were ironed, and the irons (which were made of iron) had to be heated in the fire. Irons weren't electric. They were basically just hunks of metal; the pointed end was important because that's how you ironed small area of cloth. They were very heavy, and the handles usually had to have a towel or something wrapped around them in order not to burn one's hand.

Clothes and napkins and dish towels all had to be washed in a big tub, and whites had to be boiled if you wanted to keep them white. Usually the laundry was sent out to be done by black women, but not everything was sent out. Underwear was usually done by Mother in the sink and hung on the line to dry.

When I was a kid, from time to time there would be a hole dug in the yard and a fire built, and a big black pot hung over it, with water, and the clothes would be boiled. Mother was so tiny, women were usually hired to come in and help with the laundry.

There were no paper napkins. Napkins were made of cloth and had to be washed and ironed. Every child had their own napkin holder so they didn’t get them mixed up. If you gave someone 8 napkin holders for a wedding present each one would be a bit different.

My mother was very germ conscious so she was strict about everyone using their own napkins.

 above, the Butler girls, probably around 1918 - Mother is standing, far right, in a dark dress

Back then, women wore big aprons over their dresses to keep from ruining their clothes when they were cooking and cleaning. By the time I came along in 1933, that had changed. Mother wore small aprons. She would make beautiful aprons for her sisters. Women usually had everyday aprons and then nicer ones to wear when company was there.

Women always sewed back then. Clothes were sewed and mended at home. My grandmother hired a dressmaker to come a couple of times a year and just move in until she had made clothes for all the girls. I’m not sure about the boys – she might have made clothes for the boys too. For dress clothes, boys usually went to tailors.

There were no mixtures of fabrics back then. Everything wrinkled horribly.

My aunt Georgia Hasty sewed not just dresses but men’s pants and shirts. My daddy was so big he could never find ready-made clothes. Georgia made pants for my daddy for years because he was so big. 

above, my dad's family, about 1910

Cloth was scarce during World War II but Mother got bolts of cloth for free sometimes. The men who owned the fabric mills when we lived on the farm were tasked with making clothes for the soldiers. If there were bolts of cloth that were flawed – perhaps they had ruined a bolt’s color, for instance -- those bolts were just given away because the soldiers couldn’t use them. Bolts of that kind of cloth were sent to my mother during the war. Mostly khaki but sometimes navy blue. The fabric had to be carefully cut to cut out the flaws, but Mother could use it. Mother and Daddy sent some of it to my Aunt Georgia to make clothes for not only Daddy, but everyone. Dad wore his khaki pants for years.

Mother went to Marietta High School, at least the last years. After graduation, she worked for Grandaddy, in the bank, until her younger sister, Miriam, graduated. Then both girls went together to Bessie Tift Baptist College, in Forsyth, Ga. After extensive testing, Mom began college as a sophomore.

Even when Dee was small, we had to iron everything. Ironing little girl’s dresses was not easy. I had to get a friend’s maid to come to my house and teach me how to iron properly. My mother did not like to iron and she rarely ironed – but she was fanatic about cleanliness. 

above, me with Dee, about 1967

Children didn’t bathe every day when mother was growing up or when I was growing up. On Saturdays you bathed so you would be clean for church. During the week you washed what was dirty. Before supper, we would have to wash our face and hands, though.

My parents always bought soap. A lot of people, especially during the war, would make their own soap from ashes and animal fats. I never saw anyone make it. I think Mother may have tried to make it once but that was just an experiment. You could easily buy Octagon soap. After you had washed a load of clothes with Octagon soap your hands were dried out. It was harsh. Some people washed themselves with it. I was never washed with Octagon soap.

Mother worked outside jobs a lot when I was growing up. She worked as a proofreader for a newspaper. She worked in the money room of Davison’s – the money was put in a tube and sent down to a room in the basement and change was made and sent back through the tube. One year our school had no lunch program and she organized the mothers to go in and make lunch for all the kids, every day. 

In the 1950’s she sold Stanley products and was one of their top saleswomen, and eventually an area manager.She made good money.

Mother grew up wealthy but she always worked very hard, as a child and as an adult. After the Depression of 1929, she had very little help and she worked hard at home, and at whatever jobs she could find.

Despite that, she had a tremendous faith in God, and she loved a good joke. She found time to talk to each one of her children, individually, on a regular basis. She was an amazing person and I miss her every day.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Brunswick Stew

Recently, I ran across a recipe given to me by a grand cook , utterly delightful person, and personification of a southern lady [ with a rite good bit of mischief thrown in].

I love Brunswick Stew but haven’t made it in a good while.  As my mama used to say, I like my own cooking. Since I taught my kids myself, I like their cooking too, although, they have far surpassed me. Anyway, I’ll give you the recipe then suggest changes.


Lightly brown :
1 pound lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped

In large pot OR slow cooker:
Add above plus:
28 oz can of diced tomatoes Or crushed
1 can creamed corn
Small can tomato sauce- Not tomato paste
2 boneless pork chops
2 bread slices, torn into pieces
Salt and pepper to taste, Wooster sauce, garlic powder , Tabasco, etc. - some folks add bbq sauce

Cook very slow about 3 hours ----- or all day on low in crock pot  or 3-4 hours on high. Stir and check seasonings. I prefer this to be fairly thick but you can always add, a little at a time, water or broth, or v-8, or tomato juice.

When pork is very tender, remove, shred, and return to pot.
This keeps well for a day or two and can be frozen in small batches
to have for lunches. Serve in bowls as you would soup.
Be careful if reheating because it will burn quickly. This is one time when a microwave is really helpful. I used to use a double boiler but don’t hear much about them anymore.

Some folks add: boneless chicken breasts, baby lima beans, more corn, diced white potatoes, kitchen sink etc.---
Corn muffins go well with this, but Fritos  will do just fine too.

Think this kind of originated when people cooked squirrels, possums, coons, skunks  etc , Glad I didn’t live back then !

Just a note from the same friend:
She told me about asking her helper to make deviled eggs to carry to a family picnic. She was surprised to have to explain how to make the eggs. But she did, and ended by saying , just pin the halves together with a toothpick so they’ll be easy to carry.At the picnic, people started  removing the picks and laughing.The eggs were carefully fitted back together but with no filling. Turns out the helper did not know what to do with all the yolk filling so gave it to friend’s five yr. old son to eat.No, the child did not want lunch, that day.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Memories of Childhood

My sister in law often says that Don, my older brother, gets a kick out of reading my memories about our family. These are not in any order, just as I remembered them..

I remember:

·         Don teaching some expensive, finely trained hunting dogs to chase rabbits.

·         Our pretty little mare, Molly, actually Don’s horse, biting Don’s back, leaving teeth marks. Dad was so angry, he was ready to sell her but Don insisted she was just trying to bite a fly that had landed on him. He rarely wore a shirt, outside, during the summer. 

·         When I was about five, I went complaining to Mom because the boys would never play what I wanted to play. She agreed and told the boys I could pick the next game. I chose dolls. Next thing I knew, they’d lined up my babies, outside, and were shooting them with rubber guns. I think they had made the guns from old inner tubes…. Slingshots?

·         One Thanksgiving, we spent the day just riding through the Smoky Mountains. Dad found a country hotel serving dinner with all the trimmings. We were the last diners of the day so were encouraged to eat a lot. Later, we stopped on the side of the winding road so Dad and the boys could cut a Christmas tree. They tied it on top of the car for its ride home. To me, nothing smells as good as a freshly cut pine tree.

·         Both our parents loved the mountains and as far as I know all their kids do too. Mother used to say, sometimes, that she just had to get to the mountains so that she could breathe better.

·         During most of the WW2 years, we lived on a farm --- so many of our memories stem from there, for lots of reasons. Our house, new I guess, lacked running water, gas, and electricity. There was a wartime shortage of pipes, wire etc. One had to get on a list and wait. There was a bathroom, but no running water etc. At first, we had to haul water from a well and heat it on top of the wood range. I still have burn scars on my arms from that stove. Our best source of heat was the dining room fireplace so that was mostly where we lived. Dad placed 3 or 4 big, oil lamps in the middle of our dining room table. We ate there, did homework, read the newspaper there.

·         We saved our pennies, them together, and bought “funny books” (comic books) and little cars [about the size of matchbox cars now]. I think the cars were 5 or 10 cents. 

·         The boys had elaborate tree houses in a big, old apple tree in our backyard. While they were at school one day, I climbed to Bobby’s treehouse, way high up, When I looked down, I had my first awful fear of heights…. Still have it. Finally, Mom came looking for me. She must have been worried because she said, “If you don’t come down right now I’m going to break a switch and wear you out!” I quickly scuttled down, never stopping to wonder how she was going to manage to climb that tree and spank me. (Thankfully, I thought of that, years later, when I found 2 yr old Bruce on top of our house, afraid to come back down the ladder. I was so pregnant with Dee, I couldn’t see my feet. Some workman had left the ladder propped against the house and I told Bruce to get down “If you don’t come down right now you’re going to get a spanking.” He was more afraid of the spanking than being up that high.)

·         Our last family dog was Pete, a big Staffordshire Terrier [pit bull]. They ordered him from a kennel up north , pure bred and exceedingly intelligent. He was always a house dog and had to be walked. He was about the size of a one lb roll of sausage when he arrived. Bobby did not like the dog in the room he shared with Don. However, Bob came to bed later so Pete went to bed with Don. When they heard Bob coming, Pete would dive under the cover and flatten himself against Don, hardly breathing. Years later, Bobby and I had a good laugh about it. Bob said he never let on that he knew Pete was there – just too funny!

·         The summer that I was15years old, Dad and Mom took Don and me on a wonderful trip to Washington, D.C. for a few days then on to New York City. We saw most of the tourist places in D.C. and took a guided tour of New York. One great memory is going to the Diamond Horseshoe nightclub. Some of the waiters recognized Dad, so they sent out for a case of baseballs for him to autograph. When we first went in, we were seated almost to the door, sorry seats. When they recognized Dad, we were moved almost to the stage.

·         When we first moved back to Atlanta, finding a place to live was a nightmare. Don spotted a moving van in front of a big old white frame house, on 9th Street. The house was just down the street from his school. He got to a phone, called Dad, and I think we had a house by night fall. I loved that house. 

·         The house was just one block from Piedmont Park, an easy walk. Our family and Mom’s liked to picnic and we had lots of picnics there. I took my kids there to feed the ducks and walk around the lake. One picnic tho, we met Dad’s brother and family at North Fulton Park [now Chastain Park]. After lunch, Don, Frank and I were allowed to walk to another section with fish ponds and a tunnel. This was pre WW2. I was about 5 maybe, Frank 7, Don 8. Well, Frank leaned too far over a pond and fell in. He came up and went back down. I guess we’d have just left him but Bobby came to check on us and pulled him out.

·         Bobby and Don were Baptized together on Pastor Awtrey’s arm, at First Baptist Church, Smyrna,Ga. Our Grandfather Hasty, along with our Cousin Patricia’s husband’s grandfather, donated the original land for that church.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Memories - Dang Old Ones, Too!

Recently , daughter Dee wrote a cute blog about how she grew up. Since I was there too, I’d say her memories were mostly accurate.Then I started thinking about my own childhood [1930’s and 40’s] and all the many‘’ likes and differences’’. So we decided I’d give it a shot.

Well, my goodness, everyone loved clowns ! Down deep, I knew they were just people, in funny clothes. Why even oldest brother Bobby had a clown costume and carried a small pig on a leash, at brother Don’s 6th birthday party. It was a circus party, held in our big front yard.I was not quite 3 yrs old so that’s about all I remember. Later years, it was great fun to watch all the clowns pile out of the tiny car at the big Barnum and Bailey circus.

Halloween was no big deal, at all.I am certain that my mom never spent a red cent on candy to give away nor do I recall anyone at the door asking for any. She might have made a pumpkin pie but that was more for Thanksgiving.The1930’s were post Depression years and money was tight.

There was one Halloween that really stands out. We had neighbors, the Cooks, who were good friends.Mother and Mrs. Cook dressed up in their husband’s old work clothes and old felt hats to cover their hair.Don’t recall much about makeup except eyebrow pencil freckles. Mr.Cook and my dad were tall men with five ft.tall, little plump wives.Dad had to work that night so our house was the base of operations. After dinner it was dark enough for 5 boys and one little girl … and 2 very odd looking Charlie Chaplin tramps to walk around and pull tricks on folks. I do remember one where they filled an old, long stocking with sand. We got behind bushes and pulled the fat snake across the sidewalk just as people got to it. Another trick was to knock on front doors and ask people for food. There were plenty of tramps roaming around in those days so this was not so unusual.No one recognized the tramps and they only knocked on doors where they knew folks.Some shared apples, etc. and some threatened with shot guns.

The greatest story of the night tho’ was at the Cooks’ house. Mrs. Cook rang the doorbell at her own home and her husband came to the door. Changing her voice, she asked for food. He went back to the kitchen and returned with sandwiches, fruit etc., very kind.He did not recognize his own clothes!

Christmas was about the Baby Jesus, a real pine tree, mostly homemade decorations, and mostly mom-made presents which we wrapped in thin, colored tissue stuck together with seals of Santa and angels. [The seals had a heavy glue on the backs that I got to lick.] We sang carols and had a big meal and lots of cakes. I got one of the last baby dolls made during WW2 ,which Dee keeps in a glass case, so beautiful.

Both my parents came from huge families so my brothers and cousins were my playmates. I had one girl cousin, Judy , who was 18 mos older, my favorite and, often only playmate. Most of the time, I was the boys’ tag-a-long. I played cowboys and Indians, army, little cars, and board games. I can neither throw or catch very well. As time went on, I had my music, my books, and my dog but neither dog nor I ever had a cotton picking Play Date!

I ate peanuts and peanut butter all my life and like all nuts actually, even a few human ones. My aunt Hazel and Uncle Gan [Orlando] Awtrey pretty much kept me alive with their CARE boxes when I was at UGA. They always sent soups, peanut butter, jelly, tuna fish, coffee etc.

We said, Sir and Mam. and Mr. or Mrs. or sometimes, Sister, Aunt or Uncle. I called the dear, family friend for whom I am named, Mrs. Elva MacEachern, “Sister.” Dad called her Mrs. Mac. The folks, going back to the grandparents, were long time Marietta friends.

Not sure but think I was in college before my parents bought a secondhand, small TV that my uncle got rid of.

We did have a radio that I listened to a lot. There were some great programs and excellent music and later WW2 news [our man in London], Mayor of the Town, Judy Canova, Hit Parade, Bell Telephone Hour, Henry Aldrich, Lone Ranger etc etc…

Of course they played records. Dad loved Bing Crosby and we listened to Gene Awtrey, and rarely The Grand Ol' Opry [mother didn’t care for that] on Sat. night.

It was a different world, seems like. We minded our parents, teachers and other adults. We did not "talk back’’ and telling a “bad story” [lie] was a sin. Dad gave the spankings tho’ I only got one which was well deserved. He only used the “hand to bottom” method but Mother preferred switches.

We each had a 6th birthday party as did my two kids. Other times, birthdays were just family and a delicious cake. Also, we sometimes got socks and undies. Toys were for Santa to bring.

Yes, our growing up years were different but all things considered, we had good parents who loved us and we all turned out just fine.