Saturday, September 3, 2011

I never saw a suit of underwear until I was 17 years old

Hardships were a way of life for homesteaders.  I came across this letter while doing research and was particularly moved by it.  It came from a woman named Lois to another woman named Jennie.  That is all I know.  It sounds like she is recalling her experiences growing up.  The letter offers perspective about the hardships on a homestead as seen through a child’s eyes.   It is interesting to think about what she is saying.  Today I wanted to share it with you.

Dear Jennie,

Our nearest neighbor lived two miles away and they could not read or write.  I never saw a suit of underwear until I was 17 years old and that revelation didn’t belong to anybody in in our family.  The only books in our house were a Bible and a catalog.  There were six members in our family, but you see, we had two rooms to live in, including the dining room which was also the kitchen.  Everybody worked at our house.  We thought everybody else in the world had gravy and bread for breakfast, liver and crackling hoe cake for dinner, buttermilk and cornpone for supper, because that’s what we had.

Some of us wore brogan shoes occasionally in the winter time.  We had nice white shirts for summer time use.  We slept on straw ticks and pillows were not thought of or required.  I didn’t know money would rattle until I was nearly grown.  Father got hold of two half dollars at the same time and let us hear them rattle.  Taxes were no higher but harder to pay.  We owned two kerosene lamps, neither of which had a chimney.  Our house wasn’t sealed, but two of our rooms had lofts over them.  We had a glass window in our “company” room.

Or nicest piece of furniture as I now remember was a homemade rocking chair. Our beds were of the slat or tight rope variety.  We went to school two or three months in the year, but not in a bus.  We attended church once a month, but not in a car.  We used a two mule buck board.  We dressed up on Sunday’s, but not in silks or satins.  We sopped our molasses, ate our own meat and considered rice a delicacy for only the preachers.

We heard a lot about cheese but never saw any; got a stick of candy and three raisins for Christmas and were happy.  We loved father and mother and were never hungry; enjoyed going naked; didn’t want much; expected nothing and that’s why our so-called hard times are not so hard on me.

                                                                                                                                                Bert and Lois

Blake Bell
Historian; Homestead National Monument of America

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