I'VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT WHEN I WAS YOUNG. Not too long ago, I overheard a few young women complaining about cooking and the chores they had to do in their kitchens and in their homes. With the conveniences we have today, we tend to forget what our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers faced in their married lives. If you allow me, I’d like to tell you a story from my childhood that I remember about what these wonderful women did for their families and this nation before and during and after WWII.
My mother and maternal grandmother, and all the ladies of that era who bore those names were faced with the following duties:
Monday was wash day. There were no dryers. Clothes were hung in the backyards on a clothesline, propped up with wood props. I remember well the sheets fluttering in the wind. One had to be careful where their personal items were hung. No automatic wash machines back then. Washers only had an agitator inside and clothes wringer on top with two rollers that squeezed out all the water before the clothes dropped into the basket that was taken outside. You had to be careful not to get your fingers caught between the rollers. Buckets of hot water had to be poured into the machine and soap added along with bleach before the dirty clothes were dumped in. Between washes, the washer had to be drained and reloaded with buckets of hot water to wash a new batch of clothes. Did I forget to mention that after we drained the soapy water, we had to dump in clean hot water for the rinse to get all the soap out? That meant the washer had to be drained again and again. There was a hose on the side that had to be lowered into a bucket to drain the washer and the buckets of water carried to be dumped. If you washed in the basement, the hose could be dropped into a drain. How I hated wash day. Did I hear someone say those were the good ole days?
Tuesday was ironing day. Most of the day the ladies ironed the clothes they washed, but they lighten their burden a little by listening (no TVs back then) to their favorite soap operas on the radio: Ma Perkins, The Guiding Light, and John’s Other Wife. As far as I can remember, John wasn’t committing adultery. Folks didn’t cotton too well to that kind of stuff on the radio back then.
Wednesday was cleaning day and more soap operas. What can you say about cleaning? Lots of dust rags, buckets of water and soap. Floors had to be waxed, too. Rugs vacuumed. There were precursors to vacuum cleaners called sweepers. They were small metal containers with brushes inside that rotated as you pushed the sweeper over the rugs and floors.
Thursday meant more cleaning and some baking. There were a few bakeries but no supermarkets back then. Once in a while pastries were purchased from a locally-owned bakery after church. Still, there were no goodies like what ma or grandma made.
Friday was shopping and more baking of pies, cobblers, cakes, and bread. Oh, how I loved my grandma’s fresh bread with lots of artery-clogging butter from the farmer. But at least the cows and chickens were grass fed back then. And all the veggies and fruits were free of pesticides.
Now you’re wondering, or you should be wondering, where did Grandma put all the baked goods. Why, in the pantry next to the kitchen, where it was cool. And she covered the goodies with white dish towels. I used to sneak in there and help myself when grandma was busy in another room. We had ice boxes, no refrigerators. The ice man came every several days and put a 25 or 50 lb block of ice at the top where today we have a freezer. The times I was at my grandparents, I remember grandpa coming home from work around 5:30. Grandma had supper (we called it that back then) on the table, and I helped. Once grandpa sat at the table, out came the loaf of hot bread from the oven, and she placed it in front of him. After the meal out came the desserts from the pantry. Old grandpa didn’t know how well he had it. I was always amazed how grandma’s face lighted up when he came through the door from work. All smiles, she was quick to fix his plate. No, he wasn’t helpless. She just did it for him, sort of a loving gesture. As a youngster, I realized they had something between them, just like with my folks. Grandpa always showed the greatest respect for grandma and in that relationship they taught me a thing or two. Like my parents, they never had a bad word to say about anyone. And they didn’t mind giving each other a quick kiss on the lips in front of me. The dinner table was a place around which was food and love. There I learned my values and what the Magarian family stood for. I certainly learned what my dad and mom would tolerate and not tolerate from my brothers and me.
Saturday and Sundays were days of rest. I remember sitting on our porch or on my grandparent’s porch with grandpa and grandma on the swing, waving to passersby’s. Sometimes neighbors would stop to pass the time. Vendors would push their carts thought the street calling out what they had to offer. I remember, hot tamales, ice cream, and chitlins and pig snots (oh no. But yes. Better than pigs’ feet and sour kraut.). Sometimes on Sunday evenings I listened to Jack Benny and Fibber McGee and Molly with grandpa when I was with him. The radio was a big thing in our lives at that time. We had radios, movies, books, and magazines. No computers, laptops, cell phones, iPads, hand toys, etc. I know what some of you are thinking. How were you able to live? Peacefully, I might add.
Well, the women’s role changed when the Second World War hit us. The men and some women went to war, but the majority who entered the military service were men, which meant that the women had to help in the war effort, filling jobs left by the men and those created by the war. They weren’t easy jobs, either. Many worked in the defense plants making ammunition, building airplanes, ships, and tanks. These women were our heroes, too.
When the men came home after the war, the women remained in many of the jobs and this was the beginning of a new era in the life of a wife and mother. The service men and women went to college on the G.I. bill and became lawyers, nurses, doctors, engineers, and much more. Most of the moms exchanged their roles as stay-home moms to working moms. It was an era where they and their spouses decided that their kids would have more than they did growing up since they had been raised during the Great Depression and grew up with very little. Maybe, just maybe, this was the juncture in our culture where we started giving a little too much to our children and not expecting much from them in return.
What I remember most about the Homefront during WWII, which still lingers with me today, is the powerful patriotism that flourished among our citizens from 1941-1945. During those years, everyone was joining in on the war effort, and there was strong unity in the country –the war brought us together -- and the pride we had in our service men and women was powerful. I find myself wishing for those days of unity and patriotism. There wasn’t the level of incivility we have today. How proud we were of our service men and women when they returned home from the battle-torn countries. We gave them ticket-parades in New York and other great cities. We thanked God for their return, and with heavy hearts, we remembered our fallen heroes who never made it home. America made the sacrifice. I wish I could transport our young people back then so they could see, feel, and learn why this is the greatest country in the world.